Candied Peel

The benefit of being sick for weeks is the loads of citrus that gets quickly used.  At least… this is what I realized the last week of my illness.  I’m not sure it would have been any better had I realized earlier, as in a very short amount of time the fridge was nearly full of peel.  Why would I be saving the peels?  Well, to make candied citrus peel for Victorian era sweets!

Premade candied peels and fruits are rather difficult to find in my area, so I gave the old recipe a try, tripling the volume of syrup to accomodate.  After reading up a bit on the process in Chocolate and Confections, this batch has turned out much better than the last.  The peels included lemon, mandarin orange, and amanatsu (sweet Watson pomello?).

After finally finding some finger cookies (as opposed to making stale ones from scratch), the last decision I have to make is whether or not to candy some cherries.  They’ve just begun to show their face in the market, after all.  The next recipe shall be Cabinet Pudding.

Kuroshituji Desserts Ep. 12 – Christmas Pudding

The holiday season is finally here!  What better a time than to try and create a fabulous Christmas Pudding.  Hopefully the timing of this post will give you just enough time to gather the proper ingredients to make your own and enjoy it with family and friends.

As Sebastian mentions in episode 1, there are many English desserts that feature an animal fat for moisture and richness.  And Christmas pudding is no exception; most recipes call for suet.  Suet may be difficult to find, or you may likewise find it disgusting.  Steamed puddings, such as Christmas pudding, also require a pudding mold (or so I thought), so I spent the better part of the year searching for one in my area.  However, both troubles were put to rest when I found this video a couple weeks ago:

What a truly delightful chef!  I picked up a metal bowl at a 100yen shop, as I couldn’t find a heat-proof glass one, and halved the recipe.  There was no candied peel available in my area, so I used her recipe for that as well -  substituting oranges for the more readily available mandarin oranges.

Of note, the bowl was much more than a pint, but could barely hold all the goodies.  Also, during the cooking time, both rubber bands popped!  I made a daring rescue, pulling the bowl from the boiling water to replace them, only to have these pop as well.  The pudding turned out fine nonetheless.

This is a very rich, very fruity pudding that deserves an equally decadent custard cream.  If you like ice cream or whipped cream, both would make excellent accompaniments.  As this custard recipe was so-so, I shall not be sharing it, but the result when paired with the pudding was still delicious.

You can add lucky items to your pudding if you like (such as a ring, bell, or coin), or simply enjoy it as it is.  Happy Holidays.

Kuroshituji Desserts Ep. 4 – Blackberry Cornmeal Cake part 2 (fin)

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A deliciously light cake full of juicy blackberries, perfect for dessert, breakfast, or a tea time sweet.  This recipe was inspired by Kuroshitsuji, and is based on this rendition by Martha Stewart.  You can read more about the creation of this recipe here.  Included below are instructions for both electric rice cooker and vegan versions.

Blackberry Cornmeal Cake

(serves 8 )

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup sugar; plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted; plus 1 tablespoon for pan
320 grams fresh blackberries, washed and dried

1.  Heat oven to 190 C (375 F).  Sift flour into a bowl and stir to combine with other dry ingredients using a whisk.  Melt butter in another bowl and then cool to room temperature; add remaining wet ingredients and whisk to combine.  Carefully pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk together.

2.  In a 25cm (10 inch) round pan or cast-iron skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the oven until pan in well heated (about 5 minutes).  Pour the batter into the pan, lightly cover in berries and sprinkle with sugar.

3.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick or bamboo skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool for 30 minutes before serving.  Can be served warm or at room temperature.

*If baking this cake in an electric rice cooker, press “start” to heat the bowl at step 1.  Melt the butter at step 2 and add the batter.  Cook for 5 minutes and then lightly cover with berries and sugar.  Bake for around 55 minutes.  When done, allow cake to cool about 20-30 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

You may have to adjust times to suit your rice cooker, but ensure that top is golden colored and a toothpick or bamboo skewer inserted into the center comes out clean before stopping the cooking process.  Given the lower heat and smaller bowl size of many appliances, you may have to cook much longer.  Also, if your cake isn’t “drying” properly, try removing the top steam vent/filter (if applicable to your machine) to aid the cooking process.

*Would you like to make a vegan cake?  Substitute water or almond/soy (etc.) milk for milk, one large ripe banana (mashed) for eggs, and use a mild vegetable oil instead of butter.  It will be delicious even if you’re not on a special diet.

Please feel free to ask any questions and I will do my best assist.

Kuroshitsuji Desserts Ep. 4 – Blackberry Cornmeal Cake pt. 1

Blackberries were just in their peak season, so in short, Batsu simply couldn’t resist buying them by the kilo!  Thankfully, they were only 500 yen per kilo, and even better yet, they are one of the key players in this Victorian Era dessert.

After web crawling for a few hours, this was more or less the staple recipe that I kept coming across: http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/blackberry-cornmeal-cake.   This Martha Stewart version certainly has a few American Southern-style touches, such as the cast iron skillet, but it looks pretty and the ingredients are simple.  It also features a lot of berries, which was sure to assist in my predicament.

Let me confess now that I do not have a cake pan (?!), let alone a cast iron skillet. For many years, I’ve used my rice cooker for this job, and a fine job it has done. Of course, the top of the cake will not brown, but it bakes well and is quite aesthetically pleasing.  The inner bowl is very easy to clean and non-stick to boot; I highly recommend using your rice cooker for cakes as well if you are fortunate enough to have one.

However, your recipes will have to be slightly modified to accommodate.  Consider the volume of batter appropriate for the machine, and adjust the cook time as necessary.  For this cake, instead of warming up the pan in the oven as directed in the recipe, I pressed “start” while arranging the other ingredients, and by the time my batter was ready the inner bowl was nice and hot.

This was the first cake:

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Again, I don’t know who got ahold of the camera, but you don’t need to see me and my living room to enjoy looking at the beautiful cake.  Hence, as with the lemon meringue pie, I decided to make it again.  There were some other issues as well, such as the sinking berries that needed remedy, so why not?

The second cake:

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It looks and tastes so much better!  I let the batter cook about 10 minutes before lightly sprinkling with blackberries this time and it tuned out beautifully.  It seems the garnish has been neglected yet again, but this cake still needs one more revision (baking powder instead of soda) before reaching perfection…  Or wait, make that two…

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When obtaining this screen capture I realized that in the upper left hand corner there is some small writing that reads “洋梨,” that is, “pear.”  This should actually be Pear and Blackberry Cornmeal Cake…  Oh, dear…

At least the left over berries went to good use, and I can use the remaining syrup to adorn the plated dessert next time as well.

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Kuroshitsuji Desserts Ep. 1 – Lemon Meringue Pie, part 1

Lemon meringue pie.  Does it not seem like a Victorian Era dessert?  I’m not totally convinced that it is either, but as lemon custards, pies, and meringues all existed by the mid 19th century, and as America and England both seem to want credit for it – let’s give the crown to the old world.  For the queen!

Batsu only recently started learning how to make pie.  My very first pie was last fall, and my very second pie was last winter.  They were both pecan; which may invoke more of my background than you care to know. Suffice it to say that I have only seen one type of pie made from start to finish; I have seen that pie made hundreds of times.  In other words, it’s time to try a new kind of delicious pie!

Although technically, I haven’t made that many pies.

After researching for a few hours, I finally decided on this recipe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/lemonmeringuepie_86114.  I liked how it used so many lemons, having a recent addiction to lemon curd and yet still longing for something bitingly sour.  In addition, the longer cook time (more than twice the time of most recipes) ensured that the meringue would be set well all the way through and slightly crisp on top.  Indeed, the amount of sugar in the meringue made it seem more like marshmallow the egg whites.

This was the first attempt:

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Though overall I think this pie was a big success, the pictures are quite lackluster.  The fluted part of the crust looks so-so, but the crust on the whole was good.  Admittedly, I took no attempt to garnish the plated dessert, but the angles mostly get my work desk, me, and a lot of distractions besides the pie.  So I decided to make another one.

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Oh, dear!  The meringue looks like craft foam!  The first time I used this recipe, the oven was set too high from making the crust – a partial mistake which by now seems to have been a gift from the fairies.  My oven is very small, and opening the door causes temperatures to drop dramatically. Maybe that’s what happened? Admittedly, I was a bit concerned that I under-beat the eggs previously, and this time perhaps whipped them too much? The worst part is that edge of the crust was beautiful, and the meringue carefully sculpted, but both lose in the face of this pie’s drooping top dome. The upper crust was as crisp as meringue cookies, however, and remained so even with days of refrigeration. We ate it warm for dinner, given the fail, hence the loose side. Again, no garnish.

I’ll need at least one more try to achieve this:

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At least one…

Victorian Dessert Challenge – The List

After watching Kuroshituji and becoming thoroughly enthralled with the story, art style, and especially the tea time sweets, I decided to create a challenge for myself.  That is, to recreate all of the home-made desserts in the series.

Since purchasing a small oven last year, my home has slowly become host to numerous baking projects, with desserts in particular somewhat falling in favor of breads.  I’ve also become more interested in Victorian history and culture (as opposed to EGL history and culture), and what better way to study than through recreating delicious food.

I’ve already confronted the fact that I do not own the proper service wear, and defeated myself in realizing that there is no space for any more dishes in my tiny Tokyo apartment.  Everything will have to be plated on my cheap Chinese looking plates like we’re eating at Lau’s restaurant.  Any money that could be spent on plates will go towards only the finest ingredients.

So now that this matter is out of the way, here is the list of desserts:

Lemon Meringue Pie
Apple and Raison Deep Pie
Orchard Fruits Pie
Blackberry Cornmeal Cake
Charlotte Cake
Cabinet Pudding
Christmas Pudding
Gateau Chocolate
Victoria Sponge Cake

There are not really that many; the real task will be perfecting them.

Indoor Intergalactic Journey

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The Shinagawa Prince Hotel, located just a stone’s throw through the labyrinth before Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, even with its tuxedo wearing top-hatted valets has more than just your standard regal affairs.  Indeed, it also houses the Epson Aqua Stadium, filled with overpriced and over-glorified pastimes.  That is, all except the Galaxy Express 999 indoor roller-coaster.

Bastu went after a visit to the immigration bureau on the other side of the station, and nothing gives bureaucracy a good kick in the face like traveling through a void of mysterious dark space, upside down at incredible speeds.

I was practically the only visitor in the whole park!  Not bad for a Thursday evening.  There were armies of staff ready and waiting to heed my every whim as I careened through the tape.  A pleasant attendant manning the automated machines (oxymoron?) was quick to do the entire processes of purchasing a ticket for me, sans actually paying.  She then escorted me mostly to the ride, where another bevy of enthusiastic employees lie in wait.

“Your train will be departing in 10 minutes,” one of them informed.  The other six scuttled away.

Looking up, a huge information board with scheduled departures hung over the entranceway.  How cool!  My train was coming in 10 minutes!  Not just any train, but an intergalactic train bound for Andromeda.  I felt so cool!  Looking down, there was a map of the various trade and train routes; however, it was obstructed with dividers – no good pics.  A few minutes later, the times flipped – Oh!  It was time to get on the platform!

A staff member quickly went through a check list of possible ailments (no heart problems, no blood pressure problems, no other illness… you’re OK going upside down, right?) and then led me into a holding area with replicas of Maetel and Tetsuro’s clothing.  There were other things to be seen, but I was quickly led to a futuristic platform with 3-D dioramas of Megalopolis embedded into the floor and intimidating robotic guards overlooking to the side.  After a few moments, the guards announced the arrival of a tram bound for the actual track and made various safety announcements.  Like, about space pirates and whatnot.  They seemed just like statues, but were really animatronic actors that really came to life.  It was just like being in Megalopolis, or at least, just as I had imagined it.

The tram arrived and the doors opened.  Another staff member led me in and explained the ride, such as the glories of how to take off your glasses and empty your pockets.  The tram would now be departing towards the 999.

Of course, the tram was just a room with a huge screen, but still had a nice facade.  The conductor began explaining about the train and the route, showing our position relative to the track when – all of a sudden we encountered trouble!  The whole car shook in suspense!!  We were up against some formidable foes, but Tetsuro and Maetel came through, along with the assistance of Harlock and Emeraldas.  Mr. Conductor apologized for the inconvenience, upon which the door opened, revealing the ride.

Just one look told me I did not want to ride that thing.  It was small – even compensating for the fact that many Japanese things seem small.  The seats were hard, with no shock absorption, or even modest fabric covering.  Could I just refuse and walk out?  I’d certainly had my 1,000 yens worth, but nonetheless quickly stepped in file putting all of my belongings and glasses into the cubbyholes like the nice man said.

Strapped in tightly, the train (coaster) took off with frightening speed.  But without my glasses it was hard to tell what was going on.  I could make out a glowing green ring which the train went through and then circled about, which left me wondering if I had actually been upside down or not as a barrage of weird colored lights appeared to be suspended in the darkness, here and there, in clusters.  The train swooped around them, jutting left and right, as I hoped it would quickly be over.  Though the ride itself gave a wicked headache, there was a cool futuristic lounge area full of character art just outside, which I made full use of.

However, had there been a gift shop full of swag, it would have all been coming home with me.  Despite the sour ending, this was one of the cooler interactive anime experiences I’ve had, and I didn’t even have to buy admission to a major theme park or wait in line.  I felt like a princess having so many staff members to pamper me, and the mock-ups were really good.  Aside from the train, this is as close to Megalopolis as it gets.

So indeed, after weathering my next pilgrimage to the immigration offices, I will be riding the 999 again.  Taking another look at the map, there is supposed to be a “souvenirs and novelties shop” – I was just too sick and spaced out to find it.  Or, shall we blame poor marketing and /or product placement?  I should have just asked, but by that point the place had more and more couples on dates, giving me weird looks.  Common sense says one wouldn’t usually take themselves to the amusement park – but it probably would have been alright had I dressed less fancy.

What: Galaxy Express 999 roller coaster

Where: Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium

When: Mon.-Fri. 1pm-10pm, Sat. 11am-10pm, Sun. and Holidays 11am-9pm

Broken Alice

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Batsu saw this figure back in December at the Volks shop in Akihabara – truly a beautiful sculpt.  She goes by the name “Alice in Neverland” – and as far as I can tell, she is an original character sculpt (no pre-existing anime, game, etc.).  Pre-orders opened in late January, but the figure won’t be released until late April.

Slender, broken body, part woman and part girl, dream and nightmare, innocence and corruption – simply captivating.  According to the Questioners, LLC website, each eyelash is painstakingly affixed one at a time.  Her crown doubles as a ring, and her little storage box is lined with luxuriant black velvet.  (Watch the video on the link above.)  The latch and detailing of the case is as almost as exquisite as the figure itself.

The artist, Sakarako Iwanaga is one of few recognized female shoujo sculptors.  Reading an interview with her was like reading excepts of a feminist manifesto – not that she seemed overtly militant, but perhaps a bit weathered by sexism in the industry.  This would seem to be coupled by the perception of a woman sculpting – let alone specializing in – female characters.

Of couse Iwanaga has done many other beautiful sculpts as well – apparently one I just missed of Kanako from Mouryou no Hako (click for more pics).  It’s a raw “garage kit” – meaning just parts, no paint, perhaps even independantly produced – made for Wonder Festival Summer 2009.  There may, perhaps, still be a way.

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About the Anime Guide

Looking at page hits… practically no one reads it.  As it is a waste of my time to translate the TV schedule when barely a soul makes use of it, I think I should invest my efforts elsewhere…  such as, in watching more anime!

Oh the other hand, if you actually do/did read it, let me know.  There is at least one former employer of mine who does something similar now, albeit much simpler and far less organized, imho.  Perhaps I’ll have a change of heart.

This season I’ll be watching more of FMABrotherhood, Valkyria Chronicles, and the new Wolf and Spice.  Last season Pandora Hearts started off all fine and well, but got annoyingly trite halfway through – so much that not even their snazzy duds could save them.  Eden of the East befell a similar fate, somehow failing to generate enough substance or intrigue to create momentum within the narrative.  Of course, in a couple years I’ll probably be watching it again, wondering if I gave up too soon.  I’ll fill in the gaps of “lack of a better season” with the original Gundam series to commemorate the 30th anniversary 1:1 scale model built in Odabai.  Pics to follow soon.

Oh, yes – so to recap, the Anime Guide section has been cancelled, in order for me to watch more anime.

Life is Sweet – Toshi Yoroizuka

After coming back from a seven year tour of Europe and opening a self-titled sweets shop in 2004, Toshi Yoroizuka has become one of the most famous patissier in Japan.  In the past year, he’s done collaboration chocolate products with food giant Lotte, provided dessert models for the bakery backdrop in anime Antique, and received the honor of having his creations immortalized in miniature plastic form.

Produced by Yujin, there are 2 sets of 6 each, debuting in December 2007 and April 2008, for a total of 12 different little desserts.  They come in a display-like packaging that resembles the signature store boxes, along with a clear logo-embossed display pouch if you care to hang it from a bag or cell phone.  On the contrary, batsu prefers to give them to good little dolls as a special treat.  The models are bigger than the standard 1/8 size, making them perfect for MSD and SD friends.

I’ll admit that I purchased the figures prior to visiting the Roppongi store location, and thought they looked a little too good to be true.  However, after encountering a two hour wait for the cafe on a weekday afternoon, only to decline it for a 20 minute wait just to see the take-away showcase, I realized the myth that was Yoroizuka.  The myth that was manning the register with a humble smile, cordially waiting on patrons, asking if he could validate our parking as we shuddered in disbelief.

Everything glistened in an ethereal glow of perfection, and seemed only to become more fantastic as we snaked closer and closer along the winding course of the line. We selected the Cassis and Jean Pierre, for figure comparison, along with the Olympiad and Almond Shioux Cream for good measure.  Believe it or not, the staff actually refused to sell us their signature shioux cream unless we promised to eat it within 60 minutes – though there was no way for them to provide us with seating on the bitter winter’s evening.  Unchafed, we purchased them anyways and stopped at a nearby generic coffee shop, considering the not-so-generic designer shopping tower (Roppongi Hills) we entered.

The other purchases were taken home to stand side by side with their plastic counterparts.  Though the pictures speak for themselves, aside from size, they’re nearly identical.  Dolls and humans alike rejoiced in a dinner that needed no supplementary course, aside for a cup of tea.

The figures are currently quite difficult to find, assumably due in part to their exquisite craftsmanship, but perhaps also because of limited production and the notoriety of Yoroizuka.

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