Archive for Asian Influences

Black Sesame Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gow)

Black Sesame Chinese New Year Cake

What’s worse than getting poppy seeds stuck in your teeth? How about black sesame? That stuff can stain, but it’s worth it. Besides being one of my favorite flavors, it’s high in anthocyanins (the stuff of blueberries), calcium (more so than white sesame), magnesium, and other minerals. It’s even used in Chinese herbal medicine. Black sesame lends an almost smoky flavor to brittle, soup, and sticky rice desserts. Curiously, it’s not in nian gow, but I set out to change that.

Nian gow literally means “sticky cake,” but since it also sounds like “higher year,” folk wisdom says it’s good luck to eat on Chinese New Year. Sweet versions have sticky rice flour, water, sugar, and sometimes red beans or dates. They’re steamed, and leftovers are pan fried till crispy. Since I don’t have a large steamer, I prefer to bake mine and skip straight to the golden brown deliciousness. If you like brownie edges, you’ll like baked nian gow. Some years ago, Chow posted a baked version, and people cried fowl over the nontraditional recipe. So what? I’m Chinese and I approve. So does my family. In fact, they’ve eaten it 24 times in a year.

Black Sesame Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gow)

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 32 rich squares

Black Sesame Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gow)

Sweet rice flour, also known as glutinous rice flour or mochiko, is made from ground sticky rice grains. It's actually gluten free and not the same as regular rice flour. Find it in Asian markets or health food stores in the baking or starch section. It typically comes in one-pound bags.

You can use Chinese black sesame paste (tahini is different; its seeds are untoasted) and sweeten to taste, but it's less expensive to make at home. If starting with raw seeds, heat in a pan over medium heat. Keep shaking the pan (so seeds don't burn) til two or three seeds jump. Remove from heat immediately and cool completely.

Black sesame paste inspired from Just One Cookbook; rice cake inspired from Frances Kai-Hwa Wang.


For the black sesame paste:
1 1/2 cups toasted black sesame seeds
5-6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey
For the sticky rice cake:
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 lb. (about 3 1/4 cups) sweet rice flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract


    Make the black sesame paste:
  1. Combine the sesame seeds with 2 tablespoons oil in a food processor, occasionally stopping to scrape the seeds down the side. Process until smooth, adding oil by the tablespoon as you see fit. It will take take some time for the seeds to release their oils and smooth out.
  2. Add the honey and process till smooth.
  3. Make the sticky rice cake:
  4. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9"x13" pan and dust with rice flour.
  5. Combine all ingredients except sesame paste and vanilla with an electric mixer at medium speed for two minutes.
  6. Add vanilla and mix just until combined. Batter will have the consistency of a thin milkshake.
  7. Pour half the batter in the pan. Drop the sesame paste by rounded teaspoons evenly into batter (the paste will be too difficult to spread). Pour the rest of the batter on top.
  8. Bake for 40-50 min., or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Cool and cut into squares. Serve at room temperature or slightly warmed.


Dairy-free version: substitute the milk with 2 cups water.

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Homemade Bubble Tea

bubble tea
Photo: maaco/Flickr

As we all gorge on cupcakes, frozen yogurt, or whatever the latest fad is, I’d like to make a case for bubble tea. In the 1980s, some genius in Taiwan discovered that you can add cooked tapioca pearls (aka boba) to beverages, allowing you to eat and drink at the same time. It hit its peak in the U.S. in the early 2000s, until those Betty Crocker knockoffs took its place.

To me though, bubble tea is timeless because I drank it when I was young, and we tend to idolize our childhood treats. The quintessential bubble tea has bouncy, sweet pearls (otherwise you’re eating soggy, flavorless starch); tea so strong it could pass for coffee; and sweetened condensed milk (just like my grandfather took his tea). I submitted my version for publication at in 2001, and over the course of six years, followed up three times. I gave up after that and remembered that I’ve been sitting on a recipe for a decade now.

I’ve seen other methods and recipes, but they vaguely tell you to brew a cup of tea. That’s not going to work; you need far more tea than you think. And here is the method for chewy pearls.

Bubble Tea

Serves 10

2 1/2 slabs peen tang (Chinese brown sugar), or 3/4 cup tightly packed brown sugar
1 (16 oz.) package large tapioca pearls
20-40 black tea bags or loose equivalent
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

Prepare the sugar syrup: (You can do this while the tapioca cooks, if you want.) In a small saucepan, combine sugar with half a cup of water. Heat on medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves.

Prepare the pearls: Fill a large stockpot with 14 cups water (about half way) and bring to a boil.

Pour the tapioca pearls in the water. Bring back to a boil. Turn the the heat to low and boil, covered. Cook for 30 min., stirring occasionally to prevent the tapioca from sticking. At this point, they should be halfway done.

Turn off the heat and let the tapioca sit for another 30 min., covered. They’re done when they expand and are translucent, except for a pinhead-sized dot in the center.

Drain the tapioca through a colander and soak them in cold water to prevent further cooking. After a couple minutes, the tapioca should be completely cool. Drain again into a large container. Coat the tapioca with sugar syrup. Although they’re best the day they’re made, they can be refrigerated for a couple days or frozen indefinitely, laid flat in a zip-top bag. To use frozen tapioca, break off a chunk and boil in water till they’re chewy again.

Prepare the tea: For each serving, boil 1 cup water and steep with 2 bags for hot tea, or 4 for iced, for 10 minutes. Tea should look very dark.

For iced tea, refrigerate for several hours before adding the rest of the ingredients. Prior to serving, stir 1 1/2 tbsp of sugar syrup and 1 tsp-1 tbsp sweetened condensed milk (depending on your taste) in each cup. Add 1/4 cup pearl tapioca. Drink through fat straws.

Notes about ingredients/supplies (you can find them online or at a Chinese supermarket)

Chinese brown sugar: Peen tang, or Chinese brown candy, is less processed than regular sugar and has a rich, caramel taste. It can’t be used in traditional pastry though: it must be dissolved in water.

Tapioca pearls: these are larger than the kind you use in pudding; when cooked, they’ll expand to the size of marbles. Bubble tea houses use the black variety, which has brown sugar added during manufacturing. White tapioca is fine too. Be sure to read your package; some are quick cooking and only take about 15 minutes. I haven’t used this kind because it’s par-cooked. It’s like substituting minute rice for the real thing.

Fat straws: these are wide enough to accommodate the pearls

Related Links:
Cold-brew iced coffee
Char siu bao (Chinese roast pork buns) from scratch
Tea-poached prunes
Japanese green tea cheesecake
Green tea biscotti

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Asian Oatmeal Cookies

five-spice-oatmeal cookies

Goji berries used to be one the best-kept secrets in Chinese herbal medicine. Oddly enough, they’re usually used in savory dishes; my mom drops a handful into chicken or abalone soup. You can also make fruit “tea” by steeping dried gojis, Asian red dates, and logans in hot water. As the fruits reconstitute, they also infuse the water with their sweetness.

Now that gojis have gone mainstream in energy bars, chocolate, and cereal, I look at them not so much as medicine, but as dessert. Since they’re like a cross between raisins and cranberries (but with a slight medicinal aftertaste), why not put them in oatmeal cookies? And while I’m on that route, why not replace cinnamon with Chinese five-spice powder (a mixture of star anise, fennel, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper, and cloves)?

Since I’m not fond of fennel and anise, I made a back-up batch of six-spice cookies (with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cayenne), just in case I couldn’t stomach the five-spice powder.

For the base cookie dough, I used a recipe from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts (thanks to David Lebovitz for the find). As promised, they were chewy but not tough, cakey, or soggy (things that characterize most low-fat cookies). They obviously don’t taste as buttery as traditional cookies, but no one will know they’re “healthy.” BTW, my favorite low-fat oatmeal cookies are the florentines from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich, but that’s another post. Now those taste buttery.

In the end, the six-spice cookies were good, but the five-spice ones were better. The latter reminded me of my childhood: dim sum with my grandparents and my mom’s home cooking. They had an earthy taste, and five-spice powder works so well in desserts that I’m going to keep substituting it for cinnamon. It’s really good in coffee fruitcake, for example. Next experiment? My morning oatmeal.

The six-spice cookies had a little bit of heat, and I like that concept too. The point isn’t to make dessert taste like hot sauce, but to give your mouth a little sensation. I have an idea for another cayenne pepper dessert (not with chocolate though; that combination’s been played out enough). Stay tuned for that, if I get a chance to bake more. 🙂

P.S. I’m on Twitter. Come find me at It is Ruth Reichl‘s fault. I saw her there and realized how fun it is.

Asian Oatmeal Cookies

If the Chinese made oatmeal raisin cookies, these would be it. Goji berries have a sweet-tart flavor akin to raisins and cranberries, and they call out for Asian spices—in this case, Chinese five-spice powder.

For the best results, buy gojis from a reputable natural-foods store. They can cost $20/lb, which is sticker shock compared to the $6-lb bag in Chinese supermarkets, but we know better than to trust Chinese ingredients. I’ve heard horror stories of Chinese gojis that were dyed red. Besides, the better the berries, the more sweet (and less medicinal) they will taste. If you can’t find gojis, raisins or cranberries will work fine.

About 24 cookies

Adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs

1 cup flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup goji berries

2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, greased foil, or silicone mats

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set the rack on the lower and upper thirds of the oven.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and five-spice powder.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar until smooth. Mix in the brown sugar, then the egg, applesauce, and vanilla.

4. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the oats and raisins.

5. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoons 2-inches apart on the baking sheets and use a fork to gently flatten the dough.

6. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they “look dull on the surface but are moist and soft.” Rotate baking sheets during baking for even heating.

Storage: Once cool, store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Six-Spice Variation: Substitute the five-spice powder with 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, plus a big pinch of cloves and cayenne pepper.

Tip: Dough can be refrigerated for several hours before baking, which should make the cookies even better.

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Cookies from the Sea

olive shortbread

This shortbread has such a short ingredient list that you might be tempted to overlook it. There’s no chocolate or vanilla. Not even eggs or baking powder/soda. There’s just flour, sugar, butter, and salt (and a secret flavoring agent).

Despite its simple nature, there’s an amazing number of things that can go wrong with shortbread: it comes out too plain, hard, dry, doughy, greasy, or stale-tasting. But you can’t mess up shortbread if you make olive cookies (scourtins) from the reputable French chef, Susan Loomis. The dough is crisp yet delicate. Every bite melts in your mouth. The olives don’t overpower the cookies, either. Whether you can taste it or not, every dessert has a pinch of salt to round out the flavors. In this case, the salt predominantly comes from the olives. (For more olive oil desserts, try making chocolate mousse, truffles, or gelato.)

The first time I made these cookies, they were supposed to be a birthday gift. Then I ate 10 in one sitting, and I eventually had to re-bake an entire batch. They were so addictive that I made about six more batches after that (as gifts, of course). They’re the most repeated dessert I’ve made all year.

Since the genius of these cookies is their unusual source of salt, I thought of another savory substitute: seaweed. I know vegetables don’t sound appetizing in cookies, but just think of seaweed as the complex version of sea salt.

seaweed cookies

When I thumbed through my pantry last night, I saw furikake (a mix of soy-glazed bonito flakes, sesame seeds, and nori) and thought, “Hey, why not? Fish come from the sea, too.” So I made two batches of cookies (which you should always do with this recipe, because you will run out!).

While the furikake tasted great in the raw dough (I loved the sweet-salty combo of the fish and the soy sauce), the fish flakes didn’t keep their crunchy texture, and the flavor became too distracting. It was still tasty, but I preferred the seaweed version.

PS-I conceptualized these cookies a long time ago, but that darn David Lebovitz scooped me. But my adaptation is different, as there’s a lot more seaweed but no egg. For another sweet-savory twist, I bet bacon would be good, and you could substitute some rendered bacon fat for the butter.

Seaweed Shortbread Cookies

This recipe doubles easily (trust me, you will need to double it), so you can munch on the cookies and still have some left for gifting. They stay delicious for weeks and hold up well in the mail.

Adapted from Susan Herrmann Loomis and The Traveler’s Lunchbox
Yield: about 34 cookies

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, whizzed in a food processor until fine
1 Tablespoon roasted sesame oil (recommended brand: Kadoya)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup crushed wakame flakes

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.

In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is soft and pale yellow. Mix in the sugar until blended, then drizzle in the sesame oil and mix until combined. Add the flour and the salt, and mix gently but thoroughly until the dough is smooth, then add the wakame flakes and mix until they are thoroughly incorporated into the dough.

With your hands, press the dough into the pan until it is 1/4-inch thick. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, and up to 24 hours. Score the dough into rectangles with a knife.

Bake until the cookies are golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately cut the cookies while they are still hot. Cool on wire racks.

If you find that the middle pieces are still doughy, re-bake them in a preheated 300° F oven for about 10 minutes.

Variation: Substitute 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons bonito-flavored furikake for the arame seaweed. (Furikake is like rice confetti. It’s also a delicious seasoning for cold silken tofu, eggs, noodles, popcorn, and salad. If you want to make your own, Gourmet and Egullet have recipes.)

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A pear 1,300 years in the making

pile of pears

These fruits have waxy skins and stems that are too long for their own good. They look like the offspring of apples, guavas and pears. I would have ignored them at the market if it weren’t for my grandmother, a Chinese version of Martha Stewart. She makes her own chili paste and drinks goji berry-logan elixir every day. She introduced me to “hollow” greens (because the stems resemble straws), jujube dates and now, fragrant pears.

fragrant pear

It sounds like a vague description, but that’s their proper name. Farmers have grown these pears in China’s Xinjiang region for 1,300 years, but they’ve only been in the U.S. for about a year. (I discovered these pears right when they came here, but by the time I wanted to write about them, they were out of season. Now I appear out of the loop.)

juicy fragrant pear

Other Asian pears are crunchy and light, but the flesh is gritty and not very sweet. The skin is also thick and bitter. Fragrant pears are even crispier, but they are also sweet. Despite the skin’s appearance, they’re also entirely edible (except for the seeds of course). They are so juicy that you need to slurp quickly after taking a bite.

They are in season now, so head over to your local Chinatown or fancy supermarket. They’re not for the eco-conscious (it takes lots of jet fuel and protective packaging to ship them here), but they are very special.

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IMBB 27: The Joy of Soy

Is My Blog Burning - Soy

I know of no other food that is as versatile as soy. In its natural state above, it resembles green peas. It can also stand in for milk (as soy milk), custard (as silken tofu), cheese (as firm tofu), meat (as tofu or tempeh), flour (as okara), nuts (as roasted soy nuts) and salt (as soy sauce or miso). High in protein, fiber and antioxidants but relatively low in fat, soy is a staple in my kitchen.

dried soybeans
Dried soybeans

For the monthly themed cooking events, Is My Blog Burning and Sugar-High Friday, Reid at ‘Ono Kine Grindz has asked bloggers to make soy cuisine.

After making soy-sauce candied walnuts, I decided to experiment more with soy sauce in desserts. Soy sauce essentially tastes like caramel-flavored salt, so the idea isn’t too far-fetched.

For my first creation, I made chocolate caramels with soy milk and soy sauce. Out of my two experiments, this one seemed like the safest bet. As the Kikkoman website says, “Kikkoman Soy Sauce…..In Chocolate? Absolutely! Naturally brewed soy sauce can enhance more than just savory flavors — its salty brewed flavor depresses the extra sweetness typical of chocolate syrups and enhances the richness of the cocoa powder. It also helps to blend dairy notes and highlights the fruit top notes of the cocoa. The result: a deep, nutty, roasted chocolate flavor with a rich color.”

These low-fat caramels were tasty for what they were, but they were slightly grainy. I don’t know whether it’s because I used homemade soy milk, which naturally has pulp. Or perhaps the granulated sugar crystallized, in which case more honey was needed. Also, soy milk curdles at the slightest introduction of acid, which was in the natural cocoa powder. You may fare better with commercially prepared soy milk, which is smoother and has thickeners.

My candy also did not set up, even in the freezer. I’ve clarified the instructions, so cook the candy until it reaches the softball stage–248 degrees F. I think these would have tasted better with plain old salt, but if you’re adventurous, add the soy sauce in the end, so you don’t cook out its delicate flavor.

chocolate soy caramels

Chocolate Caramels

Adapted from The Soy Dessert and Baking Book

This is a great way to sneak nutrients into candy.

½ c sugar
1 c vanilla soy milk
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp honey
2 Tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
1 tsp soy sauce or 1/4 tsp salt

Line a loaf pan with greased foil.

Over medium heat, melt sugar in a sauce pan, stirring until it has completely dissolved and is light golden in color. Gradually stir in soy milk and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10-15 min., uncovered. Add butter, honey and cocoa and salt (if you’re not using soy sauce) and continue boiling and stirring for another 10-15 min., or until mixture thickens (about 248F) and shrinks away from the bottom and sides of the pan. Stir in soy sauce (if using). Pour into the greased pan and cool 10 min. While still warm, cut caramels into approximately 18 pieces. Wrap in individual candy wrappers. The leftovers freeze well.

Now, what could possibly be weirder than chocolate and soy sauce? How about a dessert where the soy sauce doesn’t have “milk” or chocolate to hide behind? A dessert with just three ingredients? (Two if you don’t count the orange zest, which I didn’t use. Or one if you don’t count the sugar, which is mandatory in dessert.) It’s soy sauce sorbet, which Kikkoman features on its website, along with soy sauce chocolate sauce and soy fruit charlotte.

At first bite, the sorbet has an off-putting fermented flavor, but it gets better as you eat it. It’s the easiest way to make a refreshing “caramel” sorbet without having to caramelize the sugar. Serving it with chocolate sauce does double duty. The chocolate sauce offsets the sorbet’s saltiness, while soy sauce brings out the chocolate flavor.
The sorbet is slightly icy, like a granita. You can add more sugar if you want it smoother.

Now that my experiments are done, I declare soy sauce too weird to put in desserts. At least I tried. If you like Sam Mason-style desserts (ancho caramel or miso ice cream, anyone?) from WD-50, these might be up your alley.

soy sauce ice cream

Soy Sauce Sorbet

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Michael Bloise, Wish at The Hotel at South Beach (Miami Beach, FL)

Yield: 6 cups

4 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce (or substitute 1/3 cup regular soy sauce plus 1/3 cup water)
4 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 Tbsp vodka (optional but recommended to keep the sorbet from freezing hard)

Stir together all ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. Serving suggestion: Chef Bloise serves a small scoop of Soy Sauce Sorbet with ginger carrot cake.

and round-up.

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Soy sweet nuts

soy-candied walnuts

In the past couple years, salt has taken on culinary heights as an accompaniment to chocolate, ice cream and caramel candies. The flavors work because salt contrasts sweetness. Fleur de sel and gray salt are the typical stars, but one form of sodium has been overlooked: soy sauce. Think about it: soy sauce is aged for months until malty/caramel flavors develop. It actually pairs very well with sugar.

For this candied walnut recipe, soy sauce and molasses are boiled down to create a robust glaze. These nuts are fantastic with broccoli, caramelized onions, ice cream or straight out of your hand. Be sure to drain the glaze well, or it will remain sticky and slightly messy. If that happens, store them in the fridge to harden.

Soy Sauce-Candied Walnuts

by Michel Nischan for O, The Oprah Magazine

2 cups walnut halves
1/4 cup molasses
2 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan, combine walnuts, molasses and tamari; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes; drain nuts well in a sieve set over a bowl. Spread walnuts on a baking rack coated with cooking spray set over a cookie sheet. Bake until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

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Four Star Meets Lone Star: Desserts by Johnny Iuzzini featuring Texas Grapefruit, part two

Frozen grapefruit and orange carpaccio with warm almond cake

Continuing on with four-star pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini’s grapefruit dessert demo, we have almond cake with frozen grapefruits and oranges.

The almond cake was served warm from the oven and was like a souffle: light, airy and creamy. It had a delicate browned upper crust. The frozen grapefruit and orange carpaccio’s (Italian for thinly sliced cold food) kaleidoscopic colors were elegant, but I didn’t care for the taste or texture. It was very icy, like a watered down popsicle. I think grapefruit sorbet, bursting with bright flavors, would have been more appropriate. Or, if you’re keen on contrasting textures from the pudding-like cake, a granita would work too.

Grapefruit-tarragon millefeuille

The most elaborate dessert was the grapefruit-tarragon millefeuille. While it did not have a thousand layers as the French name suggests, it did have several components neatly stacked on top of each other. The base was pate sable (tart dough),then citrus sponge cake, sweetened grapefruit sections, white chocolate, tarragon pastry cream, another layer of white chocolate and candied grapefruit peel on top. What a mouthful to say and eat.

With so many layers, I focused on getting an equal amount of everything in one bite. I literally had to stab the beautiful creation in my feeble attempt. The chocolate shattered into shards; the pastry cream drooped out; an entire grapefruit section slid out leaving subsequent bites naked; the fork hit resistance with the coarse cake; and the crust crumbled. The eating experience could easily be remedied by cutting the citrus sections into smaller pieces.

The dessert was heavy on craftsmanship, but my favorite parts were just the top three layers: cool pastry cream, crisp white chocolate, and some citrus for a little tang. The flavor combo was like an elegant creamsicle. For home application, you could make white chocolate cups, fill with your favorite pudding or pastry cream, then top with citrus sections.

Chocolate-grapefruit crepe suzette with meyer lemon confit

Rounding out the dessert tasting was a relatively simple chocolate crepe filled with grapefruit curd. My favorite dessert of the bunch, the smooth curd (a milkless pudding augmented with eggs and butter) oozed out of the crepe. Really great. At home, you can spread any citrus curd on a crepe, pancake or even tortilla. The buttery suzette sauce isn’t necessary, but the sugared lemon on top is a nice touch.

The experience made me more aware of the different styles of dessert. Iuzzini reminds me of The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller: both bring several components together for the final dish. Iuzzini is no doubt a talented craftsman. He has only worked at four star restaurants: Payard, Cafe Boulud, Daniel and Laduree (they claim to have invented the macaroon sandwich cookie in Paris). He has appeared on several best pastry chef lists from New York magazine, the James Beard Awards and Pastry Art & Design. However, his desserts aren’t for me. It’s haute cuisine: art that’s admired more for its concept than its usefulness (in this case, my stomach). I prefer not to be blatantly aware of every dessert component. It’s as if each part cries out, “Pay attention to me, I’m honey!” “I’m Meyer lemon!” “I’m tarragon!”

It’s not that I’m mindless when I eat. My philosophy is just to use a few quality ingredients and handle them minimally.

More info on Johnny Iuzzini:
New York profile
The Amateur Gourmet’s two reviews of Jean Georges

Jean Georges
1 Central Park W
New York, NY 10023-7703
(212) 299-3900

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Four Star Meets Lone Star: Desserts by Johnny Iuzzini featuring Texas Grapefruit

Johnny Iuzzini's signature dessert tasting
Photo courtesy StarChefs

Every day, four-star pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini dazzles diners at New York’s Jean-Georges with his signature dessert tastings. Contrasting textures and temperatures come together in a central theme, be it chocolate, berries or even beets. This Saturday, he did it for free at the French Culinary Insitute. The demo and tasting was sponsored by (an online publication of the French Culinary Institute) and TexaSweet Citrus Marketing, Inc. Can you guess what the theme was?

Johnny Iuzzini shows off the red-fleshed grapefruit

For three hours, about 80 guests watched Iuzzini prepare five grapefruit desserts and ate the fruits of his labor (pun intended). As a bonus, each person brought home a grapefruit giftbox, a zester (made for dang right handers!) and Iuzzini’s recipes, which I’ve provided through the links below.

Although the desserts were specially created for this event, the building blocks are mainstays at Jean-Georges. The instructions are sparse and assume you have a working knowledge of pastries. If you get past the French terms like chinois and quenelle, you can re-create four-star desserts at home. Where applicable, I’ve included Iuzzini’s tips. I felt like I was at culinary school, greedily jotting down the master’s secrets. Also, the quanities are by weight. One cup of flour can weigh between four and six ounces, a 50% difference! The beloved cup and teaspoon aren’t so accurate after all. Pastry Scoop lists conversions for liquids, flour and sugar to help you out.


Iuzzini’s first dessert was a warm honey tart, accompanied with grapefruit-shiso granite (ice) and charred oranges. The tart crust was technically a pate sable, which is French for “sandy pastry.” The term sounds like a coarse, mealy dough, but it’s not! Pate sable is like a crisp cookie that disintegrates in your mouth. If you only try one tart dough, make it this one. The custard was exceptionally smooth and hid a layer of tart grapefruit sections for contrasting flavors. Continuing with the theme of contrast, the grapefruit granita was cold and chunky. I thought the soul of this dish was the custard and the crust. For home application, I’d skip the citrus sections and the granita. Besides, I couldn’t even tell what that Asian herb, shiso, tasted like.


Next up was honey ginger ice cream, accompanied with grapefruit mirroir (like a runny Jell-O), brioche (a rich bread with lots of butter and eggs) croutons, and a drizzle of Thai basil oil. The point here was to contrast sweet, smooth cream with tart, textured jelly. The mirroir’s texture reminded me of (dare I say it?) brains. Sorry, all that time working at Court TV is infusing me with morbid humor. Iuzzini intended the crunchy croutons to add another dimension of texture, while the basil-infused oil was supposed to contribute a fresh flavor. I thought the dessert could have been fine without these two. At home, you can just layer premium vanilla ice cream with tart jam or citrus curd to get a similar experience.

Coming up in part two: almond cake with frozen grapefruit and oranges, grapefruit-tarragon millefeuille (layered pastry), and chocolate crepes filled with grapefruit curd.

Jean Georges
1 Central Park W
New York, NY 10023-7703
(212) 299-3900

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IMBB 17: GreenTea Biscotti

It’s that time of month again: Is My Blog Burning, in which bloggers around the world cook around a common theme. This time, Clement of A la Cuisine! has chosen tea as the themed ingredient.

I developed this recipe for Mariko of Super Eggplant, who loves green tea. You see, I sent her a care package for Blogging by Mail. Two events collide in one day!

I took a trusty chocolate chip biscotti recipe from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, added green tea leaves, and swapped the semisweet chocolate with white chocolate, since green tea has a delicate flavor. Going with the white theme, I also substituted mild almonds for the walnuts.

Be sure to use white chocolate that lists cocoa butter as the main ingredient. In cheap brands, partially hydrogenated oil poses as white chocolate. And you wonder why most people don’t like white chocolate! Would you substitute brown-colored vegetable shortening for dark chocolate? I don’t think so. Use the real stuff!

These low-fat biscotti become wonderfully fragrant a day after baking. They are delightfully crunchy but not jaw-breakingly hard, if you don’t overbake them.

Green Tea Biscotti
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp pulverized green tea leaves, from about 3 tea bags
2 eggs
3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp brewed green tea
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds (optional)
2/3 cup white chocolate chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line the baking sheet with greased foil.
  2. Place the flour, baking soda, salt, and tea leaves in a small bowl. Stir with a whisk to combine. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, vanilla, and brewed tea until well combined. Beat in the flour just until combined. Stir in the nuts and white chocolate chips. The mixture will be thick and sticky.
  4. Use a large spoon to scoop the batter onto the baking sheet, dividing it evenly into 3 long, skinny, rope-shape loaves, each one foot long, or 2 loaves 16 to 17 inches long, depending on your baking sheet. The loaves must be 2 1/2 inches apart. You’ll get slightly messy. Use the back of the spoon or a spatula to even up the “loaves” and neaten the edges. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes on the pan. Leave the oven turned on.
  5. Carefully peel the loaves from the foil and transfer them to a cutting board. Use a sharp serrated knife to slice the loaves diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the slices directly on the oven racks. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are crisp and dry. Or arrange the cookies on 2 baking sheets. Bake for 12 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and back to front about halfway through the baking time. Turn cookies over and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating sheets as before.
  6. Cool biscotti completely before storing. They become more tender about 2 or 3 days stored in an airtight container. They keep for several weeks.

This is a developing recipe, and the tea flavor, although present, is not as strong as I would like. Any ideas for improvement? I can’t add more brewed tea, or else the dough will be too sticky. There’s only so much you can do to concentrate the tea: you can’t brew three bags in 2 tablespoons of water.

Using matcha (green tea powder) rather than leaves may concentrate the flavor. From what I’ve researched, 1/2 Tbsp matcha = 1 Tbsp tea leaves.

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