Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake Posted by: | June 24, 2012
 

Throwing a high tea party is fun. The cakes are just a bonus. The main fun lies in choosing the prettiest cake to bake to be the star of the party. Throwing a farewell high tea is not as fun though, but still a reason for me to find a gorgeous cake to bake to wish my girl (Giang) a smooth journey into her new chapter in another land. Before I get carried away being all mushy and sappy about farewells, let’s talk about the cake.

 

 

Isn’t it a beauty?

 

It was a classic British Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake. It is one of the best cakes I’ve made so far, and even though it contains cream (which I normally hate), the tangy lemon juice and fresh strawberries that cut through the cream filling are just the perfect accompaniment to the moist and airy sponge cake. It’s not exactly difficult to make, but for it to rise up beautifully and maintain its moist and lightness, you do need to master the techniques of creaming butter & sugar and folding flour gently to keep the air in! I also think that mixing a tablespoon of lightly beaten egg into the batter at a time seems to yield better results than beating whole eggs in one by one. The eggs distribute much better and hence help create more volume for the cake. I used the same trick with the Fairy Cakes and they turned out incredibly soft, moist and airy as well.

 

And of course, the strawberries are the true stars of this cake. Just look at them! I truly believe strawberries are a waste to be eaten alone, because they make such heavenly addition to desserts! Why doesn’t anyone say “strawberry on top” instead of “cherry on top”? Strawberry season is almost over in Vietnam, so I guess this cake was also a grand way of saying farewell to strawberries of this year. Sob. Please come back sooner next year!

 

 

Meanwhile, let’s enjoy them strawberries in a cake while they last…

 

 

Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake

(adapted from Jamie Oliver Magazine, Issue June 2012)

 

Ingredients

 

Sponge Cake:

  • 225g unsalted butter, cubed and softened
  • 225g white granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 225g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • a splash of milk (to loosen the batter)

 

Filling:

  • 250g fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 vanilla pod, vanilla seeds scraped
  • 150g good quality strawberry jam
  • 150ml whipping or heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 lemon

 

Before you bake:

  • Preheat oven to 180C
  • Grease and line the base of two 20cm (or 9”) springform pans

 

Method

 

*Prepare the filling:

Gently warm the jam in a saucepan over low heat, until it is saucy consistency. Remove from heat and stir in the strawberries, leave to cool completely. Just before assembling the cake, whip cream with sugar, vanilla seeds and juice of a lemon until soft peaks form.

 

1. Cream butter and sugar together in a big mixing bowl with a stand-mixer with paddle attachment (or handmixer). This step will make or break the cake so do it with much attention and “respect” for this magical union between butter and sugar: First beat the butter cubes at low speed until they look smooth and  ‘plasticky’, then add the sugar a tablespoon at a time at medium speed, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently to mix well. Beat until the butter mixture is pale and fluffy (don’t beat too long or the butter will melt and the tiny air bubbles formed with the sugar grains will collapse). Mix in the vanilla extract.

 

2. Still at medium speed, mix in the eggs one tablespoon at a time, making sure it’s incorporated before adding the next spoon. Once finished, give the whole batter a quick whirl for a few seconds to make sure all is nicely incorporated (we want that egg to cover every single tiny butter-sugar bubble for more volume!).

 

3. Fold in the sifted flour gently only until just incorporated, to keep all that air in.  Stir in a splash of milk to loosen the batter until it has a flowy consistency when dropped from a spoon. Divide evenly between 2 springform pans, and bake in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes or golden brown on top (make sure the oven temperature is at 180C when you put the cakes in, and stays at 180C throughout, as this cake is sensitive to temperature variations!).  Test the cake doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center, if it comes out clean it is ready.

 

4. Once the cakes are completely cooled, spread the strawberry jam mixture onto the “uglier” cake, spoon whipped cream on top, then cover with the remaining cake on top. Dust over with some icing sugar.

 

 
Posted in Cakes, Dessert | Tags: , , , , ,


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Potato Leek Soup, and what’s to come… Posted by: | May 30, 2012
 

I have an announcement to make. From now on, I will be blogging more frequently, but mostly with casual iPhone/instagram shots so that I can focus more energy on cooking, eating, and writing about food. Well, that’s just an excuse for my real reason, which is that I have moved most of my photography props and gears to my Kitchen Art Studio and shooting food twice a week at my studio kitchen is already draining most of my energy to repeat the same thing again on my weekend (or only day off). I know, it’s sad, and I am moving away from the Food Blogger’s trend of styling pretty food shots with professional gears to become more and more like magazines. But we’ve got to compromise a little here. It’s either I never blog because of the amount of work involved and end up just cooking offline, or I continue with sloppy pictures that are just illustrative enough to show you what I ate/made (but I’ve gotta admit, that little iPhone takes pretty decent pictures).

 

Like this…

 

Sauteed Chicken and Cherry Tomatoes with wine sauce

 

Or this…

 

Fairy Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

 

I have also been eating out more often and even get to do restaurant review gigs now and then, so I guess this blog will no longer be limited to stuff made in my kitchen, but also the wonderful things I have been enjoying around Hanoi, be it streetfood or restaurants that I love.

 

So don’t worry, this blog will continue to evolve with me. Speaking of which, I am evolving into an even scarier level of food fanaticism, now that I am starting on a few “secret projects” with an awesome food blogger from Down Under  - Anh from A Food Lover’s Journey (besides my other favorite food blogger from Down Under, Phuoc’N Delicious). Having been a little low-key in the blogging scene to start up Kitchen Art, I am now back full-force to work with great writers and bloggers to get inspired and hopefully inspire more people to live and breathe healthy, happy food! More details will be revealed when we are ready, but be rest assured that this blog will record much of the exciting journey towards that goal!

 

Now that we have established the fact that I am back with blogging, I can start ranting on my daily grind again. The weather SUCKS. What is up with the random late afternoon showers just when people are rushing off from work? With my shop just facing the biggest lake in Hanoi, every time it rains and storms, it feels like my whole shop is going to be torn away. I have that same fear every single time.

 

But thanks to the rain, I was inspired to cook something warm and soupy again last Saturday night, and traded my tickets to go see MTV Exit concert to cook a warm meal for my parents instead. My teenage self, who would have traded anything to go to a rock concert would think that I am crazy and so uncool today. But I think my warm Potato Leek Soup totally rocked my night. My parents were a bit grumpy because I cooked too late, but then who would be angry at this…

 

 

I love grocering in the area of my shop in Xuan Dieu. You can find so many fresh ingredients that local markets never sell, like fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano…), fresh greens (arugula, spinach, romaine lettuce…), organic free-range eggs, and many more canned and dry ingredients that allow me to continue to cook whatever I crave for, even if it’s a Potato Leek Soup in the middle of summer.

 

This Potato Leek Soup is smooth and savory. Its warm yellow tone makes you wonder how those root vegetables are able to produce such pure beauty in a bowl. The thyme and bay leaves add a very woody aroma to this soup, not as exciting as it would be in a Potato Roast, but calming and relaxing like an aroma-therapy. This is the answer to a crazy week, and the best break I could have given to myself (while making and eating the soup).

 

 

Potato Leek Soup

(adapted from David Lebovitz)

 

Ingredients

(6 servings)

 

  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 leeks, sliced and leaves discarded
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 6 cups (1.5l) water
  • 600g potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 – 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 bay leaves

 

Method

 

1. In a large pot or stock pot, heat butter with olive oil over medium heat, until melted (the oil will prevent the butter from browning).

 

2. Add leeks and season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir the leeks for 5-7 minutes, until they become soft and translucent.

 

3. Add thyme sprigs and stir around to release its flavors (for 30 seconds).

 

4. Add water, potatoes, carrots and bay leaves. Cover and simmer until tender when poked through with a knife.

 

5. Take off the heat, remove bay leaves and season with salt and generous amount of pepper. Using an immersion blender, blend the vegetables in the soup into a thick, smooth consistency. Adding salt & pepper as you taste and adjust. Add more water (a tablespoon at a time), if the soup is too thick.

 

 

 
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Living The Dream Posted by: | April 2, 2012
 

This is the story about how my life has transformed from a 9-5 corporate life to a 24/7 business owner who is having THE most amazing time of her life. Or you can also call this the sequel to my previous entry called “Door To My Dreams“.

 

It is beginning April, about 2 months since the last time I blogged. And boy, it felt like 2 years. My venture, Kitchen Art Store & Studio has been officially open for more than a month, and performing unexpectedly well. I don’t want to sound over optimistic, as it is just the beginning, but if THIS is only the beginning, then bring it on!!

 

I don’t want to bore you with the trivial details, but my life for the past two months has pretty much been me shuffling between my home and my shop,  living the life of a true blue business owner and a poor entrepreneur (say bye-bye to new phones or shoes). But what can I say, you don’t know what life is truly about until you really live and breathe your passion everyday. And with passion, I mean polishing the gorgeous Kitchen Aid on my shelf to make sure it is shiny, sharing baking tips with customers, arranging whisks and spatulas in order, looking at people gasping over my pots & pans, and having an amazing Kitchen studio with breathtaking West Lake view all to myself every week to conjure up whatever recipe I want to share on Kitchen Art website. I can’t describe the joy I feel whenever I hear a customer tell me how much they adore the Store or that it is the best Kitchenware store they have been to in Hanoi. I have made countless of friends who are customers, my staff, my shop assistants, and their friends or friends of their friends. This is a stark contrast against my life just a year ago, when I could count the number of Friends I had in Hanoi on one hand, and wondered where all the like-minded people had gone to. So moral of the story is: if you need a life, start a business of your dreams! You might lose all your money, but at least you gained priceless experience and friends, and most of all, you are finally able to say “I’m CEO, b*tch!” (even if it is just saying it in your head). Not such a bad risk to take, no? However, you have to be willing to put your social life and even family life aside during the intensive months of starting up. I am glad that period is finally over. After 1000 over times of barcoding, stocktaking and countless of worries, pain and tears, we finally have a store that is up and running!

 

That’s enough story telling for today. Now I shall shamelessly show off the images of one of the happiest days of my life, the opening of Kitchen Art Store & Studio. Warning: my excessive and ubiquitous happy smiles might make you jealous.

 

 

 

While being away from my own kitchen most of the time, I have been pretty busy in the Kitchen Art Studio making all kinds of pretty tasty things to share on our website to inspire more people to explore their kitchen and love for food. Now I even have my own food photographer, so I just need to cook, style and have someone else fuss over lighting, exposure and focusing, while I start to gobble my creations down my stomach behind the kitchen. Good life, eh? And the best part is, I still get to write my recipes in English, and my staff writer would translate it into Vietnamese. So that makes Kitchen Art Website the first bilingual food & cooking portal in Vietnam that I know of!  Such an upgrade from this little blog over here, which is a one-woman-show from cooking, photoshoot, editing, touch up to publishing. So yeah, this is sort of another mini-dream-come-true to me: having a wonderful tiny production team for my very own Food-site. Here are just some of the creations at our Kitchen Studio (and head on down to our website to check out the recipes):

 

 

Meanwhile, I’ve also managed to squeeze in some restaurant reviews with East & West Travel magazine for the Jan-Feb and Mar-Apr issues. I am finally living up to my self-proclaimed “Food Writer” title, and living the dream of being paid for wining and dining.

 

Ok I think I should stop “showing off” now before you all get tired of my little achievements. But hey, this is just me saying: Do what you love, every minute. Because it’s god damn worth it.

 

If I knew I would become all this 10 years ago, when I was about to enter University, I would straight away drop out of my Computing degree to pursue a Culinary school (I still wish I did). But that’s life, isn’t it? As Steve Jobs said it, “All the dots will connect in the end”.

 

That’s it for my update so far. Thanks for sticking around (if you still are). I’ll be back soon with home-style Vietnamese Dry Beef Vermicelli recipe which I planned to blog about originally today (but look at what happened – digression at its best).

 

So stay tuned and do drop by the Store to say hi to me anytime :)

 

 
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Roast Chicken Thighs on Bed of Potatoes & Carrots Posted by: | January 2, 2012
 

Happy 2012! And it’s been exactly one year since I re-launched this blog on my own server and domain (this time last year, I declared it was an important step and a new beginning towards my blogging identity – and it really did make a big difference). One year has passed since, and though I did not manage to post as often as what I set out to do in my 2011 New Year Resolution, I did achieve much more than I even dared to dream of within just a year. No New Year Resolution could have planned or predicted Kitchen Art Store & Studio. Oh, and have you seen my first ever cooking show? Now that has always been THE dream for me, and I finally did it. Though I look awkward and sound almost retarded through most of the video, it is still a huge achievement for me. You can watch it here, though it’s in Vietnamese (english subs to follow). I promise, from now, I will focus on sounding, err, less retarded.

 

Today it’s already 2 Jan 2012 and I have not even thought about any New Year Resolutions. Besides the fact that I suffered from a nasty Bronchitis from Christmas until New Years, I also decided that setting goals is just going to stress me out, when I am facing the big challenge of opening the Store this month (in 2 weeks, in fact), and launching the Kitchen Art website before that (which requires a hell lot of copywriting, in both English and Vietnamese), and not to mention the yearly stress of Lunar New Year preparations (which comes early this year, in late January – and I refuse to find out which date it is as that would just stress me out even more). So there, my 2012 resolution, for now, is just to get through January in one piece!

 

Now back to the festive stuff. Today is the last day of long weekend new year holiday (most of which I spent in bed YouTubing and nursing myself back to health), so I’m trying to salvage the last night before the start of a crazy working week by posting my Christmas Eve Roast chicken. It was a massive success. According to my Dad, who’s had all of my past roast chicken dishes, this one is by far the best – hands down. Though he did say the same about my previous Roast Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes. But apparently, I outdid myself yet again. Hah!

 

This year I think I’ve found the perfect Roast Chicken dish that I will keep making in a long time, not just for Christmas. The chicken is perfectly roasted till crisp and golden brown on the outside, while still juicy and tender on the inside, resting on a bed of potatoes (garnished with carrots and leeks), which soaks up all the chicken fat goodness and is caramelized to perfection. Not to mention the thyme herb aroma that really marries with good, old chicken flavor to create a very rustic comfort dish. By the time the chicken was done, it smelled so good, and my parents were so hungry, that they didn’t let me waste any more time for styling the shoot, so the best shot I got is this:

 

 

Roast Chicken Thighs on Bed of Potatoes & Carrots

(recipe adapted from Bon Appetit)

 

INGREDIENTS

(serves 4)

 

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 large chicken thighs with skin and bones
  • 3 tsps coarse kosher salt (or more to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • About 700g potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch-long, 1/2-inch-thick sticks
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 2-inch-long, 1/2-inch-thick sticks
  • 1 big bulb of garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled

 

METHOD

 

1. Preheat oven to 230°C or 450°F. Brush a large rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon oil. Dap the chicken until dry, then place chicken on baking sheet. Turn to coat with oil. Mix salt, thyme, pepper in small bowl. Sprinkle half of salt mixture over chicken (turn to distribute evenly, then leave skin side up). Roast chicken for about 30 minutes until the skin starts to brown. Remove chicken onto a plate, leaving its juice and fats in the baking sheet.

 

2. Transfer potato, carrots and garlic to the same baking sheet and turn to coat with chicken drippings, while sprinkling remaining salt-thyme mixture over. Roast until vegetables soften, about 30 minutes. Place thighs back on vegetables and pour accumulated juices from chicken over the vegetables. Return sheet to oven then roast for 15 minutes longer, until chicken is cooked and vegetables is brown.

 

 

 

 

 
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Christmas baking: Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies Posted by: | January 2, 2012
 
(For some reason this entry posted on 18 December has mysteriously disappeared off my blog, so I’m reposting it again. In case anyone wonders why I’m posting about Christmas Baking way after Christmas…)
December is my favorite month of the year (next to my birthday month, June, of course). It gives me an excuse to bake, decorate, to listen to Christmas songs (and torturing everyone around me with screaming “All I Want For Christmas” on the top of my lungs in the shower).

 

This year December is especially festive and special. There is the crazy excitement of launching Kitchen Art, my lovely staffs who already feel like family, and this year we are celebrating Christmas with a new member in the family: my nephew Daniel. Even though I only see him through pictures and webcam, I already feel like I know him. I guess it’s the “Auntie-Instinct”.

 

To add on to the crazy baking galore this month, I decided to have a Christmas cookie photoshoot at Kitchen Art Studio this week, as part of the content for our upcoming Kitchen Art website. I made Sugar Cookies with festive royal icing decorations. It was actually my first time working with royal icing, and I was quite nervous beforehand. After all, I wouldn’t wanna screw up in front of my professional photographers (though this is much less pressure than cooking in front of cameras for our cooking show). But the cookie photoshoot turned out really fun and our cookies came out quite decent. Royal icing is not so scary, after all. I feel like I’ve conquered another mountain. That’s what I love about baking. There’s always something new to learn, but it’s never too difficult to master if you put your heart and mind to it (with the exception of Macarons… urgh). I can’t wait to showcase the photos soon. But here’s a little sneak peek:

 

 

My assistants had a lot of fun decorating the cookies with me too. Photographers snapping away while we piped icing and sang along to Christmas Radio. You know, just another day in the office. Ah… I love my job.

 

With Christmas spirit at all time high and quite a bit of cookie dough left from the photoshoot, I decided to make best use of it today at home. Forget about the hassle of rolling dough and cutting cookie shapes (not that it’s not fun, too), I went for thumbprint cookies. It’s one of our favorite Christmas cookies, and all I gotta do is just to pinch bits of the dough and form them into equal sized balls, before pressing “thumbprints” into them. But instead of filling the cookies with jam, I indulged in filling them with melted bittersweet chocolate (Valrhona 60% dark chocolate). Mom is going to love it. She’s a chocoholic. After the chocolate is set, it forms a nice hard, bittersweet center, while the surrounding cookie base is airy-soft and buttery. The slight saltiness in the cookie goes perfectly with dark chocolate too (just like Sea Salt Chocolate!). The cookie dough recipe is really fool-proof and delicious, adapted from Joy Of Baking. I’ve been following this recipe for the past 2 years. It makes perfect buttery, soft, airy cookies that aren’t too sweet. I don’t even know why I bought the expensive Cookie Recipe iPad app by Martha Steward because I end up never using them. I still trust Joy Of Baking most. She’s never failed me.

 

Aren’t these real beauties?

 

Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
(Cookie dough recipe adapted from Joy Of baking)

 

Ingredients:
(makes 40-50 cookies, depending on cookie size, enough to give out to all your friends)

 

  • 390g all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 227g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 200g granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • about 100g dark chocolate to fill every 30 cookies

 

Method:

 

1. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda in a bowl.

 

2. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

 

3. Add flour mixture and beat until dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Don’t overmix or the cookies will turn out hard. Refrigerate the dough for one hour until firm. Meanwhile preheat oven to 177deg C (350 deg F) and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

 

4. Remove chilled dough from refrigerator. Pinch equal portions of the dough to roll into little balls and line them up in the baking sheets. Use the end of a wooden spoon or your thumb to press into the dough balls, creating an indentation in the middle. Refrigerate the unbaked cookies for about 15 minutes to chill the dough before baking, to prevent the cookies from spreading and losing their shape while baking (if you skip this step, you will have to press the cookies again later as they will rise and lose the “thumbprints”).

 

5. Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, until edges are starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cookies cool. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate over a pot of simmering water.

 

6. Use a teaspoon to fill the melted chocolate into the cookie center, finish with a slight swirl on top with the tip of the spoon to create a nice circle. Refrigerate the cookies until the chocolate is set before serving.

 

 

Merry Christmas everyone! See you back in 2012!

 

 

 
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Door To My Dreams Posted by: | December 6, 2011
 

I can’t believe I would be writing this one day. Sometimes I still find myself pinching myself, but this is my life now. I am living my dream, literally.

 

I remember when I first started this blog, I was seeking an outlet, an escape from my everyday life. Never would I have thought that I would be finding my true passion and open the door to my destiny. From just cooking off random recipes I found online, to cooking from my growing collection of cookbooks, to my obsession with cooking shows and food blogging, I just grew so quickly into a person who is always thinking, talking, breathing FOOD. It consumed me. For the first time in my life, I had a dream, clearer than any dream I had had before (i.e. Talk Show Host, Radio DJ, MTV VJ, Pop star etc :P). I knew the one thing that would make me truly happy everyday, is to pretty much do what I do on this blog, which is to cook & write/talk about it, full time. It still sounds absurd as I say it today. My parents quickly dismissed that idea as it equals to bringing only food but not real “food” to the table (note the pun, lol). However, I never gave up on that thought and this blog helped me nurture that dream into something bigger. Much bigger than I wished for.

 

After moving back to Vietnam, I thought my dream would fizzle into my daily struggle to fit in and get by in this mystical and chaotic city of Hanoi. But on the contrary, it thrived. Back here in Hanoi, I found myself more inspired than ever to write about food, experience new tastes, and most of all, get to know like-minded people who are amazingly supportive of my passion. People on Twitter/FB, people at work, editors, producers, and lately, Giang, who became together with me, the co-founder of Kitchen Art – my dream come true. After only about 3 months of intense brainstorming, planning and late night chats, this was born:

 

 

I know Vietnamese can cook well, but I want them to discover new ways of cooking, experience different flavors and most of all, be happier in their own kitchen. This desire stuck with me throughout the existence of this blog and it is also the reason why we started up Kitchen Art. From now, this will be the a little haven for all foodies, cooks and bakers to grow their love and passion for cooking and baking, buy restaurant-grade tools to cook like a chef, take part in our regular events and workshops at the studio, or simply read and relax at our cookbook cafe corner. I will also star in my own cooking show at our studio to broadcast to our YouTube channel to teach people at home how to cook & bake international dishes, in friendly Vietnamese. Of course we also hope to have many chefs and food bloggers coming on board to spice up the classes and shows. Does all this sound too good to be true? It still does to me now, but everyday, we are turning it into reality, step by step. I’m loving every minute of it.

 

It’s been about 4 months of crazy preparations & planning, but we are getting closer and closer to opening in January 2012 (before Tet/Lunar New Year). It was originally planned to be in December, but of course, things don’t always go according to plan, renovation never finishes on time, and goods never ship as early as we hoped. Nevertheless, we are getting there!

 

I know I am still far from calling myself successful, but just the process of pursuing my dream everyday, feels pretty darn good. And now I know what Jessie J said in one of her concert is true: “Believe in yourself and know that you can achieve whatever that you put your mind to” (fun fact, Jessie J’s “Who You Are” was on constant replay on my iPod during the challenging days of starting up).

 

Now you can check out the Kitchen Art Website or follow our updates on our FB page or Twitter.  I’m counting on you guys!

 

Lastly, to wrap this blog entry with another dose of sugar-rush, I have just discovered that Door To My Kitchen was chosen as one of the best blogs of Hanoi in 2011, by The Word magazine (Vietnam’s leading travel, culture & food magazine). Can life get any better??

 

It can. Just stay close to your dreams.

Thank you Mom, Dad, Sis & My Bro-in-Law, Roger.

Thank you friends and everyone else who believed in me.

 

 
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Baking Lesson (Week 2): Chocolate & Lemon Tarts Posted by: | September 26, 2011
 

It’s my second weekend of hectic shuffling across town to go to my baking lessons on both Saturday & Sunday, while trying to maintain a social life and also spend time at home to eat & cook with family. But truth is, this past two weekends have been my most rewarding weekends in Hanoi since I moved back. The time spent at the bakery didn’t feel like hard work as I enjoyed every second of it, talking to the students and bakers about food and pastries. What a bliss!

 

I do have something to complain about though. I’m starting to cramp up from all the manual mixing and whipping at the bakery. Why, oh why, can’t they invest in a stand-mixer or handheld mixer?? It feels like going to those kung fu schools where they make you do everything yourself, carry your own water back to shower etc. And as I was mixing, the instructor would go “relax the shoulders, use your wrist, don’t tense up your forearm…”. Felt like a scene in Karate Kid!

 

You must be thinking this bakery sounds really old school. Trust me it is. But beautifully old school and quaint. So much that I never want it to change… It’s like I’m peeking through the doors into an old Parisian bakery:

 

 

 

I watched how the bakers formed tiny French breads and put them aside to rise, and how it rose beautifully into the shapes of bread (after only an hour – this is questionably fast, but I guess speed is crucial at bakeries). Did you know they spray water on bread and onto the oven walls before baking, to create hot steam in the oven for brown, crisp crusts?

 

 

Over the course of my 4 sessions, I have made plenty of pastries. Among them were the Caramel Pineapple cake and Honey cakes, which are quite straight forward and I won’t be blogging about them here. But let’s admire that gorgeous cake for awhile still… (for similar recipe and method you can refer to my previous Apple Upside Down Cake):

 

 

At this week’s class, I finally ventured into the world of Tarts. I’m not sure why I have been shying away from it all this while. Probably from my bad experiences with savory tarts (I still hate them). But turns out, dessert tarts are really easy (and quick) to make, and can be really delightful tea desserts with all kinds of fillings imaginable. I opted to make Chocolate & Lemon tarts. My 2 favorite dessert flavors. The tart pastry for both are the same, so we baked an entire batch together, and filled half with chocolate and the other half with lemon curd. And finally we decorated the chocolate tarts with melted white chocolate, and the lemon tarts with melted dark chocolate. For me the cherry on top was creating those swirls into the filling using a tooth pick, just like how they do it in soups, coffee or on cookies. Basically just pipe a thin zig zag line of melted chocolate on the filling, then drag a toothpick from top to bottom with a slight curve. I’m still amazed by this trick everytime.

 

Lemon Tarts (Bottom)

 

Chocolate Tarts (Bottom)

 

Here is the universal tart pastry recipe. It should yield about 16-20 small tartlets, depending on the size of your tart moulds. I don’t know why the previous tart recipes I’ve seen are much longer, but apparently this one works. For my bakery at least.

 

Tart Pastry (Pate Sable)

 

INGREDIENTS:


  • Flour: 250g
  • Butter: 150g
  • Icing Sugar: 80g
  • Eggs: 1
  • Baking Powder: 3g
  • Vanilla extract: a dash
  • Salt: a pinch

 

METHOD:

 

1. Combine all ingredients, except the egg, together in a mixing bowl and mix/press them together with your hand, until you have a uniform crumbly mass. Add the egg, continue to press and mix with your hand, but not for too long or the batter will become tough and shrink when baked. Freeze the batter for 10 – 15′.

 

2. Pick out a tablespoon of batter and roll into a ball. Quickly flatten it on your hand and press into the tartlet moulds as fast and firm as possible. The slower you are, the sticker and softer they get as the butter melts, so move quick! Make sure you press the batter all the way to the bottom and the rims of the mould, then use a knife to scrape off the extra batter protuding out of the moulds.

 

3. Bake for 25 minutes in 200 deg C. Once done, let cool completely before filling them.

 

Lemon Tarts (Tarte au Citron)

 

INGREDIENTS:

 

  • Tart Pastry (see above), baked, cooled and removed from moulds
  • Lemon juice: 150g
  • Egg yolk: 8
  • Granulated White Sugar: 150g
  • Flour: 25g
  • Gelatin: 2 sheets
  • Heavy/Whipping cream: 200g

 

METHOD:

 

1. Bring lemon juice to boil and take off the heat. Mix together egg yolks, sugar and flour until combined. Rinse Gelatin sheets in cold water until soft, then add the gelatin into the egg batter.

 

2. Add the batter into the boiled lemon juice and put back on medium heat. Stir until you can see bubbles popping in the bottom of the pot and when the pot is tilted, the mixture does not stick to the sides of the pot. Cool completely.

 

3. Whip the cream until stiff (the cream will not move even when the bowl is tilted), and fold into the cooled lemon curd until fully combined. Fill into the tart shells.

 

Chocolate Tarts (Tarte au Chocolat)

 

INGREDIENTS:

 

  • Tart Pastry (see above), baked, cooled and removed from moulds
  • Dark Chocolate: 200g
  • Whipping cream: 200g
  • A dash of liqueur (cointreau/cognac/rum)

 

METHOD:

 

1. Melt chocolate on simmering water or in a microwave. Add cream and stir to combine until smooth and shiny. Add liqueur.

 

2. Fill chocolate ganache into tart shells.

 

 

 

 

 
Posted in Baking Class, Chocolate, Dessert, Tarts | Tags: , , , , , , ,


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Baking Lesson 1: Cream Puffs & Madeleines Posted by: | September 18, 2011
 

Apologies again for my lack of blogging. But all the work travelling has taken a toll on my blogging routine. However, it’s all going to change from now, because I have started a Baking course at Le Croissant bakery, and will be baking at the Bakery every Saturday & Sunday from now for 6 weeks. I’m crazy excited and am eager to share each and every session with you. So stay tuned for at least 12 blog entries on my baking lessons and what I learnt from the pros.

 

Le Croissant is a bakery/training outlet by the Hoa Sua Culinary & Hospitality vocational school. Hoa Sua is an NGO with financing from France. It is one of the first culinary institutions in Vietnam, and  provides free vocational training to disadvantaged youths in Vietnam. So by taking up this course, I will not only gain precious training in the pastry kitchen, but also contribute to a meaningful social cause. Le Croissant is known as one of the good bakeries in Hanoi for fresh French breads everyday and does a lot of events catering as well.

 

 

A hardworking Apprentice at Le Croissant bakery making egg custard.

 

Coming to Le Croissant for my first lesson, I was very nervous. After all, this is not one of those leisure Baking Classes where you get to have your own workstation in nice Kitchen Studios (which also costs a bomb). This is the real deal. You will bake among the bakers and students of the Hoa Sua school. And it was exactly what I had imagined, only more intense. The kitchen is incredibly small for the amount of breads and cakes they produce everyday, and the heat from the ovens make the room really hot and stuffy. Nevermind, I was determined to blend in. My instructor was a no-nonsense, fierce woman who juggles the works in the kitchen, non-stop phone orders and teaching me plus supervising the other full-time apprentices. Forget about the sweet talks you usually get from your baking class instructors. This woman tells you in the face that what you had just piped was unacceptable and wipes it right off the baking tray for you to repipe. And looking at how she shouts at the other apprentices, I am already getting the most “gentle” treatment. Oh, and forget about readily printed recipe sheets at the beginning at your class. My instructor basically reads it off her head during preparation and I have to write it down and remember myself whatever she’s saying, especially the method and tips. Exciting, no?

 

My baking instructor of the day at Le Croissant, multitasking as usual.

 

One good thing about this training is I get to choose my own syllabus. They showed me their entire pastry line-up at the bakery, and I just picked and choose what I wanted to learn. So in the next 6 weeks, I’ll be learning Baguettes, Pain Au Chocolate, Croissants, Apple Tarts, Chocolate Tart, Creme Brulee, Chocolate Cake, Fruit Cake, Mousse and so on. If what I make passes their standard, it will also be sold at the bakery, and I’ll get to bring the rest home to share with family and friends (beware of your diet guys!).

 

In my first session yesterday, I learnt Cream Puffs (Choux Pastry) and Madeleines. Honestly, all my previous knowledge of baking was put in question. Forget about Mise-En-Place, exact measurements, or flour sifting. Everything was handled with incredible speed and roughness that left me in constant state of shock. All mixings were manually done. Yet the result is nothing less than what it’s supposed to be. I guess this is based on their years of experience of producing hundreds, if not thousands, of cakes a day. Take a look yourself at my quite decent looking end-products…

 

The incredibly soft Cream Puffs:

 

 

And the golden, beautifully risen shell-shaped Madeleines:

 

 

Amazing, no? To de-mystify everything I said above, I shall share with you the recipe and method of these petit fours, as made by the pros by Le Croissant. Hold on tight, and just… don’t think.

 

 

1) Cream Puffs (Choux pastry and Creme Patisserie filling)

(makes 30 pcs)

 

INGREDIENTS:

 

Choux Pastry:

  • Water: 250g
  • Butter: 100g
  • Granulated White Sugar: 5g
  • A pinch of salt
  • Flour: 150g
  • Eggs: 5

 

Filling (Creme Patisserie):

  • Milk: 500g
  • Sugar: 100g
  • Eggs: 3
  • Flour: 70g
  • Butter: 20g
  • Vanilla Extract: about 1/2 teaspoon

 

METHOD:

 

1. Brush baking tray with melted butter or oil. Preheat oven to 200 deg C. Combine water, butter, sugar and salt in a deep skillet and put on high heat. Once boiled, take it off the heat.

 

2. Add flour to the hot mixture, and mix with a wooden spoon. Hold the spoon straight and mix in the same direction until well combined.

 

3. Add eggs one at a time, mix until combined before adding the next egg.

 

4. Fill the batter into piping bags and pipe 3cm-wide circles with your pastry tip holding vertically straight and steady, about 2 cm above the baking tray. Leave about 2cm space between the puffs. This was the hardest step for me as I could not pipe steadily. However, it will come with practice.

 

5. Bake for 25-30 min. Do not open the oven during the first 15 min to allow the puffs to fully rise. Let cool before piping the filling. While the puffs are baking, proceed to making the filling.

 

6. Filling: whisk the eggs and sugar in a deep skillet until combined, then add flour and mix until incorporated. Boil the milk, then add into egg mixture. Stir the mixture on medium heat until it is no longer sticking to the sides of the skillet when tilted. Add butter & vanilla and stir until all is melted. Note: Let the filling cool completely before piping into the puffs.

 

7. Punch a small hole at the bottom of each puff with the back of a spoon, then pipe the filling into the hole with a pastry bag. Pipe until you feel the filling fill up the entire puff. Decorate the puffs with melted chocolate.

 

 

2) Madeleines

(makes 22pcs)

 

INGREDIENTS:

 

  • Butter: 200g
  • Icing sugar: 200g
  • Eggs: 4
  • Flour: 200g
  • Baking powder: 7g
  • Lemon zest: a big pinch
  • Salt: a pinch

 

METHOD:

 

1. Brush the Madeleine molds/pan with melted butter or oil. Preheat oven to 200 deg C. Melt butter with sugar in microwave or preheating oven. Once butter is melted, whisk heavily until the butter mixture is cooled before adding the eggs to avoid curdling.

 

2. Add eggs one at a time, whisk until combined before adding the next egg.

 

3. Add flour, salt, baking powder and lemon zest. Now this is the crucial step that decides if the madeleines will rise fully later: Whisk heavily, beating the whisk strongly against the bottom of the bowl, until bubbles appear and batter flows down smoothly when whisk is lifted.

 

4. Bake for 25 min. Do not open the oven during the first 15 min to allow the madeleines to fully rise.

 

And that’s it for 1st session. It was supposed to be the easiest lesson. Today I am going for my 2nd session, which probably is bread-making. Can’t wait. I’m travelling to Bangkok tomorrow for work the entire week. So the 2nd entry will have to wait a bit longer. Stay tuned!

 

 
Posted in Baking Class, Dessert | Tags: , , , , ,


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Delicious Vietnam #16 Round Up Posted by: | August 19, 2011
 

I’m so excited! After participating in a few Delicious Vietnam blog events in the past, now it’s finally my turn to host one myself! It’s amazing to see how many people around the world are blogging about Vietnamese food, and it kinda makes me feel bad for not blogging about Vietnamese food more often even though I live in Hanoi. Yeah, I know, you can slap me now.

 

For those who don’t know yet, Delicious Vietnam is a monthly blogging event started by Anh from A Food Lover’s Journey and Kim & Hong from The Ravenous Couple. Every month, one of us food bloggers will recap Vietnamese food entries submitted from all over the world, and have people from all over the world drooling over their keyboards for Vietnamese food. Even as a Vietnamese, I have learnt so much from fellow Delicious Vietnam bloggers who have shown amazing effort at recreating traditional dishes as well as creating their very own versions of Vietnamese food based on their taste and background.

 

This month’s round-up has been a wonderful feast to the eye, ranging from Savory to Sweets, each with a story that connects the Author with the Vietnamese culture, cuisine and heritage. Some of them have already become good friends of mine, while others, I can’t wait to get to know better through more Delicious Vietnam entries. This community is growing and helping to raise the Vietnamese food popularity around the world. Keep it up guys!

 

Before I forget, if you want to take part in the next Delicious Vietnam edition, don’t forget to send your  September Delicious Vietnam entries to Phuoc from Phuoc’nDelicious by 11 September!

 

1) Tom Sot Ca Chua (King Prawns with Tomato Sauce) by Food Affair Vietnam


 

 

What a mouthwatering dish by Anthony (Sydney, Australia) from Food Affair Vietnam, who added his own spin to this classic Vietnamese home dish that surely most of Vietnamese enjoy from time to time.

“Inspired by an episode on Masterchef, I came up with an idea to use flour to not only thicken the sauce but give it richness and body. I know many of you reading this post right now are probably saying ‘that’s not how you make sot ca chua’. It’s certainly not the way my mother would make it either…”

 

2) Coconut Creme Caramel by Lan from Angry Asian Creations

 

 

 

I can’t stop staring at this beautiful yet simple dessert. Though this dessert has influence from the French dessert Creme Brulee, it has become so common among Vietnamese that people here eat it like yogurt. In plastic cups. So it’s definitely refreshing to see Vietnamese Creme Caramel being made and displayed so beautifully again. Thanks to Lan (Baltimore, MD, USA) from Angry Asian Creations.

 

“I present this coconut crème caramel, perfect soft food, smooth & silky, sweet with a slight bitter after taste of the burnt sugar. i grew up with my grandfather’s flan. this particular recipe uses coconut milk which is much friendlier to this lactose-intolerant girl…”

 

3) The Koreans Make Good Pho by Flavor Boulevard


 

 

Mai (Berkeley, CA, USA) from Flavor Boulevard has found the perfect Pho in her neighborhood… made by Koreans at “Kang Nam Pho”. I love the irony here. It’s like eating the best Bibimbap made by Vietnamese people who call it the “Thang Long Bibimbap”. Right?? They make supposedly good authentic Pho but are still proud to put their Korean name on it. Now that’s true racial harmony and globalization.

 

“This is one of the best pho I’ve ever had (mom-made pho not included). Deep and subtly sweet broth, chewy noodles, lots of tripe and tendon. A clean aftertaste and a warm broth until the last morsel.”

 

4) Avocado Smoothie by Ha Nguyen from No Butter

 

 

 

Avocado is called “Butter Fruit” in Vietnamese due it’s smoothness and richness. It’s also Ha Nguyen‘s favorite fruit ever. Check out this latest Melbourne based Vietnamese food blogger (www.nobutter.com), and read about her obsession with Avocado since childhood days in Vietnam.

 

“I love avocado. If I have to pick a fruit to create a meal base on it, I will pick avocado straight away. From appertizer to dessert, all with avocados and keep the cooking to the minimum, I will go avocado, yes!…”

 

4) “The Quest for Grandmother’s Banh Bot Loc” by The Lipstick Cafe


 

 

The Quest for this classic Hue snack, Banh Bot Loc, is also Pauline’s quest to her culinary roots and heritage all the way from San Jose, CA, USA. Thanks to her Aunt and Grandmother, the Banh Bot Loc family recipe is now a masterpiece on Pauline’s lovely blog, The Lipstick Cafe. It’s amazing how they are able to recreate such a delicate dish.

 

“Once Aunt Tam finished mixing the dough, she put me to work with assembling the Banh Bot Loc pieces.  It reminded me of spreading masa on tamales, except it was a lot stickier…”

 

5) “Vietnamese Soy Pudding with Ginger Syrup” by The Culinary Chronicles

 

 

 

This is undoubtedly my favorite Vietnamese dessert (called “Tao Pho” in Vietnamese). My Dad used to buy it for me for breakfast. I have always thought it’s impossible to make at home, and can only be made in huge Tofu containers. Apparently not. Thanks to Nam Nguyen (San Diego, CA, USA) from The Culinary Chronicles, I now know it’s just Soya Milk and Gelatine. Wow. Talk about ignorance. I’m so ashamed of myself.

 

“Đậu Hũ Nước Đường Gừng (also spelled as “đậu phụ” or “tàu hũ”) is surprisingly easy to make, tasty, and only uses 5 ingredients! Unsweetened soy milk is combined with agar-agar and is topped with a generous helping of syrup that has been flavored with slightly spicy & aromatic ginger…”

 

5) “Trà Canh Rau Răm” (clarified Vietnamese Coriander Soup) by Rau Om

 

 

 

Dang & Oanh from Michigan and California added a modernist twist to the age-old Canh Rau Răm (Vietnamese Coriander Soup) by creating a clear concoction that has all the flavors of a typical Canh Rau Răm. If there was El Bulli in Vietnam, this would definitely make it on the Soup menu. I’m impressed.

 

“After experimentation and taste tests, we found Canh Trà Rau Răm was best served cold. All the flavors of the original canh rau răm were there, in a presentation that accentuated the light refreshing quality of the soup…”

 

6) “Bo Né Vietnamese Steaks and Eggs” by The Ravenous Couple

 

 

 

I totally had a heart attack just from staring at this dish made by Hong & Kim (Los Angeles, CA) from The Ravenous Couple, our dear co-founder of Delicious Vietnam. I never knew we had such sinful dishes in Vietnam! This really makes my breakfast this morning look like a joke (I had cereal and a chunk of baguette with meat floss). Hong & Kim, if you read this, please tell me where I can find this in Hanoi! I can’t stop salivating!

 

“Spread the pate goodness around, dip the beef in a lime, salt, and pepper sauce and wipe the mixture of butter and runny yolk with crusty french bread and you’re assured of starting the day right…”

 

6) “Che Hoa Cau (Vietnamese Mung Bean Dessert Soup)” by A Food Lover’s Journey

 

 


Ah… remember this? This was the same Che Hoa Cau that we saw in the Che Cook-Off in my previous post. Anh Nguyen (Melbourne, Australia) from A Food Lover’s Journey never fails to bring even more elegant beauty to classic Vietnamese food. This simple Che (Vietnamese Sweet Soup dessert) is always such a comfort.

 

“The name of this dessert is utterly poetic – hoa cau means the flowers of betel nut tree. The flowers are tiny and yellow. The appearance of the cooked mung bean in sweetened tapioca texture resembles such flowers, hence the name…”

 

6) “Black Sesame Dumplings” by Phuoc’n Delicious

 

 

 

You probably would find this oddly similar to a Chinese dessert, but we Vietnamese eat it too. Most of the time with mung bean filling and coconut strips inside. Phuoc from Phuoc’n Delicious (Sydney, Australia) adapted this recipe from Alvin Quah on the Masterchef show. Yay to more Asian features on Masterchef!

 

“Served with a ginger syrup, these dumplings are soft and on the chewy side and filled with a sweet black sesame paste. As you eat it, you have to try get a bit of everything in each mouthful…”

 

7) “Chè Cốm (Vietnamese Young Rice Syrup dessert)” by Door To My Kitchen

 

 

 

Last but not least, it’s my own contribution to this month’s Delicious Vietnam. It’s probably the easiest to make among all the above dishes. But it’s such rarity, that you learn to treasure and savor it like a royal delicacy (at least to me).

 

“We enjoyed our Chè Cốm on this rainy Sunday afternoon, after chilling it in the fridge for at least an hour. It was a velvety smooth, fragrant syrup that tastes cooling & light. The Cốm is soft and chewy, absorbing all the sweetness from the Arrowroot Starch syrup…”

 

Alright that’s all for this edition of Delicious Vietnam #16. I hope you enjoyed it. And remember to drop by Phuoc’n Delicious next month for the next Delicious Vietnam! To fellow food bloggers, keep sending your entries and keep cooking Vietnamese Food :)

 

 

 
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Vietnamese Dessert: Chè Cốm Posted by: | July 31, 2011
 

The past 2 months have been eventful and turbulent at the same time, which unfortunately kept me away from this little blog that normally would be a reflection of my life status. If you see entries coming up regularly, it means I’m contented, stable and happy. If you see no entries for more than 3 weeks, it means I’m stressed, traveling too much and busy. If you see no entries for more than a month, oh boy, it spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

 

I know I needed a strong excuse that would make me come back to this blog this month and straighten myself up once and for all. And who do I look for? Of course, my favorite Vietnamese food blogger sisters, Anh from A Food Lover’s Journey and Phuoc from Phuoc’n Delicious. We came up with the idea to do a “Chè Cook-Off” together. Each of us will make a different type of this typical Vietnamese dessert, which comes in a plethora of colors and flavors, varying from region to region in Vietnam. So Anh made this classic and simple “Chè Hoa Cau” (Mung Bean Che) and Phuoc made a Luke Nguyen’s version of  “Chè Bắp” (Sweet Corn Che).

 

I was the last among the girls to make my Chè. I made Chè Cốm, which is a Hanoian classic dessert made with Cốm. Cốm is Vietnamese young rice kernels, only seasonal in the fall, and is a typical Hanoian snack especially during Mid-Autumn festival. I love Cốm. It’s very fragrant, chewy, sweet, nutty, and goes really well as sprinklers on top of bananas or yogurt. If you are familiar with Trang Tien Icecream in Hanoi, you should definitely try out the Cốm flavored Icecream as well. Don’t worry, the green is not dye. Cốm actually has a very nice light green color. Here is how Cốm is typically sold in Hanoi (the only place that makes Cốm in Hanoi is Vòng Village, which happens to be just behind my office. And No. My office is not in a village!):

 

 

 

Chè Cốm is incredibly easy to make, like most of other Che. All flavors come from the Cốm and fragrant Bột Sắn (Arrowroot Starch/Powder). The Vietnamese Bột Sắn is pre-scented with Jasmine flower, which makes the Che lightly perfumed with Jasmine smell. Heavenly. If you can’t find Arrowroot Starch in your area, you can also substitute it with Tapioca starch, and a few drops of Vanilla extract or Pomelo/Jasmine flower extract would be a bonus.

 

 

We enjoyed our Chè Cốm on this rainy Sunday afternoon, after chilling it in the fridge for at least an hour. It was a velvety smooth, fragrant syrup that tastes cooling & light. The Cốm is soft and chewy, absorbing all the sweetness from the Arrowroot Starch syrup.

 

My Chè Cốm will also be part of this month’s Delicious Vietnam #16 roundup, which is hosted by yours truly this round! Stay tuned for the final round up of all Delicious Vietnam entries up on my blog next month.

 

Chè Cốm (Vietnamese Young Rice Syrup dessert)

 

 

INGREDIENTS

 

Servings: 3

  • 100g Cốm (Vietnamese Young Rice)
  • 3 tbsp Bột Sắn (Vietnamese Arrowroot Starch) or Tapioca Starch
  • 4-5 tbsp granulated white sugar (to taste)
  • 400-500ml water

 

METHOD

 

1. Boil a pot of 400-500ml water. Once boiled, reduce heat to medium and add sugar. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved.

 

2. Mix Arrowroot Starch in a bowl of water (just enough to cover the powder) until evenly distributed. Add the starch solution in a steady stream into the pot, still on medium heat, while stirring, until the syrup thickens to desired consistency.

 

 

3. Add the Cốm handful by handful into the syrup, while stirring. Once all Cốm has been added, take the Che off the heat immediately. The Cốm will continue to cook in the syrup. If you leave it on the heat for too long, the Cốm will get soggy and too sticky.

 

The whole process takes about 10-15 minutes. It’s that simple. But like all other Hanoian desserts, it’s just as elegant. If you want to try it, you’d better try it soon, as Cốm season doesn’t last long, and dried Cốm is no comparison to freshly made, seasonal Cốm.

 

Lastly, don’t forget to check out the other two Chè by Anh & Phuoc:

Chè Hoa Cau (Vietnamese Mung Bean Soup Dessert) by A Food Lover’s Journey

Chè Bắp (Sweet Corn Pudding) by Phuoc’n Delicious

 

And for those who still can’t get enough of Che, here is my Chè Sen Long Nhãn (Longan & Lotus Seed Che).


 
Posted in Dessert, Vietnamese Recipes | Tags: , , , ,


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