Ginger Creme Brulee

This really does NOT qualify as a Chinese recipe, but being someone who always craves a sweet after dinner, I thought I’d share this version of a favorite dessert…. Crème brûlée is supposed to provide contrast, both in temperature (hot crust, cold custard) and texture (crisp top, creamy bottom). It’s easiest to make with one of those mini blowtorches chefs often have, but never fear – it is possible to make in a regular broiler. The key is to have the tops of the dish close to the broiler and not wait too long – the sugar should just start to brown and bubble.

4 servings


  • 1 c heavy cream
  • 1″ piece of fresh ginger root, coarsely chopped
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 2 T sugar


  1. In a heavy sauce pan, bring the cream and chopped ginger to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 m, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool slightly.
  2. In a double boiler or in a bowl over simmering water, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick. Be careful not to overcook, or you’ll have scrambled eggs!
  3. Strain cream/ginger mixture, then add it to the egg/sugar mixture, stirring constantly.
  4. Continue to cook over simmering water, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, approximately 10 m. When you draw a line through the mixture on the back of the spoon, it should not run back together.
  5. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the butter until completely combined.
  6. Pour into 4 oven-proof ramekins or little bowls. Place the ramekins in a baking dish, then pour ice water into the baking dish, being careful not to pour it into the ramekins.
  7. When the custard is cooled to room temperature, place the dish into the refrigerator to chill completely, approximately 4 h.
  8. Just before serving, sprinkle the remaining sugar over the custards and caramelize the sugar under the broiler, taking care not to burn it. Serve immediately.

Chocolate Surprise Pie

Full disclosure: this is NOT a Chinese recipe. Not even close. But it contains tofu, and it’s really delicious…. My kids love this pie so much that they often ask me to make it when we have company – they love to make the guests guess what’s in it.

I’m always surprised by people who say, “I HATE tofu!” Very often, their experience of this food is marred by trying to use it as a replacement for meat. My feeling is that if you are trying to replace meat, you’re barking up the wrong tree: tofu is terrific when it’s cooked as tofu. Having said that, silken tofu can also be the base of a lot of dishes in which you would use milk, yogurt, mayonnaise or eggs. That “silken” qualification is important – the crumblier, drier variety of tofu is not much good for these recipes.

Our favorite brand of silken tofu is Mori-nu, which is widely available in conventional grocery stores in the (of course) meat alternative section, often near the produce section or in the deli meat section. It comes in vacuum-sealed cardboard packages, usually in the 12-14 oz range.


  • 8-9″ prebaked pie crust – I prefer to make a cookie-type crust for this pie.
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 c sugar – raw cane is best
  • 1 pkg silken tofu, firm or extra firm
  • 2 T peanut or other nut butter
  • 1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla


  1. Allow your pie crust to come to room tempterature.
  2. Melt the chocoate in a bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Bring the chocolate almost to room temperature – you don’t want to let it start to solidify again. To speed up the cooling process, you can remove the chocolate from the heat before it’s all melted and continue stirring it occasionally – the carry-over heat will melt the remaining lumps.
  3. In a food processor, combine the sugar, tofu, nut butter, cocoa powder, and vanilla until smooth.
  4. Add the chocolate, and process until smooth. If you have not brought the chocolate’s temperature down enough and your mixture looks grainy, simply transfer back into the bowl and heat slowly over hot water – it just means your chocolate “seized up” due to a temperature difference between it and the tofu mixture.
  5. Scrape into the pie crust, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

do ahead:

The pie can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Once it has chilled completely, carefully cover it with foil or plastic wrap to keep the filling from forming a “skin.”

Simple Syrup for Fruit

All the summer fruits are coming to the farmers’ market in Southern California now – two weeks ago the kids begged for “anything but citrus, NO MORE ORANGES!” and now we’re happily gorging on strawberries, melons, peaches, nectarines, cherries…. I try to buy for the week, carefully choosing some peaches that must be eaten TODAY, some a little greener, and some still quite hard. And now there’s the daily ritual of peeking into the paper bags on my counter, pulling out the ripe ones and returning the green ones to ripen for another day or so.

But what do you do when you have fruit that you want to serve for dessert, but it’s just not quite there yet? Or if you want to dress the fruit up a bit for a special yet healthful dessert? An easy solution is to slice it up and soak (the culinary term is “macerate”) it a bit in simple syrup, which is a mixture of sugar and water, often flavored with another ingredient. Voila – homemade fruit cocktail, delicious and free of all the artificial ingredients!

Plan to make your syrup ahead, so it cools, and soak the fruit for up to a few hours before serving.


  • your choice of fruit, cut into 1″ cubes or slices
  • 1 c sugar – raw cane works here, but white is better for the sake of color
  • 1 c water

flavoring – choose one:

  • 2 T chopped fresh herbs (best to stick to 1): mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, lemon verbena….
  • 1 tsp dried herbs (choose from the previous list)
  • zest from 1 orange, lemon, or lime
  • spices (best to stick to 1): 1 stick cinnamon, 1/2 tsp whole cloves, 1/2 tsp whole allspice
  • feeling really adventurous? 1 small dried red chili or 1 small fresh serrano chili, cut into rounds, or 1/2 tsp any color peppercorn


  1. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil without stirring.
  2. Immediately turn off the heat and add the flavoring.
  3. Let the syrup cool to room temperature, then strain out the flavoring (you may want to use cheesecloth to catch the really fine bits).
  4. Pour over the fruit and let it sit for up to 1 h at room temperature or up to 4 h in the refrigerator, stirring gently once in a while.
  5. Just before serving, you can add a bit of fresh flavoring – chopped fresh herbs or citrus zest.

do ahead:

The syrup can be made up to a week in advance, strained, and kept, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

Coconut Sticky Rice Pudding

Disclaimer – this is in no way a Chinese recipe, but I put it together this weekend, inspired by a Food & Wine recipe from Pok Pok in Thailand, and it was so good I had to share! And it works wonderfully at the end of a Chinese meal. And it’s very simple. And it used up yet another can from the pantry I’m trying to clean out before we move, although after last night’s earthquake, I’m not sure cleaning out the dry goods is a great idea just yet…. Glutinous rice is short grain rice that is the basis for a lot of Japanese dishes such as mochi – it cooks up very sticky and lends itself well to sweet concoctions. You could try using a medium-grain rice, such as Jasmine, but your pudding will not be as sticky. The pudding is delicious with a tropical fruit, such as mango, but it’s also good on its own.


  • 12 oz glutinous rice – I used white, but brown or mixed would work equally well.
  • 1 12-oz can coconut milk (reduced fat is fine, but remember – coconut contains “beneficial fats” so why not splurge just once?)
  • 1/4-1/2 c sugar – use white if your rice is white, brown or raw cane if you’re using brown rice.
  • 1/2-1 tsp sea salt


  1. Soak and cook the rice according to the Basic Steamed Rice post.
  2. While the rice steams, combine the coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a pot, then bring it to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally for approximately 5-10 minutes until it is slightly reduced.
  3. Mix the coconut milk with the warm rice, adjust the seasoning, transfer to a bowl, then serve or allow it to come to room temperature or chill it before serving.

do ahead:

The pudding can be made up to a day ahead of time. If you would prefer to serve it warm or hot, place it in a steamer until heated to the desired temperature, usually 15-20 m. It can also be microwaved on low power, but the steamer seems to make for a better texture.

Red (or Green) Bean Soup

This warming winter “soup” is really a dessert or snack item, and it is traditionally served for the Lantern Festival, the last day of the lunar New Year celebration, which just passed. You can sometimes find it (or another sweet soup) served gratis at the end of a restaurant meal. You can increase or decrease the sugar content to your taste and you can use adzuki or mung beans – the adzuki give a nicer color. You can buy dried red or mung beans in Asian markets or even in many conventional markets with sizeable Asian sections. In a pinch, you can even use dark red kidney beans and puree part of the mixture, keeping some beans whole. Rock sugar is available in Asian markets and is rock candy without added flavor/color.


  • 1/2 lb dried small red beans (adzuki work nicely) or mung beans
  • 6 c water
  • 1/4 lb brown sugar or rock sugar method:

do ahead:

  1. Sort and rinse the beans well – they tend to have lots of little pebbles and a fair amount of grit mixed in with them.
  2. If you have time, you can soak the beans 12-24 h in cool water at room temperature – this will speed up the cooking process, but as it is fine if some beans split and fall apart to thicken the soup, this step is not as important as it would be if you wanted to keep the beans’ skins from splitting.
  3. Place the beans in a pot, add the water, and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally for approximately an hour. The beans should be very tender and the liquid thickened slightly. If necessary, add more water, 1/4-1/2 cup and cook until the desired tenderness is achieved..
  5. Add the sugar, and continue to simmer, stirring, until it completely dissolves.
  6. Serve hot or warm at the end of a meal or for a nourishing snack.


  • Barley is a nice addition to the beans – the really fat grains make for a nice presentation. Sort, rinse, and cook along with the beans.
  • Other additions include dried fruit such as raisins or cut up apricots – presoak in warm water for 1/2 h, then add for the last 10 m of cooking time.

Split Pea “Cake”

The term “cake” is a bit misleading here – this sweet is really more like a jelly or stiff pudding, but as it is served in slices it seems appropriate to call it a cake. The ingredients may be a bit off-putting – who puts split peas into dessert?! – but you’ll be surprised at how delicious (and nutrtitious) this is. You can find split peas in the dreid beans section of most conventional grocery stores. A good dessert to make ahead for a Chinese meal or to have on hand to serve with tea, it seems like Chinese New Year (gongxi facai!) is a good day to post this.


  • 1/2 lb yellow split peas
  • 1/2 c sugar, raw cane is best
  • 2 T honey
  • water


  1. Sort through the peas carefully, removing any grit and green peas from them, then rinse well.
  2. If you have a rice cooker, you can cook the peas with 1.75 c water as you would rice; if you use a pot to cook rice, used 2.5 c water (see Basic Steamed Rice).
  3. Add the sugar and honey, mixing well, then puree in the blender until completely smooth.
  4. In a saucepan (avoid aluminum or iron, which will cause discoloration of the paste), cook the mixture until when dropped from a spoon it mounds on the top instead of instantly disappearing into the mixture. This can take up to 30 m.
  5. Scrape into an 8″ or 9″ square baking pan, cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for 5-6 h until completely set.
  6. Cut into squares, diamonds, or other shapes, and serve.


  • For added color, you can cut jellied cranberry sauce into pretty shapes and add them to the top of each piece.
  • This also goes well with a fresh fruit sauce, such as a raspberry coulis, which would add color and a bit of acid to cut the sweetness of the cake.

Eight Jewels Rice

Dessert is rather an anomaly in a traditional Chinese meal – sometimes there is a sweet soup made of beans and/or barley, but most often fresh fruit is served. Nowadays you can find all sorts of fancy western-style cakes and pastries in China, but true Chinese desserts are few and far between. Some restaurants in America offer a selection of desserts, many of which were invented to please the American taste for something sweet to end a meal. But “Eight Jewels Rice” (babaofan in Mandarin) is truly Chinese – a sort of sweet and sticky rice pudding made with (presumably) eight types of dried or preserved fruits and nuts. You can buy canned red bean paste at Asian groceries, but it’s just as easy (and probably healthier) to make your own. Glutinous rice is a very short-grained rice which is now more frequently available in brown and mixed versions as well as the more common white. The garnish ingredients are sometimes arranged in a decorative pattern in the bowl, but you can also mix them into the cooked rice.


  • 1.5 c glutinous rice
  • 1.5 c water
  • 1 T oil for greasing the bowl


  • 1 c cooked dark red kidney beans, cooking liquid reserved
  • 1 T honey, more to taste
  • 1 T oil (optional)


  • 1 c total dried fruits (larger ones may be cut into strips or chopped coarsely: raisins, dates, apricots, cherries, cranberries, mangoes, …)and nuts (unbroken halves make the best presentation: peanuts, cashews, almonds, …)


  • 1/2 c sugar (white is best)
  • 1/2 c water


  1. Rinse and drain the rice, then cook according to Basic Steamed Rice recipe. Keep warm.
  2. Use a food processor to puree the beans with the honey and oil, adding the cooking liquid 1 T at a time until it reaches a thick paste consistency.
  3. Grease a heatproof bowl (approximately 6-8″ across).
  4. Mix the garnish ingredients into the rice or arrange them in a design over the bottom of the bowl (and up the sides if you’d like).
  5. Gently press 3/4 of the rice mixture into the bowl, taking care not to disturb the pattern if you went that route. It should be about 1/2″ thick all around.
  6. Add the red bean mixture to the middle, then use the rest of the rice to seal in the filling.
  7. Wet your hands with cold water and smooth the surface, pressing down very gently to remove any air pockets.
  8. Place the bowl in a steamer and steam for 45 m.
  9. Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer just until all the sugar is dissolved approximately 1 m.
  10. Remove the bowl from the steamer and run a knife around the edges of the “pudding,” being careful not to disturb the design if you made one.
  11. Invert onto a plate, pour the sauce over, and serve with a spoon or you can try cutting into wedges and serving as you would a cake.

do ahead:

The “pudding” can be assembled and steamed up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered in the bowl, once it cools to room temperature. Or you can freeze it, tightly covered, in the bowl for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator 24-48 h before using. Reheat it by steaming for 30 m.