Recipe: Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread


Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t been making homemade chocolate hazelnut spread (*cough*nutella*cough*) my whole life. But to my credit, I didn’t really discover it until I went to college and I didn’t fall in love with it until a few years ago.

Lately, I’ve been making it in batches: to stuff croissants with, to make chocolate hazelnut bread pudding (yes, I count this as a breakfast dish), to eat directly from a spoon slowly savoring each atom of it.  It doesn’t help that it’s easy to make as I first learnt it at TruffleNation’s bakery classes. How easy? Check this recipe out.



Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

  • 2 cups hazelnuts, roasted
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

1. Roast hazelnuts in oven preheated to 400 deg F for 10 minutes. Once cooled, remove as many skins as possible by rolling them off in a towel or by hand.

2. Put hazelnuts in food processor and puree for 5 minutes. Add cocoa powder, sugar, salt and vanilla. Puree for 15 seconds. Stream in canola oil while pureeing.

3. Ta da! Spoon into jars. Or your mouth. Or make some croissants. Really, it’s perfect with almost anything, almost anytime.

Yup, that easy.

A Brief History of My Favorite Coffee Makers Brand

Keurig brand of coffee makers – a name that resonates in almost every American home today – went from obscure anonymity to billion dollar revenues almost overnight, most people think. But what they do not know is that for Keurig founders Peter Dragone and John Sylvan, ‘overnight’ dragged on for more than two decades. The reputation of the brand, whose name means ‘excellence’ in Dutch, is a testimony to the grit and willpower of two young men who refused to give up on an original idea in the face of adversity.

Dragone and Sylvan had been friends since their varsity days at Colby College in Maine around the late 1970s. A tech graduate, Sylvan quit his job in Massachusetts in early 1990. A germinating idea to solve the problem of lack of fresh coffee in office spaces had prompted his move. Tired of the full pot of brewing coffee that sat for endless hours at workplaces, turning bitter, stale and cold, Sylvan wanted to manufacture a single serve pod of coffee ground and a machine that would brew a fresh cup every time.

In 1992, after two years of living in Greater Boston and conducting several trials to build a prototype, he roped in his former roommate Dragone, to help create a business model.  Dragone was at that time working as a partner and director of finance for a reputed firm. Thus, Keurig was born.


The cash-strapped duo did most of the tasting and testing themselves, to the point where Sylvan was diagnosed with caffeine poisoning after regularly consuming 30 to 40 cups of coffee a day.

Finally, the design and automation was perfected to create what you know as Keurig coffee makers, today.

The machine’s biggest plus it that it brews a fresh cup every time and does not let your coffee go stale. Today, after years of research and innovation Keurig manufactures single serve coffee pods – K-pods – in a vast variety of flavours. It also produces K-pods for hot chocolate and a range of teas. Although some users complain of faulty machines and complicated operational controls, Keurig has received largely positive feedbacks and is a popular product among coffee lovers.

Types of coffee machines from the house of Keurig

If you are considering purchasing a Keurig coffee machine and are wondering which would be the best model to invest in, you sure are concerned about performance and longevity of the coffee maker you buy.

But once you start comparing Keurig variants and going through user feedback from several sources, you will realise that the difference between the several variants of Keurig coffee makers has more to do with the number of features a machine has than its performance. This is because all Keurig machines using K-cups essentially utilise the same brewing methodology and perform similarly.

The one stark difference between the variants is the size of the water reservoirs each possess and the individual brewing capacities in terms of cup size options.

Keurig manufactures two main types of coffee makers – ones for home use (their one-cup cappuccino makers are pretty popular) and those for commercial utilisation. Two of the commercial machines – K145 and K155 (find indepth reviews of both on Freshpresso) – are also deemed suitable for home use and perform optimally when used by large families or offices with compact teams or small eateries and restaurants.

Since the machines are very precise in nature, they sometimes come across as mercurial to many users. Hitches and malfunctions most often stem from coffee grounds getting stuck inside the filter or the spray nozzle. But these blockages can be easily cleaned out to make your machine work as good as new once again.

In some instances, mineral build-ups occur in the machines components causing it to sputter and spew and resulting in the coffee tasting a bit off. A minor descaling process using chemicals can fix this trouble easily.

However, to ensure hassle-free and smooth performance, it is advised that you use spring water or bottled water in the machine to brew your cup of coffee and steer clear of undistilled or hard water that contains a lot of minerals leading to a build-up.

But in the off chance that your machine seriously malfunctions, Keurig is very good about offering prompt replacements.

Recipe: Olive Oil Citrus Cake


There’s one farmstand at the Little Italy Mercado here in San Diego that is my first stop every Saturday morning: Terra Bella Ranch (more on them in a future post).  They always have the most incredible citrus fruits, and it’s all in season right now: oranges, tangerines, lemons, grapefruit. So I decided to step a bit outside of my comfort zone and try something different: an olive oil citrus cake.

In truth, this cake was not just meant for me: it was meant to impress a very intelligent cohort of female philosophers I’m part of. We had a no-men-allowed party one Tuesday night, and I decided this simple dessert would be my contribution.


It was moist and sweet, but so indulgent, especially after I poured on the grapefruit glaze. And paired next to my friend’s berry cobbler? Yeah, we ate really well that night.

The cake didn’t disappear like I know it would have with boys around, but honestly, I didn’t mind. It was nice to be able to open up to other women in my program — some of whom, I discovered, are going through precisely what I’ve been going through. I felt for the first time that people were really listening to me, in between bites of cake, that is.

Olive Oil Citrus Cake
(recipe adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts)
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
zest from 1 grapefruit, 1 lemon, 1 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a round 9-inch cake pan (if you have a specialty pan, you can use that too). Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. In the large bowl of a stand mixer, beat eggs and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add in zests and vanilla and mix to combine. While the mixer is on medium, slowly pour in olive oil along the side of the bowl into well incorporated. Add in flour and mix on low speed. Pour batter into pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until cake is domed and a toothpick comes out clean.

For the glaze:
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
3/4 cup confectioners sugar

Combine the grapefruit juice and sugar; mix until well combined. Pour on top of cooled cake.

The Making: Green Tea Azuki Bean Bread


Last July 4th, I found myself in a city I did not know, wandering the streets alone. Being a holiday, most of the shops and restaurants in Seattle were closed, but the Pike Place Market was in full swing. I met a friend in the area for breakfast. Later, I decided I’d love to find a guy who would call me “crumpet” in a way that wouldn’t leave me staring incredulously. I took photos. I was by myself most of the day, and rather than stay indoors where being alone was safe, I forced myself out into the city. In one little section of town, a gelateria and a bakery were open. The area was quiet, most of their usual customers were off preparing for fireworks and parties that evening, but these places were gems. In the bakery, I tried my first green tea azuki bean muffin and I was positively hooked. I drove back the next morning to stock up for my road trip, and though for months I had promised myself to try and recreate that muffin, this weekend was the first time I challenged myself to do so.

The recipe is entirely my own, made by instinct. I know many people who don’t bake because (they say) there’s no way to know what a baked good will taste like until it’s done. But I know batter. I know what good batter tastes like and I know the right texture for cookies and cakes and breads. So thanks to a quiet Sunday morning and a friend visiting, I now have this recipe.


Green Tea Azuki Bean Bread (or Muffins)

1/2 cup dried Azuki beans
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon matcha powder
1 1/2 cups flour

1. Soak beans overnight in cold water. Drain and rinse beans. Place beans in pot, cover with water, and add 1 teaspoon of sugar to water. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until beans are tender. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan.
3. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking powder, and matcha powder. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, mix together melted butter, milk, eggs, and sugar. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in azuki beans.
5. Bake 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the top of the bread comes out clean. The bread will be somewhat golden brown on the outside.

And feel free to come back and leave your praises below.

Recipe: Tres Leches Cake


There’s some foods that you just seem to have a love affair with. That’s what happened between me and tres leches cake. During our first rendevouz, I was stunned into silence. I may have upset the other people I was dining with that night when I stopped paying attention to their conversation. All my focus was on this dessert. Simple, sweet, and made with one of my favorite ingredients in the world: milk.

I’ll get back to the cake in a moment, but I want to tell you something about me and milk: we’re best friends. It’s been like that since I was little, when I turned up my nose at carbonated beverages like soda. I was teased a lot as a child. I ordered milk at restaurants (even when it wasn’t the cool thing to do), drank it with pizza (I still don’t understand why people think this is strange), and even laughed so hard once…well, you get the picture, yes? I still drink a gallon of it a week and if a day passes and I don’t have a glass, there’s something noticeably wrong with me.


So how could I not love a dessert that’s created from not one, but three milks? Right?

The first time I made my own tres leches cake it came out of the oven and went almost straight into the trash. I could tell something was wrong: cake shouldn’t be dense like a brownie when it comes out of the oven. I cut a piece to try and grimaced. Utter failure. Hated it.

Time number two (a different recipe) was more successful, though it still didn’t have the lightness I remember my very first slice having. I took it to a party and people were happy. But I forgot about it.

See, the test of a good dessert for me is how much I daydream about it after it’s gone. A day means stunning. Two to four means excellent. A week and it stays in my repetoire as delicious. But if I forget about it? I rarely make those again.

I recently made a third attempt, after copying down a recipe Cooks Illustrated had published in one of its magazines last summer. I don’t know why it took me so long to make one of my favorites. It makes enough that you need to share it and really, it requires strawberries in my book. Strawberries are perfect now.

My kitchen was a mess by the end (the final recipe I leave you with has been modified for the original to save you some cleaning) and I was rushed to make it to my dinner on time. But this one I was thinking about the next morning. And that night. And the next day…

Tres Leches Cake
Milk Mixture
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached cake flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the Milk Mixture: Whisk together the condensed milk, evaporated milk, cream, and vanilla. If you’re feeling particularly daring, you could heat the condensed milk in a pot over the stove until it thickens and begins to brown slightly; then whisk in evaporated milk, cream, and allow to cool to room temperature. But you don’t have to.
2. For the Cake: Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 13 by 9-inch baking pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a small saucepan over low heat, heat butter and milk until butter melts completely; set aside and allow to cool slightly.
3. Beat eggs in large bowl for about 30 seconds using either a hand held mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add sugar slowly on low speed until incorporated. Change speed to medium-high and beat for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the mixture becomes glossy. Set the speed to low then mix in milk-butter mixture and vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, then mix on medium speed until fully incorporated. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.
4. Using a toothpick or skewer, poke holes at regular intervals in top of cake; they should be spaced about 1/3 to 1/2 inch apart (this is pretty dull — it’s best to ask for some help). Pour milk mixture over cake in several steps, until completely absorbed. Let sit at room temperature 15 minutes, then refrigerate uncovered for at least 3 hours (no more than 24 hours).
5. For the Topping: You’ll want to frost this cake right before serving, so remove cake from refrigerator at least 30 minutes beforehand. Beat heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla to soft peaks, 1 to 2 minutes, using your stand or hand-held mixer. Spread over cake, top with sliced strawberries, and serve.

Recipe: Vegan Apple Pocket Pies


My first successful vegan dessert.  I feel like such a proud mother; all I need are some scrap-booking materials to capture the moment perfectly.  I had tried to make a vegan dessert this summer, desperately hoping the vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe I had would surprise me, but as I was mixing the oily batter, I knew it was all over. I was meeting my friend Vi in New York City that night, and I had wanted to bring her some of my baking that night; my only challenge was that she was vegan and I had never made a vegan dessert before. Gulp. I scoured the internet for recipes: vegan chocolate chip cookies would be my first try. After all, I had been blown away by one vegan chocolate chip cookie at a chocolate festival earlier that year. It convinced me that vegan done right was sometimes even better than traditional baked goods. I went into cookie baking with complete enthusiasm and emerged completely defeated. After that, I was afraid to try again.

But the opportunity to bake vegan again presented itself in the form of a visit to a local high school.  Arroyo Paseo High School is a charter school located in City Heights, San Diego, a very ethnically diverse community.  I’m volunteering there as part of the Community-Based Science class I’m taking through UCSD. When the professor announced we’d be making our first trip and suggested we do something to get to know the students better, I offered to bake. Everyone eats, and what easier topic is there to discuss with someone you’ve never met before than food?  Not knowing the student body well, I thought baking vegan would be the smartest — and healthiest — way to go.

A day later, I realized what I had gotten myself into and started panicking. Apples were perfectly in season and epitomized good health (“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” — though the adage’s utterer probably didn’t mean the baked kind).  Though I worried that an apple pie wouldn’t be well received in such a diverse classroom, I doubt anyone would be able to deny its deliciousness.

And no one did. All didn’t go as planned that day and when class ended I was still left with full containers of pocket pies.  Luckily, nothing stays quiet at that school for long and soon the cheerleaders were in the room, asking me about the treats. Others came once they heard the talk, and every student gobbled them up.


I had saved two: one for me (to eat and photograph), one for my roommate. She told me it was the best thing I’d ever made: soft and not too sweet. I nearly agreed.

Vegan Apple Pocket Pies
For crust: (recipe from Chloe Coscarelli)
1 1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chilled non-hydrogenated vegan margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup ice cold water

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Place mixture in a food processor, fitted with the metal blade. Add margarine in small chunks around the top of the dry mixture; pulse until margarine is incorporated, working quickly to ensure it doesn’t melt. Return mixture to the bowl, then add the vanilla and one tablespoon of water, mixing it all with a wooden spoon. Continue to add water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, form into a disc shape, and refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

For filling:
apples, peeled and sliced thinly
ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, place apple slices. Sprinkle with cinnamon and add a splash of vanilla. Mix until all apple slices are well-coated.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. On a clean, dry surface dusted with flour, place dough and roll with a wooden roller (well-floured) until dough is about 1/8 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter (I used an apple pocket pie mold from Williams-Sonoma), cut pieces of dough.  Place apple slices on one cut piece of dough and place the second on top, then seal the edges with pressure (you could also use a fork to create a pretty edge).  Cut a small vent in each top piece so the hot air has a way to escape while the pies are being baked.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Whipped Creme


These cupcakes were the first recipe I really developed on my own. A few weeks ago, I submitted the recipe and a story about them to Jen from Joie Magazine. Last Friday, the issue was published, with my recipe and photos in it. Check it out — I’m on page 10 (briefly, with a bio) and you can find the recipe and story on pages 100 to 103:

Let’s hope this is the first of many more to come. {fingers crossed}

Now, back to business and baking. Here’s my favorite (and one of my signature) recipes.  Enjoy!


Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Whipped Cream
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk + 1 tablespoon white vinegar as a substitution)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pint heavy cream (pasteurized is best)
1/2 cup Nutella

For cupcakes:
1. Set oven to 325 degrees and make sure rack is in the middle. Line two cupcake pans with baking cups (total yield should be about 24 cupcakes).
2. Shift together flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Melt chocolate and butter either (a) in a bowl set over a pot of simmer water on the stove top, mixing thoroughly and repeatedly or (b) in the microwave on medium (50% power) for 2 minutes, remove and stir, then continue heating until melted completely, mixing every minute. Let cool for a few minutes.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Add in chocolate mixture and whisk further. Add in buttermilk and baking soda; whisk. Finally, add the dry ingredients in the medium bowl to the wet ones in the large bowl, and mix until the batter is smooth.
5. Fill baking cups until two-thirds full.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until done (every oven is different so make sure you watch your and check then with a toothpick). Remove cupcakes from pan and let cool to room temperature.

For Nutella whipped cream:

1. If you have a stand mixer, put the metal bowl and whisk attachment into the freezer for at least 30 minutes. If you have a hand mixer, put a metal bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes. Once cold, you’re ready to begin.
2. Pour pint of heavy cream into bowl and turn mixer on low; mix until small bubbles start to form.
3. Add Nutella. (You can always add more if you think it’s needed.) Turn mixer on medium low to incorporate, then bring mixer to medium high and whip Nutella-creme mixture until soft peaks form.
4. Use this to top cooled cupcakes.  You can also cut into the cupcake from the top (like you’re cutting out a cork) and pipe Nutella cream into the cupcake for a delicious extra surprise when you bite into them.

Cupcakes can be stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 days, but are best eaten the same day they’re made (which shouldn’t be too hard).

The Making: Peach Bourbon Crisp


I make a lot of crisps in the summer — and eat a lot of vanilla ice cream with them. Lately, it’s been peaches; before that berries. The reason I own alcohol at all is because of the desserts I make. When I’m not baking, the bottles sit there quietly, gathering dust. But when there’s extra ripe fruit around, I raid the liquor cabinet: peaches with bourbon, figs with whiskey, bananas with rum…oh, the combinations. They all end up cooked, and the alcohol burns off. That’s how I like the stuff — there, but not.

The summer feels like that a bit too lately: there but not. Somehow it’s mid-August already and for the past week, there’s been nothing but rain. The heat is gone. Most of the growing season is nearing an end. It seems like if the summer is going to disappear, I best give it a proper send off. For me, that always means lighting something on fire. A candle. A sparkler. A dessert.


Luckily, this dessert only needs to be cooked in the oven. No flames necessary. But you won’t miss the fireworks. I promise those will still be there.

Peach Bourbon Crisp
5 peaches sliced and soaked in bourbon
topped with a mixture of:
1 cup oatmeal
+ 1/3 cup flour
+ 1/3 cup brown sugar
+ 2-3 tablespoons melted butter (that makes it crumbly)

Use your instincts, trust your taste buds, and don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Cook at 400 degrees F, until it gets all bubbly and the top is crispy. The bourbon will burn off and you will be in peach bourbon crisp heaven. Add vanilla ice cream and I promise you’ll be rendered speechless.