Earl Grey Cake Balls, and a Recap

My last post of the year! 

I made these cake balls out of scraps from my kitchen--it seemed fitting to have it as my last post, since this was the year I discovered the awesomeness of Earl Grey. For years, I wondered what the big hype was but now I totally get it and I'm so sorry it took me this long.

Additionally, I've become a total tea addict like never before...Luckily, I live in a city that has some of the best choices in tea, like The London Tea Room and Smalls.

Some highlights from 2013:
After years of searching, I finally found the best brownie recipe to match my love for the boxed mix (the chewiest edges and fudgiest insides). 

I also tried my hand at making an all-vanilla cupcake and had no idea vanilla could be so delicious as a stand-alone flavor. 

This year, I got to meet and shake hands with two very inspiring people: Michael Pollan and Deb from Smitten Kitchen

My mom finally became completely cancer-free, and my best childhood friend got married to a wonderful Parisian. We celebrated with the best fusion of Chinese, Indian, and French culture. 

It was a great year for travel--Joe and I started off the new year in Vietnam and more recently we explored the east coast and caught up with so many of our old friends. I went on a mini trip to Chicago with new friends and we finally made it to the balloon glow at Forest Park which is pretty cool and worth checking out.

I learned to make many authentic Chinese dishes, and even hot pot from scratch. And after six years of barely drinking/not enjoying it, I finally gained an appreciation for wine and cocktails (beer, not so much). 

There were also some wonderfully thought-provoking films this year. 
Some of my favorites:
I loved Before Midnight, a third part of a film trilogy (you should see Before Sunrise and Before Sunset if you haven't!). I feel like I've grown with the films, as each one concentrates on a snippet of the same couple's relationship at different stages in their lives. 
Gravity scared the crap out of me but was so very fascinating and intense. The whole theme of survival/rebirth was sweetly sad, yet thrilling at the same time.

Joe and I watched a documentary called Blackfish that has been on my mind ever since. It's about the killer whales at Sea World and it's extremely powerful and difficult to watch. It made me feel a bit sick to see how we treat such intelligent creatures but this is an important film everyone must see (it's now on Netflix).

Don Jon was another great movie that was actually quite entertaining and well-executed. I was expecting it to be just a simple comedy but found myself reflecting on it long after it was over. Although I wasn't a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's look, he did a fantastic job of directing/writing and acting in it.

Bombay Talkies, an Indian film, is was a compilation of four short films by some of the biggest directors in Bollywood. I loved that one of the stories featured a gay man, while another focused on a little boy who loves dressing as a girl. They're definitely milestones for Indian cinema and I hope they raise some awareness in my (original) homeland.
Lootera was another beautiful film that wonderfully captured India in the 1950s. It's a sad and moving love story that featured gorgeous Indian landscapes and great acting.

As for TV: I finally caught up on the craze over Parks & Rec and although I'm sad it took me this long, it was awesome to be able to binge-watch it. House of Cards is a crazy and intense political drama that Joe and I truly enjoy, and Orange is the New Black gave me some valuable insight on the harsh realities of women in prison. Masters of Sex is another one that is cool for the psych major in me, who studied Masters and Johnson in college. 
Bonus: they were researchers at WashU so there are plenty of StL references that are fun to pick up on!

I discovered a lot of cool new artists (Bastille! Imagine Dragons! Passion Pit!) this year, but one soundtrack that stood out to me was the one from The Great Gatsby. I didn't think the movie was deserving of such low reviews but the music was better than the movie itself. However, I do think I appreciate the music more because of the visuals. It was gorgeous for the eyes and the ears, especially Beyonce and Andre 3000's version of Back to Black.

Lastly, Joe and I very recently watched the film The Spectacular Now and it was so heart-breaking and good. It's about a high-school class clown who meets a sweet girl and it encompasses all the thoughts and feelings of the world that we used to have as teenagers.
Bonus: it had Coach Taylor and it was shot in my college town of Athens, GA!
Now when we watch movies, we can't help but look at it from a parental or adult point of view, when just a couple of years ago we were siding with the teenagers. I wonder when we crossed that line?

This year was pretty great, but I'm looking forward to the future. 2014 already looks promising, and filled with new opportunities for my work, as well as so many weddings and travel plans!

On to these cake balls...
Leftover macaron filling (which is really just French buttercream) and leftover vanilla cake produced the most delicious cake balls of all time.

I made the vanilla cake a while back and used my cookie cutter to cut out small circles and make mini cakes. I felt too guilty throwing away the scraps so I froze them for the last two months. I'm so glad I saved them because they turned out perfect for these.

I put these together in about 5 minutes, and then once they froze, I dipped them in some white chocolate. They are unbelievably delicious. They also last for months frozen so they're great to have around for a last minute gift or something to nosh on if you're craving a sweet treat.

Vanilla Cake
Adapted from here
Makes 1 8x8 pan, about 30-40 cake balls

2 cups + 2 tbs cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 ounces butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temp
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter an 8-inch square pan or line with parchment.
Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer for at least 5 minutes, until pale and fluffy.
Beat in vanilla and add eggs one at a time until they're incorporated.
At a low speed, beat in the buttermilk until just combined.
Use a spatula to fold in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan and bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean or with crumbs, about 30-40 minutes.
Cool completely before using.

Earl Grey Frosting
makes about 2 cups 

3 egg yolks
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temp
1 tsp Bergamot Oil
1 tbs + 1 tsp Earl Grey tea leaves, finely ground*

*If you have a teabag of Earl Grey, just use its contents, and save some to sprinkle over the tops of the finished cake balls.

Add the water and the sugar to a small saucepan and place over medium-heat.
Place the egg yolks in a large bowl with an electric beater ready.
Use a candy thermometer and boil until 238 degrees.
Once it hits 238, remove the thermometer and pour the mixture into the egg yolks while beating on high. 
Beat for a couple of a minute until it's light in color and cooled a bit.
Once it's at room temperature, add in the butter and the ground up earl grey leaves, as well as the Bergamot oil. 
Beat until fluffy and combined, no longer runny.
Adjust according to your preference.
You will have leftovers but this frosting freezes very well in an airtight container. Use this on cupcakes, cakes, or macarons!

Lay out a sheet with parchment paper.
Use your hands to crumble up the cake in the pan itself.
Add in frosting, tablespoons at a time and knead into the dough, you will probably need about a cup of frosting, just enough to have the cake moist enough to roll into balls.
Use your hands to completely work the frosting into the cake and roll into balls of your preferred size.
Place on the parchment paper and freeze for at least an hour.

Melt 12 ounces of white chocolate in a microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring after each turn.
Drizzle in about 2 teaspoons of coconut oil and stir until combined.
Remove the frozen cake balls and use a fork to dip the balls into the chocolate.
Let it coat as evenly as you can and place the ball on the parchment paper.
Quickly sprinkle some earl grey tea on top of each immediately after dipping because they harden fast.
Refrigerate for a few minutes and then toss into a bag or airtight container and freeze.
Thaw before eating, they'll last for months in the freezer!


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