vegetarian moussaka

so it’s been a second. since my post in may about cooking my way through joanne chang’s cookbooks, I have actually made some progress, but unfortunately, none of it has been documented. part of it is because I’ve been baking for office breakfasts and hiking snacks, which means I tend to bake late at night then pack everything up for quick and easy transport in the morning. the other, bigger reason is that I accidentally vacuumed my camera charger, shredding the charger’s electrical cord and splitting my vacuum head in two.

unfortunately, my digital camera is apparently so old that the charger is no longer manufactured. so it’s been a wild ride through the cheap, poorly-made camera charging products sold on amazon. I’ve discovered that these shady sellers often does not allow returns (which is not made clear at time of purchase), so I’m just stuck with a bunch of useless plastic. anyways, I finally found a universal charger that worked, though my battery looks ridiculous, barely hanging on at a perpendicular angle, attached to the charger by only its charging part.

rant about my camera aside, in the past two months, I’ve also fallen completely in love with a british cookbook, honey & co: the cookbook. I generally enjoy the personable, yet methodically competent tone of british cookbooks: some other favorites include nigel slater’s books and claire ptak’s violet bakery cookbook. I’ve had friends over and cooked entire meals using only honey & co’s cookbook, because the recipes are so simple, delicious, and perfect for groups. I’ve emailed recipes from this book to friends and family, I’ve made and consumed much too much pita bread because honey & co’s recipe makes it so easy.

here’s just one of my recent favorites, a homey, hearty moussaka perfect for potluck dinners, or for meal-prepping and stretching out over a busy week. I never tire of its umami tomato taste mixed with the textures of creamy goat cheese and silky soft eggplant.


makes 8•8-in pan

moussaka
3-4 large eggplants, trimmed
olive oil, for brushing and drizzling
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
100g (4oz) goat cheese
25g (2 tbsp) pecorino cheese, grated (or kashkaval, if you can find it!)
tomato sauce
1 large red onion, peeled and diced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 thick slices of lemon
4 sprigs fresh oregano, picked (1 tsp dried oregano will do in a pinch)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 lb large plum tomatoes, diced (6-8 tomatoes)
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup water

sarit packer and itamar srulovich. honey & co: the cookbook. new york: little brown and co. 2015.

moussaka|1 preheat oven to 425ºF.
2 slice each eggplant into 4-5 thick slices lengthwise. brush a foil-lined baking tray with olive oil and place the slices flat on it. brush the eggplants with more oil and season with salt and pepper.
3 roast in oven for 12 minutes, then rotate the tray to cook eggplant slices evently. roast for another 8-12 minutes, until golden and soft. set aside to cool.
sauce|1 saute the onion, cinnamon stick, lemon slices, and oregano with oil and salt in a frying pan over medium heat until the onion and garlic start to soften, 5-6 minutes. add half the diced tomatoes and sugar, increase the heat to high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes become very soft, 8-10 minutes.
2 add the remaining tomatoes and tomato paste, black pepper, and water, and continue cooking over high heat for another 6-8 minutes.
3 remove the cinnamon stick; you can leave the lemon slices if you’d like.
assembly|1 cover the base of an 8×8-in casserole dish or pan with a layer of eggplant, then spoon 1/3 of the tomato sauce on top. smooth it out and crumble half the goat cheese all over.
2 repeat the process with a second layer of eggplant slices, another 1/3 of the tomato sauce, and the rest of the goat cheese. cover with another layer of eggplants and the remaining 1/3 sauce, then sprinkle with the pecorino.*
3 bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese topping is melted and golden. place a sheet pan on the shelf underneath to catch any drippings.
 
*at this point, the moussaka can be chilled overnight; just take the moussaka to defrost for at least 30 minutes, then bake at 425ºF for 30-35 minutes.

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danish dream cake + copenhagen

crazy it’s been just about a year since I visited denmark. though I spent only a week there, it was enough time to fall in love with scandinavian food and architecture, and their hygge way of life.

now of course, I visited during the summer. talking to residents of copenhagen, I heard mostly about the unusually cold summer they’d been having, a complaint especially heartfelt because their summers are only two or so months long, with even shorter autumns and springs and long, long winters. perhaps because their time to enjoy the relative warmth was so short, copenhagen was bursting with life and laughter – one evening, a hostel buddy and I found a raucous bar with a hilarious fake beach on a small river barge, then grabbed platters of food from all sorts of different stalls in a food hall and watched the sun set while sitting with what felt like every other 20-something in copenhagen on the pier.

a view of copenhagen from atop vor frelsers kirke

I also miss mornings in copenhagen. at many of the coffee shops around me, most people are wearing headphones while on their laptops or in their textbooks, and conversation is subdued or nonexistent. at coffee shops in denmark, families and friends were chatting and places were particularly busy early the morning as people met up for a solid breakfast before work (with the tourists usually appearing around 10am or so). unfortunately, I don’t have the equipment or the expertise to recreate the fantastic cups of coffee I had in denmark – however, I have been slowly working my way through the delicious pastries I had. here’s a recipe for a cake so decadent, just one small slice would satisfy my sweets cravings for the rest of the day. it tastes great with coffee, and for children, I imagine it would go perfect with a tall glass of cold milk.

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a beautiful morning at frederiksborg castle

places i loved
la cabra coffee roasters | best cup of coffee I had in europe. very popular with the locals in arhaus, so you may have to wait a bit for a table to clear.
original coffee, bredgade | coffee shop with multiple locations across copenhagen. this location is small with limited seating, but isn’t too busy and has great pastries and really fantastic coffee.
meyers bageri, st. kongensgade | popular copenhagen bakery with locations across the city. try to go before 9:00am – after that, the bakery quickly runs out of its most popular pastries.
torvehallerne | so many great vendors in this glass-windowed food hall. the tapas at tapa del toro took me straight back to spain, and at another stall, we found fresh oysters and fish galore. the florists had incredibly beautiful arrangements featuring flowers I’ve never seen before.
restaurant pluto | trendy restaurant popular for group dinners among the tall, young and beautiful residents of copenhagen. they make a showstopper of a steak (probably the best steak I’ve ever had), and the staff is super friendly.
kodbyens fiskebar | incredibly fresh seafood prepared impeccably and served in a trendy, industrial former meat market. if it’s warm, share an outdoor picnic table with some copenhagen locals! (and grab a beer afterwards at nearby warpigs brewpub.)
geranium | with three well-deserved michelin stars, geranium is the most expensive meal you’ll ever eat, and the best. there’s no other dining experience like eating edible pieces of art full of flavors you never even knew were possible, while seated in a panoramic dining room on the top floor of a soccer stadium. all diners also get a tour of the extensive wine room and spotless kitchens.
restaurant domestic | a two michelin star gourmet gastronomique experience. the restaurant atmosphere is industrial yet cozy, and the food is delicious and whimsical – it’s as if the farm came to your table in the form of food made by woodland fairies. easily the best meal we had in arhaus (and the second-best meal we had in denmark).

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rainbow panorama at aros aarhus kunstmuseum

aros aarhus kunstmuseum | a really, really modern art museum in arhus. when we went, there were some cool textile exhibits, and the rainbow walkway on top of the museum was 100% worth it.
frederiksborg castle | the most beautiful castle we visited. built in the renaissance style, it’s surrounded by a serene moat among rolling hills and has a beautiful english-style garden. the rooms are lavishly furnished. it’s about an hour train ride from copenhagen, and was totally worth the visit.
kronborg castle | supposedly the castle that hamlet is based on. it’s more imposing than attractive and the rooms are mostly empty, but during the summer, the castle hosts fun and well-acted interactive “hamlet” performances where the audience follows the actors from room to room in the castle. it’s about an hour train ride from copenhagen (and can be done in the same day as frederiksborg if you wake up early enough!).
tivoli gardens | if you like amusement parks, tivoli is worth a visit. the park is beautifully executed and there are some legitimately fun rides. however, the ticket prices are quite high (and if you pay per ride, it can really add up) and lines can be quite long. if you don’t mind getting split up and riding with strangers, always opt for the singles line, which moves significantly faster.


makes one 8•8-in pan

cake
245g (1 3/4 cup) ap flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
110g (1/2 cup) salted butter, at room temperature
300g (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla paste
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup (175 mL) heavy cream
topping
200g (1 stick + 6 tbsp) salted butter
1/2 cup (100mL) whole milk
300g (1 1/2 cups) light brown sugar, packed
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar
200g (2 cups) unsweetened desiccated coconut flakes

nadine redzepi. downtime. new york: pam krauss books/avery, 2017.

cake|1 preheat oven to 350ºF. lightly butter an 8×8-in pan.
2 whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. put butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer* fitted with a paddle attachment. beat at medium-high speed until pale, ~3 minutes. add the vanilla paste and beat for another minute, until incorporated.
3 add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until light and fluffy. with the mixture on low speed, add flour mixture in thirds, alternating with two additions of heavy cream. beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
4 spread the batter evenly in the pan. bake until top is browned and center is almost, but not quite set when pressed with a fingertip, 30-35 minutes.
topping|1 10 minutes before the cake finishes its first bake, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. add milk and heat until it is simmering. stir in the brown and granulated sugars and bring to a boil, stirring often. stir in the coconut. reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring almost constantly, until sugar has dissolved, ~2 minutes. the mixture should still be quite liquidy.
assembly|1 remove cake from oven and immediately poke holes all over the surface using a wooden skewer (or a chopstick). pour topping evenly over the cake, using the back of a spoon to spread it into the corners. return cake to the oven and bake until the topping is set and has turned a shade or two darker, ~15 minutes.
2 place pan on a wire rack and let cake cool completely. cut into squares and serve.

*you can make this cake by hand as well; use a wooden spoon to mix together the butter, sugar, and vanilla paste until pale and smooth. beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then mix them into the butter-sugar mixture until light and fluffy. follow the rest of the recipe as directed.

kimchi jjigae

this kimchi jjigae recipe is a recipe half-remembered. my dad used to stop by a tiny korean supermarket somewhere in the middle of delaware on his way home from work and buy a pound of homemade kimchi from the shop owner. whenever he came in the door with bags of korean groceries, we knew that we could expect kimchi jjigae, whipped up in under an hour in the o.g. of “painless cooking” kitchen gadgets, the pressure cooker. I’ve half-watched him make it a number of times while doing homework at the kitchen counter, but it’s been over a decade since then and the details, which were never truly committed to memory to begin with, have only become fuzzier.

I’m not much for kitchen gadgets, and my small apartment kitchen has forced me to be even choosier. as a result, I’ve adapted this recipe to my dutch oven (a.k.a. the only pot I have that is large enough to hold a stew), and have done my best to adapt my memories of what my dad made to my current tastes. though my kimchi jjigae doesn’t quite match what I remember, it does capture the addictive spiciness and comfort of one of my favorite childhood dishes.

makes 6-8 servings

2 lb beef short ribs (bone-in if possible)
ground black pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 tsp sugar
1 lb kimchi (with juices), chopped
1 tbsp chili flakes (gochugaru preferable, though red pepper flakes work in a pinch)
1 tbsp gochujang
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
3 cups dashi (3 cups hot water + 1/2 tbsp dashi granules)
8 oz firmed tofu, cubed
1 tsp sesame oil
chopped scallion, for garnish

sarah leung. kimchi stew. the woks of life. 8 march 2016. accessed 13 april 2018.
jennifer yu. get jjigae with it. use real butter. 25 october 2015. accessed 13 april 2018.

1 heat oil over high heat in a large dutch oven. generously season beef short ribs with salt and pepper. (if you bought boneless beef short ribs, cut ribs into 3-in cubes, then season.) place in short ribs in pot and sear until brown (working in batches if necessary to avoid over-crowding), about 2 minutes on each side. with tongs, transfer the short ribs to a plate.
2 reduce heat to medium and add onions. sauté until soft and translucent, then add the garlic and cook for ~1 more minute, until fragrant.
3 add kimchi and fry for ~2 minutes, then add 1 tsp salt and the sugar, chili flakes, gochujang, and dashi. when the mixture comes to a boil, return the short ribs to the pot, turn the heat down to a simmer, cover, and cook for 2-2.5 hours, until the ribs are tender.
4 uncover and nestle the tofu on top. replace the cover and simmer for another 10 minutes. uncover again and stir in the sesame oil. garnish with chopped scallion and serve immediately over rice.

 
*I photographed the stew in a korean dolsot. you can halve the recipe and cook it in a medium-sized dolsot if you want; if you use a dolsot, I’d recommend browning the meat separately in a pan to avoid steaming the meat.
*I like carrots in my jjigae for the natural sweetness they impart, but it’s not traditional to include carrots and you can leave them out. my dad likes to add daikon to his jjigae; just roughly cube it and use in place of the carrots
*other fun toppings: you can also add a handful of enoki mushrooms right before serving, and you can top the jjigae with raw bean sprouts or raw matchstick carrots.

quick cinnamon buns

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back in college, I used to use baking as a stress reliever, and law school has marked the return to late-night/really-early-morning baking. in the last few years, I’ve found enjoyment in a good weekend baking project, but as a law student, I’ve lately been on the hunt for recipes for pastries that require less time.

unfortunately, this means I’m still am mystified by pastries made with yeast (a project I’m hoping to tackle this summer). but fortunately, this search turned up violet bakery’s baking powder-leavened cinnamon buns, which has all the sugary, intense cinnamon flavor and enjoyable flaky dough without the hours of rising. these cinnamon buns also freeze great, and with my new gas oven (which preheats in only 5 minutes!!!), I’m always 30 minutes away from a tasty, fresh-baked pastry.

law school has marked the return of another habit that perhaps is in tandem with late-night bakes: late night snacking. unfortunately, I no longer have my college-age metabolism, which leads me to another project I’m hoping to tackle after finals: some of the beautiful hiking trails around d.c! I’m definitely looking forward to packing some of these highly-portable buns and scrambling up some rocks this summer.

makes 12 buns

filling
75g unsalted butter
250g light brown sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
cinnamon buns
560g all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground cardamom
240g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
300g cold milk
2 tbsp sugar, for dipping
optional: butter, for greasing the tin, or muffin tin liners

claire ptak. the violet bakery cookbook. new york: ten speed press, 2015.

filling|1 melt the butter and leave in a warm place so that it remains liquid.
2 in a small bowl, mix together the light brown sugar and cinnamon until no lumps remain, then set aside.
buns|1 preheat oven to 400ºF. butter a 12-cup muffin tray, or line with paper liners.
2 in a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients, then using a pastry cutter, mix in the cubes of butter until you have a coarse meal.
3 slowly add in the cold milk while mixing, and continue mixing until the dough forms into a balls and comes away from the bowl.
4 turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and leave to rest for 5 minutes. fold the dough gently over itself once or twice to pull it all together. let the dough rest a second time, for 10 minutes.
5 clear a large surface and dust lightly with flour. roll out the dough into a large rectangle until about 5mm (1/4in) thick. (I roll it out to 24in x 12in rectangle.) brush the surface of the dough with melted butter and before the butter hardens, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar onto the butter. use it all up!
6 roll the dough up, starting at the long side, keeping it neat and tight. (start with the long side facing you, then gently tug the dough towards you while rolling to get a tight spiral.) once it’s rolled, gently squeeze the roll to ensure the same thickness throughout. use a sharp knife or pastry cutter to cut the roll cross-ways into 12 even slices (mine were each 2in thick). take a slice of the cinnamon roll, peel back ~5cm (~2in) of the loose end of the pastry and fold it back under the roll to loosely cover the bottom. place in the muffin tray, flap-side down. repeat with the remaining slices.
7 bake the buns for 20-25 minutes. as soon as they’re done, flip them onto a wire cooling rack and allow them to cool for 5 minutes. dip each cinnamon bun to a bowl of sugar and serve straight away.

*if you want to freeze the buns, you can freeze the unbaked dough in the muffin tins. after they’re frozen, they can be un-molded and stored until needed. when you bake them, add a few minutes to the bake time.

world peace cookies

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a few days ago, a friend and I were grabbing ramen on a 60ºF rainy evening. and today, it’s the first snow. a few years ago, these wild swings in temperature were among the most concerning issues for me.

but lately, it seems that the world is careening into a new forms of chaos each day. I remember discussing the impending brexit vote with european friends back in the summer of 2015. we lightheartedly talked about how with the high barriers to leaving the eurozone, no country would actually ever do it.

but britain did vote to leave, and in november 2016, the nationalist, nativist movements that had captured the government of hungary, almost taken france, and driven brexit reared its head and placed in power president trump and his band of breitbart neo-conservatives.

since then, it seems that every day, there is new turmoil. currently, palestine has declared three days of rage following trump’s decision to recognize jerusalem as the capital of israel. north korea has made increasingly brazen strides in its military capabilities, catalonia’s independence referendum spurred a spanish government crackdown on the self-governed province, and germany’s government is at a standstill following failed coalition talks. in the meanwhile, southern california is literally in flames and the us senate may soon count a pedophile in its ranks, a man supported by the republican party despite highly credible allegations about his crimes against teenage girls.

it is exhausting to follow world events these days because each seems so significant, and yet the deluge is so quick and vicious, it is impossible to give each adequate attention. my fellow classmates and I often discuss our frustration about having to take a step back and observe for the next three years, and hope that the reasons that we chose to go back to school are not irreparably damaged by the time we graduate.

washington d.c. feels unusually quiet today. the falling snow, the muted sounds and colors of winter seem more calming than ever before. this morning, I rolled out some quick chocolate sablés, aptly named “world peace cookies” by dorie greenspan, for an upcoming christmas cookie exchange. and I took a walk through the admittedly wet snow (d.c. is still too warm for any snow to stick) and hoped for more peaceful days ahead.

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makes 28-36 cookies

170g (1 1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
28g (1/3 cup) unsweeted cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
155g (1 stick + 3 tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
134g (2/3 cups) packed light brown sugar
50g (1/4) white sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
142 (5oz) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into irregular bits (I usually just use bittersweet chocolate chips because I’m lazy)

dorie greenspan. dorie’s cookies. new york: houghton mifflin harcourt publishing company, 2016.

1 sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together.
2 working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter and both sugars together on medium speed until soft, creamy, and homogenous (~3 minutes).*
3 beat in the salt and vanilla. turn off the mixer, add all the dry ingredients and pulse a few times to start the blending. when the risk of flying flour has passed, turn the mixer to low and beat until the dough forms big, moist curds. toss in the chocolate pieces and mix to incorporate.
4 turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it together, kneading it if necessary to bring it together. (sometimes it comes together easily, and other times it’s a bit more crumbly – this is fine! just knead until it comes together.) divide the dough in half.
5 shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. wrap the logs in plastic wrap and freeze for at 2 hours, or refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
6 center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325ºF. line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
7 using a long, sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. (if the dough cracks, just press back together.) arrange the rounds on baking sheets, leaving ~2 inches between them.
8 bake for 12 minutes (do not open the oven during baking). transfer baking sheet to a cooling rack and let cookies rest until they are just warm/room temperature. cookies will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days, or can be frozen, well-wrapped, for up to 2 months.

*I’ve made this recipe with a hand mixer and stand mixer and both turned out well, though the stand mixer consistently results in a smoother, less grainy cookie.

cinnamon cardamom buns

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this past summer, I spent a few days in copenhagen. right down the street from our airbnb was one of copenhagen’s famous bakeries, meyers bageri. each morning, there would be a queue out the door and if we came after 10am, they’d be sold out of just about everything! (so much for sleeping in on vacation.) I loved their fluffy, buttery kanelsnurrer, especially the blueberry version.

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spiral spire at vor frelsers kirke in christianhavn.

since then, I’ve tried a few times now to recreate those pastries. most recipes I’ve found have a denser bread base that is then twisted into a beautiful, chewy cinnamon cardamom cookie-bread hybrid. (I think it might be based on the swedish version of the pastry.) they were good, but not quite what I was looking for.

while “leafing through” the ebook version of steffi knowles-dellner’s lagom, I saw that she included both a kanelsnurre and a blueberry kanelsnurre recipe (called kanel & kardamummabullar in her book) and was instantly reminded of meyers bageri. I’m happy to report that her recipe is definitely the closest I’ve found to what I experienced in copenhagen. the recipe itself was relatively painless, requiring two rise times but very little in the way of complex pastry skills, and the result is so, so good. I loved them so much, I ate three straight out of the oven!

the other pastry I loved in copenhagen was the tebirke, but my last attempt was so time-consuming and traumatic, I’m not sure I’ll tackle it for the next year. in the meanwhile, I guess I’ll just have content myself with these excellent kanelsnurrer.

makes 24 buns

dough
150g (2/3 cup) butter
500ml (generous 2 cups) milk
50g fresh yeast (or 1 tbsp + 2 tsp active dry yeast)
125g (scant 3/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cardamom
635g (5 cups) bread flour (all-purpose will do in a pinch)
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
filling
55g (4 tbsp) butter, softened
37.5g (3 tbsp) granulated sugar
2 tsp cardamom
1 tbsp cinnamon
sugar glaze
75g (6 tbsp)granulated sugar
100ml (7 tbsp) water

steffi knowles-dellner. lagom: the swedish art of eating harmoniously. london: quadrille publishing limited, 2017.

dough|1 in a small saucepan, melt the butter. pour in the milk and heat until just warm to touch. slowly add and stir in the yeast until dissolved.
2 in a large bowl, combine the sugar, cardamom, 1/2 tsp salt, and flour. add the butter-milk mixture and mix until you have a wet dough.
3 tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it comes together. add a bit more flour if the flour is too sticky to knead.
4 return to a clean bowl and sprinkle with flour. cover with a tea towel (or plastic wrap) and let rise in in a warm place for 1 hour, until doubled in size.
5 gently press the dough down a bit, then tip onto a lightly floured surface. knead for a few minutes, adding more flour if the dough is too sticky to knead. when the dough releases from the surface easily, it is ready. cut the dough in half (another way to check if the dough is ready: you should see evenly distributed air bubbles). roll each half out to form a 12×16-in rectangle with the longest side facing you.
filling & assembly|1 in a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom.
2 spread the softened butter over each rectangle, then sprinkle with the sugar-cinnamon mixture.
3 preheat the oven to 450ºF and line several baking sheets with parchment. starting from the left, roll each rectangle tightly and slice into even pieces, about 1 inch thick. pinch or tuck in the ends and place, generously spaced, on the prepared sheets. cover with tea towels or plastic wrap and proof for about 40 minutes, until doubled in size.
4 brush with beaten egg and bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden. allow to cool on a wire rack.
glaze|1 while the buns bake, combine granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan. without stirring, bring to a simmer. continue to simmer for a few more minutes, then allow to cool slightly before brushing them over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven.

 

matcha cheesecake

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the other day, my sister asked me for a matcha cheesecake recipe. after a busy june, I jumped at the chance to tie on my apron and pull out the kitchenaid for some recipe testing. I had also encountered some recent inspiration while dining at susanna foo’s newest venture, suga, when I had the chance to meet susanna foo herself and gain some insight into her mentality as a chef.

two decades ago, susanna foo’s eponymous restaurant in philly redefined chinese food in america, educating americans who were lucky enough to dine at her restaurant about the true pinnacles of chinese cuisine (with some french flair) during a time when most americans thought chinese cuisine consisted of moo shu pork and general tso’s chicken. to this day, one of my favorite dishes remains her take on squirrel fish (松鼠桂鱼), and my father owns and heavily uses her cookbooks.

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one night, while sitting at the table next to ours, susanna foo asked the kitchen to send out a plate of potstickers. she tasted the potstickers, which she ate with no sauces or garnishes. she then critiqued the humble dish in the way only a serious, trained chef can – she noted they lacked salt and that they were not as juicy as she would like. until she mentioned it, I had thought the dumplings were honestly quite good, but when she pointed it out, I too began to note the nuances. after leaving the restaurant that night, I continued to reflect on the restless nature of good chefs as they constantly search for that perfect flavor and texture profile. even at the age that most people begin to think about retirement, susanna was still tasting, taking notes, and thinking of ways to improve.

while I will never pretend to have the training or the palate of a professional – as demonstrated by the ever-present cracks on my cheesecakes – I am constantly in awe of their commitment to improvement. it’s a mentality that makes our lives a little tastier, and when translated outside of the kitchen, drives us to better ourselves and make our lives a little brighter.

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makes one 9-inch cheesecake

cookie crust
1 1/4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (I used ~20-24 oreos, cream scraped off*)
1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
cheesecake
680g cream cheese, room temperature
113.5g crème fraîche, divided
2 tbsp culinary-grade matcha powder
350g granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
swirl
28g crème fraîche
1 tsp matcha powder
1 tbsp powdered sugar

adrianna adarme. matcha swirl cheesecake. a cozy kitchen. 10 june 2015. accessed 7 july 2017.

cookie crust|1 preheat oven to 350ºF. in a small bowl, mix together the cookie crumbs, sugar, salt, and melted butter.
2 add the crust mixture into a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly onto the bottom of the pan until packed tightly.
3 bake for 8-10 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool completely. wrap the bottom of the spring form pan in foil to waterproof it.
cheesecake|1 in a small bowl, whisk together the matcha with 28g of crème fraîche until all the matcha lumps are gone.
2 in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add cream cheese and beat until smooth and fluffy (~2 minutes). add the matcha mixture, the remaining crème fraîche (~85 g), and the sugar, and beat until combined.
3 with the mixer on medium, add the eggs one at a time, waiting until each egg is incorporated before adding the next one. add the vanilla extract and salt.
swirl|1 in a small bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche until smooth.
matcha, and powdered sugar
assembly|1 pour the matcha cream cheese filling into the springform pan and smooth out the top with a spatula. make sure it reaches the edges of the pan (I like to give the pan a few hard raps on the countertop).
2 make little dollops of the swirl mixture on the surface of the cheesecake. take a skewer or knife and marble the dollops.
3 place in a roasting pan on the middle rack of the oven, then fill the roasting pan with 2 inches of hot water. bake for 45-50 minutes, rotating once halfway through the baking time, until the cheesecake is set at the edges but still jiggly in the center. (if your cheesecake is browning too fast, tent it with foil.)
4 place on a cooling rack to cool for 30 minutes, then in the fridge to set for at least 3 hours. slice and serve.

 
*I don’t provide weights for the cookie crust because I got different weights depending on brand of cookie used; for oreos, the weight is ~125g.