December 29, 2009

A Tale of Two Macarons (Part I)

Every year I have to have at least one type of macaron in my Christmas cookie package because they are my favorite type of cookie. This year I have two, one old one new. Today I'll be posting about peppermint macarons (the new) and later I'll be posting about pistachio macarons (the old, spiced up of course).

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted candy cane shaped macarons on Almost Bourdain, which were made following a recipe by the famous Adriano Zumbo. The moment I laid my eyes on those macarons, I knew I'd have candy cane shaped macarons on my cookie list this year. I took that method of making candy cane macarons and adapted it to my trusty basic macaron recipe, which worked like a charm.

December 27, 2009

Holiday Lights

A great part about the holiday season is seeing all those decorations on people's lawns and roofs. Each neighborhood and street glows with different arrangements of lights. It's interesting to see how everyone arranges their decorations: a classic string of rainbow lights lining the roof, plastic reindeer surrounding the mailbox, a glowing Santa near the chimney, or even a big blow-up snow globe on the lawn.

As you can probably see, I find holiday lights quite enchanting. This year I wanted to include something that evoked the whimsy of these lights in my cookie box. So, I came up with the idea for holiday light cake pops, a bunch of light shaped cake pops "wired" together with green string. They can be snipped off to be shared with friends, but they're most striking when all seen together.

My brother jokes that individually, these pops look like chili peppers because I used red, orange, and yellow candy melts. The really funny thing is that these fake lights even tangle like actual Christmas lights, so making them was an interesting experience. In the end, they were worth all the untangling :D.

December 26, 2009

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree...

I've created a forest... of Christmas tree-shaped green tea cookies, quite a sight to behold. This green tea cookie is one of the first cookies I made when I started baking, except back then I used a diamond-shaped cookie cutter to make green tea diamonds. This Christmas, I wanted to spice up the recipe, so I did some brainstorming and ended up with this idea.

Sparkling sugar-coated green tea trees topped with yellow sprinkle stars and supported by chocolate chip trunks; it's a holiday forest pleasing to both the eye and the taste buds. My favorite part about them is that they actually do stand by themselves. And I know that Christmas is over, but even so, you can just skip the star sprinkles and just make a regular forest... of tree-shaped green tea cookies :).

Like Santa

Finally finished all my holiday baking today. This evening, my mom and I drove around delivering boxes of goodies, one of which is pictured below, to lots of friends. It was a busy night. I felt like Santa Claus delivering presents, quite exciting :D!

So, if you were wondering what's coming up here at Diamonds for Desserts, above is the list of all the cookies and candies I made this year. I definitely have a lot of catch-up blogging to do this weekend. Merry (belated) Christmas everyone!

December 24, 2009

Gingerbread Men

It's definitely been a busy (but fun) week in my kitchen. It's my fourth day of baking yet I still have lots to do before delivering my cookies tomorrow. This year, I have a nice mix of new and old recipes on my cookie list. I like to repeat a few old recipes year after year because I know that even if the new recipes turn out strange, or even catastrophic, I'll still have these tried and true recipes to fall back on.

One such recipe is for gingerbread men. These cookies are thick and chewy, opposed to the sturdy gingerbread used to build houses or the crunchy ginger buttons I posted about not too long ago. Gingerbread men definitely are a must for me every Christmas. Just the smell of them baking in the oven, all the spices: the cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, automatically makes me think of the holidays.

December 12, 2009

Ginger Buttons

The holidays are here! Colorful lights, gingerbread houses, Santa hats, Christmas music, peppermint hot chocolate... I love love love the holiday season. Sadly though, I must constrain my holiday joy to concentrate on studying for my finals. Yeah... it's finals week here at UC Berkeley, which started today and ends next Friday. But, that also means that there's only one more week till winter break!

One thing I'm looking forward to right now is my annual Christmas cookie marathon. I've already got my cookie list all planned out (it's what I do during my study breaks) and a holiday playlist ready to go. So from 12/21-12/25, look forward to seeing five days of cookie posts as I bake each day from morning to way past my bedtime, cramming in as many cookie varieties as I can before Christmas day, when I'll be handing boxes of them out to friends and family.

But today, here's a recipe for a crunchy, ginger cookie perfect for snacking on during the holidays, whether you're cramming for finals or watching holiday specials on TV or sipping hot chocolate in front of a cozy fire. These buttons are also perfect for the calorie conscious; the cookies are fairly light in calories, around 40 calories each, with a minimal amount of butter (opposed to the usual 1-2 sticks of butter in regular ginger snaps) and egg whites instead of whole eggs. If you haven't started yet on your holiday baking, these darling buttons would be a great addition to your cookie collection.

December 06, 2009

My Mom's Holiday Fruitcake

Back at home, the beginning of the holiday season is marked by when my mom begins baking her festive holiday fruitcakes, a rich cream cheese cake studded with an assortment of dried fruits, chopped nuts, and glacé cherries. A slice of this delicious cake is perfect alongside a cup of tea for an afternoon pick-me-up. During the recent Thanksgiving break, I asked my mom for a copy of the recipe as she baked one of these for me. A cake like this is too good not to share.

I think the first time I encountered "the fruitcake" was back in elementary school, maybe first or second grade. I was reading one of my favorite series at the time, Junie B. Jones, specifically Junie B. Jones and the Yucky Blucky Fruitcake. Junie won the fruitcake in the school cake walk and sadly discovered the only thing it was good for was as a doorstop. So from then on, I was naively under the impression that fruitcakes were indeed "yucky." Luckily not too long after, I discovered my mom's fruitcake, which cured me of this childhood delusion. This cake has a texture that is neither overly moist nor dry, neither heavy nor light. Instead, it falls in between these extremes, which creates a satisfyingly homey experience.

This is also a great cake to make as a holiday gift for friends and family. The recipe is uncomplicated, technique and ingredient-wise (the glacé cherries might be difficult to find when the holiday season is over, so definitely stock up in the winter when they're abundant, but any other dried fruit can be used in their place). The fruitcake is quite sturdy, perfect as a holiday party hostess gift wrapped up in red or green cellophane tied with festive gold ribbons. Little fruitcakes can be made in mini loaf pans. A round or square cake pan can be substituted for the loaf pan. The cake can be sliced up and gifted on ornate platters to display the contrast between the cream colored crumb and the colorful, jewel-like studs of fruits and nuts. As you can see, the versatility of this cake is remarkably unlimited.

December 03, 2009

Turkey for Lunch... Turkey for Dinner...

Every year, right before Thanksgiving, I am always looking forward to feasting on all the wonderful food to come: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, cornbread, yams, and pumpkin pie. But, after Thanksgiving is over, I remember immediately why Thanksgiving should be a once a year holiday...
a refrigerator full of leftovers.

The thought of repeating the same meal day after day makes me grow weary at the thought of another plate of turkey. Luckily, turkey is quite versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. Usually, the weekend after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, my family has turkey sandwiches for lunch, an alternative to enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers without having the same full-blown feast.

This year, in anticipation of the traditional turkey sandwich lunch, instead of Black Friday shopping, I stayed at home and baked cornucopia-shaped bread rolls with hollows perfect for stuffing with turkey and other sandwich fixings. Cornucopias seem to be the symbols of Thanksgiving, commonly displayed filled to the brim with an abundance of food; for these rolls, the bounty is, of course, our turkey leftovers. I was inspired by the giant bread cornucopia that I baked as a centerpiece last year for Thanksgiving, realizing that mini, individual versions would be perfect for sandwiches.

November 22, 2009

カメ のメロン パン Turtle Melon Pan

One of my close friends is studying abroad in Tokyo this semester (I'm very jealous) and I've been keeping up with her travels on Facebook. I was looking through her photo albums when I spotted really cute turtle-shaped melon pan in a photo of a Japanese bakery display. Next thing I knew I was on Google searching up a melon pan recipe as the thought "I must make turtle-shaped bread" ran through my mind.

If you have no idea what メロンパン a.k.a. Melon Pan is, let me explain. First of all, in Japanese "pan" means bread. "Melon" refers to the look of the bread, not the taste (although some recipes add melon flavoring to the bread, but that's rare). The criss-crossed surface is supposed to look like the rind of a rock melon/cantaloupe, but in the case of turtle-shaped melon bread, it makes the perfect shell.

Melon pan consists of a lightly sweetened bread topped with a layer of sugar cookie dough, scored with the checkerboard pattern. I think melon pan is a close relative of Hong Kong's pineapple bun (polo bun), except the pineapple bun tends to have a softer bread base and a more buttery and fragile topping. Melon pan is delicious. But, turtle melon pan is even better!

November 19, 2009

Fall = Craving Pumpkin Baked Goods

Here in sunny California, fall isn't as dramatic of a season as it is in other parts of the country. There is the occasional tree with orange leaves and a slight drop in temperature, but overall, outside, fall here is more of a gradual shift from summer to winter than a distinct entity. To compensate, I like to bring fall into the kitchen with a pumpkin here, a pumpkin there, plenty of apples, and a generous dose of cinnamon.  

For me, fall is a mindset I automatically fall into when school starts late August/early September. Once that time of the year hits, I start craving "autumn foods" like: warm apple crumble, moist pumpkin bread, and homey vegetable soups. Especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner, I seem to have pumpkin on my mind. So let me share with you a lovely pumpkin cupcake recipe.

Last fall, I spotted these adorable chocolate pumpkins on the blog Cake on the Brain and knew I had to learn how to make them. I clicked on the link and learned about the amazing substance known as plastic chocolate. It's made from only two ingredients and tastes like a grown-up Tootsie Roll: soft and chewy and as sweet or as bitter as the chocolate you use.

Of course after making all those pumpkins, I needed to decorate something with them. To fulfill my fall-induced pumpkin cravings, I baked up some moist pumpkin cupcakes, frosted them with a cream cheese frosting, and then topped them with the chocolate pumpkins. They were well-received by my friends and family, and thus a new autumn tradition was born.

October 31, 2009

IV: Ghosts, Witches, & Frankensteins!

Happy Halloween! Here's the last post in my 4-part monster series. Today, I'll show you how to make ghost, witch, and Frankenstein cookies! The cookie and icing recipes are the ones used in yesterday's Vampire Cookie post. The only things I'm changing are the cookie cutter shapes used and the icing/sprinkle colors for the decorating.

Just a warning, today's post is extremely picture heavy. But then again, who doesn't love pictures?

Chubby witches, skinny witches, witches of all shapes and sizes.

Smiley, happy ghosts.

Green, shiny Frankensteins. Despite some of my pictures, this icing is actually quite shiny, especially if your cookies are chilled or frozen after decorating.

October 30, 2009

III: Vampires!

To continue with my Halloween-themed posts, today I present to you Vampire Cookies. Actually, both Post III and Post IV of the Halloween series are monster cookie posts. Today I will present you with the recipes I used, along with how to make a vampire. For post IV, I will show you how to shape a witch, ghost, and frankenstein.

When I think of  "vampires", what comes to my mind is still the cliche depiction of the mythical figure, you know with the prominent widow's peaks and sharp, visible fangs... rather than the oh so popular Twilight vampires.

So after many trials and searches, I have finally found the perfect sugar cookie recipe! It has a nice, chewy texture and a flavor just sweet enough that a icing can still be used. Plus, all the cookie cut outs stay the same size as they bake. As for the icing, though royal icing makes gorgeous designs, I'm not too partial to how it tastes. But luckily the icing I'm about to share with you is both appealing for designs and tastes delicious!

October 29, 2009

II: Mummies!

Monster of the day: Mummies! Because I usually spend most of my time baking sweets, I thought I'd be good to include at least one savory treat in my Halloween baking fest.

On the Pillsbury website, I saw a recipe for Crescent Mummy Dogs and thought that the mummies were pretty cute and perfect for Halloween. Since I love making things from scratch, I opted to make my own bread dough to use for shaping (but if you don't have time, instant crescent dough will work in a snap). I used a roll recipe from America's Test Kitchen along with the general idea from the Pillsbury recipe to create this Halloween snack.

October 28, 2009

I: Zombies!

I guess you should know that I love holidays (and anything else that has a theme). That being said, I think the best way for me to start off my blog is to post about Halloween. Today will be the first post in my 4 part "monster" series.

Monster of the day: Zombies! When I see the picture above, I imagine the ground cracking open as zombies try to pry their way out of the dirt, like in a horror film. At least that's what happened as the macaron shells were baking. I "accidentally" put the shells in the oven before the skins were completely dry, so as the macaron feet were forming, the middle of the shells began bulging out and cracking, like fists were trying to punch their way out below the chocolaty macaron tops. Quite an entertaining thing to watch. It was definitely a sign that these were meant to be Halloween macarons!

Before starting college, when I still went trick-or-treating, my favorite candies to receive were always those of the peanut butter chocolate variety, like Reese's pieces or those funny Halloween-themed half chocolate/half peanut butter coins. But... now that I'm too busy with studying (and possibly too old?) to go trick-or-treating, this year I decided to create a more upscale twist on my beloved childhood PB & Chocolate combination by playing around with the filling in my favorite Pierre Hermé chocolate macaron recipe. So even though I still enjoy peanut butter cups very much, I must admit that these macarons are wayyy tastier!

October 27, 2009


Hi, my name is Susan. I'm a undergraduate at UC Berkeley who loves art, science, fashion, and languages. Right around the time I started college, I discovered a new passion: baking! It all began with my introduction to a site called Tastespotting...

After I was dazzled by gorgeous photos of cookies, cakes, and every other type of dessert out there, I realized that baking was my type of hobby. The precision needed for following recipes appealed to my inner perfectionist. The designing of the aesthetic look of the product thrilled the artist in me. The wide availability of new recipes from all over the world satisfied my need for novelty. And the calmness that overcomes me from the moment I begin a recipe to the end provides me with a way to relieve all the stress from school and life, a form of meditation.

Ever since I started baking, I've been tempted to start a blog to document all the recipes I try. For a while, I've been posting pictures of my food on Livejournal and Facebook, but just posting pictures alone only documents half of the baking process. Finally, I decided to take the leap and start a food blog!