Baking a Birthday Cake and Eating at Helen’s House
Two weeks ago I baked a cake for my younger brother’s 21st birthday. Yeah, he’s all grown up now and I feel kinda old just thinking back how little he was.[Sniffles]
Anyway, my mom wanted me to bake him a “sophisticated” cake just because he’s turning the milestone age of 21. So, I picked a few cookbooks off of my bookshelf and gave him to peruse and pick a cake he liked. He ended up liking a few recipes from La Maison du Chocolat’s book (he’s got good taste, no?) and I helped him narrow it down in terms of aesthetics. Actually, all the photos in LMDC’s book is food porn so it’s hard to pick something but we settled for a bit of a challenging cake, the Lemon-Chocolate Almond Cake. I said “challenging” because it has four components to create the entire cake: the chocolate-almond cake, the chocolate cream, lemon cream, and the glaze. It does sound easy but it’s a pain to let it wait to sit in the refrigerator to set. Also, working full-time takes away time for cooking or baking during the weekdays.
Nevertheless, I pursued and planned what to make. The first evening I started to make the base of the lemon cream and chocolate cream. Except, I ran into a few blips when I’m working with the chocolate, as well as my stupidity as I’m going along with the recipe. But all is fine and dandy when I worked out the kinks and it looks like that smooth, fluffy thing you see below.
Also, it doesn’t help when my local grocery stores don’t sell almond flour. I ended up getting blanched almonds and grind them up – in humid weather with a blender. Not a good combination since everything’s sticking to the walls and bottom of the container, threatening to become almond butter. [Note to self: Don’t make almond flour in humid weather conditions.]
The last major mistake I did was not using a ruler to divide the cake into thirds evenly. I trimmed out too much that I lost probably 1/8th of the cake. But nothing went to waste, I fed them to my parents since they kept circling around me like a hungry pet, waiting for something to fall on the ground – except they’re not going to eat off the ground, just pick up the crumbs left on the tray.
The good thing was that building the cake went well. Giving the exception that it’s actually tilted when I look at my slice of cake. But my brother said to me, “It doesn’t matter how it looks. As long as it tastes good, I’m happy.” It tasted magnificent – intense, creamy chocolate with a hint of brightness and acidity from the lemon cream. My mom can’t stop eating that cake the entire night that I have to guard the refrigerator for a few hours.
To Helen’s House!
I went back to Helen’s house again but not for the intense chocolate baking that we did last time. After baking my brother’s birthday cake, I don’t want to touch chocolate. Hell, I would try to persuade Helen not to do anything chocolate-y. Thankfully, she’s just craving for profiteroles ever since she tried a few from Balthazar Bakery.
When we got to her house (meeting Helen’s younger sister and eventually our mutual friend, Joohee), I started to make the Honey-Apricot Parfait With Greek Yogurt and Walnuts that I read from The New York Times several weeks ago. The two things that I love about it were: no cooking and it’s very seasonal. It’s so easy to put together and it tastes delightful – sweet and tart from the macerated apricots and honey, creamy and tangy from the yogurt (I used Fage), and the crunchy toasted, slightly bitter walnuts. So NOM and pretty.
This was our starter for our late lunch. Helen planned on serving cold soba noodles her way since I never really ate it before. I’m usually partial to hot noodle dishes but since it’s the summer, why not give it a try?
Before we started to eat, I brought out a pack of sparkling sake by Sake2Me to share amongst us. What we did was have a sip of each from a glass (seen here for an idea). The sakes were very smooth and effervescent (for obvious reasons and it’s the premium junmai grade). Of the four fruit flavors, I liked the yuzu citrus the most since it’s sweeter. The Asian pear was second. I did enjoy the subtle sweetness of the pear.
I bought this just because I remember liking the cold sake I tried in Kasadela. The safety net is that I’m at a close friend’s place that I can take a nap if I feel drunk. Thankfully, it didn’t happen. I just felt a tiny bit buzzed after drinking the entire bottle myself, which is a remarkable thing in itself.
When we finally got to eating, Joohee was being the finicky person (like me) to make the food look pretty. After cooling off the soba noodles, she balled them up into portions and make it look better than a big, messy pile that Helen wanted to do.
So this bowl of cold soba was pretty much a mixture of soba sauce that’s similar to soy sauce (which I don’t know the English name of), wasabi paste, and finely grated daikon. The whole thing tasted so good that I ate so much of it ’til my belly can’t take it anymore. It’s chewy, spicy, bitter and salty all in each bite. I would eat more but I need to save some room for the profiteroles I’m going to make.
Just when I felt like I’m about to hit food coma, Helen started to whip up some spicy salmon cones. I said cones since she doesn’t know how to make a maki form, especially the part when she has to cut it. So…we have to live with a big, stuffed seaweed cone full of soft, warm rice, spicy salmon (which she was a bit too liberal with the mayonnaise and sriracha sauce), avocado, and salmon roe. It was very tasty but after eating one, I felt like I’m going to keel over and die!
Sitting, chatting, and cleaning up helps out the belly aching a bit that made me motivated to start baking the profiteroles. I made the chocolate cream portion by boiling the milk, sugar, cocoa powder and cornstarch (I think?) to create a custard-like filling but thicker.
While it’s cooling, I made the pâte à choux. It sounds fancy and all but this is the easiest dessert to bake, in my opinion. Melt your butter, dump in flour, a little bit of sugar and salt, and mix like crazy. Turn off the fire, then crack an egg and a yolk and still mix constantly to prevent scrambled eggs, and finally into a pastry bag with a medium, plain tip. From there, you just squeeze the dough about the size of a ping-pong ball onto a greased or lined baking sheet and bake. That’s it. The finished product looks like this: [points down]
Then get yourself some decent chocolate to make a ganache and let it cool slightly. Fill the choux with the chocolate cream and dip them into the chocolate pool of yummy. And you get a plate full of these babies.
Or you can do the food porn way of getting a cute little gravy bowl like I have and fill it with the ganache and set aside some filled choux and do this:
So that concludes the weekend of baking. I know it isn’t fooding but hell, it’s food and most importantly, DESSERT.
If you want me to post the recipe (if there’s a reasonable amount of response to this), I’ll post the recipe for the lemon-chocolate cake or the chocolate profiteroles. I’m just lazy to type out the recipes.