Little Flower Candy Co.'s Pastry Chef Cecilia Leung Shares 2 Great Recipes
When Little Flower Candy Company's pastry chef Cecilia Leung was eleven years old, she participated in a school bake sale and bought her very first box of Betty Crocker cake mix. Fast forward a few years -- and time spent in the pastry kitchens of Grace, Spago and Jiraffe -- to the much-loved Pasadena bakery, cafe and candy shop.
C. Pete Lee Little Flower's Christine Moore and Cecilia Leung
You may know Christine Moore's Little Flower Candy Company for the distinctive sea salt caramels and perfect marshmallows -- but you may not be familiar with Leung's exotically complex curry-pineapple scone or her revelatory out-of-body experience-inducing milk and honey cake with sea salt caramel. If you do not, then a visit to Colorado Blvd. should be the very next thing on your to-do list.
Leung's baking is greatly inspired by her travels. "I love to travel. I always try to scope out the best places to eat, whether it's fine dining, or an obscure hole in the wall," she says. "I take food pictures like crazy, not just because the food is beautiful, but also to capture the flavor and essence of it at that moment in time to help me remember. I still obsess over recreating the rice gelato that I had in Budapest, freshly made roti at Mamak, an awesome Malaysian restaurant in Sydney, the clean and beautiful flavors of Japanese cuisine, and pan dulce and sweets from Mexican panaderias."
In addition, she credits her father, who was the chef-owner of Kingsland Chinese Restaurant in San Gabriel, as a strong influence. When asked about the origin of her curry scone, Leung says, "The impetus for the curry scone came from eating my dad's lamb curry and Singapore chow mai fun [rice stick noodles] when I was young. The idea of curry connotes sweet, spicy and savory all rolled into one. I love pineapple fried rice, and to me it made sense to make a sweet curry scone with pineapples and golden raisins."
Leung says, "I'm probably revealing a skeleton in the baking closet, but we had a lot of candied pineapple in our baking inventory, maybe 20 lbs. and I had to use it up. It's part of working in a kitchen -- you use what you've got to create something delicious. I thought about pineapple fried rice, Singapore chow mai fun, and this awesome spiced pineapple I learned to make when I was at Jiraffe. The candied pineapple was really sweet so I rehydrated it in some water with sliced fresh ginger to add depth to the flavor and mellow out the sticky sweetness. We have curry chicken on our lunch menu paired with grapes, so it was natural for me to add the Madras curry and golden raisins to the scone."
Leung's golden yellow curry-pineapple scone may transports you to the hawker food stalls in Singapore, but her milk and honey cake takes you directly to heaven -- metaphorically, at least.
"I love tres leches, but usually after the first three bites, it's so rich that I don't want to eat it anymore," says Leung. "So last summer when I was in Mexico I tried to find authentic tres leches made from scratch, but I kept coming across tres leches that was cloyingly sweet or made with hydrogenated fats and cake mixes. I knew I had to deconstruct and recreate it.
"And it just so happened that Christine asked me to make a hybrid of tres leches and strawberry shortcake for her brother's birthday. I wanted to end the dinner with something decadent but still light, so I toyed with the idea of reducing whole milk so that the sugar in milk will caramelize and yield a thicker viscosity similar to evaporated milk. I added buckwheat honey at the end of the 2-hour reduction to sweeten the milk a bit more to resemble condensed milk but with earthiness, and voilà, the milk and honey cake was born!"
Turn the page for Leung's recipes...