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December 31, 2004

goodbye 2004

Friday, December 31

It is still the 31st of December in Hawaii, but it is already in 2005 where I am right now. I just wanted to thank everyone who have taken their time to take a look (and read) what I post, and wish all of you and yours a very nice new year - 2004 was hit by disasters and sad things, in the world and to me personally, but I do really hope that the new year will be a happier one to all of us.

In Japan, it is a tradition to have soba (buckwheat) noodle at the end of the year to salute the old year and welcome the new one. My family actually didn't do it very much, but I now enjoy doing it myself - it sure gives me the feeling of end-of-the-year, exciting but nostalgic atmosphere.

our Christmas treats




Since I got back in Japan I have been busy going out every day, seeing friends and people to make up for the period I was away from them, and did not have time to take care of this blog much. Now Christmas is well over, I decided to collectively post at least pictures of food I had during the Christmas holiday.

On the Christmas Eve, (but during the day), I went to have lunch with a friend at a small Japanese restaurant in Aoyama, called Kamahachi.


Their specialty is fish and tofu, and on my tray there were an assortment of small but carefully made pieces of season (fish, chicken, vegetable, egg, everything) and a tofu dish with scallop, along with a bowl of rice, miso soup, and pickles. Having a little bit of many things is very Japanesey concept of serving food, I guess, and I am so fond of it.

Later in that afternoon, after walking around and window-shopping in the area, we stopped at a cafe called news-DELI to have a cup of tea.

In fact we shared this big piece of toast, called Honey Toast, with an extra topping of caramel sauce and chestnut ice cream.


It was quite a huge piece, and really sweet with honey and caramel sauce... maybe I should have left it plain.

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On Christmas day, since he (who came to Japan with me) had gone surfing (in the winter ocean in Japan!) for the weekend, I decided to go out with a friend in the afternoon and cooked slightly festive food at home for dinner with my sister, her husband, and myself.

For breakfast I had a mini-panettone from Italy that I bought in a shop.



Then I went out to have a haircut (after seven months!), and before meeting the friend I dropped by Shinjuku Park Tower where I would usually go to the Park Hyatt Tokyo pastry boutique and the Conran Shop.

Before I peeking into the pastry shop, I stopped at an equally fancy delicatessen right next, where I tried and ordered some bread and small salad for dinner. The place was beautiful, but the service was pretty poor, I figured, and it took me a total of 20 minutes to just to have some bread and stuff, waiting at a counter to be served (it wasn't even busy).


Anyways, I eventually got something - a regular-sized croissant with rock salt and mini-baguette, together with a bow tie-shaped herb tea-flavored cookie.

After I had a couple of hours of chatting with the friend, I got home and cooked our dinner, starting with a salad.


This was our salad, and it was our Christmas tree as well! I had found this in a blog and instantly fell in love with the idea, and decided to make one on my own (recipe is here, in Japanese).

On the base of mashed potato (I put some cheese in it), I placed a piece of boiled broccoli stalk as the trunk, covered it with more potato, then mounted small pieces of broccoli flour along with plum tomatoes and cariflower. My "tree" looked a bit small and chubby, but did add a Christmas atmosphere on our table.

Our main dish of the day was pasta. It might not be the traditional Christmas dish, but that was okay with us. I bought a crab and a bunch of tiger prowns, and cooked their meat for topping while using up a whole rest (shells and everything) in the sauce that I made using white wine, tomatoes, and cream.


For those of us who love seafood, the pasta was divine.


...And I almost forgot about the salad I had bought at the delicatessen; it was called "grilled swordfish with wasabi dressing", consisting of lightly seared swordfish sashimi on some salad green, with sweet but wasabi-tangy dressing. I know something: their food is a way better than their service at Park Hyatt.

It was a bit late dinner and we were so full after it, and we almost just collapsed - and the cakes were left untouched, and consumed on the following day.

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They were from the pastry shop at the same hotel, and what you see is what you get: they were very, very sophisticated both in looks and in taste.


Caramel brulee (or something - I forgot) was a bit like creme brulee, but no caramelized top but with caramelized banana, some cookie crunch, and dried fig pieces. The cream was soooo soft and velvety, almost saucy. Scrumptious.


Chestnut eclair, with big pieces of sweetened Japanese chestnuts, caramelized hazelnuts, and chestnut cream. The puff shell felt a bit too tough to my taste but it might have been because it was a day old, which wasn't their fault. Actually the eclair as a whole was so perfect I really didn't have much to complain about.


Cake roll called sesame, with black sesame-flavored gyuhi (like mochi) and sweetened beans in white sesame-flavored cream rolled into plain cake sheet, topped with crunchy sesame seed topping. Again, the cake was rather dry, but it was lovely other than that.



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I didn't forget about it. Yes, Christmas cake that I had made two weeks before.


I hadn't fed them with extra doze of booze, but the cake still had pretty pronounced liquor taste, which means it wasn't ready yet; another couple of weeks or so would "age" the cakes really nice and mellower - and I still have a couple of small loaves for the future.

December 24, 2004

just because it's Christmas...

...I made a cookie box for us.



(Place the mouse over the image to open the box)

...Baking cookies for Christmas is relatively new to me, and it is my only second time doing this, following the last year when I baked shortbread, white chocolate and macadamia nut, pina colada (with pineapple, coconut and rum), and snowball cookies, along with fruit cake.

This year I made a slighyly bigger selection of cookies: two different kinds of snowball, ginger, red wine, and pistachio cookies.

The ginger cookies, although so called, were actually spice cookies, to be more precise; there were cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom. I first found these cookies in a fellow blogger's post, and couldn't help asking him for a recipe. The dough is to sit in the fridge for three days to let the spices and cassonade (French brown sugar) to blend in before being shaped and baked. The cookies were then stored for a week or two for the second "rest" to make spicy and aromatic pieces.


I didn't own any cookie cutter by the way, and went out to look for one - and the only thing I found was this cookie-cutter ornament, not a cookie cutter. Who cares?

These are soetkoekies, or spicy wine cookies, which I just recently discovered in the post through IMBB #10. This South African cookie (recipe here) features red wine and assorted spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves) - a bit like the mulled wine cake that I made the other day, sort of.


The recipe calls for almonds but I used pecans, as I didn't have almonds at hand. They still turned out pretty good, and had a very interesting texture; light and airy, but slightly chewy and moist....

Then there were snowball cookies, which I think are the most suitable cookies for Christmas. This time I whipped up two kinds using two different nuts: hazelnuts and macadamia nuts.


Hazelnut praline snowball cookie combines hazelnut praline in the dough that has a lot of ground hazelnuts. This was my creation for IMBB 10.




The other one, macadamia nut snowball cookie, is basically the same with hazelnut one except that it uses ground macadamia nuts (obviously) in the dough and scattered with chopped macadamia nut pieces. Because macadamia is particularly high in fat content among other nuts, the cookies never seemed to hold their shape as I had hoped; I should probably have increased the amount of flour, but these were truly melt-in-your-mouth soft and mellow, even if they weren't "snowballs" at all.

And here is another cookie that I took from the IMBB 10 collection: pistachio cookies. I was going to make another cookie using pistachios, but then changed my mind and gave it a try with this pretty green cookie created by Clotilde.


I almost thought I should have used regular white sugar instead of brown sugar to bring out the pistachio's green color to the maximum, but cookies themselves were pretty enough and very flavorful.

When I was making a list of cookies in my mind, I noticed that there were rather too much of nuts and spices, while there was no chocolate. This could have been because I had been making one too many chocolate cakes and was a little tired of them, I suspect....

It would have been nice if I had baked choco chip & mint cookies or something, but I instead chose to shortcut with store-bought items (I was running out of time as I did all this right before leaving home for Honolulu/Japan): Mint KitKat and Mele Mac (Hawaiian caramel- and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts), both of which are my favorites for the holidays, or in fact, any time of the year.

Finally, I oven-roasted some European chestnuts. To me, chestnuts are more a reminder of autumn than Christmas, but they made a nice complement to my cookie box nevertheless, I guess.



It had intended to fill my cookie box with pretty snowy cookies, festive-shaped ginger cookies, and then something red and something green, namely, spicy wine cookies and pistachio cookies. As you can see, however, this didn't quite work and everything is in rather a dull color here...


Well, they all tasted good at any rate, I should give myself a break, I reckon.

This Christmas I am in Japan and am probably not doing anything special but have a quiet dinner with my family. In the meantime, Best wishes to you all, your loved ones and everyone who loves you... I hope you are having a wonderful time no matter who you are with or without. Happy Holidays!

December 22, 2004

warm winter & many thanks


Wednesday, December 22

When I got Narita yesterday, I was mildly surprised with how it was not so cold out there. Folks kept saying it has been a warm winter, and now I can tell.

This afternoon we took a short walk in a nearby small park called Todoroki Valley.


While the colors of the leaves were a lot darker than those I saw when I was here in the beginning of this past summer, there were quite a few trees with bright red leaves in the middle of December... we are fortunate to have been able to enjoy them, but it is sure a bit strange feeling.



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I would like to thank everyone who nominated my humble little blog in 2004 Food Blog Awards - Photography - it is my great honor to be named one of the five nominees in the category, and to be part of such a wonderful community indeed. Thank you!
(Go find out all the nominations in the sixteen categories and remember you have the right to vote!)

December 19, 2004

happy belated birthday


Friday, December 17

This is belated birthday cake for him, made upon his request - German chocolate cake.

German chocolate cake, or more precisely German's chocolate cake, would be the last thing for me to make on my own. For one thing, it is definitely way too sweet for me, and for another thing I don't care for shredded coconuts very much. But the biggest reason is that this is something that his grandma used to make for him - there is no way you can beat "mom's" of "grandma's" taste I guess, so I would steer clear of it. As long as I can.

This time, when asked what he wanted for his birthday cake, he replied German chocolate cake. I had already made him a wrong sort of chocolate cake on his birthday, and this time I really had to make something he likes... I had to do it.

After searching for recipes for a while, I settled down with the "classic" German's chocolate cake recipe found in many sources, including, of course, Baker's own (here). Unlike I'd normally do with American cake recipes, I didn't make changes but patiently followed the recipe (except that I made only 1/4 of what is required in it, and I actually used Scharffen Berger's instead of Baker's chocolate) - this kind of cake was supposed to be authentic anyways, and I had to make something that he would recognize as German chocolate cake. Only major difference I made was that I used sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk - and adjusted the amounts of milk and sugar a bit, so that I would obtain the same level of sweetness. Or so I tried.

I baked a sheet of cake, and cut out three small round-shaped cakes, and made layers with them just so that it would look pretty and a bit birthday-chocolate-like (even if it was slanted like Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the cakes were not exactly beautifully sliced, AND I didn't put any candle...).



My cake managed to impress the taster and got OK'd, except that he hinted that the frosting could have been a bit more caramel-y. It might have been because I didn't cook the frosting long enough as the condensed milk was very thick from the beginning... at any rate, I think it was okay overall, and I will not try again... once was really enough, for me, really.

December 17, 2004

a new holiday tradition...


Sunday, December 12

It is almost mid December and it has been a bit chilly here, especially in the evenings. In cold winter evenings (and sometimes during the day, too) I think of Gluehwein, or mulled wine. And now I had a cup of Gluehwein over a slice of Gluehweingugelhupf, or mulled wine cake.

I got this recipe (in Japanese) on the website of Juchheim, a German confectionery company in Japan that dates back to 1921 when a German couple founded what was now one of the large company that has numerous outlets throughout the country. I am not certain if they sell this Gluehwein cake in their shops, but I think that they, as a German confectionery manufacturer based in Japan, just intend to introduce recipes for traditional German sweets and snacks to Japanese people, in Japanese on their website.

When I first found this recipe, I was really thrilled, as I thought the idea of cake with Gluehwein terrific. As it turned out, however, the cake itself is just a chocolate cake whose batter is similar to that of regular pound cake, and it is brushed with mulled wine after it has been baked. Maybe it wouldn't be that exciting then, I thought for a moment, but I decided to try anyways, just because the cake seemed very Christmasy and suitable to the Advent season, or so they claim.

The cake was very simple to make; creaming butter and sugar, beating in eggs, adding melted chocolate and cream, then folding in dry ingredients (flour, ground almonds, cocoa powder, ground cinnamon, etc) along with chopped candied orange peels. I made only a little batter and ultimately had one cake in a small fluted round pan and another in a small muffin cup.


As for the mulled wine, in the recipe, ingredients are listed in only tiny winny amounts just enough to give a light brush on the cake, but it seemed impractical to me to make mulled wine using less than one fluid ounce of red wine and zest of 1/40 of an orange, and such. So I simply used a cup of wine to make enough mulled wine for both the cakes and myself.


And the cakes were really good. In fact a lot better than I had thought for a regular chocolate cake brushed with a bit of wine. The cake was tasty as is - moist and not too heavy, and the pair of chocolate and candied orange peels was good as ever with an underlying subtle cinnamon flavor. The taste of mulled wine wasn't immediately noticeable, but rather blended in with the chocolate and spice as a whole. As was expected, a glass of mulled wine indeed accentuate the matching flavor in the cake, just like sweet wine has done to the cake made with the same sweet wine. This could probably become one of such cakes that I'd enjoy before or after Christmas, or any given time in the cold winter.

December 16, 2004

apple revenge


Friday, December 10

I don't have a real passion for cooked apples. They are one of such fruits that I very much prefer fresh to cooked forms (another example is strawberry), and therefore, one that rarely appears in my baking experiences.

There are times, though, when I am drawn to certain recipe(s) that calls for baking apples, like a few months ago when I first got an electric copy of All About Apples: A tasting menu from Scott Carsberg of Lampreia (Scott Carsberg, Hillel Cooperman) that I had downloaded (for free!) at tastingmenu.com. I was fascinated with its beautiful photographs and sophisticated recipes, of course (somehow cooking regular dishes with apples seems a lot more appealing to me... come to think about it, it might be very cinnamon-y cooked apple that I don't really like, maybe), and found one recipe called Bolzano Apple Cake (whose description is available here). "Sweet apple bricks laid tightly one on top of the other"... what a beautiful idea would that be. I naturally had to try and see it.


And it was about a month ago from now when I actually brought myself to try it (image below), only to find out that I didn't like it very much, to my great disappointment. It smelled wonderful while it was baking and when it came out of the oven, and it even tasted very good. What I didn't like however was its texture - so rightly described in the book as "all spongy, buttery, fruity goodness"; it really was buttery and fruity, and what bothered me the most was its sponginess inside the cake. I would not have been so disappointed if I had not intended to make "apple cake" but rather "apple pudding" or something, but its sponginess, or more like squashiness due to the liquid released from the apples just wasn't to my liking, personally. It was also a bit too sweet, again, for my taste.



But I also thought it was shame not to like the cake, which was so heavenly flavorful and apple-y yummy. That was how I ended up giving the second try, this time with a bit of adjustments.

First of all, I baked the cake in a shallow pan (or a rimmed cookie sheet, to be precise) and made it really thin, aiming for a higher ratio of the golden brown surface to the soggy interior. I made the same amount of batter (half of the recipe) as the first time, but with a 3x larger surface area, making it 1/3 thick.

Other changes I made were: drastically reducing sugar; adding some spices (ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves); using half & half instead of milk (I just didn't have milk in the fridge); and drizzling Calvados when the cake was done. In fact, I had used Calvados last time, too, and I liked it so much I did this again. Also I sliced the apples directly over the batter to prevent them from turning brown; last time I prepared the ingredients ready, sliced up all the apples, combined the ingredients, and then threw in the apples all at one time. That way, most of the apple slices had become brown by the time I finished the last slice, and I just don't like seeing fresh fruits turning their colors like that.

As the cake was being made very thin, probably about .1-inch thick, baking time was also shorter - still in the region of 40 minutes or so, which would be relatively long for a thin cake like this.



This time, although the inside was still very soft and looking almost undercooked just like the first time, the cake wasn't all that spongy, thankfully, mainly because it was too thin to have too much spongy part. The cake was very tender and fragile, very easy to fall apart, all the same.


As I ate a couple of squares of the hot apple cake, I found they were like pancakes; thin, tender, small pieces of hot, buttery, sweet pancakes with layers of apple slices and just an enough amount of spices. plus aromatic Calvados. I liked this way a lot better than pudding-like masses... of course, these squares would take a lot more time and efforts to prepare than real pan cakes.

December 14, 2004

a big dinner on an ordinary day


Thursday, December 9

This must be the most sophisticated salad that I have ever made. Even though I rarely make cold green salad anyways.

This was the result of my attempt to reproduce the salad I had had in a French restaurant in Boulder called Brasserie Ten Ten. The salad was called Salade Parisian, or "(w)atercress and frisee salad tossed with Roquefort cheese, sliced fennel, caramelized walnuts, sliced asparagus, Burgundy poached pears, sundried figs and a lemon white truffle vinaigrette".

Now that I have cited the description of the salad from their menu, I have just realized that I didn't quite have an accurate memory of the dish. All I remembered about the salad was Roquefort, fennel, walnuts, Burgundy-poached pears, and dried figs on the greens. Asparagus was totally missing, and somehow, I got it into my head that there had been "caramelized onions and walnuts" instead of "caramelized walnuts". I did remember the walnuts had been caramelized, but I nevertheless thought there had been caramelized onions. Did I taste onion anyways? I am not sure... my taste memory is that reliable.

So, now I can't really call this salad a reproduction of the salad I had in the restaurant, but it is rather an inspiration, really. Above all, I gave a few changes to (what I remembered as) the original, by substituting Gorgonzola for Roquefort, poaching a pear in regular red wine (not Burgandy) and with a dash of ground nutmeg and clove, roasted walnuts sprinkled with brown sugar rather than caramelizing walnuts, and skipped fennel (I don't like anise-y herbs). I also used a totally different sort of dressing - the one I made in the summer, a recipe from Amanda Hesser's Mr. Latte: a food lover's courtship, with recipes (2003, W.W. Norton & Co.). And of course I made caramelized onions by patiently sauteing a large amount of sliced maui sweet onions.



When the assembled was assembled, it looked quite pretty, even if it was actually remotely similar to the original. I remembered that a balanced taste of the wine-poached pear slices, bittersweet walnuts, mellow Roquefort, and aromatic fig together fold in the well-dressed greens - and my version somewhat leaned toward a sweeter side, as the dressing was rather sweet because of the boiled down balsamic vinegar in it. I should probably have squeezed a wedge of lemon or something to balance it out. Gorgonzola tuned out to be a picante kind, and tasted a bit too strong in this salad. Overall, my salad might not have been exactly as sophisticated-tasting as I had wished, but it was a mellow salad that went well with the main dish.

The main dish that I made to pair with the salad was a chicken dish, based on a recipe called coquelets rotis longtemps au citron, au thym, a l'ail et au beurre, or slow-roasted baby chickens with citron, thyme, garlic, and butter. It was from Trish Deseine's Mes petits plats preferes (2002, Marabout), my reliable collection of easy-to-prepare French recipes. The name of the dish shows what it is, and that was it; I lightly browned some chicken and then roasted them with the peel and juice of half a lemon and a lime together with butter and thyme.



Did you notice something? I forgot to put garlic. Ugh. It was still a delicious, yet rather ordinary dish, for good or bad. It certainly got better the following day though, with the taste of citrons and the herb being more pronounced.

I rarely prepare three-course meals at home (or anywhere else, really), but this time I did fix dessert to follow the salad and chicken. I made ginger and pear madeleines, or more precisely, I baked them. I had made the batter several weeks before and kept it in the freezer, ready to bake in mini-muffin pans.

I had a recipe for ginger madeleines from a friend, and I had one soon-to-be-rotten ripe pear, so I decided to use the pear in the madeleines. I poached the pear in a little fresh ginger juice without added sugar and finished with Poire Williams, and then topped the madeleines which themselves had fresh ginger juice and chopped crystallized ginger.


The madeline batter froze beautifully, and all I did today was taking the pan out of the freezer, popped it in the oven, and baked them for slightly longer than specified in the recipe (I might have done it a bit too much, though). Ginger-infused pear went perfectly well with double-ginger madeleines. We loved them.


Oh it took me well half a day to prepare all this (what took me the most time was caramelizing onions, which wasn't even needed in the salad that I had tried to make) and it was all consumed in a tick....

December 9, 2004

too late for Christmas, maybe?


Tuesday, December 7

I was being late baking fruit cakes for Christmas this year. It is not that I bake fruit cakes for every single Christmas or that I do so well ahead of time every single time. Nor that I always make fruit cake in several weeks advance of the planned day to eat it, either. It is only the case with Christmas fruit cake, for which I have special feelings, maybe because I have made this my personal tradition to bake fruit cakes for Christmas since I was a teenager.

And last year I was well on the track, starting in October with making mince meat, and baked the cakes in late November to let them age for at least a month before Christmas.

It is now already middle of December and I don't have much time left... so I skipped a few steps and didn't make mince meat. Actually, I didn't have to - because I had a jar of one-year old home-made mincemeat from last year.


I'm not going in detail about the definition of "mincemeat" here, but it basically refers to a mixture of dried fruits with or without nuts cooked/soaked in spirit(s) with spice, sugar, and fat, traditionally suet. Last year I made one based very vaguely on Delia Smith's recipe, using raisins, currants, cherries, home-made candied lemon and orange peels, and an apple and a pear. I had two jars of this, and used one of them in fruit cakes for Christmas last year, while the other one sat in the fridge for a little more than one year.


Occasionally boozed up with some fresh doses of rum and brandy, my mincemeat or soaked fruits or whatever you call has aged and become nice and mellow.

Once you have the fruits ready, making fruit cake is half done. The rest is fairly straightforward; making the cake.

I have become aware that, over here in the US, fruit cakes may sometime be seen more of doorstops than holiday-time favorites. I don't know exactly why, as I have never had heavy, rock-hard, inedible fruit cake before (fortunately). I like dense but soft fruit cakes, specially ones that have ground almonds and caramel in the batter. So that is what I usually make. Last I spent a lot of time searching for a right recipe and ended up putting a few recipes together to adjust to my taste. Although I made a fresh search over again, I settled down pretty much the same sort of recipe that I made last year.

First I ground some Spanish marcona almonds in a blender and made caramel sauce in a pan. While I used cane sugar in these, the main sugar content in my cakes this year were light muscovado and dark molasses sugars which I happened to have at hand. Generally speaking, I prefer brown to white sugars in dense, rich fruit cake like this.


I also made the cakes pretty small, using mini-loaf pans, partly because I can keep more cakes fresh after having a slice from one of the cakes this way, but primarily because I don't own regular-sized loaf pans. Anyways, I had three mini loaves to be tightly covered and kept in in the fridge for the next couple of weeks, plus one small one which might probably be eaten in a week or so for "tasting". In any case I haven't had tasted the cake yet, so tasting report should be expected at around Christmas day.



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In the meantime, I baked another batch of cakes. While I really do appreciate the desired "aging" process of cakes, all the same I want to eat what I have made in no time. So when I make something that is to be sit for more than a couple of days, I'd typically make something else alongside so that I can immediately reward myself for my labor put in cooking.

Today I made chocolate cakes. Not a regular chocolate, but a supposedly special kind.


If you thought you didn't see anything so special about this cake, you were right; this cake totally looks like a plain chocolate cake, but it really is chocolate-pistachio cake.

This is the second recipe that I have tried from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking (2001, Hyperion) following the fresh green pistachio macarons , and this happens to use pistachios, as well. I thought that a chocolate cake made using ground pistachio nuts would be rare, and that it sounds so special.


This actually turned out not to be so special, to my great disappointment. It was, plainly, plain dark chocolate cake. We didn't taste a faintest trace of pistachio, other than seeing a tiny small bits of the nuts that had not been ground all the way. The cake was delicious on its own account, but there didn't seem to be any good reason or necessity to use pistachio here; other nuts, such as almonds or hazelnuts would probably do.

I don't know whether the chocolate I used was too bitter and too strong to be paired with nuts with delicate and subtle flavor like pistachos, or it was just the way it was supposed to be - at any rate, one thing I know for sure is that I will use my supply of raw pistachio nuts in other cakes/desserts in which I can definitely taste the precious nuts.