Archive | January, 2013

Cardamom Madeleines

23 Jan

Do you ever sit down with yourself and think, “What would I have said a year ago if someone had told me that I would be where I am now?”  I like to imagine going back in time and kicking around with past Kate.  This time last year, I was a newly minted political science major freshman.  So I imagine going back in time and saying, “Yo, listen.  You are definitely in the right major.  This time next year you will have your very own faculty advisor and you will be head-over-heels for China.  Also, you’ll be doing an independent study, which is practically graduate school work, with one very cool lady.  It’ll be about Sino-Japanese economics and the environment.

“I’ll let that one sink in.  Okay, and also, you’ll have an apartment with a loft bed, but more importantly, you’ll have a longboard and a leopard print coat.  Things are going to change, my friend.”

And past Kate would laugh and be like, “China?  I thought I was doing Western Europe?  Also, longboard?  What?  What apartment?”

My point being, so much has changed in the last year.  Wow.


So the morning I made these, I woke up and thought, “Today is a day for madeleines.”  I am also obsessed with cardamoms, so a quick Googlefest brought me to Martha Stewart, where I poached this recipe.


  • 1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
  • 1 tbsp honey (I had super fancy-ass honey, but I GUESS you could use that shit that comes in a bottle shaped like a bear.  You know, if you have no standards.)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs


Melt butter in a tiny pot.  Remove from heat and stir in honey and vanilla.  Let that hang out until it’s cool.  In the meantime, prepare the rest of the batter.


In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt.


Preheat oven to 325 minutes while you whisk together the eggs and sugar.  Fold in the flour mixture until combined, and then stir in the butter mixture until combined as well.  Wrap with cling film and refrigerate for half an hour.

When you pour the batter into your greased molds, fill them only halfway.  Even if it doesn’t seem like enough.  Because they puff up like mad.


I always make little mutant madeleines in the first batch.


There we go.

Bake for 7-8 minutes until they look like the ones in the picture.

Martha Stewart also includes a recipe for orange glaze, but I didn’t make that because I had no oranges.  If you’re bent on citrus, though, check out the link above.

Sadly, I have no book recommendation this time because I no longer read.  I only research.  We have reached that point in the quarter.  It’s only three weeks in, you say!  How can you be so swamped!

To which I reply, such is the life of an over-achiever.

However, I did read a comic called Take What You Can Carry about a juvenile delinquent in the present day and a young Japanese American who ended up in an internment camp in WWII.  It’s very good and very short and very worth your time.


Vanilla Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

15 Jan

So I’m not feeling very well these days.  I’m on Prilosec as of this morning, but it takes a day or two to take effect, so in the meantime I’ve tied myself into infinite Gordion knots worrying… Just worrying.  Not really about anything.  I haven’t been able to do anything today, so I thought I’d write about these cupcakes and listen to the Django Unchained soundtrack, because if that doesn’t help then what the hell would?

But hey, there’s good news.  School has started back up again and I’m enrolled in a class of two where we do research projects with faculty supervision for the whole quarter.  It’s pretty intense, since we need to write a 30-page paper of publication-worthy material, but it’s still very exciting.

And okay, let me just tell you about the professor, because I’ve told literally everyone I know at this point.  She is just the coolest person, all right.  Her own research is really interesting, and she writes a ton of articles for places like Asia Unbound, Huff Po, and Newsweek on Japanese politics.  Also, apparently she interviewed the guy in charge of Uniqlo once.  I know nothing more than that, but that in and of itself is awesome.  Also also, it is entirely conceivable that she knows everything about the Japanese political economy.

Okay, so anyway.  Cupcakes.

These are straight-up Joy the Baker, because the woman can do no wrong in the realm of baked goods.  I had to make some cupcakes for my sister’s birthday, and I saw that these only made 12, which was the perfect amount.  I hate having a ton of cupcakes left over, as there inevitably are.  They also only require one stick of butter for both the cupcakes and the frosting, which I was very happy about.


  • 1 cup flour
  • scant 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 5 tbsp butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla


Beat together on low speed the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and butter.  It’ll be pretty dry, but do not panic.



Pour in half the milk and beat until just incorporated.  Then, mix together the rest of the milk, the egg, and the vanilla.



Throw that in and beat until it’s smooth.  Do not overbeat. Apparently, if you do that, you get tough cupcakes.  No one wants that.

Pour the batter into twelve regular sized cupcake tins, or mix it up with a few mini cupcakes.  Don’t fill the tins more than about a 1/3, because this batter balloons up like nobody’s business.  My first batch of these went nuclear in the oven and the tops all baked together.  So.  Be careful.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.



To make the frosting, beat together the powdered sugar and butter until well-mixed.  Stir the vanilla into the milk and slowly pour it into the sugar-butter mixture while still beating.  Whip that on high for about 5 minutes, or until it has the consistency you want.



I saw that Joy used a lot of pretty food coloring on hers, so I followed suit.



So easy, it’s almost criminal.

(I’ve been watching a lot of gangster movies/westerns)


Now I hate to disappoint, but the only things I’ve been reading have been articles on the effects of Japanese foreign direct investment on China’s environment (typing that makes me very happy though.  I don’t know why.  Too excited for research.)  Also Team of Rivals, but I’m still not done…

However, I very highly recommend seeing Django Unchained if I have not already recommended it, because it is the bomb shit, okay.

(That’s a good thing.)

First of all, I love Westerns beyond reason and always have.  Second of all, Tarantino.  Third of all, since my mom and I saw the movie we have such a thing for Christoph Waltz, and you will too.  Trust me.

Peppermint Bark, and More Science!

4 Jan

I feel kind of silly writing this post since it’s so easy to make this stuff, but sometimes it helps to have a little step-by-step situation in your kitchen when making something for the first time.

Some think of this as a tutorial rather than I recipe, I guess.

So chocolate ratios:

  • 8 oz semi-sweet or dark chocolate
  • 8 oz white chocolate

In other words, the same amount of chocolate for both kinds.


For that amount of chocolate, you should use about four or five candy canes, smashed into pieces small enough that you feel comfortable breaking your teeth on them.



So chop the chocolate up for better melting.  Also, make sure you buy really nice white chocolate.  I know it’s expensive and you’re going to want to go for the cheapest bar on the shelf.  However!

White chocolate isn’t really chocolate.  It’s pretty much just milk fat and butter and mysterious solids.  As a consequence, it’s very hard to melt.  Also, do not, do not, do not buy white chocolate chips because those are actually made not to melt.  See, when manufacturers make chips, they make them unmeltable so that they hold their shape in the cookies.

Buy bars, and buy good ones.

Milk, semi-sweet, and dark chocolate are much easier to melt.  Again, don’t buy chips as I said above.  Also, be careful of overheating the chocolate, because it will seize at super high temperature and become a giant lump.  This has happened and made me really really sad.   Really.

So what you do, then, is melt the semi-sweet chocolate first in a double boiler of your design.  Or an actual double boiler if you have one of those.



Pour it onto a baking pan, or ideally a SilPat (how do you spell that), or a bendy cutting board as I did.

I just want you all to know, by the way, that my dad is watching The Day After Tomorrow at top volume behind me, and I’m writing about peppermint bark, which suddenly feels highly undramatic.

Not that it felt dramatic before but the contrast is comical, okay?

Maybe you have to be here.

Anyway.  Refrigerate the semi-sweet while you melt the white.  Allow it to cool for a few minutes, stirring in most of the peppermint pieces, before pouring over the semi-sweet.  It can’t be too hot, and the semi-sweet can’t be frozen solid because then the layers will separate.  If the white is pretty warm and the semi-sweet is pretty cool, they’ll melt together when you pour the white on.

Finally, sprinkle the rest of the peppermint on top and press down gently with your fingers so the pieces don’t fall off.



Refrigerate again before breaking into bite-able pieces.  I usually wait a day, but a few hours is probably sufficient.

See how easy that was?  Nothing like that nasty caramel stuff.

(It’s really not that bad, though.)

Caramels, and the Science Thereof

4 Jan

So.  If anyone sees me trying to make candy again, stop me for the love of god.

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. And they turned out to be quite delicious.  But.  Making candy is very stressful, especially if you’ve never done it before, and I had never done it before.

These caramels are were a tradition in my house since as long as I can remember. My dad makes Christmas cookies and candied nuts, my mom makes caramels.  She gave up recently and now I know why.  But before I knew why, I thought I would make them this year.

That said, the science behind caramels is super cool.  Caramels are essentially the products of a huge Maillard reaction.  The Maillard reaction is responsible for browning bread into toast and giving your cookies and cakes a lovely golden color and a caramel-y sweetness.  It is, in other words, responsible for the best flavors one can achieve while baking.  Caramelized sugar, for example, is pure Maillard.  The crunchy goodness on top of your creme brulée?  Maillard.  It’s a very fascinating process, especially when you start to realize how many things you eat have gone through it.

In any case, I bring to you, Martha Stewart’s golden caramels:


  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 cups light corn syrup
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks butter, unsalted, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp vanilla
  • enough cooking spray to drown a small mammal

Proceed with caution:


First, get a half-sheet pan (~11×16 inches) and line it with parchment paper.  Spray the parchment paper like there’s no tomorrow.  This is very important, or else you will have beautiful caramels that you will have to wrest out of the pan with a fork and your teeth.

Put it somewhere where it won’t be moved, because once you pour you do not, under any circumstances, jostle this thing.

Then, in a small saucepan, combine the condensed milk and heavy cream.


In a large sauce pan, stir together the corn syrup, one cup of water, the sugar, and the salt.  Stick the candy thermometer on the side of the pan.  Make sure it’s sufficiently submerged or you will get faulty readings like I did and you will get very upset like I did.  Also don’t let anyone near you while you’re doing this, because I asked my dad for help with something and then he dropped the thermometer in the pot.

You gotta go this alone, gurl.

Okay sorry.  Caramels.

Cook on high heat until the sugar is dissolved (you shouldn’t be able to see any grains in there), stirring constantly.  It should take 8-12 minutes.

Once you’ve done that, brush the sides of the pot with water to dissolve any sugar crystals that may have formed in the process.  According to the Internet, you do this because sugar molecules are pointy little buggers and like to latch on to things.  If you have errant sugar molecules in your caramels, they’ll snag everything they can reach and you’ll have a giant mess instead of caramels.

Then, reduce heat to medium and allow it to boil, not stirring it, until it reaches 250 degrees.   This should take 45-60 minutes, and by then it will be at the hard ball stage.  That means that, if you take a spoonful of the stuff and drop it in cold water, it will be a hard candy when you pull it out.


In the meantime, warm the cream over low heat without boiling it.


When the sugar mixture reaches 250 degrees, add the butter and heavy cream mixture, stirring slowly and keeping the whole thing boiling.  You could make candy without any of these milk products, but it makes the caramels creamy. These additions will drop the temperature, so now you stir constantly until it comes back up to 244 degrees (right in the firm ball stage).  This will take 55-75 minutes, and yes you have to keep stirring.

Some things you can do while you stir the rest of your life away:

  • read about caramel science
  • read about meringue science (inquiring minds wanted to know)
  • read about longboards and different bushings
  • bring longboard into the kitchen and rock back and forth on it, admiring the softness of the bushing you now know about
  • sing badly to whatever music you’re listening to
  • watch a movie

Okay, so now that you’ve turned yourself into the guy from the 5 Hour Energy commercials, the caramels should look like this:


Quickly, stir in the vanilla and pour into your prepared pan.  Do not scrape the pot.  I actually don’t know why you can’t but… don’t.

Let it sit there for a day without moving it.  Unless someone comes along and moves it themselves, and then you must yell at them and make them very sorry indeed.


Also, good luck washing all of that.  I will warn you now: hardened caramel is a bitch to clean.

The next day, hack apart your caramel.


Notice that this required two knives.  It was also wicked slippery, which caused coffee spillage and much agony.


You would never suspect that such sweet little things took such awful effort.  But there you go, folks.

I’m finally, finally, finally reading Gone Girl.  My boss recommended it a while ago telling me not to read anything about it first, as usual.  I could never find a copy in the libraries, but my roommate just sent me hers now that her dad is done with it.  So here we go.  Finally reading the summer It Girl of the literary world.

Damn, damn, damn.  It is so worth your time.  It’s worth more than that, actually, because it takes hardly any time at all to read it.  The chapters alternate between Nick Dunne, a borderline unsympathetic character whose stunning wife (and our other narrator) has gone missing after they moved to Missouri from New York City.

It’s hard to describe the characters as anything other than real.  They’re so realistic.  They have all these tiny little details and particular thoughts that, as a composite, make two very real, very believable people.  And they’re liars.  Both of them.  They are the most unreliable narrators to come along since wham.  They lie about each other, themselves, their feelings, their friends.  It’s incredible how a book spun out of so much lies can be the most truthful book I’ve ever read.

I won’t bore you with the plot or with the huge, wrenching twist that takes place in the middle of the book, or any other silly details like that.  Just–go read it.