Birthday | Chocolate & Apples (Unlikely Pairing!)

| Birthdays

Happy birthday this week to my friends Patricia and Chengos! I made this cake at the last minute for a potluck. The only guidance I had was “chocolate” and “maybe with fruit”. I thought about what I was originally going to make (apple tarts), opened up my favorite cookbook, Extraordinary Cakes, and the first page I turned to was “New York, New York,” a chocolate and apple cake. It was meant to be.

I don’t often associate apples with chocolate, but add in a little caramelization and rum, and it all comes together.

I used the same sour cream chocolate cake that I used for my previous German Chocolate Cake, since I knew I could count on it for a flavorful and light texture. I brushed the cake with rum simple syrup and then layered it with rum-spiked chocolate ganache, chocolate chantilly (whipped chocolate cream), and caramelized Golden Delicious apples.

The assembled cake was then coated with chocolate ganache, and covered with a chocolate glaze for a smooth finish. Then I placed thinly sliced Golden Delicious apples around the sides and secured with a ribbon. I didn’t have time to make additional decorations, so I arranged some fresh flowers on top.

Although you might expect this cake to be incredibly heavy, the lightness of the chocolate cake layers offsets the denseness of the ganache. I might skip the ganache filling layers in the future and save it just for the outer coating, but all in all, this was a unique and flavorful cake! Thin slices recommended for consumption 😉

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A Wedding Croquembouche – Congrats Stephandy!

| Featured, Weddings

A croquembouche is a traditional French dessert found at celebrations such as weddings. The name of the dessert comes from the French words, croque en bouche, meaning ‘crunch in the mouth’. The dessert is basically a conical tower of profiteroles (choux pastry filled with pastry cream or crème légère), held together by caramel. A traditional base for the presentation is nougatine (caramel and sliced almonds), and decorations can include caramel, sprinkles, ganache, flowers, and more.

When my friend Stephanie saw the photo of a croquembouche we made in class, she asked if I would make one for her wedding in April. I was honored, but intimidated! After some careful planning and a little bit of practice, I’m happy to share some photos of what I hope was a generally successful attempt. My only regret is that I made this purely for decorative purposes (in part because I don’t have a commercial kitchen and in part because I had to do a red-eye drive to transport the components from NorCal to SoCal) and thus only filled the bottom two rows of cream puffs. Had I known there would be so much interest in actually eating this, and had I known that caramelized isomalt would hold up so effectively and not soften like caramelized granulated sugar often does, I might have been brave enough to fill every cream puff.

The base was the most challenging piece. After nougatine is cooked and poured, you literally have a matter of seconds or minutes to cut and shape (less when using isomalt as in my case). Once it hardens, it would have to be reheated in the oven to soften enough for molding. And unfortunately, the standard home oven is not large enough for a full sheet pan or the length of nougatine that is necessary to form the ring. Fortunately I stocked up on isomalt and almonds and got this right after a couple attempts. I also used nougatine for the decoration on top.

The flowers are a mix of hand-painted (but pre-made, store-bought) gumpaste flowers, and hand-made fondant-gumpaste roses and carnations. The color scheme for the wedding was pomegranate, citron and gold, which I think I captured in these flowers. I hope to learn how to make the wired gumpaste flowers from scratch in the near future, but given the limited time I had, these ones from Michael’s worked well.

Isomalt does caramelize but does not darken in color as much as granulated sugar does. I liked the lighter, clearer color for coating the cream puffs and gluing the pieces together, as you can worry less about drips and uniformity (just don’t eat too much of it). Isomalt is also more stable in that it absorbs less moisture and is less likely to get sticky and “melt” when sitting out. Adding a small amount of granulated sugar provides color (and control over the color). For the spun sugar, I used a greater amount of granulated sugar to get a more golden color.

This was a beast to make, but I am so glad I took on the challenge and was thrilled to share in the celebration of a beautiful young couple.

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Sesame Caramel Rice Fritters & Tres Leches Cupcakes – Belated Cinco de Mayo

| Uncategorized

I didn’t get a chance to make these for Cinco de Mayo like I had planned to, but I made them happen anyway over the past week.

Rice Fritters with Sesame Caramel
(see recipe from Food Network)

If you search for Cinco de Mayo desserts, churros, or variations of fried dough dipped in sugar, are likely to turn up. I thought these rice fritters would be slightly more interesting and challenging, so I decided to give them a try. Delicious, and well-worth the effort! But perhaps no healthier than churros (they are deep-fried afterall) . . .

Tres Leches Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche
(adapted from Saveur Magazine, see also

Makes 24 cupcakes

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 ½ tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 12-oz. can evaported milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream


  1. Heat ¾ cup of the heavy cream in a saucepan until it boils/simmers. Pour over white chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Let sit for a couple minutes before stirring with a spatula until the white chocolate is melted and smooth.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.
  4. Beat the egg whites with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Continue beating while adding the sugar.
  5. Separately beat the egg yolks until fluffy. Using the paddle attachment, add the flour mixture and whole milk, alternating between the two and ending with the flour.
  6. Add the rum and vanilla and beat briefly until smooth.
  7. Folk in the egg whites.
  8. Scoop batter into cupcake liners, and bake for 16-18 minutes until slightly golden. Be careful not to overbake. Since the cake will be soaked in tres leches, it will ultimately be “moist” in any event, but the cake texture is spongy and can get stiff.
  9. After baking, let cool slightly (~30 minutes), and then poke holes in the top of the cupcakes with a knife, making sure to penetrate to the base.
  10. Peel off the paper liners. Whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream, and spoon the mixture over the warm cupcakes (3-5 tablespoons should do the trick, with the excess sitting in the cupcake pan to ensure that the bottom of the cupcakes are moistened). I wouldn’t worry about oversoaking.
  11. Cover the cupcakes with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled and the liquid is absorbed (at least 4 hours).
  12. Spread/drizzle dulce de leche on top of the cupcakes, and top with whipped cream.

Home-made dulce de leche is quite easy. It is essentially caramelized condensed milk. Some recipes prepare it directly in the can by placing the can in a boiling pot of water. I decided to go with the oven method (see, e.g. David Lebovitz’s recipe):

Pour a can of sweetened condensed milk into a shallow pie pan or baking pan. Place that pan in a larger roasting dish / baking pan that has a lid. Fill the outer pan with water until near the top of the inner pan. Cover with lid and baking at 425° F for 75-90 minutes. Check occasionally in case you need to add more water. A darker crust/layer will form on the top of the condensed milk / dulce de leche. Whisk the dulce de leche until it is smooth (you may need to strain out pieces of crust). Voila!

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