Tag Archives: cake

The wonder of sponge cake

Genoise is the classic French sponge cake. Its exhaustive list of ingredients includes eggs, sugar and flour. And maybe a wee bit of butter. But that’s it.

Just think for a minute about how amazing that is. Eggs are individually packaged vehicles containing fat and protein. Sugar is a crystalline sweetener that gives nice caramel flavours when it’s heated. Flour is a powdery form of wheat, and provides structural support for most things in the pastry kitchen. Butter is, well, fat.

Under the right circumstances, these ingredients come together to form a complex network of teeny tiny air bubbles.

First, heat eggs and sugar to 45 degrees Celsius, then whisk until cool. This magical temperature is just hot enough to loosen up the proteins in the eggs, but not so hot that you end up with sweet scrambled eggs. With vigorous whisking, this dense, yellow liquid is magically transformed into a pale yellow foam that is twice, sometimes thrice, its original volume. It doesn’t matter how many times I make genoise – the beauty of the foam shocks me every time.

Gently, oh so gently, fold in the flour. This terrifying step is dreaded by most culinary students, since it’s a fine balance of incorporating the flour just so without deflating your egg foam. After a bit of practice, you learn to read the batter. It whispers to you when it’s done – you just have to keep your eyes and ears open. 

If you’re daring, you’ll fold room temperature (not hot, not cold), melted butter into the mix.

But that’s not all. Now you have to gently coax the batter into a prepared pan, and slide it into the oven. All those old-fashioned stories of moms shooing their bouncing kids out of the kitchen when a sponge cake was in the oven? I get it now. Nothing comes between me and my genoise.

After all that, if you’ve done your job properly, it comes out of the oven golden-brown, moist and fragrant. That’s alchemy, if I ever saw it.

Donut, doughnut: however you spell it, it’s delicious

It seems like all roads lead to New York, because several people have asked me for NYC food recommendations. I’m more than happy to oblige.

Doughnut Plant
(Lower East Side)

This place opens early, and that’s when you need to get there to beat the crowds. There are cake doughnuts and yeast doughnuts.  While I usually prefer cake doughnuts, the yeast doughnuts here kick some serious cake doughnut ass. They’re fluffy, warm pillows of yeasty goodness. And then they’re drenched in sugar glaze.

With his shop’s proximity to Chinatown, Chef Mark Israel goes for a walk each morning to buy the freshest produce to come up with his daily offerings. The tres leche cake doughnut is legendary (if a little bit sweet) but I was more impressed by two unusually flavoured yeast doughnuts: mango and lavender.

The mango doughnut was actually juicy, if you can believe it. Take the best qualities of a perfectly summer-ripe mango, transpose those qualities into a warm, yeasty doughnut, and you might begin to understand how delicious it was. The lavender doughnut was subtle, delicate and refined. A refined doughnut, how about that?

I tried my very best to try all the flavours while I was there, but I didn’t make it. There’s a peanut butter and jelly doughnut that sounds amazing. Someone needs to try it and let me know.

Doughnut Plant
379 Grand St
New York, NY
212-505-3700

Strange Christmas traditions

My family is a little, erm, unconventional. My dad is from Hong Kong and my mom is from China, but they met in Canada in the early 1970s. I was born in Vancouver and raised as a Chinese kid in a white neighbourhood. Case in point: the last time I was in Hong Kong, I was five years old. I got off the plane, saw hordes of Chinese people, and asked my mom if we were in Chinatown. Yup.

So I’ve grown up with this mixture of Chinese and Canadian cultures. For instance, my mom is a devout Christian and eschews most Chinese superstitions. But, she still refuses to clean the house on New Year’s Day for risk of sweeping away good spirits, and she arranges furniture according to the principles of feng shui.

Our Christmas traditions are no exception. We usually have a big dinner party around Christmastime, but it’s just a matter of convenience whether it’s before or after Christmas. We invite 12-15 people over, crowd around the dining table, and eat with chopsticks from plates.

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New York goodies, day four

I was in New York for four days. This is what I ate on day four.

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New York goodies, day three

I was in New York for five days. This is what I ate on day three.

-A ginormous sandwich from Salumeria Biellese, which smokes and cures all its own meats. Four bucks gets you a foot-long, 6-inch high sandwich stuffed full of meat and provolone.
-Two mini-eclairs from Fauchon, one coconut (delicious and creamy) and one coffee (yum). The eclairs cost more than my giant sandwich. In an attempt to combat the ridiculous rainstorm outside, I also had a French hot chocolate. I don’t know what made it so French, aside from it being made at Fauchon, but it was pretty tasty.
-Shanghainese noodles from Shanghai Cafe.
Vegan coconut layer cake from Atlas, which was almost passable. That is, as cake it was just okay, but as vegan cake it was pretty good.