Monday, July 29, 2013

I Eat Therefore I Am 7th Birthday + Amazing Black Forest Cake Recipe

Today marks the 7th birthday of this blog, woohoo. I can't believe it myself. What started out as a bit of fun and what I thought would last a year at most has turned into a lot of fun that's lasted 7 years. I have to thank my friend Kevin immensely as he was the person who encouraged me to start a blog and also helped me to set up this blog. While my first blog was a personal account of my daily life, I met a group of wonderful people online and this food blog came about because of that. I've already written about that story and you can read it here.

For this blog post, I thought I'd go further back in my food biography. Inspired by my fellow food blogger and friend in Adrian's account of how he became an EATER, I've decided to write down my story. So if you've got a spare 20 minutes to read my story, I'd love it, and maybe you can tell me your story afterwards. But if you're here for cake, scroll down to the bottom to learn how to make an epic and amazingly delicious Black Forest Cake.

The Olsen Twins (Full House) Years
According to my parents, I was born loving food. An incident at age one sort of sets the scene for my journey with food. So, one day when dad returns from work, he is carrying a big meat bun, the type with the fluffy white bready skin and a mixture of meat inside. Normally he would just give me the bun to eat (I started eating solids very early). This time, he decides to tease me with the bun and make me run to him to get it (I also started walking and running early and by age one I was a proficient runner already). I run towards him to get the bun and.....BAM, I trip over the ledge at the bottom of a door frame. All houses have this ledge in Vietnam to stop water coming in I think. Cue slow motion falling and CRACK, my head hits the concrete floor and I'm bleeding like a zombie. Mum and dad dash me off to hospital and nowadays I have 7 stitches in my forehead and a great story to tell about how much I love food.

I don't remember that incident itself and my memory of Vietnam is rather vague too, but I do have many photos of me eating food in Vietnam. Apparently I loved everything, but there is a lot of cake photos haha. So nothing's changed there.

The Simpsons Years
Moving forward some years, I have immigrated to Australia with my family and we go about starting a new life to escape the political regimes in Vietnam. We arrive here with virtually nothing, but in all my childhood memories, I always remember having lots of good food (doesn't necessarily mean expensive) to eat in the house. Mum and dad went without going on holidays or buying nice things to ensure my sister I were always well fed and had a good education. I cannot thank them enough for this. Even writing this now is making me slightly emotional (real men don't get emotional right?). So throughout my primary school years, I remember having lots of delicious meals that mum cooked, and very occasionally going out for meals at restaurants. We always had a lot of snacks in the pantry, but unlike some kids I've seen nowadays who just go to the pantry and grab whatever they wanted, I most definitely had to ask my parents if I wanted a snack. This meant I never over indulged in bad snacks and ate quite healthily actually.

Up until I went to high school, my school lunches were actually rather boring affairs. Literally I was eating a sandwich every day. I tended to favour sweet sandwiches, with things like peanut and jam, nutella and butter with sugar being my favourites. I wasn't that fussed about what I had for lunch, instead looking forward to playing after the meal.

The Dawson's Creek Years
With high school and uni, the addition of money meant I had a lot more choices for lunch and the food I ate. My parents had trusted me to control my own eating and I would say I didn't go too overboard. In high school, I still had sandwiches for lunch but would mix it up with some food bought from the canteen. Inevitably this food was greasy, oily food, as is still the case at canteens in schools around the country I would think. So there was dodgy chiko rolls (which I never fully developed a taste for and today makes me feel sick when I smell it), dim sims (which I still love), chips, sausages rolls, pies and pizza. Thinking back now, the current me would say I should have packed a variety of lunches but tell me which kid isn't lured in by all that greasy food.

By the time I was going to uni, I had multiple part time jobs and a car. The car provided the ultimate freedom and meant I could go to so many places to eat different foods. I was now eating cuisines I had never heard of or tried before and at restaurants in all different locations throughout Melbourne. People who like food must gravitate together as I had a group of uni friends who were also open to trying out different foods, and hence we went on many food adventures together. As we were still students, we sought out good cheap food everywhere, with some items at the uni shops that weren't too bad. The options are rather limited when you go to Monash Clayton as if you leave campus, you can't find a car park when you return, so we tried everything in the union building. I still dream of those spicy fried chicken wings and the gourmet bratwurst sausage that you can pick your own toppings. I must say though, as good as those things were, you can't eat them everyday without being bored. So lunch by the 4th, 5th year of uni (I didn't fail, I just did a double degree) was getting so boring and the options were looking less and less tempting that I had returned to eating sandwiches for lunch.

Dinner though, that was a whole other story. With a bit of money, I tried so many things. You wouldn't know it now but I used to hate things like sashimi and sushi, I didn't like lamb (OMG, I'd slapped my own self if I could travel back in time and meet the former me, although if I let the former me see the new me I could change the future and possibly wipe out my own existence, which wouldn't be good), I didn't like any vegetables at all, I had never eaten much European food. Hence, literally a whole new world was opening up before my mouth and I was loving every bit of it.

The Friends Years
The early Friends' years was where I would say I went a bit crazy and overdosed on food a bit. I don't mean that I ate so much that I had become a whale, it was more that I spent so much money that thinking back on it, I'm shocked at my obsession. Once my friends and I got jobs, we suddenly found ourselves with a massive amount of disposable income. I've never been into cars or stereo systems so decided to use my money on what I loved most, food. Literally every week we would all go eat out once or twice a week at a fine dining restaurant. We were going through degustation meals and high end eating like no tomorrow. Everything was so new and amazing. The food was all so delicious and I had become so addicted that I thought a $100 meal was cheap. It was utterly crazy.

Luckily, I snapped out of that phase after about one and a half years. If I had continued like that, I'd be so broke and also extremely overweight, as high end food is full of calories. It was near that time that I started my food blog, and that's when my eyes were again open to a whole other world of food. I was learning so much information about food and becoming a more informed person. I feel I have a fairly good sense of smell and taste and while I knew what flavours I like, I didn't know much about what ingredients produced those flavours. I knew a bit about Asian cuisine, but other cuisines were still a mystery to me. For example, I had hardly tasted any herbs in my life. Apart from obvious ones like mint that were used in Asian cooking, I couldn't tell a rosemary stalk from a thyme stalk. By reading many food blogs, I was seeing the cooking aspect to food and slowly getting intrigued.

The "early days" (this is the one and only time time I will use those word about food blogging) of food blogging was just like what you've read and seen in Julie & Julia. It was so exciting when someone left a comment or if someone recognised that you wrote a blog. The blogosphere was still a mostly empty expanse of nothingness. It was also pre-Twitter days so people didn't interact as often, only occasionally in blog comments. Slowly though, people would start making online connections and finally real life connections. I remember the first bloggers meet up and how scared I was. Luckily, when I got there I was greeted by lots of other friendly people who loved food as well. A great night was had and from that point, there are now more meet ups than I can find time for.

The food blogging community has grown so much in Melbourne. For whatever reason, there is an unusually high number of food lovers in Melbourne, who also happen to write a blog. I think it's due to the amazing vibrant and varied food scene we have here, and enthusiasm tends to drive enthusiasm. I know that at work my enthusiasm for food has rubbed off on so many of my colleagues and I think that's the same with the whole Melbourne food scene. A small number of people are enthusiastic about food, who then share their enthusiasm and so on and so on. For example, I'm so happy that I inspired my cousin Allan to start his own food blog. He has since inspired his friends to do the same.

The food blogging scene has changed since I started blogging, but I find it a good thing. Nothing can stay stagnant for long and unlike some who keep talking about what it used to be like and how good it was, I like to think how good it is now and what's yet to come. People tend to remember things better than they are, because at the beginning of food blogging, I didn't experience half the things I enjoy now. Change is inevitable and I for one like to find the best in the change. In this social media age, there are so many more connections that occur between people. This sometimes leads to meeting people in real life, and a strengthening of relationships. Geographical, sociological and physiological borders are eroded with technology and people from all over the world can get to know each other. I am so happy with the number of amazing friends I've made through food blogging. Yes, food was the catalyst for our initial meeting, but nowadays we connect on so many other things. I count some of my fellow food bloggers as some of my best friends now, and we are involved in all aspects of each other's lives, from birthdays to weddings to births. They're no longer food blogging friends, they're friends who happen to write a food blog. A shout out to the SFBS "gang". You know who you are.

A final item about food blogging that I'll touch on is the still ongoing debate about bloggers taking freebies. It's such a boring subject and I've written about it here if you wish to read about it. My stance on this topic has not changed at all, and has instead strengthened. The one difference is that with age, I have become far less caring about what others who aren't close to me think. I now do what I want and do so happily. Should that not suit the way in which someone else thinks I should live my life, boo hoo to them. I encourage everyone to do the same and stop pushing your judgement on what others should do. I have gained so much out of going to blog freebies that I thank the food Gods that I've had such opportunities to see so many aspects of food and the food industry. My favourite freebie of all time, and there are a number of contenders, is most definitely the boot camp I did at Steer. It opened my eyes to how hard the restaurant game is and gave me some perspective, and I also gained 3 amazing chef friends (who I see and call to talk with nowadays) from that stint and I'm so happy about that.

So, that brings us to the current day. At this moment, my love of food has turned to trying to find cheap good foods that I haven't tried yet and learning to cook better. I want to explore different cuisines and try to use those flavours and change them up a bit to create something different myself. I've liked baking cakes and making desserts for a while now but lately I'm really into making savoury foods too. I've also taken more of a liking to vegetables and even try to cook some vegetable dishes (have you fallen off your chair Cindy?). My food learning continues and this blog will be one aspect of it. Nowadays, more and more I find myself almost micro-blogging via Instagram. So drop over to Instagram and follow me, ieatblog if you want more food in your life. Else, enjoy what you do in regards to food and I'd love any feedback from you about anything.

Black Forest Cake
To celebrate this blog's 7th birthday, I've decided to post this epic Black Forest Cake that I made a little bit back. The recipe is from the Masterchef website and it's an epic cake. First, let us all take a moment and drool at it.

Now, wipe the drool from your chin and let me tell you a bit about the cake. The full recipe makes a massive cake that won't fit into any regular cake carrying container. The recipe is a non-traditional recipe and a whole lot of work. But boy, the result is an amazingly delicious cake with many flavour profiles and a real stunning cake to present for any occasion. I decided to make this cake on a weeknight after work as my work mate said he wanted a black forest cake for his birthday. I didn't read through the recipe at all but had assumed it wouldn't be that hard from the photo of the cake so foolishly said yes. It took me 6 hours to make this cake, and some more time to clean up everything. My kitchen looked like a bomb site and I was covered in chocolate. The cake cost me around $60 to buy all the ingredients. Despite all that, it is worth it. I would make this again, on a weekend so I had the whole day, for someone's birthday or any other special occasion.

Some tips for a better cake
* I wouldn't deviate from the recipe too much. The ratios are right for a three tier cake and the flavours are really good with the full compliment of elements.

* The chocolate sponge is quite a good texture and can be cut into the recommended number of layers and long as you are careful and cut accurately. A tip is to use toothpicks poked around the whole edge of the cake to define the height you want to cut at and then the knife can rest on those toothpicks as you cut.

* I couldn't find semi-candied cherries so I used canned cherries in sugar syrup and that tasted great too.

* I'd recommend using fresh cherries as per the recipe because you cook them down. The fresh cherries retain some texture and stay whole whereas cherries from a jar would probably fall apart and become a bit like baby food and won't have the same mouth feel.

* The hazelnut praline is a lot of work but it does add another element to the cake. However, I'd probably buy the praline (I know you can get peanut praline) if I could and just use that rather than making my own. Peeling hazelnuts is a pain and making a caramel is scary.

* Needless to say it but I will anyway, use a good quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa butter to ensure you have a nice rich cake.

* Follow the assembly instructions to build up the cake as trying to build it up as one thing will end in disaster. Do each layer as suggested on a separate chopping board and then lift that onto the main cake.

Black Forest Cake Recipe
Recipe from Masterchef Australia website.

Cooking time: 6 hours
Feeds: 20 regular people or 12 cake fiends

For the chocolate sponge
250gcaster sugar
200gplain flour
50gcocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the candied cherries
1/2 cup semi-candied pitted cherries, 1/4 cup juice reserved
1/4 cup caster sugar

For the cherry compote
1/3 cup caster sugar
600g pitted fresh cherries, halved 1 tbs brandy
1 tbs brandy

For the cherry sugar syrup
90gcaster sugar
1/4 cup cherry juice

For the chocolate hazelnut praline mousse
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted lightly and skinned
300g chopped dark chocolate
3egg yolks
300ml thickened cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the mascarpone cream
500g mascarpone
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 tbs icing sugar

For the dark chocolate ganache
150ml cream
200g chopped dark chocolate
shaved chocolate
fresh cherries

For the chocolate sponge
1. Preheat oven to 160°C fan forced. Grease and line 2 x 20cm springform cake pans.

2. Add eggs and sugar to a heatproof bowl of an electric mixer, and set over a saucepan of simmering water over very low heat. Whisk the mixture until 37°C. Remove the bowl from the heat and beat with an electric mixer on a medium-low speed for 5-8 minutes or until the mixture has cooled and thickened to a mousse-like consistency. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together twice. Using a large metal spoon, fold the dry mixture into the egg mixture in 3 batches until combined, adding the vanilla extract with the first dry batch.

3. Pour the mixture into the lined cake pans and smooth surface. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until sponge springs back when lightly touched. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto wire racks. Place in the blast chiller for 10-15 minutes until cake has cooled completely.

For the candied cherries
1. Preheat oven to 120°C. Place cherries on a lined baking tray. Lightly dust with the sugar and place in the oven for 50-60 minutes. Remove and cool. Coat with remaining sugar. Set aside.

For the cherry compote
1. Add the sugar to a non-stick saucepan and place over medium heat. Once the sugar begins to dissolve add the cherries and cook until they start to release their juices. Add the brandy and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced and thickened. Strain, reserving liquor

For the cherry syrup
1. Heat 170ml water and the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the reserved cherry juice and compote liquor. Allow to cool.

For the chocolate hazelnut praline mousse
1. Line a baking sheet. In a dry heavy-based saucepan, cook sugar over medium heat, stirring, until melted. Once melted, cook without stirring, swirling pan, until lightly golden. Add hazelnuts, stirring until well coated. Immediately pour mixture onto the baking sheet and cool completely, in blast chiller for 5 minutes. Break praline into pieces. Place into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Set aside.

2. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk the egg yolks in a small heatproof bowl. Heat 250ml of the cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir through half of the hot cream into the egg yolks. Return the mixture to the saucepan over low heat and stir until thickened. Strain into a clean bowl. Stir the melted chocolate into the hot custard. Add the vanilla and allow to cool. Whisk the remaining cream until stiff peaks form. Fold into the chocolate mixture with the praline, until just combined. Set aside.

For the mascarpone cream
1. Beat the mascarpone, vanilla and sugar in a bowl until smooth and slightly thicker in volume.

For the chocolate ganache
1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Set aside. Bring the cream to just below boiling point in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat, then add the melted chocolate and stir until smooth. Allow to cool until thick but still pouring consistency.

To assemble the cake
1. Slice both cakes into thirds. Place the base of 1 cake onto a serving plate and brush with some of the cherry syrup. Spread over half of the chocolate praline mousse.

2. Place the next layer of cake onto a board, and brush with cherry syrup. Spread over half of the mascarpone cream. Divide the cherries into two parts for two separate layers. Place cherries around the border of the cake, 5mm from its edge and scatter remaining in the middle. Carefully remove layer from the board and place on top of the first layer. Repeat each layering process on the board (you will have 1 spare slice of cake), starting with the praline mousse and ending with the cherries on the mascarpone cream.

2. Place the next layer of cake onto a board, and brush with cherry syrup. Spread over half of the mascarpone cream. Divide the cherries into two parts for two separate layers. Place cherries around the border of the cake, 5mm from its edge and scatter remaining in the middle. Carefully remove layer from the board and place on top of the first layer. Repeat each layering process on the board (you will have 1 spare slice of cake), starting with the praline mousse and ending with the cherries on the mascarpone cream.


  1. Thank you for sharing the story of your life! I am much the same when it comes to food, I have been ever so greedy since I was a little baby. My mum said I was born as a 5 pounds baby, but by the time I hit full moon, I was more than double my weight. *gasps*

    On my first birthday, we did the Chinese tradition thing of presenting the baby with several items which represents a profession each namely Book, Money, Calculator, Rule, Pen, and Chicken Drumstick. Whatever the baby picks up first tells what the child is interested in, and thus gives an idea of what the baby will be when he/she grows up.

    If baby picked up the chicken drumstick, baby will not have to worry about food, and that baby may become a food gourmet. No surprises on what I have gone for - although I am no where close to being a food gourmet, I do have a strong love for food.

    1. I love your story too. I can't believe you gained so much weight so quickly haha.

      And of course you would have picked the drumstick. I love that. I wish I had picked the money though :-)

      None of us are food gourmet but we do love food.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. And holy moly, that Black Forest cake looks LUSCIOUS! Yum!

    1. Black forest cake was so good. You must try making it.

  3. Congratulations on your blog-birthday. Seven years is amazing and I loved reading your thoughts on the early days of food blogging - it has changed so much! Great cake as well.

    1. Thank you Cara. I can't believe I've blogged for so long. Blogging has changed a lot but thing evolve and there are many other good things.

      Cake is yum yum.

  4. Aww happy anniversary and what a lovely story to go with it! Looking forward to many more years ahead. And love the naked black forest cake. SO SEXAY!

    1. Thanks Tina. Glad you like my story. Hopefully a few more years to go.

      This is one of my best cakes, but they don't compare to your amazing creations. You could easily be a pastry chef.

  5. Happy 7th bloggiversary! And ha, maybe you should just be glad noone was around to facebook and instagram the moment you tripped over the doorstep. Poor kids these days! lol.

    1. Thanks Helen. Your blog was my first inspiration. I am so glad that my moment of grace wasn't captured for eternity and for all to see. Kids nowadays must hate it when they get older with every aspect of their lives captured in digital form.

  6. Great write up Thanh and happy 7th blogging anniversary! Soon you'll be receiving a letter from the Queen (or perhaps the State of Victoria) to thank you for you contributions to the food society in Melbourne haha!

    Seriously though, great story. It's always interesting to see where people have come from and how they have come to be where they are today. Great job!

    1. Thanks Sabrina. If I every get that letter I'd jump for joy haha.

      Everyone has a story. We just need to listen to hear it.

  7. Wow, 7 years - happy anniversary!

    Food wasn't ever anything I thought too much about growing up. Similar to you, my parents also sacrificed on holidays and luxuries for themselves to give everything to us kids. I only appreciate how much they gave for us now that I'm an adult (and a parent) myself.

    I first fell in love with food when I enrolled in a basic cooking course. Learning how to cook food made me appreciate it so much more, and the love affair started from there. I was a late bloomer, I didn't know how to cook anything until I did this course at the age of 24!

    1. Thank you.

      Definitely we can now see how much our parents sacrificed for us. Back then they were just people who told us what to do. Congrats on your baby too.

      At least you did that course. Now I'm sure you can whip up lots of delicious things.

  8. Happy blogiversary, Thanh! Ours is coming up in August, also 2006, we're almost blog twins. :-D

    I didn't fall off my chair at your new-found interest in vegetables but did feel a little light-headed at the sight of your cake! We'll always have cakes in common.

    1. Thank you. How awesome, we're blog twins. Love it.

      Haha I have come round to the dark side. Oh this cake is so good. Lots of effort but worth it for a special occasion.

      Btw, love the threaded comments reply. Thank you so much for telling me how to do it.

  9. Happy 7th Blogday!

    Oh, the taste of dried dim sums at Monash Clayton and Caulfield! Yuks yuks, but I still ate them. LOL!

    That's a fabulous cake worthy of your Blogday!

    1. Thanks.

      You know what I'm talking about with the uni food. Some of it was atrocious.

      Cake is indeed worthy.

  10. Aww friends! Food blogging friends! :D

    Happy 7th blog birthday, Taz. Here's to the next 7.

    1. Friends who food blog haha.

      Thank you.

  11. You just made me a tad teary there :) HUGS!!!

  12. Aww, happy blog birthday! It's always so interesting to see what people food history's are like! :) And yummmmmm cake looks amazinnggg!

    1. Thanks Ash. I love hearing about people's stories too.

  13. we love a shout out!! So glad we all have eachother <3
    Happy 7 years!

  14. This is one of the good articles you can find in the net explaining everything in detail regarding the topic. I thank you for taking your time sharing your thoughts and ideas to a lot of readers out there.
    high fiber foods

  15. Happy blogaversary Thanh!! Loooove black forest cake too, it's my favourite, but that one is off the charts!

    1. Thanks Jacky. The cake is amazing and worth the effort.

  16. A massive cake cake for all these years of blogging! Great write up, glad to have inspired ya. To another 7 years!