Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Presents and Hanukkah Challah!

I am so excited. It is 6 days till I fly home to Cali and 9 days till Christmas!

These last two weeks of work have been and will be good training for me. MB has been training me on polymer synthesis and functionalization. I am rather slow and doubtful with everything I do, so I endlessly ask MB questions. Really, I'm asking for confirmation that I'm doing each and every step correctly. Every time I ask, I feel bad for asking. I know I should not feel this way for making sure I am doing things correctly, but I feel like I come off as confused, childish, forgetful, and slow. As someone who is used to getting things off the bat, slow understanding is hard to get used to. Most of all, due to my personal desire to not be a burden to anyone, I hesitate from asking because I do not want to bother others. This is a learning process, but to be effective, I need to learn to how to open myself to help and asking for help. Nothing is overnight, but I wish I was a bit faster...

Little snippet of my life, but back to fun holiday stuff! That's what ya'll want to read about, right?

So this weekend, I mostly took for holiday present shopping. I'm super excited. I have all my gifts almost ready for my co-workers and boss, and I managed to find some stuff for my family. One cool new thing I'm doing this year is doing glassware painting. I bought some glass cups from Target and a glass paintset from Michaels and will do some cute designs unique to the giftee tomorrow! I hope I have retained some of my painting skills from high school. It's been a while.

After watching "The Hobbit" today (which was very good and much recommended! Only, my eyes were sore after staring at the big screen for 3 hours...), I went home, ate, rested, and then mourned the fact that I was out of bread. I have a professed love for Blue Baker and their amazing baked goods and their half-price day-old breads ($2.25 for an artisan loaf, hellsyeah!), but I actually got tired of forcing myself to eat two loaves of their yummy beer and multigrain breads before they went bad for the past two weeks. So, I decided to make challah.

Challah, if you do not know, is a Jewish egg bread. It is slightly sweet and soft and pillowy. It makes an awesome French toast and goes well with raisins, nuts, or other things mixed-in. You will see it has a nice golden crust and is most often presented as a braided loaf. The special Sabbath and holiday meals begin with two loaves of challah. Each loaf is a braid of six strands, and the two loaves combined represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

The choice of challah was also prompted by the recipe on the side of my bread flour bag. I saw it, read the rise time (1 1/2 hrs) and the fact that there is only 1/4 cup of oil and said, sure! I love making things with less oil and less sugar to try and bake healthy. This was my first time making challah, though, and the process went rather least, up to a point. I made the dough, kneaded it by hand (I'm getting better at this!), let it rise. I punched it down after an hour (an a nap!), kneaded it, rolled out three strands, braided it, and let it rise again. I came back and was super excited. It was rising beautifully and looked gorgeous! But then I realized my mistake. I put it into too small a baking pan so the edges were right up against the side of the pan. Knowing what I would do next would cause some detriment to my risen dough, I quickly shoved/threw the loaf into a larger pan. My loaf immediately deflated. Saddened but not discouraged, I let it rise again. Lo and behold! The loaf rose again, albeit not as high as before, and I finished the preparation and baked it.

The smell was so good throughout the baking process. But then, I noticed the smell was cutting too strongly through the air. The baking time on the bag said 35-45 minutes, and I had put the timer on for only 30 minutes. I rushed to the oven, pulled open the door and saw the unquestionably dark brown crust on my challah. After pulling it out of the oven, I let it cool down and hoped for the best. Luckily, 28 minutes was just long enough to make it harder than desired but not burnt. I sliced off a piece, tasted it and did a little body shake of joy! My challah tasted amazing! For having just 1.5 Tbs of honey, it was surprisingly and satisfyingly sweet. The top crust provided a nice crunch to accompany the soft airy inside. The only things I could tell, was that the bottom crust was too dark and hard for enjoyment, the loaf could have been airier and higher rising had I not deflated the loaf and let it rise for another half hour, and there may be a slight dryness from being baked too long. Other than that, I am super proud of this yeast baking experiment and will probably make another challah loaf again soon!

Challah (adapted from recipe on HEB Bread Flour bag)

2.5-3 cups Bread flour (do not use all-purpose or wheat)
2.25 tsp instant yeast (1 package)
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp turmeric (adds the nice yellow color - no artificial food coloring necessary!)
3/4 tsp organic granulated sugar
1/4 cup oil
1.5 Tbs honey
2 eggs (room temperature)
1 egg + 1 tsp water (for egg wash)
Sesame seeds or poppy seeds for topping (optional)

1. Combine 2.5 cups of the bread flour, the instant yeast, salt, turmeric, and sugar in a bowl. Stir till well-mixed.
2. In a small bowl, beat eggs, then add in oil and honey and beat till combined.
3. Make a well in the center of your dry mix. Pour in the wet mixture and stir with a wooden spoon till just combined.
4. Measure our 1/2 cup of the remaining bread flour and sprinkle some onto a clean surface. Knead the dough (7 minutes by hand, 5 minutes using machine), adding more of the remaining bread flour as necessary to get a smooth and elastic dough.
5. Lightly grease a bowl, place the ball of dough inside, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise till doubled in size (about 1 hour). Punch down the dough and knead till smooth.
6. Separate the dough into 3 (or 6) equal-sized balls and roll each one out into a long rope. Place them next to each other and carefully braid from one end to the other (handle the dough lightly). Pat in the ends to make them nicely rounded and to seal the pieces together. Let rise till doubled in size (about another hour).
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a large baking pan.
8. Beat the remaining egg with water. Lightly brush the top of the challah with the egg wash and sprinkle on sesame seeds or poppy seeds, if desired.
9. Bake the challah in the center for 20-25 minutes. The challah is done when you tap the top and it sounds hollow. Let the loaf cool on a rack.
Makes 1 loaf.

I hope you try this easy bread recipe. I think it will get you into yeast baking as it has done for me. It's easier than cinnamon rolls, I think, and tastier than wheat bread loaves. the braiding was not hard at all, either!

In the meantime, don't get too stressed out with holiday shopping, crazy holiday shoppers, and getting things ready for the holidays. Take things easy and remember: this season is about enjoying your time, your life, and your friends and family.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pho John - College Station Restaurant Review

I'm taking this weekend to do things for myself, rest and relax. The past week was too crazy. End of class project and paper, organizing an event social, doing research, giving two presentations. I managed to do it all (minus the last presentation, which ended horrifically), with some bumps in each one, but I am still alive. This research stuff is super stressful, especially given that I have a  PI with EXTREMELY high expectations and an intense personality. She's great and makes opportunities for us, but she knows how to make us work exceptionally hard to become exceptional researchers. I am just thankful to have such a supporting lab group and family and friends.
From First is so true.

I went out yesterday with my other BMEN PhD friends and we said to each other, gotta stick together through this hard sh*t. And yeah, we gotta stick it out. Next five years are gonna be hard and hellish, but we gotta fight for these small achievements and for our future goals...

With this goal of relaxing, I went out to eat pho and exercise with my buddies today. I got sick this past weekend and a hot bowl of soup, especially pho, always makes your body and your day better.

There are only three Vietnamese restaurants in College Station. Last year, I tried Rosie's Pho and enjoyed their pho and their smoothies. This time, I wanted to try Pho John, which I heard good things about too.

The inside is actually very spacious and kept very clean. The tables and chairs are pretty and also kept very clean.

The menu includes classic rice noodle bowls (bun), pork and rice plate, egg noodle dishes, curry, tofu and rice, and other rice plates. They even have Vietnamese iced coffee and bubble tea, although the bubble tea is kind of expensive ($4.55!) There is a kids menu that includes pho and two rice plate options.

What surprised me the most on the menu was that they offered BRISKET with their pho. I saw that and immediately went for it, except I ordered the kid's bowl ($4.50 ish). It came out and was definitely enough to fill me up. It seemed like what a small would be in just a smaller bowl. Lots of noodles and lots of meat.

Let me say WOW. The brisket was slightly thicker than the usual rare-sliced beef, which I really liked. It was tender and didn't have a lot of stringy pieces. The soup was super tasty but I could have done with more broth. The noodles sucked it up too fast and pho really needs to be swimming in the broth. Despite that, it was very tasty and hit the spot.

The garnishes that go with the pho came out so fresh looking I was amazed. Being from Little Saigon in SoCal, I am used to getting semi-old and wilted herbs and vegetables with my food at Vietnamese restaurants. The freshness and quality surprised me and made me happy. The basil that came out was so fresh and bright. The limes were super juicy.

My friend got the chicken pho and they gave huge chunks of what looked like nicely boiled chicken. Looked good and my friend said she really liked the broth.

My other friend got the vermicelli bowl with beef and eggroll. She liked it. The nuoc mam came on the side in a cute little bowl. The bowl for her vermicelli and meat and vegetables was very beautiful.

Another friend got the rice and pork plate. Looked good and fresh. Came with nuoc mam as well. No broken rice here though.

Two friends got the mi xao dong (fried egg noodles in the shape of a nest, covered in an oyster sauce saute of beef, chicken, and fresh vegetables). Looked very good, presented very beautifully, and a large portion.

I also got tea ($2.25 ish) and it came out very hot. Oolong tea. Awesome and just what I needed.

The price is higher than what you get in Little Saigon or Houston, but I believe it's worth it. The quality, presentation, taste, and portions are perfect.

I will definitely return, now that I know how amazing brisket is in pho.

Price: $3-5 appetizers, $7-12 entrees, $2-5 drinks
Food: 5/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Return factor: 5/5

Pho John,
1901 Texas Ave S,
College Station, TX 77850

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pumpkin season: love it or hate it?

Just curious (to anyone reading my blog):

With autumn just beginning, America's food industry falls (forgive the pun) to its old food trends and starts dishing out pumpkin and apple and spiced items. With the overflow of pumpkin pie shakes, lattes, pies, muffins, scones, and casseroles, what do you think of all this?

Do you like pumpkin?

Do you enjoy the overflow or return of pumpkin-themed items?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

When you crave Panda Express, make THIS instead...

Come dine with me
Panda Express opened up in the basement lounge of the Memorial Student Center at the start of this academic year. The line at dinnertime stretches across the food court as the students come hungry for the only nearby "Chinese" food. Whenever I go by the MSC, the thick aroma of Americanized Chinese food permeates the air, and I too am lured  by the smell and thought of orange chicken and tofu eggplant in brown sauce. But I resist...on principle, I'd like to say.

First off, being of Asian heritage, I like to act all high and mighty and call Panda Express as purely Americanized Chinese food, not real, and catered to the overly sugary, fatty, and processed American palate. But I cannot deny, I like the taste of it when it comes out fresh. It is delicious because it is so sugary and fatty. Panda Express really hit something with their sauces. And, really, I am such an Americanized Asian that I can't pull off the haughty Asian disdain.

Second, I resist because of the fact that Panda Express is really unhealthy for you. The favorite, orange chicken, is purely battered and fried meat, bathed in a sweet sweet sweet salty and tangy sauce. If 5.2 oz is about half a cup, one serving of orange chicken is 420 calories, 21 g of fat, 18 g sugar. Mmm, deep fried sweet chicken...

Being in College Station, away from home-cooked Vietnamese food, I crave Asian food a lot. And the smells that permeate the air around the MSC does not all. So I decided I needed to make it at home. Last week, I searched the internet for healthy orange chicken recipes, and came upon this recipe from Cordon Pink. Instead of chicken, I used tofu to make it even healthier and served it with steamed broccoli and carrots and cilantro brown rice. I also added sauteed onion and garlic and sesame seeds for extra flavor and nutritional boost. It is a very simple yet delicious recipe that quells that unhealthy cravings and I recommend you try it sometime to judge for yourself.

Asian Orange Tofu
1 block of extra-firm tofu (prep ahead of time, see directions!)
4 Tbs cornstarch
Salt and black pepper
(optional: celery salt)
1/3 cup 100% orange juice
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
2.5 Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp key lime juice
1/2 Tbs sesame oil
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 to 1 Tbs sambal oelek chili paste (to taste)
1/4 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
sesame seeds (optional garnish)

1. Tofu prep: drain tofu. Slice into about 8 rectangles and place between paper towels to dry for 30 mins-1hour. Try to get nearly all the liquid out. Then slice into 1/2" cubes.
2. Combine cornstarch, salt, and black pepper in a big bowl, then toss tofu to coat. Heat a large skillet over medium. Add 1 Tbs oil and layer in tofu. Fry one side of tofu until nice and crisp (don't stir or bother much or you'll break up the tofu!). Flip each tofu block to other side and fry other side till crisp. Fry edges if you want too.
3. Dissolve 2 tsp cornstarch with orange juice. Add to tofu in pan, then add rest of sauce ingredients and cook over low till nice and thick and warm.
4. In another pan, saute yellow onion till soft, then add garlic and cook till brown. Mix in with tofu and sauce.

Cilantro Brown Rice
Combine 1 cup brown rice with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer. Cover and let simmer 35-45 minutes until cooked. Fluff with fork. Chop up some cilantro and green onion and mix in. Add in some (key) lime juice if you want.

Eat up!
To serve:
Add 3/4 cup of rice to a bowl. Add some tofu, sprinkle on sesame seeds. Serve with steamed broccoli, carrots, or other vegetables.

Friday, September 7, 2012

I live! And I live now in Texas!

I'm having a great time.

So closes my second week at Texas A&M University (A&M) as a first year PhD student in the Biomedical Engineering (BMEN) program. If you remember some of my posts last year, I talked about some of the fun things I did as a summer research intern. Last December, I got contacted by the professor and grad student whose lab I shadowed in. They said they had an opening for a new grad student and were thinking I'd be great for it. At that time, I was applying just to master's programs in mechanical engineering at UCB, UCLA, and UCSD. I was kinda lost at that time, thinking I wanted to get a degree in mechanical engineering to make myself a better candidate for biomedical device companies. Once I got that notice from the lab at A&M, I decided to apply for the PhD program.

After a couple months, I got the acceptance letter and accepted the chance to join A&M as a new graduate Aggie. The months after I graduated from UC Berkeley were a fun-filled summer (which I'll have to update on sometime). Every summer builds up from the last and makes me say, "This summer is even better than last year!" I had so much fun with family and friends - and my puppy, Cody of course!
Cody, our mini toy Australian Shepherd!
Despite the delightful summer - or, actually, because the summer was so delightful, I was scared about moving to Texas. It would be an even bigger move than to Berkeley. Far away from my amazing family, my loving boyfriend, and my fun friends. Far from the spectacular food my mom and grandma cook. Far from Trader Joe's and cooler weather.

First dinner home after graduating from UCB
Inside of a Vietnamese Banh Bao (steamed bun), made with Ba Noi (grandma)

My aunts nagged me about driving there. They said that there were sandstorms in my path and that my car was going to break down from the heat. I got scared. I felt like I was making the wrong decision. Wrong to choose A&M - I should have took a year off and applied for a real job at some biotech company in Irvine or San Diego. Wrong to decide to drive there instead of fly - I should ship my car and fly there instead.

But then the day came and I drove there with my dad. Four days from SoCal to Texas, through Arizona and New Mexico. It was really enjoyable with my dad; he is chill and doesn't nag me too much if I don't do something. The sights along the road weren't that boring. The change of land from Arizona to New Mexico to Texas was intriguing. Between El Paso and Austin, though, there isn't anything but land. Scary thing, we drove for 30 some miles with the gas tank flashing empty in that middle of nowhere. We thought we wouldn't make it to the next gas station (silly us, forgetting to gas up that morning), but my awesome little Civic Hybrid made all the way to the closest town and we filled 'er up good. Those 30, 40, 50 minutes were a tense, unsure time. But, all in all, we made it to A&M fine and dandy. I'll post some more detail on that trip later as well.

Driving down the I-10
 The first week was pretty fun. I settled in, spent a lot on groceries, Craiglisted nonstop for furniture, swam in the pool at my apartment. The first week was basically orientation with the BMEN department and the school's orientation. I met the new BMEN grad students too, who are all great and fun people. The staff and faculty in the BMEN department are easy to approach and talk to. Already, I converse with the graduate adviser regularly and even went to the gym with her! And I chat with another professor now and then, especially about biking, since he was the one who assured me it's fine biking to campus in the morning. He does it every morning, because the morning's are not too hot yet.
The morning sunrise over the BMEN building at A&M

My faculty adviser is easy to talk to as well. During the first week of school, we had "Lab Fun Day", where we went to the nearby Lake, brought food, and chilled under the pavilion. My lab mates, I, and our faculty adviser chatted like long-time friends. We heard stories about her kids, we shared our funny times with our pets, I even shared random stories from middle school. It was great.

Today is the end of the second week of school. Tomorrow afternoon is A&M's first game of the year against the Florida Gators (the first game vs Louisiana was cancelled due to Hurricane Isaac tormenting the poor people there). This is the first game since A&M has joined the SEC division. ESPN GameDay is also being broadcoasted from campus as well. Pretty big news.

Football is life in College Station. The population has swelled massively in this remote city. I bike every day, and today, I saw trucks with BBQs in the back and RVs barreling down the road. Tents are set up in parking lots advertising "50% off!" A&M gear. The maroon and white is all the color you see. Friday night, they had a big concert called "First Yell," where they had country music artists perform at Kyle Field at 8pm. Then, at 11pm, they open the gates for "Midnight Yell." I haven't yet experienced these traditions here at A&M, but I think I have enough time to dally (meh, maybe bout another 5 years till I get my PhD?).

Today was really fun though. After work (research lab), I biked home, dropped off my things, and biked back to Northgate to meet a group of bikers (bicycles, not motorcycles) heading to Downtown Bryan. The first Friday of every month, Downtown Bryan comes alive with music, outdoor movies, food trucks, horse-carriage rides, and people. It's called "First Fridays" (imagine that) and is pretty fun to chill at with friends. I met this group of people for the first time and we chatted the whole bike ride there. One guy was a mechanical engineering grad student, and the others were upper year undergrads (2 nuclear engineering, 1 industrial engineering, and 1 kinesiology). We biked there in some 20 minutes I think and then decided to grab some food. After being unable to decide for a while, we went to Murphy's Law, which is connected to Bayerische Brauhaus.

We sat down and chatted and chatted and chatted. So hilarious. It was crazy, though, because we even talked about genetics, biology, multivariable calculus, gamma spectrometry, and the Texas City Disaster (look it up, crazy chemical explosion in 1947).

I finally got my glass of Rose wine that I've been craving since, like, last week. It was so yummeh and went down smooth. (I can only drink alcohol with < 10% alcohol content; what? I'm a featherweight.) The food came out after a long while, which we didn't mind because we had drinks and were having great conversations.

Me and one of the nuke E's (as I call 'em) shared the Bayerische sampler and the Bayerische salad sampler ($8.50 and $3.50, respectively). They both came with some shredded carrot salad and potato salad. The first sampler came with some skinny meat fingers (we think it was pork), onion rings, and two mini-mini beef patties in some brown sauce. Brown sauce yummy, carrot salad yummy, pork fingers yummy, beef patties just taste like beef (I'm impartial to beef, so they were probably good to others), and POTATO SALAD. Let's just say I love the contribution Germans have given to the world in the form of potato salad. It is great great great. And this place makes it yummeh to my tummeh. The salad sampler had a simple house salad, which was good and fresh with pickled cucumbers and fresh tomatoes. We enjoyed the food. Although service was slow, it is to be expected at many of the restaurants in Downtown Bryan on First Fridays.

The bike home, though, was tiresome and my knees felt tight. I think I've biked too much around here. Time to recuperate tonight...and bike to campus tomorrow evening, lol. Gonna check up on my hydrogels, whoop!

All right, night and...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Inner Turmoil and Why I don't Want to Bake Anymore

I miss my Berkeley friends. I miss being distracted by research and bioengineering classes. I miss always being forced to keep moving and not have time to stop and think about my inner thoughts. Just keep going forward. Just keep working. Just keep wandering and staring at the city, oh the city you can get lost in.

The little things matter to me. The fact that someone remembers you like this little object or food or style or you like having something turned like this or like that. The fact that people thought you important or close enough to remember these little quirks. Theory of mind, theory of mind; damn runny nose.

I want instant recognition. You work so hard. You get stuff for people.

But never is the response up to expectations. Always some comment how it's wrong. Just say, "Thank you so much! :D" GODDAMMIT. You're not a friggin' MOF judge from France. Don't analyze it that much. Give me a smile. "Aw you remembered?"

Yes I did. Yes I friggin' did.

Why do I try anymore? Being nice gets reciprocation only after you have invested so much of yourself into it and then finally does the other decide they can give a speck of their kindness or appreciation.

1:00 am. I want another donut. I want to smash my chiffon cake. I want to smush that mosquito flying around my room.

I don't want to bake again because I keep getting depressed each time. But I want to keep baking to get better and to try these amazing recipes I keep reading about. But the after-effects is just so aggravating on my psyche.

I have an unhealthy relationship with baking and cooking.

I will always have an unhealthy relationship with food, it seems.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Peanut Soba Noodles

The beginning of my senior year at UC Berkeley, I "sat in" (audited) on the Vietnamese language class taught by the extremely nice Tay (teacher/professor) Bach. I have sit in on this class several times throughout my 4 years of undergraduate study at Berkeley, but have always faded away as the time went on. As each semester wore on, I would feel too busy with classwork, research, and other various things (cough, laziness) and would stop going to class. Whenever I did go, it was fun and enjoyable. Fun to learn the cute little Vietnamese songs that kids would sing; fun to learn how to write. But because I stopped going, I have lost my ability to write and speak. Nowadays, I speak very basic Vietnamese phrases to my family but it is at a very elementary level. I hope to get better, but it takes a lot of practice and effort to grasp a language once you pass that young critical age.

This post is related to a dish I made for a beginning-of-the-year potluck we had last fall. I knew most people would bring simple and quick food items to the event, as is typical of time-pressed (and maybe a bit lazy) college students. As a personal effort, I usually try to bring something that acts as a main dish and with vegetables. For this potluck, I wanted something fast yet tasty to make. I searched for peanut soba noodle recipes and used one of the many recipes out there to act as the base of my soba dish.

Generally, you mix some peanut butter, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and either chili garlic sauce or Sriracha (chili garlic sauce is more salty, spicy and garlicky, whereas Sriracha adds a mild and sweet spiciness) to create the sauce base. You boil the soba noodles and then mix it with the sauce. Chop some fresh onions (cilantro would be nice too) and sprinkle them and sesame seeds on top. (To get the basic proportions right, you can try this recipe and adjust as you feel necessary.) A little sesame oil added to the peanut butter mixture is a small addition that enhances the flavor profile.

This is a really quick recipe that has good carbs from the buckwheat noodles, some green from the green onions, and protein from the peanut butter (even better if you get the all natural, no salt, no oil kind). Every one who tasted the noodles at the potluck couldn't help but approach me later and say how good the noodles were. Given, the only comparisons were just chips and dips and some takeout dumplings, but I'll take the praise where I can get it. *wink*

Enjoy and hope you all are enjoying your summer as I am now.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Because I'm Lazy: Food Slideshow

Hiiii. I am avoiding doing homework and studying but being productive in other creative ways by posting up the food things I've been exploring these past couple of months. Again, it's been a few months since I last posted, and since then I've baked and cooked and eaten quite a lot. Below is a collection of goods that I've made. Recipes may follow...

One day.


To prevent overloading of this page with photos, I'll do them in series.

The first part of the series will be what I did over winter break, after the donuts that I wrote about in the last post.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (repeat)

These never last long...

Fruit Tart (wheat+walnut crust, pastry cream, fresh fruit, apricot glaze)

Homemade pastry cream: egg yolks, almond milk, sugar, vanilla

Drizzled with Dove dark chocolate ganache

Pandan Mini Baked Donuts
Light cakes, perfect without icing, probably enhanced with coconut frosting
 Mango Peach Jam Cake
From my Diabetic Cooking Cookbook, my favorite cookbook even though I'm not diabetic!

Organic mango peach jam layers the middle

Healthy, perfect breakfast or snack cake, and uses flaxmeal for egg

That's what I'll tease you all with for now. Lots more to come, including full-fledged meals with meat! Look, ma, I cooked!

By the way, it's been pouring nonstop here in Berkeley. Man! It's crazy weather!!! There may be a couple minutes here and there where it stops, but then it starts up again like a shower in the sky. Poor E-Week events were dampened (pardon the pun) by the rain. No ultimate frisbee competition, but the carnival is still going on in Hearst Mining, which looked so fun. Too bad I have work (right now, poo) and can't go to it.

Wow, 2 more months and then I graduate!!! I've already selected to go to Texas A&M, College Station, to do my PhD in Biomedical Engineering, starting Fall 2012. So excited! I'm already planning how I'm getting groceries, where I'm living, places I want to eat and try, and dreaming of opening and managing a Trader Joe's while I'm doing my 5-6 year PhD there. Haha, crazy weather makes a crazy mind. Change is about, my friends, and the future shall bring to us its mysteries!!!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Boston Cream Mini Pies and Mini Donuts

Really quickly:


(I'll have to talk about my New Year soon, nothing big, since I'm back in Berkeley and my family got to go to temple and family Te^t dinner's back home in SoCal)...
Onto the post

Resources are a big issue for me. When it comes to baking and cooking, I like to scrape out the last bits and pieces of every thing I use. You can just get a tad bit more with all that wonderful batter clinging to the sides of your mixing bowl. That's why spatulas are so amazing. Another thing about baking is how some recipes call for just egg yolks or just egg whites. That bothers me a lot; like, what am I going to do with the rest of the egg after this recipe!!! I don't want to bake so soon, and especially with just egg yolks. But the situation came about after making two pies over winter break (one sapote and one pumpkin, to be posted about later). I had 4 egg yolks leftover (the pie filling used 1 whole egg and 1 egg white). Contemplating my options, I juggled the idea of making Boston cream pies (2-layer cakes filled with pastry cream and covered in chocolate ganache, which I've always wanted to try and taste) or maybe cream puffs. I ended up deciding to make a double batch of mini donuts, but with a twist.

I would make Boston Cream Mini Pies and Mini Donuts!

My idea was just to overfill the mini donut pan so it would create something like a bundt with a base at the bottom and a cavity in the center. This happened the first time I ever baked VeganYumYum's donuts, because I filled the pan about 2/3 full, causing the donuts to rise up more than they were supposed, and closing over the center. With this idea, I would fill the cavity with pastry cream and cover the whole thing in chocolate ganache.

Filled with pastry cream, awaiting a topping of chocolate P:
So I baked the donuts. I guess I didn't fill 'em up high enough, so all the donuts didn't completely get that covered cavity. I made amends partway into baking by layering a small dallop of batter on top of the central support of each donut. This created a rather lopsided rounded thing in center of the base, which I pushed down to try and make flatter to be able to stand. It turned out all right, still able to carry the loud in the center.

Boston Cream Mini Pies
Surprisingly, making pastry cream is really easy. All that is required is too simmer the eggs, milk, a bit of sugar, and (vanilla) flavoring over the stove, whisking constantly. Then you cool it to room temperature, covered, and then refrigerate. 4 eggs made quite a lot, enough for me to fill an innumerable number of mini cakes and to make a fruit tart later. I based the recipe for pastry cream off of JoyofBaking, but I used 4 egg yolks, used almond milk (OMG, best milk ever), and vanilla extract and did not put in any liqueur. I folded in a couple spoonfuls of CoolWhip topping to make it lighter, which produced the whiter color and fluffier texture.

Pastry cream is a quick and simple technique anyone can learn, and is a great way to use those leftover eggs. I really recommend every aspiring baker try it at least once.

Okay, back to the mini boston cream pies. So, since the first batch of donuts had uneven bottoms, I decided to use the rest of the batter to make mini cupcakes. I cored the center of each mini cupcake, filled it with pastry cream and slathered a beautiful layer of chocolate ganache. I liked the mini cupcakes better in terms of ease and evenness, but the mini donuts version are really awesome, especially when you can see the pastry cream and cake beneath stripes of ganache.

Cross-section. Gorgeous, no?

I also used a bit of the batter to make some regular mini donuts that I topped with the ganache as well.

Three mini donuts for my friend Sam :)
The recipe for the cake base can be found here. For the chocolate ganache (based from here), I melted about 5 oz of semisweet chocolate chips and stirred in about 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream.

Boston Cream Mini Pies and Mini Donuts
See here (double the recipe). You can bake in either a mini donut pan or a mini muffin pan. If doing in a mini donut pan, overfill the cups or place some batter over the central protrusion of each cup partway through baking.

Pastry Cream
See here. (You will have leftover pastry cream)

Chocolate Ganache
Microwave 5 oz semisweet chocolate chips (can use some dark chocolate) for about 10 seconds. Stir. Repeat until nicely melted but not overheated. Stir in 1/2 cup room temperature heavy whipping cream. Whisk until smooth. You can let cool a bit more to a consistency you like. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. Microwave briefly to make viscous again. (You will have leftovers! Wonderful for dipping with fresh fruit!)

1.  Place your mini donuts and cupcakes on a wire rack with a cookie sheet beneath.
2. Core the center out of each mini cupcake (you don't need the tops, so eat them! You know, as a taste test of course! ;-P ).

Coring the mini cupcakes
3. Fill center of each donut (upside down) or mini cupcake with pastry cream just to the top.

4. Put a generous dollop of chocolate ganache on the top of the mini cupcakes and spread with a knife around. For the mini donuts, a striped drizzle is best, accomplished by dipping a knife into the ganache and then slowly weaving across the top of the donut.

5. Let the chocolate ganache set. Serve!

*Note, the chocolate ganache can still stick to things, so when you set these up on plates and serving trays, try to separate them with enough room between pieces and for people to get their fingers in and grab one.

Saucer of goodness!