Tag Archives: Chinese New Year

Happy ever-so-slightly belated Chinese New Year!

I’m afraid that life has completely gotten in the way of blogging.  Again.  I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the past few weeks in the lab fighting the incredible slowness of the one computer that runs the programme that I need for my research.  Which doesn’t really make me want to come home and spend more time staring at a computer screen.  Then there’s the minor detail that I’ve decided to move up to Leigh permanently (well, until the end of my MSc) because I love it so much here.  So I’ve been back and forth between Auckland and Leigh over the past two weeks to pack up my Auckland flat and also deal with visa extension applications and other such joys.  And between all of that, please don’t hate me too much (especially if you’re in the northern hemisphere) but we’ve been having such a wonderful summer that it’s been impossible to resist the call of the outdoors.

Any post with dragons in is automatically awesome, right?

Today’s post should have gone up about two weeks ago.  For Chinese New Year.  Evidently that didn’t happen.  However, since today is the Chinese Lantern Festival, which is still part of the New Year celebrations (from what I understand), I’m totally letting myself off on that one.  We went to the Lantern Festival in Auckland yesterday, and there were some super awesome lanterns (funny that).  Including a whole montage of penguins and polar bears, which, before anybody gets upset about the ecological inaccuracy of that (I totally did before I read the explanatory panel), was apparently meant to symbolise China’s scientific interest in both polar regions.  Still not sure how that’s quite relevant to New Year, but it sure looked awesome!

Penguins and polar bears – always so closely with Chinese New Year…

One of my housemates is Chinese and another is Chinese-Malaysian, and they cooked a big Chinese New Year’s Eve meal for us (which was totally amazing).  I was asked to make a dessert (it took my housemates about a week to figure out that I’m not half bad in that department).  I wanted something fairly light and bite-sized – I had no idea how many people would be coming, but was sure that the main meal would be pretty filling – that I could preferably prepare the evening before so as not to get in the way of my housemates’ preparations on the day.  In the end I settled on that most Chinese of desserts: chocolate and ginger macarons.  Because ginger is totally a Chinese flavour, and I made the shells red and piped Chinese characters in gold on the top of each macaron, which means they’re clearly Chinese New Year-themed.  Ok, so it’s a little tenuous, but everybody loved them and they went down an absolute treat.  (Phew!)

A very Chinese dessert.  Ahem.

I didn’t just pick some totally random Chinese characters by the way.  One of them is which means prosperity or blessing – obviously an important symbol for New Year – and the other is shé which means snake – because it’s the year of the snake.  My housemates wrote them out for me to copy, so any mistakes are totally not my fault.  I’m really happy with how they turned out though – adding the characters really just made them that little bit extra special.

Mad Chinese piping skills!

We Should CocoaI’m submitting these macarons to this month’s We Should Cocoa, which is being hosted by Jen over at Blue Kitchen Bakes, who has chosen “ginger” as the special ingredient to be combined with chocolate.  An awesome choice, might I add, since I do love ginger.  The bitterness of the dark chocolate in the ganache cut through the heat of the ginger wonderfully and also went some way to counterbalancing the sweetness of the shells.  The ganache is pretty intensely chocolatey though, so if you’re not a huge dark chocolate fan, be warned that you might not be able to wolf down a whole batch.

These all disappeared rather quickly over the course of the evening

Chocolate & ginger macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves
Royal icing recipe adapted from Joy of Baking

Colouring the shells and piping Chinese characters on them is obviously totally optional.  The recipe for the royal icing decorations on top makes far more than you’ll need, but any leftovers will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for a few weeks.  The ganache can be a little finnicky and is best if you can avoid cooling it in the fridge as it may cool too quickly and harden. If you do need to cool it in the fridge, just make sure not to forget about it!  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!


For the macaron shells:
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Red food colouring paste or gel (optional)

For the ganache filling:
40g whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
20g unsalted butter
150g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
40g Frangelico (or Amaretto)
1 tbsp ground ginger

For the royal icing decorations:
1 egg white
1 tsp Frangelico (or Amaretto)
250–280g icing sugar
Yellow or gold food colouring paste or gel


To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain round piping tip.

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.  Add a few drops of the red food colouring gel to the mixture just before the end and mix well to get the shade of red that you wish.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Sprinkle the shells with the raw sugar and leave the shells to set for about 30 mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the butter and chocolate chocolate (broken into pieces), the Frangelico and sift in the ginger.  Mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to thicken on the countertop (or in the fridge if absolutely necessary – if it’s taking too long or not setting).

9.  Once cool, use a teaspoon to deposit a dollop of ganache onto one shell of each pair. Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

10.  Leave in the fridge for a few hours in an airtight container to set before piping decorations on top.

To decorate the macarons:
11.  Prepare a piping bag with a very thin round tip.

12.  Sift 250g of the icing sugar into a medium-sized bowl, and add the egg white, Frangelico (or Amaretto) and a drop or two of the food colouring gel (the amount to add will depend on how intense you want the colour to be, obviously).  Whisk them together with an electric mixer until the mixture is stiff and can be used to pipe without running.  If the mixture is not reaching a stiff stage, add more icing sugar a little at a time and keep mixing.

13.  Transfer the mixture to the piping bag and pipe the decorations on top of the set macarons.  Allow the mixture to set before returning to the fridge so that the macarons have spent at least 24h setting before serving (I know, it’s difficult! But so worth it!!)



Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods

I’m a Dragon, hear me ramble! I mean, hear me roar!

Today is the first day of the Chinese Year of the Dragon!  So Happy Chinese New Year!  Or xīn nián kuài lè (I totally didn’t just dig out my old Mandarin book just for that), or if we’re going to be really fancy… 新年快樂!  Doesn’t Chinese look rather awesome?  Anyway, I digress.  So it’s the year of the Dragon, isn’t that exciting?  The correct answer is yes by the way, because I am a Dragon!  As in, I was born in the year of the Dragon, I’m not actually a real dragon (in case you hadn’t guessed).  I’m glad we’ve got that straight.  I believe that 2012 is the Water Dragon, and in an incredible (mostly accidental) moment of forward-planning, here’s a (not very good) photo taken six and a half years ago in a shrine in Hong Kong:

So, this rambling roaring Dragon right here decided that she should post something Chinese New Year-related today, because although it’s not exactly part of my cultural heritage, I have several friends who celebrate it, and I did take Mandarin lessons at school for a while (because I missed learning a language, though I don’t remember a great deal – frustrating!), and did I mention it’s the year of the Dragon?

There’s one minor flaw in my plan.  Whilst I enjoy eating Chinese food, I’m not at all familiar with cooking it.  Six and a half years ago, my mum and I visited one of her friends in Hong Kong and she’d signed us up to a baking class.  I think we made mooncakes and possibly something else, but the only thing I can remember clearly about the entire class was that the woman who was assigned to help us was called Cactus Poo.  Now I don’t know if she chose Cactus as her English name, or if her parents randomly picked a word out of an English dictionary without reading the definition, but either way, she was about as friendly as a Cactus, so the name definitely suited her.  I’m fully aware that laughing at somebody’s name makes me a bad person, but I did spend several hours working very hard at keeping a straight face, which is no mean feat, particularly when you’re 16 and super immature (I’m still super immature).  I hope you’re not expecting a mooncake recipe at the bottom of this post.

Now, of course, I could easily just search the internet for recipes, but as I announced yesterday, I’m moving to the other side of the world in a couple of weeks, so I didn’t really want to buy any special ingredients that I won’t use up between now and then.  And I have one tried-and-tested vaguely Chinese recipe which my mum has been making since I was little, in the form of honey and lemon chicken.  It doesn’t require any special ingredients, so I decided that I would make it yesterday to feature on my blog today…  I had to abandon the plan pretty quickly when it turned out that we didn’t have any chicken.  Minor detail.  So I looked at what ingredients I actually had available and realised that I could make muffins.  Because muffins are just so Chinese, obviously.  Ahem.

I made honey muffins several months ago, and they were delicious, so I decided to adapt them into Chinese-inspired muffins for Chinese New Year.  They were going to be just simple honey and lemon muffins, but then I noticed half a packet of chocolate chips that needed using up, so I decided to throw them in too (because I need to use up as many of my baking supplies as possible).  Now, I realise that adding chocolate chips sort of negates the whole Chinese-themed thing, but well, they’re muffins, so it was already a pretty tenuous link.  Plus by adding chocolate chips, I can submit these to this month’s We Should Cocoa, being hosted by Chele at Chocolate Teapot, who chose the theme of “health conscious“.  Now, these might not sound all that healthy, but I reduced the added sugar by half and used rapeseed oil instead of butter, and honey is a natural sugar, so to me they sound pretty healthy (can you tell I’m not a health freak?).  I could have used wholegrain flour if I wanted to go the whole hog, but since the flavours in these are very subtle, I was worried that it would affect the taste somehow.  They came out perfectly delicious though, and the chocolate chips didn’t over-power the subtle flavours at all, which I was slightly worried might happen.  I’ll definitely be making these again…

Honey, lemon & chocolate muffins

Adapted from CaffeIna
Makes 12 muffins

These are lovely and light, and the flavours blend together subtly.  If you want to eat them on their own, they’re tastiest whilst still warm, served with a cup of tea, but when cooled, they’re delicious when sliced in half and spread with some butter or marmalade or lemon curd for breakfast.  Don’t be tempted to add more than ¼ tsp of lemon extract as it will easily over-power the other flavours.


250g all-purpose flour
50g golden caster sugar
3 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
Zest of 1 large lemon
50g dark chocolate chips (at least 70%)
1 egg
240 ml milk
60 ml organic rapeseed oil (make sure it’s an oil with very little taste)
85g honey
¼ tsp lemon extract


1.  Line a muffin tine with 12 muffin liners or set out 12 silicone liners.  Pre-heat the oven to 205°C.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together.  Stir in the lemon zest and chocolate chips.

3.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg, then whisk in the milk, oil, honey and lemon extract.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined (slightly lumpy is fine).

4.  Bake for 15-18 mins until the tops are golden and springy or a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Allow to cool slightly on a wire rack.

Happy Chinese New Year!!

PS – Apologies to any Chinese food connoisseurs or actual Chinese people for completely bulldozing your culinary traditions and flavour combinations!!  Here’s a cute panda from Hong Kong Zoo to make up for it (everybody say “awwwww”):

PPS – The photos in this post that don’t involve food were all scanned in, hence the slightly dubious quality!


Filed under Ramblings, Recipes, Sweet Foods