Victorian Desserts – Dundee Cake

Around the time I was contemplating the delve into Victorian era baking, a dear friend went on a two week trip through the British Isles. She returned with two wonderful gifts: a book of puddings, and this lovely tea cloth. And according to this tea cloth, Dundee Cake is a traditional Victorian recipe from Scotland.

After doing some research far after I started collecting the ingredients, I discovered this was served more as a Christmas pudding. Well, obviously, now that I think about the ingredients. Though delicious, it was quite heavy for a warm spring day. I would recommend making it in the fall or winter months.

As this recipe calls for covering the cake in the oven, cooking in a rice cooker was ideal – not only for conserving power, but also for attaining the desired results. I left the steam vent on and cooked for the recommended time; it came out perfectly.

I made a few adjustments to the tea cloth recipe, adding 1/4c brandy to the fruits, adding less dried fruits, and using raisons instead of cherries. I was in the process of making glace cherries from scratch when baking this cake, and just used them in the Cabinet Pudding today, the recipe of which will soon follow.  The cake was still very rich and fruity, and even better the next day.  I would recommend making this cake a day in advance before serving.

Here are some images of the completed cake.  It went well with the cherry liqueur I made last year.  The final day I served the cake with a custard, which was also nice.

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.

Bad Medicine

A few years ago, when Square-Enix decided to launch a “exlixer” style beverage to commemorate the release of the FF7 movie, it came in a magical, faceted blue plastic and glass container.  Of course, the container was held in a box, which concealed which type of bottle it contained (collect at 6!), but nonetheless it was magical.  A mere glance was sufficient to conclude that it infused with some ethereal mana of life, that would instantly give you full MP and HP for the coming boss battle.  Which totally made up for the way it tasted like absolute crap.

The newer version of said elixer looks anything but magical.  It looks like a cheap soda can.  Considering that Japan prevalently packages alcoholic beverages in aluminum cans, it contains even more disappointment and less magic than usual.  But somehow, looking at the white box, batsu fell into a time slip and impulsively purchased one of the newer FF13 potions. Upon opening the box, she realized this error.

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Blast and damnation!  Who cares what figure that is – what a rip!

It sat in the fridge for a week or so – remembering the vile serum contained within the aforementioned truly magical elixers.  But then one day, I realized that I needed a boost to finish a project for work.  Expecting the worst, it surprisingly had a pleasant lychee-like aloe taste.  Something definitely worth drinking again, if it only appeared to be magical.

Strawberry Swindlers

To put it frankly, batsu doesn’t like ice cream.  Not even extremely high-grade expensive ice cream, which draws the line of demarcation for every other Western-style sweet.  However, the marketing geniuses in Japan have convinced fooled me into eating it on occasion.

In Japanese, ice cream is called “aisu kuri-mu,” borrowed from the English equivalent.  Most often though, it is shortened just to “aisu.”  To recap, I hate “aisu.”

One perennial delight for taste-bud torture is Pino, a bite-sized pellet of flavored frozen milk covered in chocolate.  It’s comforting, in that after one bite the agony is over, and the rest can be passed on to someone who enjoys the stuff without weird germ phobias.  I basically had no interest in it until seeing this music video…

Oh, perfect little Pino-powered dolls!  This was incidentally the same reason a subsequent infatuation with Perfume soon after developed.  And thus, I now enthusiastically purchase Pino 2-3 times a year.

Since it is officially “Spring” now in Japan, due to an unfortunate combination of Chinese lunar calendar and Western solar calendar holidays, strawberry flavored everything is hitting the shelves – Kit-Kat, Pockey, Kinoko no Yama, Pure Gummies – mostly processed foods, mind you.  Pino not withstanding.

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This is the “delicious” spring Strawberry Milk flavored Pino.

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The inside of the box never looks as promising as the packaging.  I shudder to think what they used in the Perfume video shoot.

This was definitely not the best Pino I’ve ever had…  but don’t take my opinion too seriously.  To me, this stuff is barely passable as is.

At the same time, I decided to go for this:

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Presenting: Meiji’s Rich Strawberry chocolate ice cream bar.  I’ve tasted their rich strawberry chocolate before, and delighted in the shock that it tasted nothing like chocolate.  Not so shocking if you consider that the ingredients are 70% strawberries.  Nonetheless, it was a much better choice, tasting neither of ice cream nor chocolate.  It looked almost exactly like the packaging, to boot!

In retrospect, both of these purchases were likely spurned by the fear of soon leaving Japan.  Indeed, why suffer all the nonsense if it’s the strawberries you so desire?  My hat goes off once more to marketing genius.

There’s much better stuff to be had, though. If you were to inquire about batsu’s choice strawberry dessert, the answer would be homemade strawberry tart, made with freshly picked wild berries.  As Tokyo is sandwiched between two of Japan’s finest strawberry producing regions, no crummy store-bought strawberry flavored anything could ever compete.  This is my pie from last May:

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Strawberry daifuku – a strawberry covered in anko covered in mochi – is a close second… but speaking from experience, never buy one from a convenience store after enjoying a handmade treasure.  If you can’t find a wagashiya-san (Japanese confectioner) in your area and care to try your hand at it, I recommend this method:

all hallows’ evening invitational

a couple weeks prior to halloween, batsu and maru were invited to a private gaming and dinner evening.  the theme for the evening was hp lovecraft – more specifically, the cthulhu mythos, set in the roaring 20s.

after some debate about the menu, the host and i decided that indian food would allow us the range of color necessary to envoke the proper pallete without appearing discusting.  the menu included:

the maw of cthulhu (palak paneer surrounded by tentacle naan)

yog soggoth (vegetable kofta in tomato curry)

shrub niggerath (curried green beans in carved gourds)

blood of the foresaken (brillant red cucumber pickle)

sign of the elder gods (chocolate sketched on kheer, splattered in raspberry sauce)

the lighting was rather ambient, making photography difficult, so i’ve included a test photo from when the “tentacle naan” was still in development.

the gaming session which followed our feast started with Arkam Horror, using the Innsmouth expansion.  in short, the game tries to recreate a scenario of the ancient ones reawakening on earth – in which the participants generally become mad and lose to the alien gods.  winning is possible, but chances are slim.  the experience is apparently more about trying to imagine the horrors than actually arising victorious (as explained by one of the hosts).

the second, and last, game we played was the Shab-al-Hiri Roach.  admittedly, we didn’t have enough time to play properly – though the game is a dark comedy lampooning the world of academia, through turns of collective storytelling.

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