mango lime pavlovas

Dear Howard,

Oh, you’re challenging me to recreate a dessert? Oh, one that you’ve missed because the restaurant is closed during the pandemic? Oh, you don’t think I can make it?

Challenge accepted.

I mean, I need a weekend project anyways. The longer a recipe takes, the more I’m into it these days.

I will make you the prettiest little pavlova for everyone to see how wrong you are. I remember the pretty one that Samin made when we watched Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix. Lucky for us, it’s also in her cookbook by the same name.

mango lime pavlova

Mango Lime Pavlovas
Recipe from Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
Makes about 10 pavlovas

4½ teaspoons cornstarch
1½ cup granulated sugar
6 egg whites, room temperature
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
1½ teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Make sure nothing – the equipment, your hands – has fat on it. Otherwise the egg whites won’t be stable. So wash any residues off bowls, whisks, etc. Preheat your oven to 250°F and line your baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the cornstarch and sugar in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Using your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on low speed for a minute or two.
  4. Then increase the speed to medium. Slowly add the sugar and cornstarch mixture. Group them out. If you dump it all in at once, you’ll break down all the air and structure that the egg whites have been building.
  5. Finally, pour in the vanilla extract and increase the speed to medium-high or high. You’ll know it’s ready when the meringue is glossy and stiff peaks form.
  6. Fill a piping bag with a large round tip with the meringue. Pipe out a circular disc for the base. Then, pipe on top of the base, forming circles. These nests will let you pile in the fruit later.
  7. When you’re done piping all the circular nests, put the baking sheet into the oven and reduce the temperature to 225°F.
  8. Bake for 32-33 minutes, then quickly open your oven to rotate the baking sheet. Bake for another 32-33 minutes. If the pavlova nests are cracking or turning golden, reduce your oven temperature to 200°F.
  9. When the pavlovas easily lift off the parchment paper, you’re done. They should be crisp and dry to the touch on the outside. The center will be a bit marshmallowy!
  10. Let the pavlovas cool on a wire rack.
  11. There are infinite topping possibilities for pavlovas. I went with mangoes cut into small cubes with lemon zest. You can top yours with ice cream, yogurt, berries, and other fruits. Use your favourite pairings!

mango lime pavlova

I can’t believe you said these looked like white poops. They’re nests! Very modern and sleek nests!

mango lime pavlova

Mmm, I love anything tropical. I think the restaurant also uses toasted coconuts, I guess I should have sprinkled some on top of ours too.

mango lime pavlova

A purée of mango sauce is going into the nest. I thought this was unnecessary. I’m going to omit this next time!

mango lime pavlova

All you need is fresh fruit! Some diced mangoes and fresh lime zest.

mango lime pavlova

Here I am, presenting the finished mango lime pavlova like it’s a bowl of soup.

mango lime pavlova

Verdict? I obviously won the challenge. You ended up eating 4 on the first day. You know these things will keep for a week, right?

Sincerely,
Syl

cinnamon twist buns

Dear Simon and Nancy,

I am so behind in writing and posting! I had to do a double take when I saw the date from when these photos were taken. September 2019! When you were here visiting! I remember dropping off these buns to you both and my parents. I hope you enjoyed eating them. The next time you can safely come visit us in Toronto, I’ll take requests and bake you whatever you want!

I hope the both of you are staying safe in New York. From the news, it appears that things are tough in the US, especially in such a densely populated city like where you are. Every day I hope that everyone in our family (around the world) is healthy and safe.

Anyways, back to these twisted buns. The inspiration came from photos and videos I saw online from Circus Bakery in Paris. They make these amazing-looking cardamon buns that I will also attempt to make in the future. Back in September 2019, I wasn’t sure about cardamon baked goods yet. But friends got me cardamon doughnuts for my birthday and I have to say, I like the flavour!

So these are just cinnamon flavoured as I worked on figuring out how to do the fancy twist shape.

Cinnamon Twist Buns
Makes about 24

Dough
⅓ cups butter, room temperature
1¼ cups milk
⅓ cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 large eggs

Filling
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup butter, room temperature
1½ cups brown sugar
2 tablespoon cinnamon

  1. In a saucepan or pot, combine the butter, milk, granulated sugar, and salt together over medium heat until the butter is melted.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, add 5 cups of flour and the yeast. Gently pour the warm milk mixture in. Use the dough hook on the stand mixer and mix on low speed until everything is combined.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time and once everything is incorporated, mix for another 5-7 minutes. The dough will be smooth and shiny when ready.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let the dough rise until it doubles in size. About an hour and a half.
  5. To prepare the cinnamon filling, cream the remaining 1 cup of butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed. It should be light and fluffy when ready. Then, add in the cinnamon and ½ cup of flour. Mix until it becomes a paste, set aside.
  6. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Lightly dust your work surface with flour. Once your dough has risen, take it out and punch down on it. Use a rolling pin to create a large rectangle about half a centimetre thick.
  8. Use a spatula to spread the cinnamon paste onto the dough. Make sure it’s even and goes all the way to the edges of the dough.
  9. Gently lift and fold in a third of the dough from the left. Do the same on the right so that it overlaps.
  10. Then use a bench scraper or knife to cut 1-inch thick rectangle strips. Take each strip and twist them until you have a long stretchy piece of dough. Then, have one hand hold the ends of one while the other wraps the dough around twice. Pull the excess through the center as you remove your hand. Think of it as if you’re wrapping a piece of rope around your hand twice and then pulling the rope through to tie the knot.
  11. Do this with the remaining strips of dough. Place them on the parchment paper on your baking tray. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel for another hour and a half. Preheat your oven to 350°F in that last half hour.
  12. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the buns are golden. Remove them from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. Best eaten on the same day! You can make a glaze or frosting for these, but I loved them as they were!

Use a rubber spatula to get the cinnamon paste out of the bowl. But use an offset spatula to help spread the paste on the dough.

Remember, we’re folding a third of the dough twice. Almost like swaddling a baby blanket.

I used a bench scraper to cut the folded dough into long strips. Then twisted them.

Do two wraps and then stick the end through the middle!

Golden and smelling delicious when they’re out of the oven and cooling. Does anything smell more homey than cinnamon?

Enjoy!

Sincerely,
Syl

cleo chan-chang

Dear Cleo,

Happy Gotcha Day!

I know you’ll never read this (unless cats can secretly read), but it felt nice to write you a letter anyways. Get my feelings out and whatnot in these uncertain times. Sometimes your adopted parents will lovingly gaze over at you and think, wow, it must be nice to not have to worry about anything. In which case, you’d probably refute that and say you worry about a lot of things. Which might be true, you are such a scaredy cat!

Cleo

If things were normal, we would have liked to throw you a party of some sorts. Of course, you’d hate that idea and hide under the couch the entire time. Make sure that none of our guests would see you.

So instead, I’ll just reminisce about the past year. We had just returned from our trip to Japan. I remember bugging Christina (your previous cat mom) to bring you over while I still had a week left in vacation to deal with jet lag. I was so excited that morning but then extremely tired as I felt like I needed a nap. I had even promised to cook for Christina as a thank you, but by the time you were over, I wanted to pass out and sleep. Christina and I carried you up from the parking garage to your new home. You fearfully meowed in your cage as we set up your litter box, automatic food dispenser, and cat house.

Then, we were ready! We opened the crate and you promptly walked under the couch and remained there. For the next 30 days.

Cleo

Of course, you had your more courageous moments. While watching television, you came out once to hide in the den. I guess we were too close for your comfort. Then, later you decided it would be a good idea to hide in the sliver between our oven and cabinet. Howard had to pull you out of there twice in fear that you would get hurt if we tried to use our stove or oven. I had to stuff a few boxes into that crevice. But now I was worried you’d find every weak spot in our home and crawl into hide. Especially the weak baseboards, or the gaps around the laundry machine, or the tiny hole next to the dishwasher. Luckily, you didn’t fit in those areas and continued to hide under the couch.

I remember the immense joy we felt when you finally peaked your head out. We were gaining your trust! And the day you finally came out for pets, gosh the fur came flying! My black pants were covered in cat hair.

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Now that you were on top of the couch every day, you tested the waters by perching on one of our legs at first. Eventually, you came to sit on our lap completely and enjoy napping there for hours as we binged movies and television shows.

We were told that you were only interested in your kibbles and wet food. But I guess it was inevitable when you live with foodies, you started begging and circling us during meal times. Sadly, we couldn’t risk giving you something that would make you sick or throw up! You’re going to have to stick with cat food. Stop being such a shark when we eat human food!

Cleo

You made us proud when you came out to greet friends that were visiting. You were always hesitant at first, but you allowed everyone to give you pets. We felt secure enough to go away on vacation for a week and you made grandma so happy when she came over to cat-sit you. I expected you to hide the entire week, but no! You surprised us all by asking grandma for pets and sitting in her lap as she read the newspaper.

These days, you’re so brave. Jumping up on my desk as I work from home. Walking around our counter-top like you own the kitchen. Sitting extremely close to the television (which makes Howard nervous). Even barking at us and tapping our shoulders if we’re not giving you enough attention. We love that you follow us everywhere like a puppy.

Cleo

I mean, with all the ups, there are downsides too. You have awoken allergies that I didn’t know I had. What is allergy season? Well, I’ll tell you, I know all about allergy season now. So much so that I need to take medication every day to prevent the runny nose, watery eyes, and itchy skin. Seriously, you don’t know how much this worried me. All these symptoms made me wonder if I had something worse during this pandemic – and I can’t go see the doctor without it being a stressful and scary excursion out of our home! You’re also no good for a clean freak like me. Why oh why hasn’t someone invented the perfect way to capture litter tracking?

Yet, every time you cuddle with us or make a cute face, it all feels worth it. We may not get to go out these days, but I have a million photos of you on my phone. I send them to your grandma and post them online hoping to make others smile at your shenanigans.

Here’s to another year sweetie! Let’s hope we can throw you that party one day.

Sincerely,
Syl

 

gingery brownie crinkle cookies

Dear Vikki,

Thank you for being such a big champion of these cookies. I was looking for my next baking inspiration on NYT Cooking when I spotted these. It really is the triple threat by combining our favourite things like cookies, brownies, and ginger. And it’s a good thing that it’s not that easy to make, otherwise we’d be eating these all the time!

02_gingery brownie crinkle cookies

Gingery Brownie Crinkle Cookies
Recipe adapted from NYT Cooking by Susan Spungen
Makes about 20 cookies

45 grams all-purpose flour
30 grams cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
225 grams semisweet chocolate chips
55 grams unsalted butter (½ stick)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
100 grams granulated sugar
55 grams brown sugar
1 tablespoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
115 grams semisweet chocolate chips
Thinly sliced candied ginger

  1. I was reading through the comment section of this recipe and many folks said that it was easier to have everything measured and ready as it can move quickly to combine. So I had the whisked flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt set aside.
  2. Part two takes the longest, over a double boiler, melt the 225 grams of chocolate chips with the butter. The original recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, but I substituted since I don’t have it on hand.
  3. While the chocolate and butter slowly melts, use a stand mixer to whisk the eggs, granulated sugar, and brown sugar together on medium speed. Increase the speed to high until the mixture is light and fluffy. Then add the ginger powder and vanilla extract. Again, the original recipe calls for fresh grated ginger which will no doubt improve the batter, but I didn’t have any.
  4. Next, add the melted chocolate mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Whisk on medium to combine. Now, to avoid making the batter too tough with gluten, add the flour mixture and beat on low speed or use a spatula. Before it’s about to be combined, add in the remaining 115 grams of chocolate chips.
  5. The batter will be quite warm from the melted chocolate, you can choose to chill it in the fridge for half an hour to an hour if you like. Or you can work fast and use a small scoop to portion the dough (1 tablespoon dollops) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. The cookies will spread so make sure they’re placed at least 3 inches apart. Then top the scooped batter with candied ginger.
  6. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Rotate the pans if you like (I will admit, I rarely do). The cookies will be incredibly soft and gooey when they come out. Let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before carefully transferring the entire parchment sheet onto a wire rack to cool further. Wait at least half an hour before you pick them up to eat.

03_gingery brownie crinkle cookies

I got this double boiler insert from Ikea, but you can also use a shallow bowl or pot over a larger one with an inch of boiling water. As long as there is no direct contact with the top container and the boiling water, the steam will help slowly melt the chocolate and butter.

04_gingery brownie crinkle cookies

So much chocolate! It’s actually very similar to making regular brownies.

05_gingery brownie crinkle cookies

Can’t forget the sweet and spicy candied ginger. Thank you for always indulging me with a trip to Trader Joe’s when we travel to the states.

06_gingery brownie crinkle cookies

Slice, slice. It was like cutting up gummy candy.

07_gingery brownie crinkle cookies

They honestly look like worms in mud. But they’re actually delicious.

Sincerely,
Syl

salted butter and chocolate chip shortbread

Dear friends,

Happy new year! I love a good round number like 2020 and am looking forward to Lunar New Year this coming weekend. I hope you all had a lovely holiday and got to make new memories with friends and family.

I don’t make resolutions nor did I make a birthday wish, but I’m feeling somewhat optimistic about this year. Yet, when I really think about it, things aren’t starting so well in the world. International politics, natural disasters, and new viruses are causing havoc in so many parts of the globe. Honestly, it can be too overwhelming and scary to talk about, but I’m grateful to still have a job that I love. A roof over me. My family and friends are healthy. My cat is generally happy….

Most of all, I am still learning and discovering things that I love. There are amazing books to read, fun shows to watch, music to bop to, and recipes to try! Please don’t be mad that I’m very late to the Alison Roman bandwagon. Naseem told me about her. Michelle told me about her. Our office cookbook club is basing lunch around Nothing Fancy. But you know what? She’s so freaking popular that I still haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of her cookbook to read through.

However, the internet supplies. I freaking adore the New York Times YouTube videos with her. I wish they did one every week. Am I asking for too much? Every other week then. Go search for them and watch her cook and revel in her personality.

During my online searches, “the cookies” kept popping up. These famous cookies are all over the place, so I’m not doing anything new here. But I did want to give them a try to see what everyone was raving about.

Salted Butter and Chocolate Chip Shortbread
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes about 35 cookies

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2¼ sticks) cold salted butter
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 large egg
Demerara sugar
Flaky sea salt

  1. Cut the salted butter into chunks or cubes. Add the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract into your mixing bowl. Using your stand mixer with the beater attachment, whip on medium to medium high until it’s light and fluffy and looks like frosting. You want to incorporate air into this so it’ll take about 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
  2. Add in the flour and mix on low until combined.
  3. Add in the chocolate chips. The original recipe calls for chopped up chocolate chunks, but I didn’t have any on hand! Don’t get mad. They still come out yummy.
  4. Take the dough out and separate into two. Roll out two logs about two-inches in diameter. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least two hours.
  5. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Cover your baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a plate or shallow pan with Demerara sugar. Beat the egg.
  6. Unwrap the dough, feel free to trim it to size so that it’ll completely fit in the plate or pan of sugar.
  7. Brush the egg onto the dough. Then roll it in the sugar.
  8. Slice the log into half-inch wide rounds. Place them on the parchment paper, about one or two inches apart. Sprinkle the tops with flaky salt.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes, the edges on the cookies should be lightly brown. Remove from the baking sheet and let it cool completely on a rack.

If your knife hits a chocolate chip and causes the dough to crumble and fall out. Don’t fret! It is supposed to do that! Just push it back into place. I had to manually fix many pieces and it molds back together easily.

Make sure you get that sugar to stick to the egg wash. It’s my favourite part to eat after it’s all done.

The Cookies

And please, please, please do not skip the salt!

The Cookies

These cookies are crisp! They snap, crackle, and pop despite the fact that there’s no rice in them.

Sincerely,
Syl