Category Archives: recipe stories

Pie adventures

After taking a class on pies at Baking Arts and many months of trial-and-error, I’ve finally figured out how to make apple pie with the following characteristics:

- flaky, crispy top crust that shatters upon contact
- firm, golden bottom crust with slight doughiness/chewiness but no sogginess
- buttery crust with caramelized sugar
- oozy filling (not too watery, not overly thick/viscous)
- tender fruit that keeps its structure and bite
- correct sweet/savory balance (savory crust and just-sweet-enough filling)

It took me 10+ tries and lots of head-scratching while searching the internets to get this pie just right – here’s the recipe I’ve settled on. There’s no holiday or season that cannot be improved with apple pie. Dericious!

Also, note that the flaky pie dough recipe also works beautifully for savory pies; we used it for a chicken pot pie, and it was fantastic.

Jen Lee's Apple Pie

Two delicious apple pies baked in cake pans, cuz I’m cool like that.


Jen’s Apple Pie (adapted from Baking Arts)

Yield: 1 9″ diameter pie

1 recipe Flaky Pie Dough
2.5 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 5 apples)
1 cup granulated sugar
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
1 pinch allspice
1/3 cup tapioca flour (sets clear and lets crisp apple flavor come through)
1 squeeze fresh lemon juice (do not omit this ingredient)

1 egg, 1 tablespoon heavy cream, and extra sugar for glazing crust

Cookie sheet
1 9″ diameter metal pie or cake pan

Preheat oven to 400F.

1) Mix sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and tapioca flour in a medium bowl to blend. Set aside.
2) Peel, core, and chop apples to thin, flat slices (approximately 32 slices per apple).
3) Place apple slices in a large bowl or pot. Pour boiling water or cider directly over top. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 10 minutes. Drain apples well and let sit in a colander in the sink, tossing occasionally until completely dry, another 10 minutes.
4) Toss apples with dry ingredients and lemon juice. Set aside.
5) Roll 1/2 pie dough to 1/8 inch thick. Place in bottom of 9″ metal pie pan. Trim outer edges to 1/2 inch over pan edges. Chill pie crust in the refrigerator.
6) Place apples in pie shell along with any accumulated juices. Roll top crust to 1/8 inch thick. Make vents for steam. Lay top crust over pie and trim top even with the bottom crust. Lightly pinch the two together. Crimp with a fork.
7) Freeze the pie for 15-20 minutes to set the butter in the crust and promote a flakier pie.
8) Whisk 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of heavy cream together. Brush top crust with the egg and heavy cream wash. Sprinkle with coarse sugar or granulated sugar.
9) Place pie on sheet pan, and place sheet pan on top of pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven to promote browning of the bottom layer.
10) Bake in preheated 400F oven for 60-90 minutes. Rotate pie halfway through baking. Look for even browning and thick bubbling juices.
11) Cool on cooling rack at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Flaky Pie Dough

Yields 1 double crust or 2 bottom crusts

2.5 cups All-Purpose Flour (12 ounces)
2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons sugar
6 ounces butter, chilled (1 1/2 sticks)
1/3 cup vegetable shortening or lard (makes pie tender and crisp; coats the gluten)
5 oz cold water + a bit more if needed

For best results on warm days, chill flour in a covered metal bowl for 30 minutes.

Place dry ingredients and shortening or lard in the bowl of a food processor and process for 15 seconds until it has the appearance of slightly damp sand. Add the butter in pieces (chop into 12 pieces first) and pulse in 1 second increments until butter is no larger than peas.

Turn mixture into a mixing bowl and drizzle in the water 1 tablespoon-full at a time, mixing after each addition. Add just enough additional water, if needed, to bind all the ingredients. (make sure there are no powdery bits. if you can see the bottom of the bowl cleanly, it’s ready. you want moistness, not sopping-ness. if the dough is slightly crumbly, push it together in the plastic wrap while you form it into a disk).

Form into two thick disks and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours before using. Can be frozen for several months double wrapped in plastic wrap.

Rolling and Forming

Lightly flour table and dough on both sides. Walk rolling pin over dough to help soften and flatten. Begin rolling dough, pivot dough frequently to keep dough’s round shape and to check for sticking. Dust with flour as required. Press edges together if they crack. Roll dough to 1/8″ thick.

Place dough into 9″ pan (prepared with a layer of shortening and dusted with flour). Allow dough to rest in bottom edges of pie tin. Trim dough 1/2″ past the edge of the pie tin. Chill and rest dough before filling and topping with second crust. If creating a single crust pie, fold overhanding edge under itself so dough is resting on the edge of the pie tin. Crimp edges of dough. For double crust pie, after placing second round of dough on top, trim top crust to 1/2 inch and fold the bottom and top edges of dough under and crimp.

Frozen dough: Defrost in fridge overnight or take it out; leave it on counter overnight, and throw it into the fridge for 30 minutes before using.

Baking lesson with the God of Cake

In my last post, I interviewed Ryan, baker extraordinaire.

Yesterday, I got to take a private baking lesson with Ryan, and it would be an understatement to say my mind was blown. I shudder when I think of how haphazardly I used to bake. I now know how much tastier and prettier my cakes can be with slightly more patience and attention to procedure.

We baked a double-layer strawberry cake with strawberry cream cheese frosting, and while my penmanship leaves much to be desired, it’s by far the nicest-looking cake I’ve ever made:

BakingLessonfinishedCake

Marshall’s birthday also happens to be Valentine’s Day, which is why the cake is pink.

Here are the tips and tricks I learned from Ryan along the way:

Preparing the pans

  • Cut parchment paper rounds:
    • Fold parchment paper in half repeatedly until you get a narrow triangle shape.
    • Put the smallest angled-corner of triangle in middle of back of cake pan and cut to the pan’s edge. Voila – a perfectly-sized parchment paper circle.
  • Once you’ve placed the parchment paper in the center of each pan, coat the top of the paper with shortening.
  • Coat the sides of the pan (only about one inch up from the bottom) with shortening.
  • Dust the bottom and sides of the pan with flour: sprinkle some on the bottom; tap and tilt to distribute evenly. Tap excess into kitchen sink.

Creaming butter and sugar properly

  • Put room temperature butter into mixing bowl and press it into bowl with wooden spoon until soft.
  • Add granulated sugar. Stir as vigorously as possible until light and fluffy.
    • The creamed butter and sugar should look opaque and pale yellow, almost ivory-colored, like frosting.
    • It should NOT look translucent and grainy, like buttery mashed potatoes – this is what my creamed butter-and-sugar always looked like in the past, and it’s wrong! No wonder my cakes were tough before.
    • This process is critical to whip some air into the butter mixture to afford the cake a soft texture.
    • This creaming step is exhausting and time-consuming to do by hand, though this is how Ryan and I did it during our lesson. Afterwards, I promptly purchased an electric hand mixer. Someday, I’ll buy myself a stand mixer.

Baking the cake

  • Pour the batter into the parchment paper-lined, shortening and flour-coated cake pans.
  • Before placing pans into the preheated oven, ALWAYS put wet “Bake Even” strips around the pans.
    • You can also use wet paper towels wrapped in aluminum foil. This will help the cake bake flat rather than doming – my cakes used to dome all the time, and later, I’d have to slice off the domed tops with a leveler, which seemed wasteful to me.
  • NEVER open the oven to check on the cake until the surface of the cake has baked enough to no longer be shiny.
    • Introducing cold air into the oven before the cake has baked to a certain extent will cause the cake to “implode.”
  • As soon as the surface of the cake no longer looks shiny, open the oven and stick a toothpick all the way through to the bottom of the cake.
    • If the toothpick comes out with no batter (some crumbs are OK), the cake is done.
  • Put the cakes in their pans onto cooling racks. Remove the bake even strips. Leave for 10 minutes.
  • Take the cakes out of the pans and put them directly on the cooling racks. Remove the parchment paper. Allow cakes to cool directly on racks for about 30 minutes.
    • Transferring the cakes from the pans to the cooling racks can be tricky. Try putting the cooling rack upside down on top of the pan, then flipping over the rack/pan assembly. The cake should pop right out onto the rack.
  • Transfer one of the cakes to a round cardboard cake base.
BakingLessonRackedCake

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans (without the bake even strips) on the racks for about 10 minutes before transferring the cakes directly onto the cooling racks.

Frosting the cake

  • Adjust the stiffness of frosting by adding more powdered sugar if it’s too thin or adding milk if it’s too thick.
  • Use an offset spatula and a turntable to get a smooth frosted surface.
  • Start by adding frosting to the layer that will be in between the cakes:
    • Dump some frosting onto the middle of the top of the bottom cake layer. Spread it around using the offset spatula.
    • Make this layer as thick as you please, but remember to leave the outer 1 cm circle empty of frosting – when you add the top layer, the weight will squeeze out some of the frosting to fill the outer border.
    • If crumbs ever end up on the spatula, scrape it on the sides of a plate AWAY from the bowl of frosting. You never want those crumbs to end up in your frosting!
  • Carefully place the second cake layer on top of the first one, keeping them concentric.
  • Add a thin coat of frosting along the sides of the cake:
    • Try not to lift perpendicularly away from the cake – rather, “frost off” the cake gently, lifting upwards when frosting the sides.
    • The point is to get an initial coat so you don’t keep pulling crumbs off the cake – no need to obsess over making the coat thin.
  • Finally, frost the top of the cake:
    • Dump frosting in the middle of the top layer, and spread the frosting around gently with the offset spatula.
    • Keep adding more and more frosting such that it drips down the sides and thickens the initial frosting coat. You can then neaten out the sides by placing the spatula squarely against one side of the cake and steadily rotating the turntable.
  • Decorate the cake:
    • Write/draw on the frosting with a toothpick first. If you mess up, you can simply smooth it over with more frosting.
    • Add some gel-based dye to leftover frosting. Screw a coupler with a piping tip onto a piping bag. Dump the colored frosting into the piping bag and twist the top of the bag to prevent the frosting from squeezing out of the top.
    • Push the colored frosting through the piping top by pressing at the top of the bag, just below the twist.
BakingLessonFrostedCake

How the cake looked after frosting, before decorating.

And of course, here’s the recipe I used for the cake. It’s actually a cupcake recipe that I adapted into cake (didn’t change much except baking time, the amount of sugar in the cake, and the use of cake pans instead of cupcake pans). I tried these cupcakes at a wedding last October and couldn’t stop thinking about them; turns out they were baked by one of Marshall’s high school friends, Kailin! Check out Kailin’s blog for her other sweet creations; I’ve had many of them, and they’re all delicious.

Angie’s Famous Strawberry Cake from Apple a Day

Cake ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 c. cake flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/8 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c. buttermilk
  • 1/4 c. oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 c. chopped strawberries

Frosting ingredients:

  • 1/3 c. chopped strawberries
  • 1 TBSP strawberry liquor
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 TBSP vanilla

Cake directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cake pans with parchment paper, shortening, and flour.
  2. Sift flour, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl.
  3. In bowl of mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  4. Add eggs one at a time until combined.
  5. Add buttermilk, oil and vanilla until combined.
  6. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined.
  7. Fold in berries.
  8. Fill cake pans 3/4 way.
  9. Bake for approximately 25 minutes.

Frosting directions:

  1. For frosting, put berries, liquor, and juice in saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then reduce to a simmer for 5 mins.
  2. Let cool, then blend until smooth.
  3. In bowl of mixer mix cream cheese and butter until creamy.
  4. Add sugar, then vanilla.
  5. Add berry puree until smooth.
  6. Frost cakes when they are completely cooled.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Meals 134 + cookie within a cookie

I love Girl Scout cookies, especially Thin Mints and Samoas/Caramel DeLites. Accordingly, my sister sent me a recipe for Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookies.

Baking frenzy re-ignite.

Whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter, two clementines, and vanilla Activia yogurt

Breakfast: Whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter, two clementines, and vanilla Activia yogurt

Broccoli, carrots, bell peppers

Lunch: Broccoli, carrots, bell peppers

Brisket and rare steak pho

Dinner from Pho Garden (take-out): Brisket and rare steak pho

Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookies baking mess

What the kitchen looked like after I baked the Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookies. Brace yourself…


Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookies (from Lovin From the Oven)

Yields 32 cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
32 Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies (Keebler’s Fudge Shoppe Grasshopper Mint Cookies work equally well)

Cream together the unsalted butter and sugar.

1. Cream together the unsalted butter and sugar.

Stir in melted chocolate, eggs, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until well combined.

2. Stir in melted chocolate, eggs, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until well combined.

Gradually mix in the cocoa powder and flour until just combined.

3. Gradually mix in the cocoa powder and flour until just combined. Chill dough in refrigerator for at least an hour.

Cookie building process with thin mints

4. Take about 2 teaspoons of the chilled cookie dough and flatten in the palm of your hand. Place the mint cookie on top of the flattened dough. Flatten another piece of the dough and place it on top of the mint cookie. Fold and pinch together the sides so that the cookie is completely covered, making an even layer of cookie dough around the thin mint. Repeat process with remaining cookies.

Baking and cooking process for thin mint stuffed chocolate cookies

5. Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, spacing about an inch apart. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes on the pan before transferring to wire cooling racks.

The result? A decadent, cakey chocolatey layer surrounding the crisp minty center. I attribute the soft cakiness to the rare inclusion of both baking powder and baking soda in this cookie recipe. Delish.

Cross-section of Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookie.

Cross-section of Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookie.

Why I love japchae

Ready to nosh on japchae I made with my mom.


For Mother’s Day, an homage to my mother’s japchae, with a recipe:

In my book, no celebration is complete without japchae, a Korean stir-fried noodle and vegetable dish. According to Korean tradition, you’re supposed to eat noodles on your birthday because the long, continuous shape is associated with a long life.  My mom’s japchae is extraordinarily tasty, so it has become my family’s noodle of choice for birthdays and special occasions. Famous for their length, japchae noodles have extended into all my life’s formative stages, and they continue to connect me back to my Korean heritage, even as I feel myself becoming more and more American.

The first vivid memory I have of japchae is from my younger sister Christina’s doljanchi (an elaborate traditional first birthday celebration). For a brief moment, she looked elegant and regal in her colorful striped hanbok (traditional Korean dress), sitting behind a table of delicately stacked rice cakes, fruits, and side dishes. But within seconds of being seated, Christina proceeded to roll up her sleeves, crawl onto the table, grab fistfuls of japchae, and stuff her face. As the noodles slid down her chin and onto her hanbok, the guests roared with laughter. Even at the age of one, Christina understood that it was worth looking ridiculous in order to enjoy my mom’s japchae.

Fast forward a few years, and my pimply twelve-year-old self was in the kitchen with omma (my mom), watching her make japchae. She used seven main ingredients: dangmyeon (sweet potato noodles), green bell peppers, onions, garlic, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and beef, cutting out the spinach and excess sugar that ruins restaurant japchae. Once each ingredient was properly cooked and seasoned, she’d mix them together by hand, wearing loose plastic gloves to protect her soft skin from the smelly onions and garlic. To save time, she conducted all taste tests by scooping up some of the japchae with her gloved hand and holding it in the air expectantly. “Try this, and tell me if you think it needs more soy sauce,” she’d say. If I scrambled to find chopsticks, she’d get impatient. “Just eat it out of my hand!” I’d do so begrudgingly, getting sesame oil all over my blemished chin and realizing that I’d be in for another fresh crop of chin acne the next morning. It was worth it though. The japchae was irresistible: chewy noodles, flavorful mushrooms, tender vegetables, and fragrant sesame. Like Christina at her doljanchi, I was willing to look ridiculous (acne is pretty traumatic for a seventh grader) after I’d had the privilege of tasting a handful of omma’s japchae.

Japchae continues to make me look ridiculous to this day. When I set out to make japchae for this blog post, I found myself with no plastic gloves for proper hand-mixing; heck, I didn’t even own a single set of chopsticks. What kind of Korean was I? Who did I think I was, trying to cook japchae out of my decidedly gringo kitchen? It wasn’t easy, but I did it. Chopping the bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms took forever. Even with the expertise of instructional videos from YouTube, my vegetable pieces ended up clumsy and inconsistent (thank goodness the grocery store sold pre-shredded carrots). Mindful of vegans (in actuality, feeling lazy and exhausted), I skipped the beef. Mixing the noodles and vegetables with a fork was like torture: it took all my upper and lower body strength to evenly incorporate the soy sauce and sesame oil-based marinade into the noodle and vegetable mixture. As I struggled to stir, I tried to compensate for my lack of upper-body muscle with exaggerated arm movements a la David Brent’s fusion of Flashdance and MC Hammer from the BBC’s The Office. Again, I looked ridiculous.

Japchae I made on my own. Note the pitifully chopped vegetables.

I started thinking: how does omma make this look so easy? Well, she’s been doing this for longer than I’ve been alive, and per her own words, “Korean housewifery is my major.” Of course, this is a figure of speech: she graduated from Ewha University in South Korea with a degree in mathematics and had aspirations of teaching. But when my father’s software engineering career brought her to the United States, she found herself faced with an enormous language barrier and refocused her efforts to homemaking. My birth solidified her position in the family as the master of all things home-related. In the kitchen, she barely even needs a cutting board anymore, and she can cook anything from the familiar japchae to lasagna, which bears zero resemblance to anything remotely Korean.

Unlike omma, I fully intend to stay in the country of my native tongue and pursue a career outside the home. This is what she wants for me as well: as much as she’s enjoyed taking care of her home and her family, she often speaks wistfully of how nice it would be to have more independence and a source of income outside of my dad’s. I look forward to having a degree of independence that my mother doesn’t have, but I know that my japchae (or anything else that I cook, for that matter) will never be as good as hers.

Or maybe it will be, if I can just position myself in the right industry, per the history of japchae. A liege named Yi Chung first created japchae in the early 17th century at a party for King Gwanghaegun. The king liked the dish so much that he promoted Yi Chung to the position of Secretary of the Treasury. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that anymore; no matter how delectable my japchae becomes, it probably won’t get me promoted in my current Silicon Valley tech job. But that’s not going to stop me from trying to live up to omma’s japchae greatness, no matter how ridiculous I look in the process.


Omma’s Japchae

Ingredients:

  • Starch noodles (“dangmyun”)
  • 150 grams of beef
  • 1 medium size carrot
  • 1 medium green pepper
  • 1 medium size onion
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • soy sauce, salt, sesame oil, sugar

Makes 4 servings.

How to prepare your ingredients before stir frying:

  1. Soak 5 dried shiitake mushrooms in warm water for a few hours until they become soft. Squeeze the water out of them and slice thinly.
  2. Cut the carrot and bell pepper into thin matchstick-shaped pieces 5 cm long.
  3. Slice one onion thinly.
  4. Slice 150 grams of beef into thin strips.

How to stir-fry:

  1. Boil 2 bunches of noodles in boiling water in a big pot for about 3 minutes. When the noodles are soft, drain them and put in a large bowl.
  2. Cut the noodles several times by using scissors and add 1 tbs of soy sauce and 1 tbs of sesame oil. Mix it up and set aside.
  3. Add ½ tbs soy sauce and ½ tbs sesame oil and mix it and place it onto the large bowl.
  4. On a heated pan, put a few drops of vegetable oil, a few shakes of salt, and your carrot strips. Stir with a spatula for 30 seconds. Put it into the large bowl.
  5. Place a few drops of vegetable oil on the pan and add your sliced onion. Add a few shakes of salt. Stir it until the onion looks translucent. Put it into the large bowl with your carrots.
  6. Place a few drops of vegetable oil on the pan and add your beef strips and your sliced shiitake mushrooms. Stir it until it’s cooked well, then add 3 cloves of minced garlic, ½ tbs soy sauce, and a pinch of sugar. Stir for another 30 seconds and then put it into the large bowl.
  7. Add 2 tbs of soy sauce and 2 tbs of sesame oil to the large bowl. Mix all ingredients.

Meals 120: Cheddar biscuits, Andes blondies

Amita-chan was visiting from Tokyo! She and Steven came to Google for a bit. Best lunch break ever.

Steven and Amita at Google

Steven and Amita distracting me at work. Kyoto reunion FTW

Later, potluck with Marshall’s cousins (I made cheddar biscuits) and dancing with XBox Kinect. Not bad for a night in the South Bay.

Breakfast: Watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, scrambled egg whites with ketchup, blue cornbread

Breakfast: Watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, scrambled egg whites with ketchup, blue cornbread

grilled eggplant and zucchini, wasabi mashed potatoes, mixed greens

Lunch: Grilled eggplant and zucchini, wasabi mashed potatoes, mixed greens

Homemade cheddar biscuits

Dinner: Homemade cheddar biscuits

gigantic Korean chicken wings

Dinner from 99 Chicken: Spicy sauce chicken wings

cilantro noodles

Dinner: Cilantro noodles

Mushroom and vegetable stir fry

Dinner: Mushroom and vegetable stir fry

Dinner: Thai chicken curry

ooey gooey. yum.

Dessert: Andes blondies

Mmm. Cheddar biscuits, straight from the oven. Red Lobster's got nothing on these.

Cheddar Biscuits

2 cups Bisquick baking mix
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon of dried minced garlic

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet, or line with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, combine baking mix, cheese, and garlic powder. Stir in milk. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheet.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Brush biscuits with melted butter, and sprinkle with dried minced garlic. Bake for 5 more minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom.