You’re So Sweet: March 14


March 14 is quite a busy day for sweets on both ends of the Pacific Ocean.

In Japan, the day is called, “White Day.” No, it has nothing to with race, of course, but it has a lot to do with love and sugar. You see, Valentine’s Day, on February 14, is the Japan’s equivalent of Sadie Hawkins Day where a girl gets to ask a guy she likes out, or at least tell him how she feels about him, by giving him chocolates.

It’s a clever marketing ploy by a chocolate company, I tell you, but it’s a big deal for them gals!  Some of them wait an entire year for this special day and wait patiently until the 14th of the following Month, on White Day, to receive a response from the guy via white chocolate or marshmallow, hence the name.

Here, in the U.S., it’s National Pi Day!

The two events occasioned me to bake something sweet and because I wasn’t in the mood for pie, I went for some good old brownies, courtesy of Martha Stewart.  I know brownies have nothing to do with White Day or Pi Day, but I say sugar is sugar!


I used the Godiva dark chocolate bars that I received as a birthday gift a few months ago, and added one cup each of dried cranberries, chopped almonds, and white chocolate chips, in an attempt to clear out the freezer. I think these made the brownies extra decadent, perfect for the sweet March 14.

Mini Strawberry Tarts


There are so many different ways to reach the same destination when it comes to baking. Everyone and their mothers have their own version of how to make the basics – like pie dough, pate choux, and pastry cream. Navigating through baking books and online recipes can be overwhelming at times with countless variations to choose from, so I usually narrow down to these three experts to guide me through the process: Dorie Greenspan, David Lebowitz, and Martha Stewart.

This is not to say that I don’t seek other patisseries’ tutelage — I do. I have overflowing shelves full of baking books from other authors to prove it.  But when I’m in a need of an absolute fool-proof recipes for French-inspired desserts (and am not particularly in the mood to experiment), I go straight to Greenspan, Lebowitz, and Stewart, as I consider them to be the definitive authorities on the subject. Although they are all American, two formers live in Paris (I thinks Greenspan travels back and forth to Paris and New York) and their authenticities are certainly not lost in translation. And of course, Martha. Martha, Martha, Martha. Love her or hate her (and I happen to love her, clearly), there’s no denying that her recipes come out perfect, every. single. time.

When I was searching for the recipe for pastry cream for the strawberry tart, I compared all three. Greenspan and Lebowitz’s recipes were very similar, but Stewart’s used a few less eggs … and since I was down to just four eggs in the refrigerator (as opposed to six), I decided to go with the Domestic Queen’s version.

And the result? Fantastic, of course, sandwiched between the buttery pate sucree and fresh strawberries.

Pastry Cream
Makes about 2 ½ cups
Adapted from

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot-milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, until it has been incorporated. Pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard vanilla bean.

Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter, and beat on medium speed until the butter melts and the mixture cools, about 5 minutes.

Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Just before using, beat on low speed until smooth (you can also whisk by hand).


I used the same pate sucree (sweet dough) recipe as the Tarte Aux Pommes I made the other day (click here for the recipe). See, I told you I use other pastry chef’s recipes too!  lol


I used the small brioche pans I purchased from William Sonoma to make these individual shells.


I tried a few different ways to place the strawberries and this seems to work the best.  I put the whole strawberry, sans stem, in the middle, and arranged the sliced berries around it.


I used the apricot jam and water mixture for the glaze.  Definitely take the time to do this final step, as it makes the tarts look more professional (and it tastes great).

Happy baking!

Coffee Shop Experience at Home: Chocolate Scones

Do you remember Oprah’s Debt Diet? A few years ago, she invited a several financial experts to her show to provide helpful advice on how to get out of debt and regain a financial control. The advice were mostly common sense (figure out how much debt you have, track your spending, etc.) but one thing that resonated with me was David Bach’s Latte Factor, a “simple concept that can add up to big savings.”  The worksheet allowed people to realize that a small purchase, like a daily cup of Joe, can eventually add up to a large sum over time.

I remember doing a calculation of my own Starbucks spending and I recall my jaw dropping in shock. I used to stop by the popular coffee shop on my way to work almost daily, picking up my usual Venti Soy Misto and, on occasion, a delicious Maple Oat Nut Scone. When I did the calculation, I realized that, with $3.00 (for the drink) and $3.00 (for scone), I was spending about $6 a day, and more than $1,500 a year … on liquid! 😯

I stopped buying Starbucks right around that time, and started bringing tea bags to work. I must admit that I don’t miss coffee much but I do miss the feeling, or what the Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz calls “romance” once in a while.  There’s something very special and therapeutic about sitting in a coffee shop to relax and just people watch over a hot drink.

I was particularly craving scones and a freshly-brewed coffee this morning but since I’m committed to dining at home all this month, I decided to take a few minutes before work to whip up the buttery Scottish quick bread dough at home in time for an afternoon snack, instead of rushing to my old java stomping ground.  I’m so thankful that I get to work most days from home, where I can do something like this.  I’m truly a lucky girl.

I turned to my trusted Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook for the recipe. I was a little limited on what I had in the refrigerator so I had to improvise at bit and substitute some things, like using non-fat milk instead of heavy cream, and swopping granulated sugar with evaporated cane sugar. I selected Chocolate Scones recipe but omitted the Dutch cocoa power because I wasn’t in the mood for a super chocolate-y dessert.

Here’s the recipe and instruction for the scones, courtesy of Paris Pastry!

A quick note here: The instruction in the book says to use a pastry blender to “cut the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few larger clumps remaining.” Since I didn’t have a pastry blender, I decided to roll up my sleeves and mix (or more like squish) the dough by hands. And it was FUN! You have to do it fairly quickly because you don’t want the butter to melt but aside from having buttery fingers, the process was very painless. So don’t let not owning a pastry blender stop you from making scones at home!

The result — a super duper satisfying afternoon treat! I’m happy to report that the substitutions that I made didn’t interfere with the result.  And it cost close to nothing since I used all the ingredients that I already had in my fridge and pantry! I love that this recipe allows me to freeze the dough, which means that I can enjoy these lovely scones whenever I want. All I need to do is take them out of the freezer and pop them in the oven whenever I get the craving! According to the recipe, the dough can be frozen for up to 3 weeks.

With a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee made from an old-fashion French press (sorry for cheating, Starbucks), this is a perfect afternoon snack. Who says you have to eat scones for breakfast only?

Thanksgiving Prep: Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

I am hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for my family tomorrow — my first official holiday dinner soiree at my new apartment! 🙂 I know that I should be cleaning the house and getting ready for the big night, like my upstairs neighbor who was vacuuming the floor with what sounded like an industrial-sized machine (it was loud!).  Instead, I decided to bake couple loaves of bread to give out tomorrow as a “thank-you-for-coming” presents for my family. I know that my parents eat toasts for breakfast religiously, so a home-baked bread should be a perfect way to wake up from a turkey coma the next morning! Of course, I’m planning on serving the bread during dinner as well.

I used Martha Stewart’s recipe from her Website. (This exact recipe appears on her baking book that I own but it is still inside a box that I’m currently using as a TV stand … hahaha.) Never mind the jail thing, or the ice queen thing … I love Martha. I love her show, her cookbooks, her style, everything! Everything that I’ve tried so far from her cookbooks and online recipes have been a huge success and this one was no exception.

What I love so much about the recipe is that it calls for ordinary ingredients that you can easily find at any regular supermarket.  The only ingredient that you might have difficulty locating is wheat germ but I bought mine at Whole Foods (any specialty stores should carry it, but I don’t think I found it at Trader’s Joe though).  I used to be intimidated by this cootie-esque ingredient until I purchased a bag for the homemade granola bar and realized that these little brown flakes are not as scary as the name suggests. This recipe also does not require you to have any special machines or gadgets, so you’ll be okay even if you don’t own a Kitchaid stand mixer.

I must admit that I did make some alterations to the recipe. First, instead of two packets of active yeast, I used one (I totally misread the recipe), and I only put in one tablespoon of salt instead of two (two just sounded way too much). But surprisingly, the loaves still came out delicious!

I love watching the dough double in size. As I watched it get bigger by the minute, I realized that we are no different than a bread dough … if you eat sweets (yeast feeds on sugar) and lay out in the sun (you need to put the dough in a warm place, like on an unheated stove top), we too will double in size! Yikes!

Kneading the dough is such a stress reliever! If you’re ever angry, knead the dough and let your aggression out! It’s a win-win situation!

Divide the dough in half and put each in a canola oil-greased pan and wait for them to double in size again.

After baking the loaves for about 45 minutes (the recipe calls for 50-60 minutes but mine only took about 40-45 minutes), let them rest for a while before you slice into them! I know, it’s difficult to wait when you have these lovely loaves waiting for you!

The inside came out fluffy and perfect and the crust was flaky and chewy!

This is such an incredibly stress-free recipe, I hope you will give it a try! You definitely won’t be disappointed with two loaves of wonderful wheat bread that’s ready to sandwich turkey leftovers!


Update: I had a sandwich with leftover turkey, toasted homemade wheat bread slices, cranberry sauce, arugula, mayonnaise (just a little), and Dijon mustard, for lunch. This is another reason why Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year! It was absolutely delicious!

The Perfect Cure: Chocolate Chip Cookies

cooking-cookiesThere’s an old Japanese proverb that says that, “stupid people don’t catch cold.” WTF? Well, I’m assuming that it means that active kids who played outside are typically more intellectually inept than those who stayed home and … read or something. Naturally, the latter would build up enough tolerance to fight cooties from being outside, thus making them unlikely to get sick.  I think I can credit my insecurities as a youth to this saying because I was one of those kids who never, ever got sick and because of that I always believed that I was stupid.

Well, either the proverb was proven to be full of shit (yeah) or I’m becoming smarter (neh), but I’ve been susceptible to cooties lately. This “turning 30” thing has really wreak havoc on my system, I tell you. For example, it takes me at least three days to recover from one night of wild fun (and by this, I mean going to a 10:00 p.m. movie), and forget losing weight. My ass gets bigger just by thinking about sweets. But what’s more frustrating than anything is that I get sick now just by walking past someone who’s coughing!  What is all that about?!?

After suffering this nasty cold for nearly a week, I finally felt good enough to get myself out of bed today and do something I’ve been wanted to do for weeks — baking.

marthaI didn’t want to do anything intricate so I went for the good old chocolate chip cookies, which give me enough satisfaction while providing guarantee results. I’ve tried many chocolate chip cookie recipes in the past but my favorites came down to  ① the recipe on the back of the Nestle chocolate chips, and ② Martha Stewart’s.
Although I wouldn’t call myself a fan of hers (she’s kinda scary), Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook is actually one of my favorite cookbooks. Everything that I’ve tried from this book has been successful, and I like the way the instructions are written. I used her recipe this time and the cookies certainly satisfied my sweet tooth.  This particular recipe called for more butter and less flour so the results were more crisp and less chewy, and I loved them.

Nothing cures cold better than a couple (or a dozen) of no frill, no nonsense homemade cookies, for sure.  Maybe I’ll save some for Santa too.