Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cheesecakes, Cupcakes, and Rice Cakes

This past Wednesday, my Macbook suddenly broke down without warning or reason. The screen remained a eerie pale blue in spite of the keys I pressed, the phone calls I made, the list of solutions I found on the computers at the school library. On Saturday, I turned my suffering computer over to the care of a computer technician, who warned me that my hard drive might be damaged and losing all my files was a distinct possibility. However, I had enough faith in him to believe that he had healing hands and could revive my trusty friend.

He couldn't.

The downside: I lost years' worth of photographs and stories and poems that I had written when time allowed. I lost the hundreds of recipes that I had bookmarked. All because of one malfunction.

The upside: The technician upgraded the entire system so I am now the proud owner of a 3-year-old Macbook with brand new software.

My reaction: Time to write more stories and take more pictures and make more memories! I will admit that I neglected backing up my files, which makes the loss entirely my fault. So no more complaining here.

As for my recent experiences in the kitchen:

My brother works at a nonprofit organization that hosted a fundraising dinner party last Friday; he asked me to make desserts, and I willingly accepted, though I wasn't entirely sure my baking skills would be satisfactory. After much consideration, I decided to make cupcakes and cheesecake for seventy of the attendees, which proved challenging yet enjoyable.

Because of the time constraint, I drove an hour and a half back home after my classes the night before the party and spent a couple of hours making these mini mocha cheesecakes with chocolate crust. The coffee flavor was not especially pronounced, so in the morning, I topped each with a dark chocolate espresso bean to bring out the taste.

The next morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn (not really, maybe a little after 8am) to make 24 dark chocolate cupcakes with matcha green tea cream cheese frosting (whew, what a mouthful). The tops looked fairly bare, so I took the liberty of gently pushing pieces of Hershey's Cookies n' Creme chocolate into the frosting.

The next batch of cupcakes I made consisted of plain vanilla batter mixed with black sesame seeds. The cakes were filled with adzuki red bean paste, topped with honey cream cheese frosting, and garnished with black and white sesame seeds. Unfortunately, no time remained to photograph these cupcakes, as my brother had to leave around noon with the desserts.

All in all, this was a rather harried experience, but gave me insight as to how to bake quickly when pressed for time. I can't imagine how professional pastry artists manage their time so wisely every minute of every day, when I had such trouble baking 48 cupcakes! That's one of the skills I greatly admire and hope to imitate.

Sadly, I have no recipes to post because these desserts were made from a combination of several recipes, with my own ideas introduced here and there. As I mentioned before, my bookmarked pages have all disappeared, and I've no idea where to begin looking for the exact recipes I used.

Yesterday, in honor of Korean Thanksgiving Day (Chu seok), I purchased a box of rice flour and made rice cakes. These cakes, known as "song pyeon," are traditionally a major part of the holiday and are consumed every year at this time.

The recipe I followed asked for such a small amount of water to stir into the dough that I tripled the amount required. Still, the dough remained stiff and difficult to maneuver, and after steaming them, they immediately hardened! I was confused, as rice cakes are supposed to be supple and chewy, until my dad informed me that I had bought the wrong kind of rice flour. Next time...

The dough was divided into three parts, and into one, I stirred in a teaspoon of matcha powder. Into the second went a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and the third was left alone. I know traditional song pyeon are made with mugwort powder to acquire the deep green hue, but as I had none, I had to improvise in some way. The dough was formed into inch-wide balls, flattened, and then filled with a sesame seed-brown sugar mixture.

I'm in the process of making espresso macarons and must take them out of the oven, so more updates will come in the future!