When Little Flower Candy Company's pastry chef Cecilia Leung was eleven years old, she participated in a school bake sale and bought her very first box of Betty Crocker cake mix. Fast forward a few years -- and time spent in the pastry kitchens of Grace, Spago and Jiraffe -- to the much-loved Pasadena bakery, cafe and candy shop.
You may know Christine Moore's Little Flower Candy Company for the distinctive sea salt caramels and perfect marshmallows -- but you may not be familiar with Leung's exotically complex curry-pineapple scone or her revelatory out-of-body experience-inducing milk and honey cake with sea salt caramel. If you do not, then a visit to Colorado Blvd. should be the very next thing on your to-do list.
Leung's baking is greatly inspired by her travels. "I love to travel. I always try to scope out the best places to eat, whether it's fine dining, or an obscure hole in the wall," she says. "I take food pictures like crazy, not just because the food is beautiful, but also to capture the flavor and essence of it at that moment in time to help me remember. I still obsess over recreating the rice gelato that I had in Budapest, freshly made roti at Mamak, an awesome Malaysian restaurant in Sydney, the clean and beautiful flavors of Japanese cuisine, and pan dulce and sweets from Mexican panaderias."
In addition, she credits her father, who was the chef-owner of Kingsland Chinese Restaurant in San Gabriel, as a strong influence. When asked about the origin of her curry scone, Leung says, "The impetus for the curry scone came from eating my dad's lamb curry and Singapore chow mai fun [rice stick noodles] when I was young. The idea of curry connotes sweet, spicy and savory all rolled into one. I love pineapple fried rice, and to me it made sense to make a sweet curry scone with pineapples and golden raisins."
Leung says, "I'm probably revealing a skeleton in the baking closet, but we had a lot of candied pineapple in our baking inventory, maybe 20 lbs. and I had to use it up. It's part of working in a kitchen -- you use what you've got to create something delicious. I thought about pineapple fried rice, Singapore chow mai fun, and this awesome spiced pineapple I learned to make when I was at Jiraffe. The candied pineapple was really sweet so I rehydrated it in some water with sliced fresh ginger to add depth to the flavor and mellow out the sticky sweetness. We have curry chicken on our lunch menu paired with grapes, so it was natural for me to add the Madras curry and golden raisins to the scone."
Leung's golden yellow curry-pineapple scone may transports you to the hawker food stalls in Singapore, but her milk and honey cake takes you directly to heaven -- metaphorically, at least.
"I love tres leches, but usually after the first three bites, it's so rich that I don't want to eat it anymore," says Leung. "So last summer when I was in Mexico I tried to find authentic tres leches made from scratch, but I kept coming across tres leches that was cloyingly sweet or made with hydrogenated fats and cake mixes. I knew I had to deconstruct and recreate it.
"And it just so happened that Christine asked me to make a hybrid of tres leches and strawberry shortcake for her brother's birthday. I wanted to end the dinner with something decadent but still light, so I toyed with the idea of reducing whole milk so that the sugar in milk will caramelize and yield a thicker viscosity similar to evaporated milk. I added buckwheat honey at the end of the 2-hour reduction to sweeten the milk a bit more to resemble condensed milk but with earthiness, and voilà, the milk and honey cake was born!"
Turn the page for Leung's recipes...
Curry Pineapple and Golden Raisin Scone
From: Cecilia Leung of Little Flower Candy Co.
Makes: 12 scones
1 1/2 cups candied pineapple
1 cup golden raisins
1 1-inch piece of ginger root, peeled, sliced
2 cups water
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sugar
1 T Madras curry powder
12 oz. butter, cold, 1" pieces
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1. Place pineapple, raisins, ginger root and water in sauce pot. Place sauce pot on stove over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Remove from heat and cover with plastic wrap to rehydrate fruit. Allow to cool.
2. Strain pineapple, raisins and ginger into a bowl and set it aside. Keep the liquid and return it to the sauce pot with sliced ginger to reduce into syrup consistency for the glaze. Reduce liquid to 1/2 C. Discard ginger. Allow to cool.
3. Place the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and curry powder in a standing mixing bowl with a paddle attachment or in a mixing bowl, if mixing by hand. Combine on low speed for 30 seconds.
4. Add cold butter and paddle on low speed until butter pieces are the size of peas. (Or cut in by hand, careful not to soften butter.) Add rehydrated pineapple and raisins and paddle, or mix by hand, for 30 seconds or until just incorporated. Add eggs and cream, paddle on low speed, or mix by hand, until just incorporated. Dough should be on the drier, shaggier side.
5. Dust a work surface with flour and transfer the dough onto the work surface. Gently pat the dough to 1 1/2" thick. Dust 2 1/4" round cutters with flour to cut scones and place on parchment lined sheet pan. Any scrap pieces can be gently patted together to cut again. Allow to chill in reach in or freeze until firm before baking. Dough may store in airtight container or bag in freezer for up to a month.
6. Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove from the freezer, place evenly spaced apart on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 30 minutes or until golden. Spread about 1 tablespoon of curry ginger glaze over top of scone. Allow to cool.
Curry Ginger Glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1/2 cups ginger syrup
a pinch of salt
1. Place ingredients in standing mixing bowl with paddle attachment. Paddle on slow speed until glaze is smooth and clump free. Consistency should be thick, stretchy, and spreadable. Extra glaze may be stored in container in the refrigerator for up to one month. Glaze is best used at room temperature.
Milk and Honey Cake with Sea Salt Caramel
From: Cecilia Leung of Little Flower Candy Co.
Yields: 12 servings
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter, melted but not hot
5 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Place the yolks in the mixing bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment. Whisk yolks on medium speed. Slowly pour in sugar and whisk on medium high speed until yolk mixture is pale yellow and fluffy. Check for ribbon stage. Lower speed and stream in melted butter until just incorporated. Transfer the mixture to a clean large mixing bowl. Set aside.
2. Place egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment. (When making meringue, it's crucial to have clean, dry tools to ensure that the egg whites to will whip to a glossy consistency.) Whisk on medium speed until egg whites are foamy, slowly pour in sugar and turn speed up to medium high. Whisk egg whites until shiny and glossy. Check for the "bird's beak" by stopping mixer and dip a spoon into the meringue. A curve beak should form when you lift the spoon out of the meringue. Gently fold meringue into yolk mixture with a whisk.
3. Sift the dry ingredients and fold into the egg mixture until just incorporated. The batter should be light, airy and smooth.
4. Coat a 9x13" baking dish with cooking spray and pour the batter in. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Allow to cool.
5. Using a toothpick, poke holes throughout cake to allow it soak the milk and honey reduction. Place in refrigerator to allow it to soak overnight. Cake may be stored up to 5 days.
Milk and honey reduction:
1/2 gallon whole milk
1/4 cup buckwheat or raw honey
1. Place milk in sauce pot and reduce on low heat for two hours or until milk has reduced by 1/4. Add honey and whisk together until dissolved.
2. Remove from heat and cool. Reduction can be made a week ahead of time and stored in refrigerator. Remove any skin before using.
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons buckwheat or raw honey
1. Place cream in mixing bowl of standing mixer with whisk attachment. On medium speed, whip cream to soft peaks. Add honey and whip until just incorporated.
1/4 pound Little Flower Sea Salt caramels, or other good quality caramels
3 tablespoons cream
1. Melt caramels and the cream in a saucepan over medium low heat. Stir to incorporate melted caramels with cream to yield sauce. Use immediately.
1. Cut the soaked sponge cake into 12 equal servings. Remove from the baking dish and slice in half lengthwise.
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2. Place halves into 12 individual serving cups or dishes. Pour milk and honey reduction into serving cups to cover top of cake. Dollop 2 tablespoons of honey cream on top of cake. Spoon 1/2 teaspoon of caramel sauce on top.
3. Place the other cake halves on top. Dollop with 2 teaspoons of honey cream. Drizzle with the remaining caramel sauce. Serve immediately or refrigerate. The cakes may be stored in the refrigerator for three days.
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