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non-bento#12 Totoro cream puffs March 31, 2009

Posted by AnnaTheRed in bento blog (all), bento blog - non bento.
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Today was my friend/co-worker’s last day (for full-time) at work. I’ve known her since art school, and she’s the one who made me the picture book of my bento. She had a baby last year, and recently she decided to work part-time from home and be with her baby. So it’s a good good-bye. I know she loves sweets, but cookies seemed a little boring… so I decided to make cream puffs for her and my co-workers. Not ordinary cream puffs but Totoro cream puffs!

Non-bento#12: Totoro cream puffs
Created and eaten on: 3/31/2009

There is a small bakery called “Shirohige no choux creme koubou” (White beard man’s cream puff factory) in Tokyo. They make and sell adorable (and official) Totoro cream puffs! When I saw the pictures of the Totoro cream puffs, I fell in love with them. Their cream puffs seem to be baked in a mold and it doesn’t look puffy-cloud like a regular cream puff. (I heard the skin is tougher than an average cream puffs) But since I have neither their recipe nor mold, I had to think how the heck I’m going to make Totoro cream puffs. My first idea was to “just shape it like Totoro and see what happens.”

Before I started making the cream puff dough, I made custard cream. If you’ve made custard cream before, you know how not-so-fun the process is. So I went on searching for the easiest recipe for custard cream, and found one! In this recipe, you use a microwave, so you don’t have to worry about burning the custard. I was soooo surprised how easy it was, and the custard tasted delicious! (I’ll post a recipe of the custard soon)

Can you see the custard? (It kind of looks like a hippo from this angle, doesn't it?)

After I put the custard into the fridge, I started working on the cream puff dough. I’ve made regular cream puffs many times before, but never tried to shape it into something. On the first batch of cream puff dough the dough looked fine, not too soft, not too hard. I put the dough in a ziploc bag and cut a corner off. To make the pear-like shaped body of Totoro, I piped a mound about 1 inch in diameter, then slowly shifted (still piping) to the side, and moved it back where I started and squeezed a bit more, and pulled the bag straight up. Since I didn’t want the puff to be too puffy, I had to make sure that the surface was smooth.

I wasn’t sure how the dough would expand, so I made two different kinds. One with ears, one without ears. For the ones with ears, I squeezed a little bit of dough from the head of Totoro to make ears.

It's hard to see, but top right and bottom left (the one that looks like raising his head) had ears before baking.

I put them in the pre-heated oven, and set the timer and waited. Then my boyfriend said “It’s smokey in the kitchen.” Then I immediately remembered that I used wax paper instead of parchment paper! I was using the wax paper for something else before baking, and when I saw it, I just used it without thinking about it. I quickly opened the oven, and turned down the heat. I looked at the timer and it still had 6 minutes left… T_T

I didn’t want to waste the dough, so I just kept baking in very low heat. If you’ve made cream puffs before, you know the number one rule of making cream puffs is “NEVER OPEN THE OVEN until the initial baking time is over.” So I had pretty much given up on this batch. I waited and took it out. To my surprise, they came out perfect! I have no idea why.

This is from the first batch. Looks pretty much same as the third batch.

This is from the first batch. Looks pretty much same as the ones from the third batch.

Then I went on to make the second batch. I got cocky and impatient and put too much egg into dough so it got softer than it should be… But I still made dozens of Totoro (with ears) with the dough just like the first batch (on parchment paper this time!) and put it in the oven.

What a failure! Or I’ve successfully baked something that’s not cream puffs. (It does look like it’s meant to look like that, doesn’t it?)

I think I put too much water on the dough when I was trying to shape the mounds like Totoro. Oh well.

I was very careful with making the third batch. I tried not to put too much water to shape the dough, and put it in the oven. Finally, I got it right. w00t!

While the baked puffs were cooling down, I piped short lines of the dough on parchment sheet, and baked it for a couple of minutes for the ears. Also I squeezed dots of white icing from a tube onto wax paper for the eyes and let them harden. Once the ear pieces cooled down, I poked a little hole on the puffs with a toothpick, took an ear piece, put a little bit of icing on one side of ear piece, and stuck it in the hole.

I took the custard cream out of the fridge, put it in a ziploc bag and cut a corner. Then I cut a slit on each Totoro, and squeezed the custard into it. After Totoro was injected with delicious custard, I put the bigger ones aside and put hardened icing eyes on each Totoro using icing as glue. I sprinkled powder sugar on the smaller puffs, and put icing eyes on them to make Chibi Totoro.

Originally I wanted to use chocolate cream for the eyes, nose and whiskers and the pattern on Totoro’s stomach, but I didn’t have the time to make chocolate icing, so I used brown gel for the eyes and nose, and chocolate for the whiskers. I tried to make the pattern with the gel on one of them, but it looked like it’d get too messy, so I ended up not doing it.

He's the lucky one (?) who's got the pattern on his stomach.

Groupshot from Totoro gang

I got to give them away to almost everyone at work and it was a big hit! 😀 Of course, my friend took the leftover Totoro puffs home. I’m hoping to do a how-to on this one. I know some people say making cream puffs is hard but as long as you get the dough right and never open the oven, it’s very simple.

I made them small this time, because I was giving them away to many people. First I thought they were too small, but they were a good bite-size snack that didn’t get messy when you ate it. Also you can control how much you want to eat this way, so small Totoro puffs are good for a party or kids. I’ll probably make them a little bigger next time. It’s easier to put faces on that way. Even though the official Totoro cream puffs look more like Totoro, I like my Totoro cream puffs. Since it doesn’t use a mold, each one looks completely different, and the finished batch look like they’re all different Totoro from the Totoro forest!

Totoro cream puff:
– cream puff (flour, egg, sugar, butter)
– custard cream (flour, egg, sugar, butter, milk, whipped cream, cornstarch, vanilla extract)

For more pictures of my bento, visit Bento! set and Bento details! set on my flickr page.

Gyoza night! March 29, 2009

Posted by AnnaTheRed in Everything else.

Brooklyn is having a restaurant week during March 23 – April 2, and my boyfriend and I took this opportunity to explore a new restaurant in my neighborhood.

We had a lot of left overs from other nights, so we weren’t really thinking about the $23 per person prix fixe dinner, but $23 for two people for brunch at a nice restaurant didn’t sound too bad. So we picked Alta Voce, an Italian restaurant in Park Slope.

It seemed like we were the second customer that day. There was only an older couple (both about in their 60’s) eating at a table. The place was classy but not fancy. Very cozy and warm. The service was very nice too. They had a piano, and a little after we sat down, the man from the older couple started playing the piano, and his wife/girlfriend (about the same age as the man) was adoringly looking at him play. It was very sweet. It looked like an scene from Porco Rosso. The food was good, and we also enjoyed our unlimited mimosa and bloody Mary. 😀 Even though it’s not supposed to be during restaurant week, the brunch is about $15, with unlimited mimosa/Champagne/bloody Mary! “Unlimited”!

Anyway, after we had good food and some drinks, we came home, and my boyfriend played some video games while I watched him play. Then we decided to make gyoza. A lot of them. My boyfriend made the skin from scratch, I made the filling from scratch, but we wrapped the gyoza together.

It may not look like it, but we made them really big. 😛 Some of them are twice the size of normal gyoza. But that’s what’s great about homemade food, right? We ate some for dinner, and froze the rest of them. (flash froze them first and put them into a ziploc bag) We only used half of the filling, so I guess we’ll be making more gyoza tomorrow night too! Gyoza is a great homemade frozen food, and for really cheap you can make them so much better than already made gyoza.

Objects are bigger than they appear...

I’ve been busy with preparing food and treats for BSG finale, and experimenting buns these couple of weeks, and haven’t been able to make as many as kyaraben as I wanted. But hopefully I can make some kyaraben to show this week!

For more pictures of my bento, visit Bento! set and Bento details! set on my flickr page.

non-bento#11 M-O and EVE March 28, 2009

Posted by AnnaTheRed in bento blog (all), bento blog - american.
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My boyfriend goes to kung-fu class on Saturday. He used to get a Vietnamese sandwich after his class and eat it at home. But after we moved in, he’d just come home straight and eat whatever we have at home to save money.

Today, he came home from kung-fu, and started organizing around the house, and cleaning the windows. We’ve been working pretty hard to settle down since we moved in, and he’s been definitely doing more work than I have. 😛 So I decided to treat him with in-house snack bento!

non-bento #11: M-O and EVE
Created and eaten on: 3/28/2009

When we went to see the movie, Wall-E, I noticed he almost squealed when M-O showed up. (Yes, he loves cute things, and he’s proud of it!) He even has M-O wallpaper on his computer. I always wanted to make M-O for him, but since I couldn’t make him for the Wall-E bento, I didn’t know what to do about M-O. Then, when I was making the Totoro peanut butter sandwich, I thought maybe a sandwich would be good for M-O.

There aren’t many details I have to explain for this. I used three slices of bread and peanut butter to make the head and body of M-O (I think his head was about 2 1/2 inch long, 2 inch high). I cut a little piece out of the top layer of bread and put the crust of bread for his eye part.

I used a small circular cookie cutter to cut a piece of bread left over after making M-O’s body and head, and cut the left and right side of the circle to make his arm. Then I just put a little bit of peanut butter on the arm, and stuck them on the sides.

Then I cut the crust for his cleaning roll. I used the part that had lines so it’d have a different texture than the crust I used for his eye part. I cut a cheese single for his eyes. You can put a half of cherry tomato on his head to put him in “Foreign Contaminant” mode.


I knew this wouldn’t hold his appetite until the dinner, so I decided to add a boiled egg. I was going to make EVE like the one I made in the Wall-E bento, but that would require me to dying kamaboko (fish cake) for her eyes. Besides, it’d be kind of boring to make the same EVE, so I decided to make even simpler “EVE in hibernation mode (?).”


After I boiled and peeled an egg, I cut seaweed for EVE’s eye part and put it on the egg. I took a small piece of lettuce and cut out a small circle using a plastic cap. Then I cut cheese with a straw, and cut the piece in half for the right and left side leaf of the “plant” symbol. Then I cut another piece of cheese with a straw and trimmed it for the middle part of the symbol. (I put a piece of bread underneath EVE to stabilize her for the photo shoot.)

This is not as complicated as Wall-E, but also the color is not accurate as Wall-E, so I’m not sure if kids will recognize it as M-O if you make it for them. If you want M-O to look more accurate, you can fry egg whites and cut it for the top layer of M-O’s head and body, and use seaweed for his eye part. You can also use cheese singles as his head and body. Not exactly as white as egg white, but it’s shinier than bread. I made this as a quick snack, but I’m still going to make a M-O kyaraben someday. 🙂

– 3 slices of white bread (three layers of bread made the perfect depth)
– peanut butter
– cheese

– egg
– seaweed
– lettuce
– cheese

For more pictures of my bento, visit Bento! set and Bento details! set on my flickr page.