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Friday, December 8, 2017

Snapchat flower crown strawberry cake for Karen's birthday

tl;dr - Inspired by Snapchat's flower crown filter, I baked a strawberry cake with hand-piped bean paste flowers for my friend Karen's birthday. Read on for the cake recipe, and for a bean paste flowers how-to!

When I set out to bake a cake for my college bestie Karen, I immediately knew I wanted it to look like the Snapchat flower crown: Karen's Snaps are laugh-out-loud-at-work-and-get-a-zillion-confused-glares hilarious, and she looks great in a flower crown!

As for the cake itself, I used an old reliable recipe for a fluffy, moist strawberry cake with strawberry cream cheese frosting. Note the link goes to an old blog of mine with in-depth tips on how to mix, bake, and construct a two-layer cake. If you just want the recipe, here it is:

Angie's Famous Strawberry Cake from Apple a Day

Cake ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 c. cake flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/8 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c. buttermilk
  • 1/4 c. oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 c. chopped strawberries

Frosting ingredients:
  • 1/3 c. chopped strawberries
  • 1 TBSP strawberry liquor
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 TBSP vanilla

Cake directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cake pans with parchment paper, shortening, and flour. Start soaking 2 cake strips in a glass or tupperware of cold water.
  2. Sift flour, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl.
  3. In bowl of mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  4. Add eggs one at a time until combined.
  5. Add buttermilk, oil and vanilla until combined.
  6. Add flour mixture and stir manually with a rubber spatula until just combined.
  7. Fold in berries.
  8. Take the soaked cake strips out of the water and wrap them around the cake pans.
  9. Fill cake pans 3/4 way.
  10. Bake for approximately 25 minutes.

Frosting directions:
  1. Put berries, liquor, and juice in saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then reduce to a simmer for 5 mins.
  2. Let cool, then blend until smooth.
  3. In bowl of mixer mix cream cheese and butter until creamy.
  4. Add sugar, then vanilla.
  5. Add berry puree until smooth.
  6. Frost cakes when they are completely cooled.

When it was time to decorate the cake, things got interesting. I know Swiss meringue buttercream is the gold standard when it comes to piped succulents and flowers, but I frankly loathe the way it tastes. So I scoured the internet to find alternatives and stumbled upon the concept of using white bean paste ("anggeum" or "앙금" in Korean) to pipe flowers in Korean bakeries.

The result tastes something like what you'd find in the center of a red bean bun, which I find more palatable than buttercream. Plus, the flowers are vegan, and you get some fiber too. The look is not quite as polished or smooth-looking as Swiss meringue buttercream, so I might still have to resort to the stuff for future cakes. I'm super into this piping flora thing - the process is very soothing.

How to make an edible Snapchat flower crown out of bean paste

Bean paste ingredients:
  • 500g white beans (you can use cannellini/white kidney beans or great northern beans)
  • 250g granulated white sugar
  • Wilton gel food colors in Buttercup Yellow, Aster Mauve, Delphinium Blue, and Juniper Green
  • Americolor gel food colors in Soft Pink and Bright White
  • Wilton gel food colors in Lemon Yellow and Christmas Red

Fresh mint leaves (the bright green leaves in the Snapchat filter looked like fresh mint leaves to me)

Bean paste directions:
  1. Soak 500g white kidney beans (cannellini beans) in water for 8 hours.
  2. OPTIONAL: Peel the beans (should be pretty easy after soaking them). I've made this with skins and without them - you do get some additional smoothness from removing the bean skins, but it is very labor intensive. According to this video, you can use a blender to peel beans in 15 minutes.
  3. Boil the bean and water mixture for 30 minutes.
  4. Process beans and water in a blender.
  5. Add 250g of sugar and pan-fry with a spatula to evaporate the water. The paste is ready to be removed from heat when you can cut through with the wooden spoon and the streak holds for a few seconds.
  6. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust sweetness by adding more sugar or vanilla.
  7. After mixture has cooled to room temperature, turn in the food processor for a few seconds to get the mixture even smoother (there might be dry bits of bean in the mixture from the pan frying process, and the food processor blends it all together into a smooth, pipe-able consistencey).
  8. Divide the paste in 1~2 cups and keep in airtight containers or wrapped in plastic wrap twice. Will keep refrigerated for up to 4 days. Frozen will keep up to 1 month.
The process of making bean paste is nicely documented in this video.

Flower piping directions:

Large white daisies
  1. Take about 3/4 cup of chilled bean paste and mix with a few drops of the Americolor Bright White gel food color. Scoop the colored paste into a piping bag with tip #104.
  2. Take about 1/4 cup of chilled bean paste and mix with a few drops of the Wilton Buttercup Yellow gel food color. Scoop the colored paste into a piping bag with tip #2.
  3. Put a dab of bean paste onto the flat head of a flower nail, and place a parchment square on it. The dab of bean paste is the glue that adheres the parchment paper to the nail.
  4. Pipe the center of the daisy with the yellow bean paste piping bag. Since you want this daisy to be fairly large, I piped a large quantity of paste in the center of the parchment almost until it reached the end of the paper. The diameter was about 0.75".
  5. Take the white bean paste piping bag with the #104 tip. Position the winder end of the tip toward the center of the flower. Gently pipe a petal that covers about 1/6 to 1/10 of the outer diameter of the yellow center. Repeat until you've gone all the way around the flower once. The videos on this blog post from I Am Baker are accurate visual demos on how to pipe daisies.
  6. Add a second layer of petals over your first using the same technique, but angle your piping tip slightly upward away from the nail while keeping the wide base toward the nail to give the second layer of petals a "lifted" look.
  7. Once you're done piping the flower, lift the entire parchment paper from the nail, and place it on a cutter board or cookie sheet.
  8. Make about a dozen or so of these daisies so you have plenty + backups for your crown. Freeze them on the board or sheet for at least 2 hours.

Small yellow daisies
Follow the directions for the large white daises (using these videos as guidance) with these exceptions:
  • For the petal piping bag, use piping tip #102 or #101, not #104. You want the petals to be smaller.
  • For the petals, use the Wilton Lemon Yellow color mixed with the Americolor Bright White color. The daisy petals should look brighter and paler than the Buttercup Yellow center.
  • Make the center only about 1/4" in diameter.

Large pink and coral roses
  1. Take about 3/4 cup of chilled bean paste and mix with a few drops of the Americolor Soft Pink gel food color for the pink roses, and combine the Soft Pink with Wilton's Christmas Red food color for the coral roses. Scoop the colored paste into a piping bag with tip #104.
  2. Put a dab of bean paste onto the flat head of a flower nail, and place a parchment square on it. The dab of bean paste is the glue that adheres the parchment paper to the nail.
  3. Follow the directions on how to pipe a rose from this video.
  4. Pop the roses into the freezer for at least 2 hours.

For the arrangement
  1. Using a #5 piping tip, use leftover strawberry cream cheese frosting to pipe a ring on top of the cake which will act as the base for your flower crown.
  2. Arrange the frozen flowers (they should be hard enough to handle manually) on top of the frosting ring with the mint leaves until it resembles the Snapchat flower crown.

And then you're done!

I hope you guys enjoyed the Snapchat flower crown cake tutorial :) What kind of cake should I make next?
Friday, November 17, 2017

Resting bitch face and Burberry highlighters: A review

tl;dr - I loved all three of the #complimentary Burberry products from Influenster! The light-reflecting primer evened out my skin tone, and the two highlighters gave my cheeks a confident glow. I'm new to highlighting, though - not sure if my positive reaction is because of novelty. Minus a point because in photos, the highlighter enhances my pores and my natural oiliness. 4/5

I'm a highlighter n00b - but all this highlighting/strobing/contouring etc. business has got me curious. So I was thrilled to try out these products from Burberry! I tried them on-the-go to stress test them (because let's be real here - I'm often putting my makeup on in the car, on the airplane, etc...)

Product 1: Fresh Glow - Luminous Fluid Base in Golden Radiance No. 2

Claim on Sephora's website: "A Burberry runway beauty icon, this multi-use primer illuminates the complexion to create the signature, Burberry dewy glow."

I found this primer to have a smooth, velvety texture. When I swatched it on my hand, it looked super shimmery (see above), but it looked natural and even when applied to my face. I do wish it had a built-in mineral-based SPF like Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer or an immediate, noticeable smoothing effect like Smashbox Photo Finish Primer.

Above, the photo on the left is how I look with a light layer of powdery foundation (Neutrogena Mineral Sheers in Natural Beige 60), and the photo on the left is with a layer of the primer on top. It's hard to tell in the photos, but I did feel like applying the primer blurred some of my imperfections and gave me a more consistent skin tone overall.

Product 2: Fresh Glow - Highlighting Luminous Pen in Nude Radiance No. 1

Claim on Sephora's website: "The Fresh Glow Highlighting Luminous Pen glides effortlessly across the skin with precision to highlight targeted areas of the face."

I’ve found myself reaching for this highlighting stick more and more on busy mornings. It’s so easy to apply, and I love catching glimpses of the highlight throughout the day - it definitely makes me feel more confident. It blends well and gives my cheekbones a subtle glow.

Here's how I look with the highlighting pen on top of the Luminous Fluid Base primer:

Product 3: Fresh Glow Highlighter - Illuminating Powder in Rose Gold No. 4

Claim on Sephora's website: "A lightweight and illuminating face powder with an intricate lace-pattern design."

Finally, the highlighter compact was the main event of this set: gorgeously packaged (just look at how intricately the surface is sculpted!) and leaves a pretty rose gold glow on your cheek bones. It affords a softer, more “airbrushed” look than the stick does. It came with a mini slanted brush that I wish were stored inside the compact for convenience - I'm always losing the brush! I end up applying the highlighter with my fingers, which doesn't allow me to blend as well.

Here's how I look with the highlighting powder layered over the Luminous Fluid Base and the Highlighting Luminous Pen:

The verdict?

All in all, I enjoyed the experience of trying these highlighting products, but I wonder if I only liked them because I am new to the world of highlighting.

Another thing to note: by the end of the day, it was difficult to tell where I’d applied highlighter because my face is naturally oily, and it eventually gets shiny all over. It’s kind of like seeing someone with resting bitch face: do they look like that because they’re angry/mean at the moment, or does their face just look like that all the time, naturally? For me, the question is whether my cheekbones are shiny because I used highlighter, or because my face is just naturally oily.

Above are some selfies I took while wearing various combinations of these products (shout out to my friend Lauren @fitavocado who's in one of the selfies with me) - they've got me wondering if the selfies would have looked any different were I not wearing these highlighting products?

In any case, I’m going to continue using these products (worth the confidence boost!) and try new highlighters, too. Any recommendations? I’d love to try your favorites and review them on this blog!
Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Smelly but *so* worth it: Skin1004 Zombie Pack with Activator

tl;dr - My skin hasn't been this smooth since I was on Accutane, and I have the Skin1004 Zombie Mask with Activator c/o to thank! It's a paint-on protein-filled mask that cracks as it dries. It smells bad, but the results are well worth it. 4/5

Many thanks to the #b2creativepartner program (created by @dayaaas) for sending me this Skin1004 Zombie Mask with Activator to try! This paint-on mask dries into a crackly layer on your face, and it's all the rage in Korea. I've been wanting to try it for a long time.

Note that the instructions in my package were all in Korean. It took some deep digging into the annals of my brain to read the Hangul and figure out what the heck I was supposed to do with all the stuff in the box.

"Special facial mask for sebum controlling, pore-tightening, hydrating, and rejuvenating."

How to use and what to expect
  • There are two main parts to this mask (whole eggs not included): a pale yellow egg powder in a square plastic container and a clear liquid zombie pack "activator." You mix the two together using the paintbrush that comes in the package. The mixture becomes a gooey, bubbly yellow paste. See below.
  • Using the same paintbrush, apply the mixture to your face. The paintbrush bristles are super-smooth, and the sensation is soothing.
  • Phew - this stuff stinks! It has an obvious eggy smell; seems like they tried to mask it with a fragrance and it ended up smelling even worse.
  • Set timer for 10 minutes.
  • About 8 minutes in, you'll notice the mask starts to feel very tight - it's hard to open your mouth. The smell is mostly gone by then, thanks goodness!
  • The crackliness that forms on our face by the end of the 10 minutes truly is "zombie-like" - hence the product naming. See below - on the left is what the mask looks like when you first put it on, and the right is what it looks like after 10 minutes. (warning! unfiltered photos!)
Ingredients to note
  • Egg: wrinkle-reducing properties1
  • Aloe vera extract: heals sun-damaged skin and stimulates collagen production2
  • Allantoin: moisturizes and treats irritated skin3
  • Panthenol: moisturizes and prevents water loss from skin4
  • Lavender oil: promotes collagen production5
  • Centella asiatica: helps with wound healing and scar prevention6
  • Sea buckthorn extract: controls facial sebum and has anti-acne properties7
  • Copper tripeptide: copper is a key factor in the production of collagen and elastin8
  • Birch extract: helps with sun damage9
  • Adenosine: decreases hyperpigmentation10
  • Rose of jericho extract: supposedly helps skin retain moisture, but I couldn't find any peer-reviewed, academic articles supporting this claim
I tried this mask twice over a week (they recommend 3x per week), and both times, I ended up with ethereally smooth, hydrated skin (this is not a sensation I've experienced often in my life!). This is the biggest difference I've seen from a mask ever: all my nascent acne bumps disappeared, my underage bags flattened, and my skin was so hydrated, I could skip moisturizer. See the immediate unfiltered results for yourself here:

I'm definitely repurchasing the Skin1004 Zombie Mask Pack - the results are just that good! I can get over the smell and the scary "zombie-like" appearance - that smooth feeling right after washing off the mask is worth it.

I would also love to try the Hanacure All-in-one Treatment Mask, which has a similar application procedure and "zombie-like" crackliness. Plus, it sounds like Drew Barrymore is into it. Have you guys tried an egg mask? What did you guys think?

  1. Jensen GS, Shah B, Holtz R, Patel A, Lo DC. Reduction of facial wrinkles by hydrolyzed water soluble egg membrane peptides: suggested mechanisms include reduction of free radical stress and support of matrix production by dermal fibroblasts. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2016 [PubMed]
  2. Surjushe A, Vasani R, Saple DG. Aloe vera: A short review. Indian J Dermatol. 2008;53:163–66. [PubMed]
  3. Sowa I, Paduch R, Strzemski M, Zielińska S, Rydzik-Strzemska E, Sawicki J, Kocjan R, Polkowski J, Matkowski A, Latalski M, Wójciak-Kosior M. Proliferative and antioxidant activity of Symphytum officinale root extract. Nat Prod Res. 2017 May 10:1-5. [PubMed]
  4. Camargo FB, Jr, Gaspar LR, Maia Campos PM. Skin moisturizing effects of panthenol-based formulations. J Cosmet Sci. 2011;62(4):361–370. [PubMed]
  5. Mori HM, Kawanami H, Kawahata H, Aoki M. Wound healing potential of lavender oil by acceleration of granulation and wound contraction through induction of TGF-β in a rat model. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2016;16:144. doi: 10.1186/s12906-016-1128-7. [PubMed]
  6. Wollina U, Abdel-Nasar MB, Mani R. A review of the microcirculation in skin in patients with chronic venous insufficiency: the problem and the evidence available for therapeutic options. Int J Low Extrem Wounds. 2006;5(3):169-80.
  7. Akhtar N, Khan BA, Mahmood T, Parveen R, Qayum M, Anwar M, et al. Formulation and evaluation of antisebum secretion effects of sea buckthorn w/o emulsion. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2010;2(1):13–7. doi: 10.4103/0975-7406.62698. [PubMed]
  8. Hostynek J. J., Dreher F. & Maibach H. I. Human skin penetration of a copper tripeptide in vitro as a function of skin layer. Inflamm. Res. 60, 79–86 (2011). [PubMed]
  9. Reuter J., Wölfle U., Korting H.C., Schempp C. (2010). Which plant for which skin disease? Part 2: dermatophytes, chronic venous insufficiency, photoprotection, actinic keratoses, vitiligo, hair loss, cosmetic indications. J. Ger. Soc. Dermatol. 8, 866–873 [PubMed]
  10. Kim M.Y., Lee H.E., Im M., Lee Y., Kim C.D., Lee J.H., Seo Y.J. Effect of adenosine on melanogenesis in B16 cells and zebrafish. Ann. Dermatol. 2014;26:209–213. doi: 10.5021/ad.2014.26.2.209. [PubMed]
Thursday, June 29, 2017

Earl grey and salty dark caramel cheesecake for #mortinewedding

earl grey cheesecake with salty dark caramel topping, decorated with white peonies, red carnations, chamomile flowers, and green mist

tl;dr - I baked an earl grey cheesecake with salty dark caramel for a friend's wedding. Read on for the recipe and the story of how I decided upon these flavors for the couple!

I was beyond honored when my friends Kristine and Morten approached me about a cheesecake for their California wedding aka #mortinewedding! As I was brainstorming ideas for their cake, I stumbled upon this old Instagram post:

More treat pops. Earl grey, dark chocolate, green tea matcha, mango coconut #nom

A post shared by Jen Lee (@jenstagramlee) on

Kristine's Instagram handle is @ngastywoman (the greatness of that handle is worthy of another blogpost entirely, but I digress...), and if you click through to the post, you'll see her mention that earl grey is her "fave." Done! An earl grey cheesecake it would be.

I uncovered yet another gem from the archives, this time in the form of a 2014 email thread. I had just given Kristine and her sister Karen (my best friend from college) a variety of homemade treats, and here's what she emailed back:

Bam! This piece of evidence sealed the deal for the salty dark caramel topping. Stamp of approval from both the bride and the bride's sister.

For decorations, I looked to more recent events - specifically, the wedding that Kristine and Morten had celebrated in Australia a few months earlier. Morten hails from Australia, so they had a ceremony in Melbourne before having a Cambodian-style ceremony here in California. Photo courtesy of Little Studio Photography

The flowers at their Australian ceremony were incredible! Deep red and white blooms with loose sage-colored foliage adorned Kristine's flower crown and bouquet. Sophisticated, modern, and wild at the same time. So I set out to recreate the colors and textures of those flowers in their California wedding cheesecake, using four different food-safe flowers: peonies, chamomile, green mist, and carnations.

The result was a rich, hefty cheesecake infused with fragrant earl grey tea and topped with chewy, buttery, dark salted caramel. I think they liked it!

cutting the earl grey cheesecake with salty dark caramel topping, decorated with white peonies, red carnations, chamomile flowers, and green mist

Key tips for this cheesecake:
  1. Maximize the earl grey-ness: To infuse the cheesecake with a strong earl grey flavor, soak earl grey tea bags in heavy cream over 2-3 nights, making a cold-brewed tea with cream instead of water. I used the tea-infused cream in the cheesecake filling and in the ganache that coated the cheesecake.

    You can use the tea-infused cream for the caramel as well, but I chose to keep the earl grey flavor separate from the caramel topping.

  2. Make sure the cream cheese is room temperature: This recipe will not work if the cream cheese is straight out of the fridge. You'll end up with chunks of unblended cold cream cheese in your cheesecake filling. Let the cream cheese get to room temperature overnight, or if you're in a pinch, put the cream cheese block in the microwave for 5 seconds on each side to get it softer.

  3. Bake the cheesecake at least two days in advance of event: After baking, I like to let the cheesecake cool at room temperature inside the oven overnight. Then, I freeze it for at least 4-5 hours before I pop it out of the springform pan to decorate it.

  4. Line the bottom of the pan properly: To make the cheesecake easy to remove from the bottom of the springform pan, I line the pan with a parchment paper round. There's a little trick to cut out parchment paper rounds without having to trace a circle with a pencil: fold the parchment paper in half hamburger-style, and then in half again. A series of diagonal folds will turn the paper into a thin wedge. At this point, all you need to do is cut the length of that wedge to be the same as the radius of the pan. Unfold, and you'll magically have a parchment paper round that fits your pan. You'll see what I mean in this visual step-by-step:

  5. Use a water bath and wet cake strips to prevent cracks: Many recipes recommend covering the outside of your springform pan with aluminum foil and submerging the pan halfway into a roasting pan filled with boiling water. I don't own a roasting pan, and I've found that filling a shallow cookie sheet with non-boiling water works fine, so long as you wrap the pan with moistened velcro cake strips in addition to the foil. These precautions help the cheesecake bake evenly so you don't end up with a big crack in the center (though if you do, you can cover it with fruit, whipped cream, and/or other decorations, no sweat).

  6. Cool the cheesecake slowly to prevent cracks: Once the cheesecake is done baking (the edges should be slightly separated from the pan, and the middle should still be jiggly), turn the oven off and open the door slightly. Leave it like this for a few hours, until the cheesecake is room temperature (I like to bake the cheesecake in the evening and cool it in the oven while I'm asleep).

  7. Freeze the cheesecake before you remove it from the springform pan for crisp, clean sides: Every time I try to cut a room-temperature or even a refrigerated cheesecake out of a pan, I get ripples and uneven edges. I prefer freezing the cooled cheesecake for at least 4-5 hours before I pop it out of the springform pan in a perfect frozen cylindrical shape, no knife required.

Sounds like a lot to take in, but I promise, this cheesecake is simple, and the tangy, fragrant flavor is well worth it!

earl grey cheesecake with salty dark caramel topping, decorated with white peonies, red carnations, chamomile flowers, and green mist

Earl grey cheesecake with salty dark caramel topping
adapted from Simply Recipes

cheesecake crust:
    2 cups of crushed speculoos cookies
    1/4 cup roasted macadamia nuts
    4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
    Pinch of salt

cheesecake filling:
    4 8oz blocks of cream cheese at room temperature
    1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    4 eggs
    2/3 cup heavy cream
    10 bags of earl grey tea
    2/3 cup full-fat sour cream
    pinch of salt
    cooking spray

earl grey ganache coating:
    12 ounces white chocolate, chopped or in chip form
    1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
    3 bags of earl grey tea

salty dark caramel topping:
    4 tablespoons room temperature butter
    1 cup granulated sugar
    4 tablespoons cold water
    dollop of light corn syrup
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    1/2 teaspoon salt

food-safe flower decorations:
    dark red carnations
    white peonies (or fluffy white roses if peonies are not in season)
    chamomile flowers
    green mist
    bay leaves
    floral tape


Prep the cheesecake pan:
  1. In a small bowl, soak 2 tea bags in 2/3 cup of heavy cream. Cover the bowl and put it into the refrigerator. Allow the flavor to infuse overnight, or over 2-3 nights for a deeper earl grey tea flavor.
  2. Coat the sides of a 9-inch diameter springform pan with cooking spray (this makes it easy to pop out of the pan after the cheesecake's been frozen). Line the bottom of the pan with a parchment paper round (see above for a trick on how to quickly and easily cut a paper round).
  3. Protect the bottom of your cheesecake from the water bath: place an 18 inch by 18 inch square of heavy-duty aluminum foil on a flat surface. Place the pan in the center and fold up the foil around the pan, crimping at the top (keep the foil outside of the pan). Make sure you don't tear any holes in the foil as you do this. Repeat with a second layer of foil. Repeat again with a third layer of foil (you want to prevent your crust from getting soggy from the water bath). See the visual step-by-step below on how to wrap your springform pan with aluminum foil:

Make the cheesecake crust:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Crush 2 cups of speculoos cookies in a food processor until they become powdery crumbs. Set aside.
  3. Add 1/4 cup macadamia nuts into the food processor and blend until they become a spreadable, buttery consistency.
  4. Mix the cookie crumbs, blended macadamia nuts, and 4 tablespoons melted butter by hand with a rubber spatula until it becomes the texture of gritty damp sand.
  5. Dump the mixture into the prepared springform pan and use your fingers to create a flat, even crust layer.
  6. Stick the pan into the 350 degree F oven for 10 minutes.
  7. Set pan aside to cool.

Make the cheesecake filling:
  1. Turn oven temperature down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Submerge velcro cake strips into a Tupperware filled with cold water.
  2. Place 4 8oz blocks of room-temperature cream cheese into the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for 4 minutes until the cream cheese is soft, smooth, creamy, and free of chunks. Add 1 1/3 cups of granulated sugar, and beat 4 more minutes.
  3. Add pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons vanilla, beating at low speed after each addition.
  4. Add 4 eggs, 1 at a time, beating at low speed after each one.
  5. Add 2/3 cup sour cream, beating at low speed after the addition.
  6. Take the tea bags out of the earl-grey infused heavy cream, and add 2/3 cups of cream to the cheesecake filling. Beat at low speed until just smooth and well-incorporated (do not overbeat).

Pour the cheesecake filling:
Option 1: The easy way
Pour the filling into the foil-wrapped pan, over the cooled crust. Shake it gently on a flat surface to get a smooth, flat cheesecake top.

Option 2: The crazier way (intense earl grey)
  1. To get a deeper earl grey flavor into the cheesecake, grind 7-10 earl grey tea bag's worth of tea leaves in a coffee grinder. Pour the grounds directly into the cheesecake filling and stir until well-incorporated.
  2. Pour the filling into the foil-wrapped pan, over the cooled crust. Shake it gently on a flat surface to get a smooth, flat cheesecake top.

Option 3: The craziest way (earl grey ombre)
I did it this way so that when Kristine and Morten cut into the cake, they'd see an ombre effect, with an off-white bottom that fades into a dark earl grey tea leaf-studded top.
  1. Pour just enough of the filling to cover the cooled crust.
  2. Tear open one bag of earl grey tea. Grind the dry leaves into powder in a coffee grinder. Pour the powder into the remaining filling. Stir until well-incorporated. Pour just enough filling to cover the first layer of filling in the pan.
  3. Repeat step #2 with two bags of earl grey tea for the third layer, and then three tea bags for the fourth layer, and then four tea bags for the fifth layer until all the filling is in the pan.
  4. Shake the pan gently on a flat surface to get a smooth, flat cheesecake top.

Bake the cheesecake:
  1. Place the foil-wrapped pan onto a cookie sheet with raised edges.
  2. Take the velcro cake strips out of the water. Gently squeeze out some excess water. Wrap the cake strips around the foil-wrapped pan.
  3. Place the cookie sheet into the middle of the 325 degrees F oven. Pour boiling water onto the cookie sheet until the cheesecake is about one centimeter deep in water.
  4. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, up to 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the edges are stiff and starting to separate from the pan, and the center jiggles when you gently shake it in the oven.

Cool the cheesecake:
  1. Open the oven door a crack and let the cheesecake get to room temperature over at least 2 hours.
  2. Once the cheesecake is at room temperature, remove the velcro strips and foil. Place the cheesecake into the freezer.

Make the caramel:
  1. While the cheesecake is freezing, make caramel. Pour 1 cup of sugar into a shiny silver saucepan. Drizzle 4 tablespoons of cold water along the inner sides of the pan. Add a quarter-sized dollop of light corn syrup.
  2. Cook at medium heat without stirring. When the mixture starts to brown, insert a thermometer. Continue heating until the mixture reaches 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Take the pan off heat. Dump 4 tablespoons of room temperature butter into the mixture. It will sputter and bubble up like crazy - be careful as the mixture is very hot. Stir with a rubber spatula until the butter is well-incorporated.
  4. Add 1/2 cups of room temperature heavy cream. The mixture will sputter and bubble up once more. Stir with a rubber spatula until the heavy cream is well-incorporated. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and stir. Carefully pour the hot caramel into a glass or ceramic container and cover.
  5. Let the caramel come to room temperature for 2-3 hours. Then, store in fridge until ready to use.

Make the earl grey ganache:
  1. At least one day before making the ganache, place 3 earl grey tea bags into 1/3 cups of heavy cream. Stick it into the refrigerator overnight (or over 2-3 nights for a more intense earl grey flavor).
  2. Place 12 ounces of chopped white chocolate (or white chocolate chips) into a heat-proof bowl.
  3. Heat the heavy cream with the earl grey tea bags in a saucepan at low to medium heat, stirring gently until it just starts to boil.
  4. Pour the hot heavy cream through a sieve (to catch the tea bags) into the white chocolate. Swirl the cream around the chocolate to ensure all chocolate pieces are in contact with the hot cream. Wait 5 minutes.
  5. Use a whisk to incorporate the cream and white chocolate into a smooth, spreadable ganache. If there are still some white chocolate pieces left after whisking, pour the ganache into a storage container through a sieve.
  6. If the ganache is too runny to be spreadable, stick it in the refrigerator for an hour. If still too runny after refrigerating, whip it gently with a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (be careful not to overwhip and turn the mixture into butter - it only takes a few seconds to whip ganache).

Decorate the cheesecake:
  1. Take the cheesecake out of the freezer. Pop it out of the springform pan. If it resists, warm the sides of pan with your hands before gently un-doing the springform top. It should give way eventually, and you'll marvel at the crisp, clean edges on your frozen cheesecake. Also, if you poured in your filling the "craziest" way, you can bask in the glory of the pretty ombre layers of your cheesecake.
  2. Spread a thin layer of ganache on a cardboard cake board. Place the frozen cheesecake onto the ganache to stick it to the board.
  3. Place the cake on a rotating cake stand covered with a non-adhesive grip shelf liner (this helps the cake board stay in place as you frost it). Using an offset icing spatula, frost the top and sides of the cake with the earl grey ganache. Stick the cake back into the freezer.
  4. Take the caramel and microwave it on low heat in 30 second bursts until it is a pourable consistency. Put the caramel into a plastic squeeze condiment bottle and squeeze drips along the sides of the cake. Pour remaining caramel onto top of the cake.
  5. Stick white peonies, peony leaves, bay leaves, chamomile flowers, green mist flowers, and dark red carnations into the cake. To give the flowers more height, I stuck the stems into toothpicks and wrapped the seam with floral tape for security. Sticking this flower / toothpick combination into a cake helps it stay more securely in addition to adding volume. Just make sure you warn your guests about the toothpicks before serving the cake.
  6. Keep your cake refrigerated until it's time to serve.
And voila - there you have it!

Jen Lee of The Jen Project holding her homemade earl grey and salted caramel cheesecake with white peonies, red carnations, chamomile, and green mist