festive lime cake

Dearest Diana,

Happy birthday!

I know that I didn’t make this cake specifically for your birthday – but you did get to eat it because it was for a party you threw! Thanks again for inviting us to your annual holiday party. DIRT came early this year, I remember we used to celebrate your birthday at midnight when the party was winding down (or still going).

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I decided to go with a lime cake and frosting because I figured most people would bring chocolate desserts to your potluck. And also because I had a lot of limes to use up (just like how you do now from the amount Kurt bought). As much as I love chocolate cake, the lime flavour would help cut any heaviness from the carbs, cheese, fried food, and other delicious treats we were consuming that night. The frosting was so smooth this time, I was quite pleased with it, but the clear crystal sprinkles coated on the outside of the cake gave it a crunchy texture.

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I saw this simple decorating trick from a blogger I follow, Style Sweet CA, and knew that I had to replicate it. I mean, how easy is that?!

Okay, giving the cake a smooth finish wasn’t easy (still need Santa to bring me that bench scraper) and I think my cake is a little slanted, but it’s totally going for that rustic look on purpose (shhh). Making the sprinkles stick to the sides wasn’t easy either, I really need to read up on that because I had sprinkles all over the floor after. But you know what was easy? Sticking five rosemary sprigs on top. That I can do without any problems. I gave the rosemary a wash, dried them thoroughly, and then plucked off a few leaves so that I would have a stalk. Gave the “trees” varying heights and tried to look for ones with a thicker stalks.

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I love how the rosemary look like Christmas trees – even though they go against what I was taught. In grade four, our teacher made us all draw pine trees, he then gathered them and at the front of the class look at each page and made a really large “no” pile. Because as fourth graders, we all drew the pine trees as Christmas trees, with the branches angled down. Interesting teaching method, no? It’s something I never forgot!

I mean, I guess I could have inserted the rosemary twigs the other way, but this was just too darling to be corrected.

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Lime White Cake
Makes three 6-inch cakes or 18 cupcakes (as intended from the cookbook)
Recipe from Butter Baked Goods: Nostalgic Recipes from a Little Neighborhood Bakery

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
¾ cup whole milk
¼ cup lime juice, freshly squeezed from 2 limes
Zest of 4 limes, save the 2 other limes for the frosting
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of your cake pans with parchment paper. Or line your muffin pan with cupcake wrappers.
  2. Using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until it’s light and fluffy.
  3. Add in the eggs one at a time, scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
  4. In a bowl, whisk together the milk, lime juice, two-thirds of the lime zest and vanilla.
  5. In another bowl, lightly mix the pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
  6. Back to the stand mixer, add a third of the dry ingredients in and mix on low. Pour in a third of the liquid ingredients. Do this two more times, scraping the side of the bowl as needed.
  7. Fill the cake pans about three-quarters full (same with cupcakes). Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a wooden skewers inserted into the center comes out clean. If you’re making cupcakes, you only need to bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven, transfer to wire racks and let it cool completely.

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Lime Buttercream

4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
¼ cup lime juice
⅓ lime zest

  1. Using the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until combined. Add in the lime juice and zest.
  2. It’s tricky to write an accurate recipe for buttercream, I often tweak it depending on the consistency I want. If I want it softer and smoother, I add more lime juice or water, if the buttercream becomes too runny, then I add in a little more confectioner’s sugar.

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I remember making you birthday lime cupcakes with little fondant EVEs from WALL-E. How times have changed since then! I’ve watched you grow from student to graduate to employee to wife and now mother of two. It’s been a lot of birthdays and I’m so glad we’ve had the chance to celebrate many of them together.

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Have a great birthday and festive holiday. Hope to see you in our traditional new year’s eve get together!

Sincerely,
Syl

beef noodle soup

Dear In-Laws,

You make the best beef noodle soup. Hands down. And I can confidently say this now that we went on a trip to Taiwan together – where beef noodle soup originated from – and I tried many bowls that did not live up to my expectations. It was the first meal I bought in Taiwan in one of the many tasty and busy food courts. We even lined up for over an hour for another at a restaurant (let’s not talk about how that was so not worth it). Heck, I even gave it another attempt in the airport before we left. But nope, none had the flavours that I wanted, yours is truly the high standard.

I keep telling myself that Howard and I need to learn how you make that broth. So I don’t have to wait for the birthdays or special occasions when you do grace us with that piping hot bowl of comfort. I don’t know what I love more, pho or beef noodle soup? It might be a tie.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a fairly simple recipe that took less than 4 hours to make! Could it be? Let’s find out.

Beef Noodle Soup

Beef Noodle Soup
Makes about 4 servings
Recipe from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes

2 tablespoon grape seed oil
2 pounds boneless beef shank meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoon minced ginger
1 ½ tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon gochujang (fermented chile paste)
2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 whole star anise
1 3-inch long cinnamon stick
2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (cooking wine)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
10 cups water
1 tablespoon hondashi (bonito)
2 handfuls baby bak choy
8 ounces Yet-Ca-Mein (noodles)
⅛ sesame oil

  1. I was actually quite surprised at how little ingredients I had to purchase. I had to pick up the meat, ginger, hondashi, and bak choy, but I had everything else in my pantry. If you’re looking for gochujang, your best bet is a Korean supermarket. I also found the Shaoxing wine and hondashi in a Chinese/Taiwanese grocery store. Everything else should be pretty common in large chains across the country.
  2. I got to use my Dutch oven for this (yay) and heated it over medium-high heat with the grape seed oil (you can also use another neutral oil here). Add in the ginger and garlic, give it a quick stir for thirty seconds. You can still see my minced ginger and garlic in the photos – Howard gave me some flak for that. It’s my least favourite prep to do, so when they look “small” enough to me, I stop! Season the meat with 3 teaspoon of salt.
  3. This is what the cookbook calls the flavour party: add in the beef, gochujang, soy sauce, star anise, cinnamon, wine, sugar, and vinegar.
  4. Stir for a minute, add in the water and hondashi and stir until it’s dissolved. I stored my leftover hondashi in an airtight jar, as I could only find them in packets that were way more than the tablespoon needed.
  5. Once the broth starts simmering, turn the heat down to low to keep it on simmer state. Skim any froth, fat, or scum on the surface out with a ladle – but then remember to replace a ladle-ful of water for each ladle you discard.
  6. Partially cover the pot with a lid and let it simmer for 2 hours. I kept checking back at the hour to discard any froth on the surface and replacing each scoop with water. But you’re pretty much done here. You can cool it and chill it in the fridge for up to three days. Or eat it that same day.
  7. Boil some water and blanch the baby bak choy. Take them out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Then boil the noodles in the same pot of water that is now saturated with all that vegetable goodness in it. Drain and divide into servings. Place the bak choy on top, along with some slices of beef, and ladle in the hot broth over until just about covered.
  8. This is optional, season the broth with sesame oil. I preferred it without, while Howard thought it was way better with it.

Beef Noodle Soup

Pair those piping hot bowls with some freshly fried scallion pancakes and it’s pretty close to the greatest meal ever. You’ve got your crispy and salty side dish to go with that hearty and filling noodle.

Beef Noodle Soup

So what was the verdict?

This recipe was good, but just still not as good as the one you make. Howard refused to drink my broth here, but we all know that he gulps down the bowls you serve us at home.

Oh and because we’re in a condo, our place smelled like beef soup for a couple of days. That simmering time acted as an aroma diffuser for every corner of our place. I think I went through four mini candles before our home started to smell neutral again!

Sincerely,
Syl

scallion pancakes

Dear Mom,

I can’t believe you’re walking around colonial America right now. You just texted me a photo of you and dad enjoying the sunshine in Virginia. I’m just glad to see you’re both safe and are having a fun time with your friends. I admit I was a little worry about the timing of your road trip after this week’s news. Granted, I’m still worried and won’t stop until you’re back home in a few days.

This has been such a weird week. So many swirling feelings around the future and even the present. I was in such a funk on Wednesday, not really feeling right. Being at work felt oddly wrong, it felt like we should all be banding together to do something. Commuting, I couldn’t tell if my fellow Torontonians were feeling it too or if it was just the usual rush hour crowd.

Then there was Remembrance Day which also reminds of us the solemn past that we do not want repeated. Gosh, what will the history books tell of our days? Of this moment in history? The good thing is that we’re seeing a lot of amazing people rallying together and spreading positive messages using art as a medium.

I don’t think I knew this about myself, but I think I’m a stress eater! I don’t know for sure but I’m obviously turning to food to find comfort. I had time off on Friday to make scallion pancakes and beef noodle soup. I love how you knew to order me these delicious eats when I was younger.

Scallion Pancakes

Scallion Pancakes
Makes about 6-8
Recipe from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes

4 cups all-purposed flour + more for dusting
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 ½ + ⅓ cup warm water
2 cups chopped scallions
2 teaspoon salt + more for sprinkling
sesame oil
grapeseed oil (or another neutral oil)

  1. Take out that stand mixer of yours and attach the dough hook to it. In the bowl, add in 2 cups of flour with all the vegetable shortening. Mix on low until the shortening has broken down into flour-covered bits, resembling a coarse crumble.
  2. Pour in the water and mix for about 3 minutes until a dough forms.
  3. Stop the mixer and add in the remaining 2 cups of flour, 2 teaspoon of salt, and ⅓ cup of water. Turn on the mixer and have it knead on medium speed for another 3 minutes. If your dough looks shiny and sticky still (mine did), add in ¼ cup of flour and mix again. The dough still looked a bit wet to me, but I didn’t want it to be too dried, so I left it at that. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes in the fridge.
  4. While the dough is chilling, chop up your scallion and take out the sesame oil and salt.
  5. Unwrap the dough and cut it into 8 equal pieces. Dust your work surface with flour and roll the first piece into a square-ish shape about 8×8 inches. Remember when I said the dough seemed too wet? Well, it was perfect. Easy to roll out and beautiful. Nothing makes me happier than perfect dough consistency.
  6. Pour a teaspoon of sesame oil on it and brush the entire surface. If you need more sesame oil, keep adding until the surface is covered with a thin layer. Sprinkle on a pinch of salt and then add in 1-2 tablespoons of scallions.
  7. Roll the dough into a log and form it into a tight spiral. The cookbook calls this a Cinnabon of scallion pancake dough!
  8. Repeat with the remaining 7 pieces of dough.
  9. Take out a skillet or frying pan and fill it with ⅛ inch of grapeseed oil over medium heat.
  10. While the oil is warming up, it’s time to flatten those spiraled pieces of dough. The log roll and spiral helped embed all those pieces of scallions inside the dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll these “Cinnabon” shapes out until they’re flat 8-inch circles. Gently place it in the frying pan and fry 2-3 minutes on each side. Only flip once! Use a pair of tongs to help flip and take out the scallion pancakes when they’re ready. They’re super hot, so let it cool on a wired rack before hungry hands come along.

Scallion PancakesThis is the dough that I ended up wrapping to chill. It looks very gooey, but let it be. Let it be.

Scallion PancakesI love the ombré of a good scallion. The white roots to the pale green to the dark green.

Scallion Pancakes
The cookbook calls for a tablespoon for each pancake, but I just chopped up a bunch because I like it extra scallion-y.

Scallion Pancakes
A teaspoon of flour is roughly the right amount for lightly flouring your work surface.

Scallion Pancakes
Still can’t get over how smooth and easy it was to roll.

Scallion Pancakes
Just darn perfect.

Scallion Pancakes
You’ll have to eyeball the amount of sesame oil.

Scallion Pancakes
See? I already need more.

Scallion Pancakes
Do not skip the salt!!! You need it otherwise your pancakes won’t be crave worthy.

Scallion Pancakes
Told you, more than a tablespoon of scallions for me.

Scallion Pancakes
Gently take the edge and start the rolling process.

Scallion Pancakes
Keep going until you have a rolled up log.

Scallion Pancakes
Then take that log and spiral it into a bun.

Scallion Pancakes
Like so! A little snail.

Scallion Pancakes
When it’s time to fry, flatten that spiral down.

Scallion Pancakes
Wait for it to get golden.

Scallion Pancakes
You should really let it cool before picking it up. My fingers were burning here.

Scallion Pancakes
Oh my gosh, so flaky and delicious. Totally worth the burnt fingers.

Scallion Pancakes
You know that rule where the first pancake is always a throwaway? Not the case here!

Mom, you’ll like to hear about this … Howard went “yummy” after every single bite. And he didn’t want to share when I made one for dinner. I had to tell him there were 4 more in the fridge waiting for us to eat. Sigh.

Sincerely,
Syl

totoro pear pie

Dear Steph,

Yay! It’s one of our favourite weeks of the year – Totoro Week! I still remember the first year you hosted it, I was making a big fuss at home (poor Howard couldn’t stop hearing me squee with delight) and showing everyone the photos online: You have to see this! Then again, it happens year round whenever I see Totoro toast, eggs, bento boxes, buns, pancakes, and tarts. I really do love how Totoro translates into food so well.

This year I was looking back on your posts to see what the exact week would be when you sent us a little reminder. I quickly told Howard to purchase me a Totoro cookie cutter using his PayPal account and proceeded to bug him for two weeks: Has it shipped? Is it here yet? Will it arrive by Friday?

Alas, it did not arrive last Friday so I am without Totoro cookies. I did try making your Totoro-in-a-hole with a pairing knife. But it’s just not the same.

My next attempt were Totoro Pineapple Buns or bo lo bao. But I totally screwed up the cookie topping. Using measuring cups versus a scale makes such a big difference. I knew there was too much flour . . . but I’ll try them again as the buns were deliciously fluffy.

So my last minute attempt are these Totoro Pies. I had purchased a box of large pears against Howard’s advice and still haven’t made any pear tarts or cakes with them yet. So this seemed like the perfect opportunity to pair my determination to create something for Totoro week.

Totoro Pie

Pie Crust

For three 4″ double-crust pies and one 8″ pie shell

500 ml (2 cups) all-purpose flour
4 ml (3/4 teaspoons) salt
250 ml (1 cup) all-vegetable shortening
1 egg
30ml (2 tablespoons) cold water
15 ml (1 tablespoon) white vinegar

  1. Place the flour, salt, and shortening in a food processor and pulse until the flour is course and resembles a coarse crumb.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, water, and vinegar. Pour into the flour mixture and pulse until the dough is combined.
  3. Divide the dough in half and flatten both into a disc. Cover the two discs of dough with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour (or overnight).

Totoro Pie

Pear Filling
Makes enough for three 4″ double-crust pies and one 8″ pie shell

5 Bosc pears
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon lemon zest

  1. Peel and dice the pears into small chunks, place in mixing bowl.
  2. Add in the sugar, salt, flour, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Mix well with the pear.

Totoro Pie

Pear Pie Assembly

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 egg yolk

  1. Take out one of the pie dough discs out of the fridge and roll out so that it’s one inch bigger than your pie tin. Carefully transfer the dough into the pie tins, pat the dough down to fit along the edges, and trim off any excess dough. When making multiple pies, keep the ones that are done in the fridge to keep the dough cold at all times.
  2. Prick the base of the pie dough with a fork.
  3. Scoop in the pear filling until it reaches the top.
  4. Place tiny bits of butter on top of the pear filling.
  5. Take out the second pie dough disc from the fridge.
  6. For Catbus pie: roll out the dough and use a large cookie cutter to trim the dough for the top (if you’re making mini pies). Knead the dough scraps together and roll out flat again and use cookie cutters or a knife to cut out the eyes, mouth, and nose.
  7. For Soot spirit pie: roll out the dough and use a knife to cut out long strips. Trim to about an inch long and start laying them on top of the pear filling. Continue until the entire top is covered. Take the remaining dough scraps and roll it together again and use a cookie cutter to create the eyes.
  8. For Totoro pie: roll out the dough and use a large circle cookie cutter that will cover the top of your pie. Trim out the circle. Then about halfway on the circle, use that same cookie cutter to divide it into two pieces. Place the top half over the pie filling. Using a knife, cut out upside down V-shapes on the bottom half. Remove the excess dough and then place Totoro’s belly over the remaining pie filling. Gather up the leftover dough scraps and roll it together again and when flattened, use a cookie cutter to create the eyes and nose.
  9. Brush the top of the pies with the egg yolk.
  10. Preheat oven to 425°F. Bake for 20 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and bake for 45 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the pies cool in the remaining heat for another 15 minutes before taking them out.

Totoro Pie
If you like apple pie, chances are you’ll like pear pie! You can also use nutmeg instead of cinnamon if you prefer.

Totoro Pie
Normally when working with larger pies, I roll the dough on a silicone mat or plastic wrap to help make the transfer to the pie tin easier. But since these were mini pies, a spatula was able to get under there and help lift the dough and prevent tears.

Totoro Pie
Giving the mini pies a good seal.

Totoro Pie
Catbus! I used a knife to cut in some whiskers and for steam to escape when the pie bakes.

Totoro Pie
My lil soot spirit pie!

Totoro Pie
Before they go in the oven, brush the dough with egg yolk.

Totoro Pie

Totoro Pie

Totoro Pie

I was lucky enough to go to the Donguri Republic store in Hong Kong earlier this year. I got that cute lil soot spirit, a watering can, and the fork (which is part of a utensil set that includes a spoon and chop sticks). AND I got my photo taken in the Catbus, it was the happiest day of my trip!

Sincerely,
Syl

cancer sucks

Dear Lyndsay,

“Cancer sucks” doesn’t even begin to describe it. You have been incredible, brave, and strong and so many of us have followed your journey as you posted about your difficult experience. I think so many of us can relate because no one can avoid it nowadays. I’m pretty sure that everyone has been affected by cancer in some way, so to give it the big old middle finger is just about all we can usually do to show our anger and frustration.

I personally know a handful of people dear to me who have gone through the horrible experience or have managed to exhaust all types of treatments according to the doctors. A handful is way too many!

I just want to thank you for initiating the #fuckcancercake project. It’s amazing how we have never met, yet you can create such a magnetic pull all across the country to me. I remember writing to you after your blog post back in February 2015. It’s funny how the online baking community can feel so attached to each other. I love seeing you post on instagram and reading your blog. I often think of you and Teddy whenever I see a ghost book or a new kids book he might like. Most of all, I love how you’re another cool person who’s into dessert and resides in the same country as me. Plus, you have a “y” where most people put an “i” – just like my name!

Without further ado, I hope I made you proud with my #fuckcancercake. I tried to draw as many inspirations from you as possible. Pink. Star piping. Sprinkles.

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I tend to pipe the frosting between cake layers instead of spreading it around with a spatula. I find this so much easier and faster to fill a cake. Do you have any special techniques?

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Same goes for that second level. And the small gaps don’t really matter. The cake layers help squish and fill in the frosting.

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Practicing my star tip. I’m still no where as good as you, Lyndsay!

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Really practicing my piping. Thought this would be fun even though I’m going with a smooth edge.

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And when I say smooth edge, you must really take it with a grain of salt. I think I need a bench scraper! My poor little cake is wonky. But I decided to put some chocolate ganache on the top to help the writing really pop.

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Here goes nothing. No such thing as an icing eraser.

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Got to have some sprinkles for that extra “f-ck you cancer!”

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Yeah! You take that! (Err, the more I look at it, the more my “c” looks like an “l” – sorry for anyone named Lancer out there.)

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That’s right, there’s more colours of the rainbow in the cake. You’re going down cancer.

Sincerely,
Syl

PS: This cake also goes out to those of you I love who want to give cancer the big middle finger. You know who you are.