30 September 2008

Pasticceria Zanin - A Venetian Delight!

In Venice, one can find a treasure that is Andrea Zanin... a patisserie that is not the usual Italian type full of traditional fare such as cannolis (tube shaped fried pastry dough filled with cream), sofficionas (nouget cakes), mostaccioli (spiced cookie), and more! Not that they are bad (they are delicious) but visually they don't do it for me. And they are very very filling.

Instead, I prefer pastry shops with light small refined cakes! And I was elated when I discovered Pasticceria Zanin! Located at San Marco 4589 in Campo San Luca, it is a cute bar style place (no sitting room) where you can order a drink and something to munch on while standing. Light and simple, my tummy was happy to take a break from all the rich desserts I had been munching on earlier. And of course I went on a major sugar high...

Sadly, not strawberry! This beautiful pink piece is actually raspberry with a hint of lemon.


Pistachio. It's the small details like the chocolate diagonal with the yogurt covered pistachio that make me swoon!


bite by bite it slowly disappeared.


Aside from cakes, there were also mini desserts! Too adorable.


Everyone's favorite... chocolate!


And the traditional, tiramisu.


A baby tart!


White chocolate with pistachio flavored cream.


A citrus flavored filling in a chocolate cup.


Just chocolate cream in a tart shell.


I guess there was a chocolate layer that I forgot about!


Mini mousses


He sells chocolate as well.

Not ALL of these were consumed by me. I swear. I dragged a lot of people here to expose them to the wonderfullness that is tiny desserts! And I like tiny, because tiny = more room in my stomach to taste more variety! And cheaper as well due to their size.

Andrea Zanin won the Italian Pastry Chef of the year for 2006, and he is an acclaimed choclatier as well! You can read about Mr. Andrea Zanin at Pasticceria Internazionale, an Italian sugar art magazine, or if you can read French or Italian, his member page in Relais Desserts, an exclusive patisserie organization. Unfortunately he does not have an official website, and there is not much information in English about him, but at least I have his cakes to show for it!

If I ever go back to Venice, i will definitely return here!

21 September 2008

Gelato

One does not go to Italy and not try the gelato, after all, it is the birthplace of it!
On ne va pas à l'italie et n'essaie pas la glace, après tout, elle est le lieu de naissance pour la glace!
人民不到意大利去不吃他們的冰淇淋﹐畢竟﹐這種冰淇淋是在意大利生的。

I knew the gelato was going to be good, but I had no idea how much fun the display of all the gelato was!
J'ai su que la glace allait être bonne, mais je n'avais pas d'idée combien amusement l'étalage du gelato etait!
我知道意大利冰淇淋會很好吃﹐但是我沒想到店裡會弄得怎麼好玩﹗


A tower of cones!


Look at that texture, mmm!


Just the store.


Add some crunch to your gelato, perhaps?


Now we move to Siena, where there are monster gelato mounds!


Too cute, too cute! They remind me of furbys.


Do you think you can finish all this gelato?


Fragola, my favorite!


Seeing gelato "standing up" is definitely a different experience.


And au revoir to the gelato!

Conclusion: I ate a lot of gelato. A lot. And it was worth it! The hardest part is deciding what flavor you want to try :( If you'd like to know more about what exactly makes gelato so special, I recommend reading this short article by David Lebovitz. In short, gelato uses less fat than normal ice cream, yet is much creamier and denser! Why is that? Well, it is churned slowly so no air is incorprated into the gelato. In ice cream, the air can double the amount of ice cream, creating more volume. In gelato's case, there no air is added, so the gelato does not inflate and instead remains creamy and dense. Because of this, it is also stored and served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream - so because it is less cold when you taste it, you get to taste more of the flavor instead of the coldness that sometimes freezes your tongue tastebuds.

One last tip: If you are ever in Italy, make sure sure sure you are eating gelato that is made in house! Lot's of restaurants get the gelato delivered, so make sure you get gelato that is made fresh instead of delivered. How to tell? Well, you will recognize delivered gelato because it is all the same brand, so once you see the same logo 3 or 4 times... you know it isn't fresh. But as long as you are getting gelato from a gelato only shop, it should be okay. It's the shops that sell a huge variety of things that you should avoid buying gelato from.

18 September 2008

Geneva

I went to Geneva with my cousin for a short little two day trip back in August. As excited as I was to go there... i was so disappointed! It was definitely my least favorite place in all of Italy, France, and Switzerland. Out of my entire 7 weeks spent in Europe, the only two rude people I encountered were in Geneva. In the span of 1 day, I ran into two mean people in the same city! Hmph! However, I still had a good time, because I had good company with my cousin! So today I will share some of the things I did enjoy about Geneva :)

Waiting for the tram.
Geneva is rather small (well, actually, everything about Switzerland is small) so it has an above ground tram system to get around. Wait. I may have just lied. I just noticed that the billboard is in German. So maybe this photo was taken in Zurich, on the way to Geneva. Oops. Who knows! Anyway, it is at some sort of station... somewhere! But I definitely enjoyed the transit system in Switzerland - well organized, on time, clean, just so nice to use!


Pizza
Molino. A pizza chain in Switzerland. I don't know German, so I don't know if they are a Swiss company or not, but I am going to assume they are since all their locations are only in Switzerland. This was bad Geneva moment #1. The service was terrible... nobody came to us after we were seated for about twenty minutes, and the waiter was so busy/rushed that he didn't greet us and barely paid any attention to us :(. All my dining experiences in Europe had been pure joy... until now! However, it was also good Geneva moment #1 as well - the pizza was delicious. Oh my gosh! Is good food worth bad service? Maybe, but what's done is done, and it's in the past.

I had the Pizza Regina - which consisted of Tomates San Marzano, mozzarella de bufflonne, ou de Fior di Latte, bolets, saucisse et jambon de Parme. And in English, that means tomatoes from San Marzano, mozzarella cheese from buffalo or cows, boletus mushrooms, and sausage and ham of Parme, Italy? (I'm not fluent in French...) I'm pretty sure the ingredients made this pizza. I googled the San Marzano tomatoes, and apparently they are so good that like certain cheese and wines in France, there are lots of imitiations and the Italian government has a special label for real San Marzano tomatoes to separate it from the rest. They've also designated it as the only tomato that can be used in a true Neapolitan pizza. Now what is so special about them? This type of plum tomato is grown in a small area near Naples in volcanic soil which is believed to filter out water impurities which gives it a less acidic and stronger taste. If you would like to know more, good article that talks more in depth about this tomato can be found here.


Chili oil?
In America, we use chili pepper flakes to top our pizzas. In Switzerland, they use this. I'm going to assume it's chilli pepper oil. But I'm not sure. Any help?


Laduree box
I know, Ladurée should be in France. But it exists in Geneva as well! I was happy to have one last taste of a Laduree macaron :) (Don't worry, I will write about Ladurée in France later!)


Le six macarons!
Vanille, chocolat, framboise (raspberry), vanille, café, et... réglisse. Régliss? It's licorice.
My body cringed and my face turned disgust when I first realized what that macaron was. But the nice guy at Ladurée told me, "No, no, it is not what you expect. It is much sweeter and tastes nothing like what you are used to. The licorice is a very subtle flavor and not overpowering at all. You should at least try it." Okay, he sold me on that. I had to try it now, and I'm glad I did! It didn't have the usual gross taste of the licorice that I expected, it just tasted... good! It's still not my favorite, but it definitely wasn't horrible. So if you go to Ladurée, don't automatically rule out that black macaron :)

Boxes.
Yes, these are boxes. Boxes for chocolate truffles, that's what! They are amazing little folded paper boxes that hold delicious swiss chocolates. Teuscher is my cousin's favorite brand for chocolates. And their store is a visual wonderland. It's bursting with color and filled with the most adorable ways of packaging chocolate. Do step in if you are ever in Switzerland! I think they have a location New York as well.


Champagne Truffles
Aside from their adorable packaging, champagne truffles are the specialty of Teuscher.

Notre spécialité maison, mondialement connue, la truffe au Champagne est confectionnée à base de crème fraîche, de beurre et de chocolat. Sans oublier la touche délicate de Champagne français qui agrémente ce subtil mélange.


Our house specialty, known worldwide, the champagne truffle is made with fresh cream, butter, and chocolate. And not forgetting the delicate touch of French champagne that embellishes this subtle blend. (Again, i'm not fluent in French, so this is just an attempt.)


The actual truffles... yum yum YUM!


Geneva did have a very nice sunset.


Raclette
Raclette - from the French word racler, which means to scrape. Also a traditional Swiss dish in the winter where one eats cheese that is scraped onto your plate. Raclette comes from the southwest of Switzerland in the Valais canton. Essentially, a big semi-circle chunk of cheese is placed in a machine that heats it from the top, and when it begins to get soft and melty, it's taken off and quicky scraped onto your plate accompanied by lots black pepper, boiled potatoes, and small pickles called gherkins. The cheese used is, well, Raclette cheese!


A blurry shot, but at least you can see the scraping in action!


Raclette up close
Although it was delicious, I do have to mention that this was bought at a festival - i'm sure having raclette at a restaurant at home would be much tastier! But yum, a definite must if you like cheese!

A little more info for those cheese lovers out there from Raclette Australia:
"Raclette cheese is made on both the Swiss and French sides of the Alps but the cheese bearing the name Valais Raclette is the most famous .The Valais Raclette (namely cheese made in the Valleys of Bagnes, Goms, Les Haudères and Orsières) is made according to ancestral methods. There is no denying that the unique climate and alpine meadows in the area have an effect on the quality of the milk produced there. A semi-hard cheese made from unpasturised cow's milk Valais Ralette cheese has a distinctive aromatic flavour, brushed brown/orange coloured rind, light-yellow coloured body, fragrant creamy texture, with scattered holes and has an ideal fat and moisture ratio that prevents the cheese from separating when melted. "


Part of a door
And we move on from food to... Organisation des Nations Unies! Or, in English, the United Nations. They are situated in the Palais des Nations in Geneva. You can tour the headquarters and learn more about them, their history, as well as see all the buildings where meetings are held! The design on this door was appealing to me because of how subtle and clever it was. Before the UN was formed, there was an attempt to form a League of Nations or Société des Nations. It fell apart for WWII, but, the buildings still exist today, which are now part of the UN. But look closely! You can see the L and N for League of Nations, and a giant S and N for Société des Nations. Such a clever way to reference the title of the organization while still maintaining good design!


Ceiling
The gorgeous ceiling in one of the conference rooms. Patterns are my weakness...

Main Conference room. And our tour guide.
For kicks, I looked up the requirements for being a tour guide at the Palais des Nations. You must be absolutely fluent in English, French, and one of the following: Arabic, Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, or Spanish. Doesn't that sound fun? I think my tour guide knew German and Spanish as his additional languages, so he knows at least 4 - what a skill!
As you can see, i'm very intrigued by languages and impressed by those who can speak lots of them.

In conclusion - Geneva was fun, but I don't ever plan on going back! I saw what I really wanted to see, so I'm good! No prochaine fois Geneva, so this will probably be the last time I speak about Geneva.

15 September 2008

Puppy chow cupcakes


I have never participated in an online baking event, but I am pretty obsessed with foodbeam and couldn't resist joining in! Plus, I actually have a journal now to post in (I only started this recently, so before I really had no motivation). At first I didn't even consider participating, but I couldn't stop thinking, "well, if i did it, what kind of cupcake would i make?" and so I kept thinking and thinking of various ideas of what would i make if I were to make a cupcake: strawberries (my favorite fruit), non edible cupcakes (clay, copper, paper), shapes (how can you change the shape of a cupcake so it is still a cupcake, but not a traditional cupcake?), etc. I was just thinking about the many directions one can go with a cupcake and toying with ideas in my head.

Then I thought, why, i love cereal! I'm addicted to eat it and must eat it every morning. So the if became an I will! I first liked the idea of using Honey Bunches of Oats, my favorite American cereal, but then I started to think of Halloween. Which is coming up in less than 2 months. And then I thought about a friend who makes puppy chow for her Halloween party every year. And so Honey Bunches of Oats was shelved aside temporarily for... Puppy Chow Cupcakes!

the puppy chow cupcakes

First, what exactly is puppy chow? I was shocked when I was buying my ingredients at Central Market:

Cashier: So, what are you making today?
Me: I'm attempting to make puppy chow cupcakes!
Cashier: What's that?
Me: Well, I'm just trying to put puppychow with some chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes because I think it would be a fun combination.
Cashier: No, what's puppy chow?
Me: What? You don't know? Puppy chow, it's, well, puppy chow!
Cashier: Never heard of it.
Me: Why, it's a classic snack at every kid's birthday party... it essentially looks like dog food and involves chex coated in chocolate and peanut butter, and dusted in powdered sugar. It's so good, but its definitely a kid food. You don't eat it once you get older... except for me.
Cashier: Never heard of it, but that sounds delicious. I love peanut butter and chocolate
Me: Look it up, you must try it once in your life!

Puppy chow!! It's a childhood staple! Though, since I am an ABC, my parents never made it for me. But I had it plenty of times at elementary school parties or birthday parties (and a certain Halloween party as well). And technically... I had never made it either, until today. I did not make my own puppy chow until I was 21 years old! Better late than never.

First, you must make the puppy chow.

The simple version of puppy chow cupcakes... literally! :)

I used this recipe, directly from Chex.com.

Ingredients:
[9] cups Corn Chex®, Rice Chex®, Wheat Chex® or Chocolate Chex® cereal (or combination)
[1] cup semisweet chocolate chips
[1/2] cup peanut butter
[1/4] cup butter or margarine
[1] teaspoon vanilla
[1 1/2] cups powdered sugar

Tools:
Microwave or double broiler
Large zip lock bag

Note: the amount of puppy chow this recipe calls for makes more than you need if you are making them for cupcakes only. Halve the recipe if you are making them for the cupcakes recipe, but go ahead and follow it if you want extra to much on!

Get your chex first. This box turned out to have only 7 cups of chex, but it worked fine.


Dump it into a bowl. Set aside.


Measure out your 1/2 cup of peanut butter...
good luck doing this and keeping your hands clean.


Pour out your 1 cup of semi sweet chocolate chips


Your 1/4 cup of butter.


Throw it into your microwavable bowl.
Or your double broiler on your stove if you have one.



I zapped mine, stirring every 30 seconds,
because my double broiler is 3 hours away in Dallas.



Melted butter... can you feel your arteries clogging up?
Just pretend you never saw it, stir it and forget it!


Not very pretty.


Pour it over your bowl of chex and stir away!


Wait. Did you notice something missing?
No?
How about... the vanilla extract?
Yep... i totally forgot to use it!
Oh well, moving on!


Throw that warm chocolate covered goodness into a ziplock bag.


Measure out your 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.


And shake it! Shake it like a Polaroid Picture, shake it, shake it,
shh you got to, shake it, shh shake it, shake it, got to shake it
[Sorry. I couldn't resist]


Stick it in the fridge and let it cool. And then eat later. Yum yum yum!

Are you ready to make the cupcakes now? I am!

However, I am an indecisive person and couldn't decide what to do. There are endless possibilities I could have done! Did I want to crush up the puppy chow and mix it in with a batter? Or do I want to add it once the cupcake is baked? Then, which batter? Vanilla? Chocolate? Peanut butter? Do I want frosting? Cream cheese? Buttercream? Mixed with the puppy chow? And which flavor? Do I want puppy chow on my cupcake? Do I want to bake a cake first, then crumble it up and mix it with frosting and puppy chow and mold it into the same of a cupcake? Did I even want to make a cupcake that was baked? You can see my thought process... a lot! This was also my first time not following a recipe or slightly modifying a recipe - I was making everything up myself!

In the ended I decided on peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes (I coudn't just pick one), sandwiched with a layer of puppy chow, then dusted with powdered sugar and one piece of puppy chow on top and no frosting.

The puppychow cupcake, with wrapper pulled down to see the layering.

Ingredients:
[1] bag of puppy chow
[1] peanut butter cupcake batter
[1] chocolate cupcake batter
[some] powdered sugar for dusting

I decided to find two different batters and use them both. I did some keyword searching on tastespotting and ended up finding this chocolate cupcake recipe from Cupcake Bakeshop, and this peanut butter cupcake recipe from I Heart Cuppycakes which is actually from Cupcakes! by Elinor Klivans. Feel free to use any cupcake recipe you find, I'm sure they will be super tasty as well! Just remember to adjust the quantities of both recipes to you get similar amount of batter. And yes, I realize I used a 350 degree recipe and a 375 degree recipe together, but it still worked fine for me.


softened butter
Both recipes I used called for room temperature/softened butter. I never remember to take my butter out early enough for it to soften. And many times I want to bake right away, not two hours into the future. So I always just take it out super cold when I need it, and slice it up into thin slices and then chop them into morsels and leave them out while I go work on a different part of the recipe/measure out stuff. Because they are smaller they warm up quickly, and are always soft when I am ready to use them! It also helps to leave them near somewhere warm, like that preheating oven... Option B, if I really really need it right then, I stick the butter in a zip lock bag and whack it with a rolling pin until it is all soft and mushy.


Adding the egg and vanilla extract to the peanut butter & butter combo.

[this is where I get lazy and stop taking pictures of the prep steps.]


Puppy chow on top of batter, waiting for the 2nd round of batter.


Be creative in how you construct your cupcakes! I tried to swirl one of mine.


First batch.
If you are using the chocolate cupcake recipe from the Cupcake Bakeshop website, make sure to read the note about how it is a "sinking" recipe. If you overfill, the chocolate part will sink down. (if you look closely in the photo, I also crushed some puppy chow to top the cupcake, another option to try.)


more cupcakes!
Because of the sinking chocolate, I decided to put the chocolate layer on the bottom and peanut butter layer on top. This is only for visuals, both ways taste delicious! I decided to not use frosting on these because... I just don't like frosting. And the peanut butter and chocolate was enough to satisfy my sweet tooth, frosting would have been overkill for me. I always end up scraping it off anyway, but if you like frosting, go ahead and make some yummy frosting to top your puppy chow cupcakes! I'm sure they will look much cuter than mine.


obligatory split in half photo
Look closely! You can see the puppy chow, but just barely... it's buried in there!

Conclusion: I am very happy that I decided to participate in Sugar High Friday because even though my ingredients were nothing spectactuar and my idea not so original, it pushed me to at least think about my cupcakes and plan them out instead of just following a recipe or slightly modifying a recipe. And it feels darn good! Plus, I have lots of ideas now for future cupcakes!