Monday, December 1, 2014

Thoughts on turning 30 with
Tres Leches {Momofuku} Cake

Oh Heeeey...Hello! I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving. I've got the blankets out and Christmas decorations up. I know I haven't been posting as much as I'd hoped this year, but I just turned thirty a few weeks ago and guess what I got that will help with this dilemma.... A laptop!!! I was saving for one since the summer (when my old laptop died) and my parent's helped me out with the last couple of bucks for my birthday. I'm so excited!!! I'm sure any blogger out there can appreciate my excitement. It's pretty inconvenient trying to blog without a laptop. But I'm up & running again! 

Now back to this turning thirty business...

It happened. I exited my twenties with style and now I'm entering my thirties with a little bit of grace and knowledge. 

Turning 30 is a little different than I imagined. It's actually not a big deal whatsoever. I use to think that there would be all kinds of differences between preteen Melissa and thirty year old Melissa, but aside from a few things like learning to balance a checkbook and putting washer and dryer on my  Christmas wish list, some things just stay the same.  

For instance, I thought the foods I enjoyed, like Goldfish, frozen Totino's Party Pizza, and Kraft Mac & Cheese, were because my refined 9 year old palate knew how to enjoy the good things in life.  Surely, as I got older these things would no longer appeal to me... Wrong. I'm confident that I will buy a Totino's Party Pizza for myself in my thirties, and while I don't buy the blue box as much, I still crave mac & cheese, like a five year old. For the Thanksgiving pot luck last week, my workplace had a few of the sides catered. While we all gathered around to pile food on our plates, a coworker, referring to the generous offering of mac & cheese, asked, "Who invited my kids?" Without missing a beat,  someone responded, "It's for Melissa." 

have switched from regular Goldfish to the whole wheat kind, so there's that.

When I was too young to know any better, I assumed that by this time, I would be rich, married, have a big house and a kickass job. I'm not at all upset, but none of these things would describe my current situation.  For instance, I'm not making boatloads of money at a super cool job. But hey, it's a paying job!   It's a job with health insurance and I am grateful everyday to have it. While the people at Chase Bank never seem very impressed with my paychecks, I'm so incredibly thankful. Those checks are not be paying off a big, fancy house, but they are helping me pay for my cute townhouse, complete with working kitchen appliances and a balcony big enough to grow some veggies. They make working towards my goal a heck of a lot easier.  Also, I'm not married, but I am in a healthy, happy 6 year relationship with a man who treats me with more respect than I've seen most husbands treat their wives. Just about anytime we go out, I think to myself, "I'm really lucky to have this guy."  

I guess in all this rambling, I'm saying that as I grew up, so did my thoughts on what signified a successful thirty year old, or adult for that matter. It may have taken me longer than some to figure out my goal in life (have you seen Master Chef Jr.?), but I know it now and I'm confident in my path. While I will never describe myself as someone who has their shit together, because really, who does?  There is an episode from Mind of a Chef season 2 where I think Chef Sean Brock says it best... 

    "What’s important is what you’re born with. What’s inside of you. The journey of life is amazing and it’s easier if you know what the end point is and my end point is sitting on a front porch, on a rocking chair, in overalls, fat as hell with a huge beard drinking moonshine telling stories in the Appalachian Mountains- cooking these dishes passing them down. As a kid you want to run as far away from it as you can, but the older you get the more you realize enjoying life is sitting on the porch."

I enjoy making my own birthday cake. Some may find this sad, but whatever. I know what I want.  This year I decided to make a Momofuku style cake. It's a tres leches layer cake with hojarascas crumbles, fresh whipped cream, mexican chocolate shavings, and gold flakes. 

I highly recommend the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. The first time I read it, I was in Portland, sitting on the floor in the aisle of Powell's, reading every word of that cookbook until my neck couldn't take it anymore, and my bony butt was killing me. Christina Tosi is such an inspiration. She is one of the few bakers to admit that her baking experiments don't always involve measuring. A lot of my favorite chefs have a certain disposition against bakers. They feel that baking is too precise and there is no room to stretch their creative legs. A few days ago someone told me that exact thing, and to be honest, I think it may have been a personal jab at me.  At least that's how it felt. I thought to myself, "Okay, let me guess you're a "really good cook" and you read about (insert famous chef's name) enthusiasm for bakers and now you regurgitate their pseudo life lessons, from atop your high horse." (hehe can you tell I took offense?) Christina Tosi makes me feel normal, in that I'm not always an accurate baker. When I have a new cake idea, I love nothing more than to experiment, no measuring required. Baking is as creative as cooking, just more daring. Mistakes are not as easy (but still possible!) to fix. Just like a cook knows about how much salt to start off with, even if working on a new recipe, I know about how much baking powder to add to the appropriate amount of flour when experimenting with a new dessert recipe. If you think that given the same recipe for carrot cake, we'd both walk out of the kitchen with the same carrot cake, your creativity is not taking you far enough, and you are underestimating MINE. HOLD ME BACK!!

Damn...apparently attitude came along with turning thirty. ;-)

Tres Leches Momofuku Cake
For my birthday cake, I wanted to use some tried and true recipes so I could spend the rest of my day outdoors. If you have a favorite tres leches cake recipe, I'm sure you can adapt it to work for this recipe.

For the Hojarascas crumbles I used my recipe. This will make more cookies than you need. You can either cut the recipe in half or freeze the unused raw cookie dough.

For the sponge cake layers I used the Pioneer Woman's recipe. I've made this recipe many times and it never disappoints. 

For the Tres Leches Mixture: 1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 1/4 cup heavy cream

Fresh Whipped Cream: 3 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp sifted powdered sugar

Mexican Chocolate Shavings

Special Equipment:
6 inch cake ring
2 strips acetate, 3 inches wide and 20 inches long

Bake the sponge cake and set aside to cool. You can use this time to make Hojarascas. Turn cake out onto a parchment lined surface.  Using a 6" cake ring or using a cake pan or board as a guide, cut out two 6" cake rounds and two half circles from the 9x13 cake. The two complete 6" cakes will be your top two layers and the two half circles, along with remaining crumbs, will make up your bottom layer. Clean the cake ring and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet. Line the cake ring with one piece of acetate. Place the two half circles inside and use the cake scraps to fill in any gaps. Press down to make a flat even layer. Using a fork or toothpick, poke several holes into the half circle cakes. Mix together the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a small pitcher. Slowly drizzle about 1/2 cup of the mixture over the bottom cake layer. Be careful not to cause a build up around the edges. Let the cake sit and soak up the milk mixture while you prepare the fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Beat together heavy cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Using a pairing knife or box grater, prepare Mexican Chocolate Shavings. Spread one-third of the whipped cream on top of the bottom layer. Grab a few handfuls of hojarascas and crumble them on top of the whipped cream. Using the back of a spoon, press the crumbles into the whipped cream. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes. *I was being extra cautious since I was turning a delicate cake into a layered one. I felt that freezing in between layers helped stabilize and help keep the fresh cream from running or getting weird from the milk mixture* Take the cake out and tuck the second strip of acetate in between the cake ring and the top 1/4" of  first acetate. Before placing the next cake layer inside, poke several holes. Place cake inside cake ring and slowly pour milk mixture. Just repeat the process from layer one. Spread fresh whipped cream, cookie crumbles, and sprinkle with chocolate shavings. Freeze for 20 minutes. Repeat.
Freeze cake overnight or 10 hours minimum. Let it sit out for about 20-30 minutes before serving.

Notes: I went easy on the milk mixture because I didn't want a soggy mess on my hands. This sponge cake can handle it so if you think that your layer can handle more than 1/2 cup, just slowly drizzle more in, remembering to keep the sides from flooding. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

{Mexican Wedding Cookies}

I'm just gonna get this out of the way, although I doubt this will be the last time I mention it, I love October. Halloween decorations throughout the house, The Shining on TV, "fun" (for who?) sized chocolate bars hidden in the fridge, and best of all; cool weather creeping in. 

If you're into all that then you may also be into these cookies because they are perfect with a blanket and cup of coffee on the couch while watching scary movies. They also pair nicely with store bought chocolate...just saying.



These cookies are "Mexican Wedding Cookies", also known as "Hojarascas" or "Pan de Polvo". A lot of people are more familiar with the mexican wedding cookie that combines butter, flour, confectioner sugar, & pecans- also known as Russian Tea Cookies, but those remind me too much of another holiday favorite of mine-the lady finger or sandie. Hojarascas are the ones I grew up on & I think they are more well known as the Mexican Wedding Cookie in South Texas. People may also refer to these as "melt in your mouth" cookies because that's exactly what they do. And with good reason- these are pretty much pie crust cookies, a lot of flour and shortening with the addition of some sugar and fresh brewed tea.

Oh but the tea! This is a cookie that just keeps on giving! Your house will smell amazing for the rest of the day after making these. Some recipes for pan de polvo of hojarascas call for just cinnamon tea (or no tea at all) but this recipe combines anise and cinnamon to give the cookie that perfect amount of spice.


My mom has made these for weddings but these are more of a holiday tradition in my family. I love adding them to my Christmas Cookie Boxes. The original recipe calls for a full 5lb bag of flour but I've successfully been able to cut the recipe by a third. You'll still get a good amount of cookies! 

On that **NOTE.... Each time I've made these I measure out 5 cups flour, but I only use about 4 - 41/4 cup. You want the cookies to be almost like pie crust-adding enough flour so that it doesn't stick to your hands and it starts to pull away from the bowl. Just add the flour 1 tbsp at a time when you're getting close. 

This recipe has been passed down to me. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family & friends do!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

2 1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
4-5 cups flour**see note
3 cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp anise seeds

cinnamon/sugar mix

To make tea: boil 1 1/4 cup water, add cinnamon and anise. Bring to a simmer and leave for about 10 minutes. 
Preheat oven to 350. Beat sugar and shortening together. Add flour and warm tea to the mix, alternating, starting and ending with flour- adding just enough flour that the mix starts to pull away from the bowl. Add cookies to an ungreased cookie sheet using a cookie press. If you don't have a cookie press, just snip little 1/2 inch balls. Bake for 12-13 minutes or until they begin to lightly brown on the bottom and edges. Toss warm cookies in a cinnamon/sugar mix. Store in a sealed container and enjoy for the next week or share with friends.

makes about 8 dozen flower cookies


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Vegan Spicy "Tuna" Hand Rolls

I'm sure everyone's heard of the "honeymoon stage". It's when you first start dating and everything is sunshine and happiness, so you eat. And eat. And eat. Billy & I definitely went through that & aside from the junk food, one of our favorite ways of putting on that happy weight was going out for sushi. I mean we went all the time and ordered a boatload. Literally. A tiny boat would sometimes come to our table of two. Ugh. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that...