Tuesday, August 5, 2014

CLASSIC CRÈME CARAMEL

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A HERO'S FAVORITE DESSERT

An extraordinary grandfather is a wonderful thing to have, and fortunately, I am one of the lucky grandchildren in this world to have one. A Grandfather N to be exact, whom my brother and I call J. He is, and will always be my hero; a role model, a mentor, maybe even a superstar that I will always look up to no matter how old I become. He is that wonderful.
On May 19th, J passed away. He had been ill for some time, and the last 7 months of his life were spent in a hospital room, close enough from his home but still away from it (which is a shame because he loved his home). He went peacefully in the sole company of my grandmother, his beloved wife to whom he had been married for 62 years. As you can probably imagine, the event left me devastated.
But today, I am not going to write about my heartbreaking sorrow. Nor am I going to write about all the wonderful memories I have of him. I am going to tell you about my beloved grandfather's beloved dessert.


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J was a dessert lover. He had a sweet tooth, and dessert, along with 'ocha' (tea time) which is around 4 o'clock at my grandparents's house, was something he looked forward to immensely. I remember particular treats he was fond of; the most light and delicate cheesecake, a swiss roll filled with fluffy cream, (both from the 'depa-chika' of department stores he frequented), classic choux à la crème from a neighborhood pâtisserie, ice cream from the grocery store (he loved häagen-dazs), slices of fruit (cantaloupe was his favorite), and his go-to treat: crème caramel.
During J's 7 month stay at the hospital, everyone in our family took turns visiting him, with the exception of my grandmother who was there practically every single day. (Ah, true love, no?) We would talk to him, hold his hand, rub his feet, play his favorite music on the iPad and . . . deliver his crème caramel of the day. Being diagnosed with diabetes at the time, J was on a strict diet, but because he ate so little while he was in the hospital, he was given permission to have treats. Crème caramel was one of the few things he would eat even when he didn't have much of an appetite, and the pudding texture was ideal for his swallowing (he had aspiration pneumonia); hence began the daily delivery. It was the highlight of his day, the moment he had his first spoonful, giving me or whoever else was present a huge boyish grin.
I think about all the times in the past we had crème caramel together at the kitchen table back at his house. I don't think it was ever his "favorite" dessert. But you see, J is the kind of person to fall madly in love with a certain dessert requesting it over and over again, only to fall madly in love with a different dessert after a few months, sometimes a few weeks. His sweet tooth "affairs" come and go most of the time, but I could remember various times in between various affairs we had crème caramel together. Crème caramel is, and I am suspecting always has been, his female companion; the friend he goes back to and has nice conversations with when the affairs tire him out, the friend he is loyal to and never ditches no matter how long it takes for him to visit again. She is gentle and sweet and wholesome (well in a chic way — after all, creme caramel is French), and suits any occasion including the occasion you are sick in the hospital.


Less than a week before J passed away, I made this dessert with him in mind. He hadn't eaten in a while . . . maybe he wouldn't be able to ever again. I wish I had thought of making this earlier while he could still eat, but I was afraid of making him sicker — 'what if I give him food poisoning?' was a thought I couldn't shake. They turned out perfectly, an all too rare result for first time recipes, and I couldn't help but think that J must be sending good vibes to the little oven in my kitchen. He passed away the following Monday.


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It has been two and a half months since that day and I have made crème caramel exactly three times since then. Each attempt has turned out perfectly. Of course I am thinking it is because of J, that he is still sending good vibes . . . good vibes from heaven. Which makes me think I will never fail at making crème caramel. The thought is enough to make me feel invincible — even if it is only for those few moments I am making this dessert — and it is a lovely feeling. It feels very much like love.

Thank you J, for being the extraordinary grandfather you are, for showing me to do the things you love to love the life you live, for loving me unconditionally, and for all the good vibes from heaven to my oven. You are indeed my hero.




* { crème caramel adapted from : Masahiko Hayashi via kyounoryouri (みんなのきょうの料理)custard pudding (カスタードプリン) }
— click on the images above, or continue reading for the recipe

Friday, July 18, 2014

TARTE AUX FRAISES & A FOND FAREWELL TO STRAWBERRY SEASON

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Since becoming a non-professional baker, I've come to realize that some fruit are "in season" during different months of the year, depending, of course, on where you live. For example — strawberries. I say "for example" as if there are others, but as it is the most significant, it is the only example I'm giving. Strawberry season not being in sync with other parts of the world is my biggest disappointment. In Japan, strawberries are sold during colder months (usually starting around December and peaking around March), whereas in the U.S. or European countries, I hear that strawberry season is during the warmer months usually starting around May and peaking in the summer. Well, in my past B.B. (Before Baking) days, this fact was insignificant to me and went unnoticed. I enjoyed strawberry season the Japanese way, enjoying the sweetness of them indoors, while wearing a sweater. Just for the record though, the thought that 'strawberries would taste even better outside in the sun' (perhaps a summer picnic?), did cross my mind more than once. I must've known deep down in my heart. Now, in my current A.D. (After Discovering) baking days, summertime is torture. I read wonderful blogs with beautiful photographs, and the 'spring & summer recipes' sections of lovely cookbooks only to find them dotted with delicious-looking recipes using lush, ripe strawberries. And then there is Instagram . . . It is all truly maddening.



It is May now (this post was originally written then, so kindly forget that it is July for a moment), and it is time to say goodbye to strawberry season here in Tokyo. The cartons of red at the local grocery store are getting fewer and fewer, and unless you have kind relatives living in the coutryside that will send you fresh strawberries, it is time to choose your last cartons of the season. Well, that is exactly what I was doing the other day when I found some very appealing, smallish berries with the stems still attached. Perfectly pretty and perfectly rare. A good combination in my opinion, and they even turned out to be flavorful. One carton disappeared over a single french toast breakfast, but with an idea in mind, I went back for more. One of the recipes that makes being deprived of strawberries during summertime such a disappointment for me is tartelettes. They appear quite often in my references, and it's what makes me ending up with a deep feeling of need for the wrong things at the wrong time of the year. To fulfill this craving in May would be the next best thing to fulfilling it in July or August. And so, the grand finale for this year's strawberry season was realized: 'tartes aux fraises à la rustique' — a little sooner than summer, but at least not in the remains of winter.


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* { tarte aux fraises, pâte sucrée adapted from : miette by meg ray with leslie jonath, crème pâtissière adapted from : the little paris kitchen classic french recipes with a fresh and simple approach by rachel khoo }
— continue reading for the recipe

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

THE CUPCAKE PROJECT № 4 | ESPRESSO CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES

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These chocolate cupcakes are incredibly moist and tender with a rich chocolate flavor, due to the fact that the batter used is actually a double chocolate cake batter using both cocoa powder and chocolate. The recipe is adapted from Miette, one of my go-to bake books, both for the recipes and the pretty designs.


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Come to think of it, cupcakes weren't a big part of my childhood. I can't really recall a special memory that includes them, even though I'm quite certain I've eaten a fair share at birthday parties and other seasonal occasions. But I do have a special place in my heart for chocolate cake.
Chocolate cake in Japan tastes different, and although I've been living here in Tokyo longer than I lived in the States, I still sometimes get cravings for a slice of classic American-style chocolate cake. No fancy flavors or decorations; just plain chocolatey chocolate cake, served with a layer of plain chocolate buttercream or maybe a dollop of whipped cream. That's my idea of perfection — something that fulfills my chocolate cake cravings — and that is exactly what these cupcakes taste like.


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The buttercream is adapted from Call Me Cupcake!'s espresso chocolate cupcakes (by Linda Lomelino), and if you like your chocolate cupcakes with a cold glass of milk, this is the buttercream to use. If you want something a little less rich but as equally as satisfying, I recommend the raspberry buttercream I used for the cupcake photographs in my last post, also from Linda's blog.




It's hard to believe we've already come to the end of April. I'm still having trouble writing posts on a regular basis, but I guess writing random posts is still better than not writing at all. I really hope I can post a Mother's Day post before Mother's Day. One of my goals for May . . . *

* { espresso chocolate cupcakes, double chocolate cupcakes adapted from : miette by meg ray with leslie jonath, espresso chocolate buttercream adapted from : call me cupcakeespresso chocolate cupcakes }
— click on the images above, or continue reading for the recipe