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.

thanksgiving apple flan

Dear Dad,

Welcome home! It’s good to have you back, I hope you’re not going through a tough bout of jet lag. But I’m glad you’re back safe and sound and in time for Thanksgiving. We kept hearing about typhoons in Taiwan and was glad to know you could still reach us online. But in true dad fashion, you went out in the rain anyways.

The good thing is your brother started to get better and things weren’t as worrisome as they were last month. I feel that I’m grateful every week, but it’s nice to have a day dedicated to really looking back and evaluating how blessed and lucky we are. So many things have to happen for us to get to where we are today. I’m so grateful you and mom came to Canada, gave my brother and I numerous opportunities and paths to choose from, and continue to take care of us even though it should be the other way around by now.

I used to think that our family wasn’t of the norm, we went to school and classmates would point out that they get grounded, that their parents were never around, and that they don’t always eat dinner together at the dining table. Well first, thanks for never grounding me – I also understand that it’s not a typical punishment in our culture. Thank you for always being around. And I look forward to our family dinners even though technology has slowly crept in with phones and tablets in the kitchen.

I think flan will always be associated with you. It was the first time I found out that there was a dessert out in this world that you liked. That it gave you childhood memories. That it’s one thing I’ll serve that you won’t share with others and will give me the plate back with no flan crumbs on it.

I’ve made classic flan and then a coffee flavoured one in your request, but for this Thanksgiving, I’m adding an autumn touch with apples.

Apple Flan
(Fits one loaf pan)

1 apple
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
1½ cup whole milk
1 (300mL) can condensed milk
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Use a roasting pan that is large enough to fit your loaf pan in it. Put in the loaf pan and then fill the roasting pan with water. Make sure the water doesn’t spill into the loaf pan, you want it about half an inch from the top. Remove the loaf pan. Put the roasting pan with water into the oven.
  2. In a small pot, add in the sugar and water over medium-high heat. Let the sugar dissolve, you don’t need to stir or move it.
  3. While the caramel is forming, slice up the apple into thin slices. I only needed about half the apple, but you can use the entire one if you want more apple in your flan.
  4. Take out a skillet or frying pan and heat if over medium-high heat. Add in the butter, apple, and cinnamon. Cook until the apples are tender, which should take around 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and set it aside to cool.
  5. Check on that caramel! When you see it turn brown, you know it’s ready. Mine went to a deep golden colour because I took my eyes off of it to set up the next photo. Oops! Luckily it didn’t burn and I quickly poured it into the loaf pan to keep it from cooking any more. Make sure the caramel coats the entire bottom of the loaf pan.
  6. In a mixing bowl or using your stand mixer, pour in the milk, condensed milk, eggs, and vanilla extra. Whisk until combined.
  7. Arrange the apple slices over the caramel in the loaf pan. As much as I wanted them to stay in the pretty layers on the caramel, they will get loose and float to the top of the flan.
  8. Using a sieve or strainer, pour in the flan batter over the caramel and apple slices.
  9. Carefully place the loaf plan in the roasting pan with hot water and bake for 50 minutes. The custard should be set when you take it out – it’ll be a little jiggly, but will firm up after some chill time. Let it get to room temperature and then cover with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
  10. When it’s time to serve, fill the roasting pan with hot water. Place the loaf pan in it to help loosen up the caramel. This will make it easier to unmold. Then, run a knife around the edge of the pan to help separate the flan from the loaf pan. Find a platter or pan with edges to serve the flan in. Carefully turn the flan upside down and give it a slight shimmy if needed. The edges of the serving dish will help catch any extra caramel sauce.
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I remove the skin on my apples – mainly because Howard seems to get an allergic reaction to apple skin (maybe from the pesticides? – but you can choose to keep them if you want.
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Slide those apples up really nice.
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The cinnamon apples smelled sooooo good.
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Ai! Hot, hot, hot. Look at that steam from the caramel.
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There really isn’t a point to arranging the apple slices nicely, but . . . doesn’t it look nice?
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Straining the batter will help you get a smoother flan texture.

Apple Flan
Use the same pan from the water bath to help loosen the bottom of the flan. Sometimes you get to hear a very satisfying “crack” from the caramel.
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Plop! A clean removal.Apple FlanLook at all that caramel sauce. Soak your loaf pan in hot water to help remove the hardened caramel.Apple Flan
Don’t forget the extra caramel sauce when you serve!

Sincerely,
Syl

chocolate and raspberries are the perfect matcha

Dear Howard,

This one is really for me. I wanted to make something pretty, I needed to use up our matcha powder from our trip to Taiwan, and I had been eyeing those cartons of raspberries at Costco for a long time. Plus, I bought this tart pan months ago with the intention of making this very tart. (Ahh, now you know why I dropped that tart pan into our shopping basket. Thanks for not stopping me.)

This tart took longer than I thought it would, lots of planning and make-ahead involved. Yet, on the outside, it looks so simple. A chocolate tart shell, fill it with some pastry cream, and then some raspberries plopped on top. Now I know why those beautiful French bakeries charge so much for their miniature tarts.

Chocolate Tart Dough
Recipe from Sugar Rush
Makes enough for two tarts

Notes: There’s chilling time for this, so plan ahead and make this dough a day ahead or early in the morning if you want it ready for the afternoon.

1½ stick unsalted butter, cold and diced
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 large eggs
2½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt

  1. You’re going to want your stand mixer for this. Put the butter and sugar in to the mixer’s bowl and attach the mixing paddle on it. This will remind you of making buttercream, but with cold butter. Mix on low speed until the sugar is combined and the butter is smooth (it’ll take a few minutes).
  2. Add in the eggs and mix until combined and smooth on medium speed. You’ll need to scrape down the bowl from time to time.
  3. I know you’re supposed to sift items like the confectioners’ sugar, flour, and cocoa powder, but I honestly rarely do it. At this stage, I just added the flour, cocoa powder, and salt into the bowl and had the mixer on low. Scraped when I needed to and then stopped the mixer when it started to look clumped together. Remember, you’re going to knead it a bit, so you don’t need to over mix it at this stage.
  4. Scoop out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, in my case, that would be on clear plastic wrap. I like working on the plastic that I’m going to later wrap the dough in. Plus, less table wiping later! Knead the dough until it’s combined and smooth. Shape the dough into a disc-shape and wrap it tightly in the plastic wrap. Press down on the dough in the plastic wrap to get rid of any air bubbles. Chill overnight or for at least an hour.

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01_Raspberry Matcha Chocolate Tart Collage

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Preparing the Tart Shell

  1. Take out the chilled dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for a few minutes. You’ll know when it’s time to roll, when it’s still chilled, the dough is impossible to roll. Cold dough will crack when you try to shape it. Lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and remove the plastic wrap from the dough. You also don’t want the dough to be too soft, then it’ll become sticky.
  2. Roll out the dough in the shape of your tart pan. Make sure you have about 2-inches more dough around the edge of your pan. You don’t want your tart more than ¼-inch thick. I rolled the dough on a silicone mat to make the transfer to the pan easier.
  3. Lightly spray the tart pan with some cooking oil. Then carefully place the dough on the tart pan – in my case, I just peeled it off the silicone mat above the pan – and work quickly and carefully to start adjusting the dough. Make sure the dough is touching the bottom of the pan. Then gently press to make sure the dough is placed in the edges, corners, and evenly lined along the edges. Don’t pull the dough taunt, you want to keep it relaxed so it doesn’t shrink too much when baking. When everything is covered, start trimming the excess dough off of the edge. Pop that into the fridge to chill some more as you wait for your oven to preheat.
  4. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
  5. Trim a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover your tart. When your oven is done preheating, take out the chilled tart shell and line it with the parchment paper. Make sure it covers the edges too. Use pie weights or rice or in my case, a few small ramekins to cover the parchment paper. This will help keep your shell from puffing up.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes in the oven. Then take out the tart and remove the pie weights or rice and remove the parchment paper as well. Pop it back into the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes. It should be nice and crispy when it’s done.

Matcha Pastry Cream
Recipe adapted using the vanilla pastry cream from Sugar Rush
Makes enough to fill two tarts

Notes: There’s chilling time for this, so plan ahead and make this pastry cream a day ahead or early in the morning if you want it ready for the afternoon.

2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoon matcha / green tea powder
⅓ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
6 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

  1. In a saucepan, pour in the milk and matcha powder and heat over medium heat. Stirring until the milk begins to steam, but is not bubbling at a boil.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks until combined. Pour in the sugar, cornstarch, and salt and continue to whisk until it’s pale yellow and fluffy.
  4. This step is important and happens really fast, so be ready. While you’re whisking with one hand, the other one can pour in about ¼ to ⅓ of the hot milk. Whisk hard as you don’t want the heat from the milk to cook the eggs (in which, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs), so you have to keep moving. When it’s combine, add another ¼ to ⅓ and whisk until it is well blended. Repeat until all of the hot milk is whisked in. Then pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
  5. Heat the saucepan over medium heat and whisk continuously – I know, you’re getting the best arm workout ever – until it starts bubbling. Let it boil for 2 minutes and then turn off the heat and remove the saucepan.
  6. Whisk in your cubed butter until it’s melted into the mixture. Pour it through a strainer or sieve to get rid of any lumps (or possibly bits of cooked eggs).
  7. Take out a rimmed baking sheet and pour the pastry cream over it. Spread it until you have a thin even layer. Cover plastic wrap over the surface and have it cool in the refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight.
  8. When you’re ready to use it, transfer the pastry cream from the sheet to a bowl and give it a stir and mix.

02_Raspberry Matcha Chocolate Tart Collage

Assembling the Tart

  1. Seriously easy now. Scoop some of that bright green pastry cream into the chocolate tart. Give it an even layer by spreading it around using a rubber spatula.
  2. Do you clean your raspberries? I do. Be gentle though as they’re so fragile. Let them dry on a paper towel before placing them over the matcha pastry cream. I was able to fit 4 in each row. Keep going until you’ve filled the entire tart.
  3. Dust with icing sugar just before serving. Best eaten on the day of!

Gorgeous, right?

Sincerely,
Syl