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Don't be boxed in

Friday, February 26, 2010

This isn't quite a substitute for Warhol, but it'll have to do. The half-eaten fruit is a persimmon, by the way.
As regular visitors to this space will have noticed, I have gone lighter and narrower ­­– just felt like a makeover. We all do it with our living space; this is the blogosphere version of rearranging the furniture and adding new curtains.

When I started this blog in October 2009, Blessed Glutz, a co-producer of the "Don't Call Me Chef" column (see tab above), suggested that I write about the packed lunches I bring to work every day ­­– it seemed like a good idea for a while, but how long can you write about that before the same menu comes around again?

Lunchboxes, however, are another matter. I love them and have a variety of containers that I pack my food in to take to work. Even if the lunch is just so-so, at least it comes in a nice package.

I often use the partitioned box on the left for items like sushi and onigiri (as a bento box is made for), with some raw vegetables or cut fruit in the smaller compartments. One-pot meals go into the metal canister and the large round one on the bottom is large enough for a mountain of salad.

My sister, who blogs about cooking at Wok Tales, got me this polar bag when I visited her in America a couple of years ago. It's seen better days but does a good job of toting things around. It doesn't actually keep anything cold though. 

There's also my rather old but trusty tiffin carrier. I'm particularly fond of it and Veggie Chick is always asking me to give it to her. Fat chance! Good for rice and curry.

I also take a lot of soups to work. This Thermos is no longer quite as effective as it should be but the contents stay warm enough to fight the cold of the air-conditioned office. I go to the canteen to eat lunch, but with soup, I usually just stay at my desk to enjoy it. This flask is often seen next to a sandwich.

One of my favourite methods of packing lunch is using the Japanese technique of furoshiki. I learned about it from Blessed Glutz and she even got me the pretty wrapping cloth that I've used here. Go online and you'll find all sorts of techniques and instructional videos. I always feel like a hobo when I carry my meals this way. Ah, the carefree life. The wrapper doubles as a little table cloth.

Lastly, here's a bag from the 1960s that belonged to a late aunt of mine. She was a real Mod and I inherited a lot of her old clothes when I was younger ­­– I was retro when it wasn't yet in fashion. (Of course, her mini skirts were more like midis on me!) I think it's a vanity case because there's a little mirror attached to the lid inside but it could also have been a handbag. The metal clasp on the outside is a little rusty but the bag is still in good condition. I haven't used it as a lunchbox but I think I might. It's big enough for a fat sandwich and an apple, but I wouldn't want to ruin it by filling it with anything that spills.

Chooks in a shawl

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dressed for a day out...
Pigs in a blanket have their moments, but potstickers I could eat anytime. Compared to pigs in a blanket, however, these dumplings take a little more effort to make. But then, anything enjoyable is worth working for, right?

Leftovers make good potsticker fillings and that's why I make potstickers all the time. Braised mushrooms are nice and so is tofu; very often all these leftover dishes can be combined and put into the won ton skin. I particularly like using a mixed vegetable stir-fry of lotus root, mangetout (snow peas) and carrot. There's crunch and colour. As a filling, however, the vegetables have to be chopped up into little dice.

It seems there are different versions of the potsticker from around Asia. Some of the legends behind the origin of potstickers are also quite interesting. According to one story, they were actually an accident­­ – a cook during the Song Dynasty burnt some dumplings but served them anyway and said they were his own special creation. (A good excuse with everything!) Potstickers are also said to be exceptionally good for the human soul. No argument there.

Makes 30 dumplings

30 round won ton wrappers
Vegetable oil

375g chicken mince
90g finely chopped ham
4 spring onions, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped water chestnuts (or 1 stick of celery)
¼ cup chopped bamboo shoots
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon grated ginger
Dash of sesame oil
 ½ teaspoon corn starch
  • Combine all filling the ingredients and mix well. Place about 1 teaspoon of the filling in the centre of each won ton wrapper. Brush the edges with a little water. Fold over and press the edges together firmly.
  • Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat. Add 1 tablepoon of oil and swirl it around the base. Working in batches (do not crowd the pan), put dumplings into the pan in a single layer and fry until the bottom are golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  • Add ¼ cup water to the pan and cover. You will hear a sizzling sound as the dumplings steam. When the sizzling stops, the dumplings are done. Remove to a plate and keep warm while you cook the remaining dumplings.
...with a spritz of perfume...
Dipping sauce
Combine all the ingredients. The quantity of each one depends on individual tastes.

Japanese vinegar
Soya sauce
Hot chilli sauce
Sesame oil
Chopped spring onions

...and in swimsuits.
Serves 2

6-8 chicken dumplings

1 clove garlic, minced
500 ml water
1 vegetable stock cube
2 leaves bak choy, shredded
Chopped spring onions
  • In a saucepan, fry the garlic briefly in a little oil. Add water and stock cube; bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes. When ready to serve, divide dumplings between two bowls, add some shredded bak choy and pour the broth over. Sprinkle with spring onions and eat immediately. Broth can also be served on the side with the potstickers and dipping sauce.

Baking the blues away

Friday, February 19, 2010

Like snails escaping the returning hordes. Crawl on little fellas, crawl on!
It was very difficult to get ready for work this morning. A lot of people are away and most schools have been closed for a week because of the Chinese New Year festivities which started on Feb 14, so it has been a pleasant time for me even though I haven't been the one on holiday. Today is the last day of the working week to enjoy traffic-free roads and fewer people at the office, and I am not looking forward to Monday.

I had made a batch of cream cheese pastry last night – it needs to rest overnight in the fridge before using – and I was going to make cookies after work today, but I decided to do it this morning. It wouldn't take long to make and I had plenty of time anyway. And because the roads are so empty now, it would take me only 12 minutes, 10 if all the lights were green, to get to the office.

This confection is based on the rugelach, those crescent-shaped cookies which can be filled with anything from jam and cinnamon sugar to chocolate and nuts. If you need some advice on making these cookies, here are Dorie Greenspan's tips, although I didn't use her recipe.

For my crescents, I used leftover poppy seed filling that I had used for the poppy seed bread rolls of a few posts back, and a pastry recipe contributed by the CIA – the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA could probably get poppy seeds directly from the cultivators in Afghanistan) – to a special-issue cooking magazine that came out at Christmas a couple of years ago. It's a great pastry to have in your repertoire and can be used for tarts and other types of cookies as well.

I've posted quite a few recipes using poppy seeds lately, and I think this one is my favourite so far. Making these cookies lifted my spirits. I was still late getting to the office...

Makes 32

½ quantity Cream Cheese Pastry (recipe below)
¾ cup Poppy Seed Filling
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons brown sugar + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)
  • Preheat the oven at 190°C. Line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  • Divide the dough in half. Keep one portion in the refrigerator while you work with the other half. Roll out the dough into a 27cm circle. Spread with half of the poppy seed filling up to 2cm from the edge. Cut the dough into quarters and each quarter into four triangles (a pizza wheel is ideal for this).
  • Starting from the wide edge, roll each triangle up like a croissant. Place on the baking trays, making sure the pointed tips are tucked under. Brush with egg and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes until top is golden and sugar is caramelised. Cool before eating. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. 

Cream Cheese Pastry
This makes a large amount of pastry – enough for 64 of these cookies (each one is bite-size) or to line two 27cm tart pans. I wouldn't scale down the recipe – just make the whole quantity, use what you need and freeze the rest.

250g all-purpose flour 
¼ teaspoon salt
250g cream cheese, softened but still cool
250g unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • Sift flour and salt together. Place cream cheese and butter in a food processor or large mixing bowl. Process/beat together briefly to combine. Add flour mixture and process/beat until combined. (You can easily do the whole thing by hand.) Do not over-process or knead or the cookies will be tough. Bring dough together into a ball and wrap tightly in cling film; chill for 30 minutes.
  • Remove from refrigerator and divide dough into two. Roll out each portion into a rough rectangle about 2cm thick and fold the top third down to the centre and then the bottom third up like an envelope. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight before using. Or put into a freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator.

Poppy Seed Snails / Cinnabons on Foodista

Crazy? Maybe just a little goofy

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Alcatraz Women's Club Cook Book (available at the island's bookshop and a few other stores in San Francisco; unavailable on Amazon at the time of this post, but here's a review) has a recipe for crazy chocolate cake, which was the first time I had seen a recipe of this kind. It doesn't contain eggs or butter and is very easy to make... you mix everything right in the baking pan!

I have a great recipe for an egg- and butter-free chocolate cake so I knew these kinds of cakes would work, but what was curious about the Alcatraz cake was the mixing method: dry ingredients are put into an ungreased baking pan, three holes are made in the mixture and a wet ingredient is poured into each of these holes before being stirred together and baked. I have wanted to try the recipe just as an experiment, but I also wanted to know the science behind this mixing method. I've never been able to get an explanation for it.

And then the LA Times food section published a story by Emily Dwass, "Mad for crazy cake" on Jan 20 and lo and behold, it was about this cake (also called wacky cake). The article started out with an explanation of Shirley's crazy cake with cream cheese frosting, but it was the picture of the poppy seed crazy cake that got me really interested. After all, nothing says CRAZY like poppy seeds, right? Before you try the recipe though, please read a follow-up article where the recipes were actually tested: "Notes from the test kitchen: Crazy cakes". You can also read the comments from those who have tried the recipe ­­– which is why, in the end, I decided not to follow the recipe exactly.

I would do the "crazy" part ­­– make holes in the dry ingredients and fill them with the wet ­­– but I would use the recipe for my tried-and-true eggless, butterless chocolate cake from a now-defunct British magazine (it has a regular method of whisking the ingredients in a bowl and the cake is baked in a greased and lined pan) and adapt it for use in a poppy seed cake based on the explanation given by the LA Times. The cake came out moist and spongy, and went well with the passion fruit glaze. Besides, I like the "seediness" of both cake and accompaniment!

Serves 8-10

100g unbleached bread flour
50g unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon salt
85g caster sugar
2 tablespoons blue poppy seeds
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50ml vegetable or sunflower oil
1½ tablespoons golden syrup
150ml milk
The hole story: (clockwise from left) oil and golden syrup; vanilla extract; and vinegar
  • Preheat the oven at 180°C. Sift together flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt; stir in sugar and poppy seeds. Place dry ingredients into a 21cm square baking tin. With the handle of a wooden spoon, make three holes in the mixture. Put vinegar in one hole, vanilla extract in the second, and oil and golden syrup in the third. Pour milk over the mixture and stir ­­– quickly but smoothly gently ­­– with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth (don't take too long as the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda will start to react immediately and this is what causes the cake to puff up. Science... don't you just love it?).
Spongy and firm to the touch
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, until risen and centre is springy to the touch. A toothpick or skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Cool the cake in tin; when cool, cover tin with foil and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to meld and the moist texture to develop. Eat the next day, served with passion fruit glaze. (I don't know how the folks at the LA Times got the cake out of the tin since it wasn't greased. I had to slice it in the tin but each slice came out nicely.)
Passion Fruit Glaze
Makes ½ cup
Pulp from 4 passion fruit
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon corn starch
  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix pulp and sugar. Heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes; turn down heat. Mix corn starch with 1 tablespoon water and stir into the pulp mixture; simmer until slightly thickened.

Poppy Seed Crazy Cake on Foodista

This cat is cool!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Welcome to the Year of the Tiger! Some clever person came up with the idea of turning an orange into a tiger head and look how cute it is! (I took the pictures at my workstation with my camera phone, which I haven't figured out yet, so they're not great. Sorry.) This came in one of the many gift baskets of oranges that we get at the office every year at this time. Companies like to get friendly with the press.

Not a big post today. Just want to wish everyone who celebrates Chinese New Year, and especially those born in the Year of the Tiger, Gong Xi Fa Cai! May you enjoy prosperity.

Eating pretty

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cooking, no matter how enjoyable, can be hell on your tummy... and I don't mean giving you a stomach ache.

For the next edition of Don't Call Me Chef (see tab above), our theme is local kuih, sweet and savoury traditional cakes. We'll be posting about that when the story comes out on March 1 in the newpapers, but having to try out recipes now is wreaking havoc on me. The kuih I am making, like so many of its ilk, contains a lot of sugar and coconut milk. That's why it's so delicious. And even though I take samples to the office to feed my colleagues, I eat  a lot of it as well. I tell you, it's going to take hours of tap and pilates to get rid of the folds around the belly that have increased in size in the past week or so!

And so it's more meals like the udon soup pictured above for the time being.

Normally, when I cook something I was going to eat myself, it wouldn't matter how it looked because I knew exactly what went into it. But since starting this blog and taking pictures of practically every dish I make, I've started to arrange things on and in the plate as artistically as I can. This wouldn't fool a Japanese person who's fantastic with all those intricate platings, but it certainly makes the food more appetising.

Japanese noodles are always delicious. I love their portion control and how balanced the dishes are. Recently, I found ganmodoki at the grocers. It's a fried tofu fritter and it makes a nice addition to a bowl of soupy noodles.

While doing some research, I also came across a noodle dish using deep-fried tofu, called kitsune udon. Kitsune is Japanese for fox, and is either named for the light brown colour of the tofu or for the fact, according to cookbook writer Kimiko Barber, that Japanese foxes adore deep-fried tofu.

Well, Lotte, my lovely fox-like dog, whose grin and eyes could make me do anything, would definitely like tofu so here's an easy recipe in her honour. The broth is the focus so garnish the noodles with whatever you like.

Serves 2

4 pieces ganmodoki (any variety), sliced
4 surimi (imitation crab sticks), sliced diagonally
1 250g package of udon noodles
3 leaves mustard greens or bak choy, roughly chopped
½ cup carrots, sliced thinly (optional)
2 green onions, finely chopped

1.2 litres water
2-3 tablespoons shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
4 tablespoons white miso paste
½ tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sake (optional)
1 sheet nori, cut into large squares
  • Heat the broth ingredients in a pot, with the carrots (if using); bring to the boil. Put the noodles in a draining or perforated ladle and dunk into the broth to cook. Divide between 2 serving bowls. Dunk the ganmodoki and green vegetables briefly into the broth. Arrange all the garnish ingredients in the bowl and pour the hot broth over the noodles.

Woebegone kitchen

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I am sitting at my kitchen island as I write this and I'm trying hard not to look up from the laptop too often or I'll see the dingy cabinets with doors that are partly stripped of their paint (there are three layers ­­– blue, orange, and cream, the result of fickle-mindedness and then of sloth), a counter top permanently stained from spills and hot pots, an old fridge (you can't ignore the loud humming, though) that's situated in a less-than-ideal spot and cannot be prettied up even with cute magnets, photos of loved ones and that Homer Simpson figurine on the right (I know, he actually drools "mmmh..." to doughnuts but his lips say "oooh" here). It's a poorly planned kitchen (my own misjudgment) and not the best use of space. The whole thing makes me want to take a sledgehammer to it!

I shouldn't complain because lots of people do with much less, yet make substantial, and even fantastic, meals every day. And then to see Julie Powell preparing (sometimes elaborate) recipes from Julia Child's cookbook in her tiny kitchen for a year... well, that should shut me up good! (You need to watch Julie & Julia; heck, I need to watch it again since I had to squint at it on that tiny screen on board a Malaysia Airlines flight a while ago.)
* * *
I started this post a few weeks ago and while I still think my kitchen is cramped and inefficient, knocking through to the flat next door (after buying it of course) and making that into a workspace isn't really the solution. But after 12 years, my needs and interest in cookery have changed and so must my kitchen. It looks like I'll be knocking down some (cupboard) doors, after all.

In the meantime, I'm making something to lift the spirits, although if you're going to take a drug test for some reason, you may want to stay off this until after that ­­– you don't want to suffer the same fate as Elaine in Seinfeld, which the MythBusters tested and confirmed to be plausible! (This article may also interest you.)

Poppy seed bread is found in many cultures and come in the form of Czech kolache, Polish makowiec and Hungarian beigli, among others. All Eastern European... Hmmm.

I wanted an eggy, buttery bread for this. While I've been trying out a lot of no-knead bread recipes, this time, I didn't want to wait overnight for the dough to develop. The bread dough is Linda Collister's recipe for Polish poppy seed roll from her book Bread: From Ciabatta to Rye, but I did not use her poppy seed filling. For this, I simply threw together the poppy seeds and other ingredients I had. It's just a matter of taste, anyway, not of precise quantities.


Makes 8 palm-sized rolls
1 portion egg dough
1 cup poppy seed filling (recipe follows)
A little milk for brushing

Egg dough
250g unbleached strong white bread flour
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons caster sugar
50g unsalted butter, diced
About 90ml tepid milk
1 teaspoon instant dried yeast
1 medium egg, lightly beaten (at room temperature)

  • Sift flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Mix in the yeast, then rub in the butter until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. Make a well in the centre and add the milk and egg. Gradually work the flour into the liquid to make a smooth, soft dough.
  • Turn out into a lightly floured surface and knead thoroughly for 10 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with cling film. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1½-2 hours.
To assemble and cook the rolls
  • Punch down the risen dough and divide into 8. Knead each portion, then press out into any desired shape and fill with 1 tablespoon of poppy seed filling. Place on a baking tray, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
  • 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush rolls with milk and bake for 30-35 minutes until cooked through and top is light brown (if you want a darker brown, brush the top with egg instead). 
Circle: Form dough into a ball and make an indentation in the centre for the filling.
Envelop: Press dough into a square, place filling in the centre and fold the corners over into the middle. Or fold in just 2 opposite corners for a bar shape.
Crescent: Press dough into a triangle, spread with filling and roll up starting from the wide end to the point.

Makes 1¼ cups
75g (½ cup) poppy seeds
1 tablespoons lemon juice
75ml (¼ cup) honey
50g (⅓ cup) chopped dates (or raisins)
2 tablespoons milk
¼ cup almond flakes, toasted and crumbled

  • Put all the ingredients except the almonds into a small saucepan and cook, stirring well, until mixture is smooth and thick; cool. Stir in the toasted almond flakes. To store, put into a glass jar and keep refrigerated.

Spring (onion) is in the air

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

They're called spring onions, green onions, scallions, onion leaves (daun bawang in Malay), but by any name they make a delicious addition to many dishes. I think they're almost a cross between a vegetable and a herb because they seem to be able to hold their own against some of those leafy greens and yet add flavour where needed. In fact, according to Alan Davidson's Penguin Companion to Food, they are also sometimes called salad onions. He also points out that since they are now available all year round, the name "spring onions" has lost its significance. Make no mistake, though, while they may be the milder cousins of bulb onions, get too close and they can still sting your eyes.

Spring onions are the star in these Chinese-style pancakes. The dough for the pancakes is a simple mix of flour and water, but the water should be just boiled. In effect, this cooks the flour slightly and gives it a good elasticity. It's the same method many a Punjabi lady uses when making chapati dough (using atta or wholemeal chapati flour instead).

Rolling and twisting the dough in a particular way (see pictures below) give the pancakes a unique spiral pattern when cooked and makes them puff up so they have a bit of crunch but are still soft on the inside.

Cut the pancake into wedges if dining in polite company, or simply tear into them if the people around you don't mind. What's a little feral behaviour between friends, eh?

Makes four 17cm pancakes

1½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp sesame oil
½ -¾ cups boiling water, approximate
2 spring onions, diced (finely chop the white part; the green part can be coarser)
Oil for shallow frying
Flaky or sea salt
  • Place flour in a medium bowl and rub in sesame oil. Pour in the water a little at a time and stir until the mixture comes together. It should be soft but not sticky. Press the dough together and knead for a minute and form into a ball. The dough will still be rough at this stage. Cover and set aside to rest for 30 minutes. (I leave the ball of dough on the kneading surface and place the bowl it was mixed in over it like a dome. There will still be some residual heat from the hot water which helps soften the dough.)
  • On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough again until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, then divide into four portions (you can divide into 6 or 8 portions for smaller pancakes).
  • Roll out each piece into a thin circle and scatter with diced scallion. Roll up like a Swiss roll, then twist into a loose spiral. Flatten the spiral and roll out again into a 17cm circle. Sprinkle salt over both sides, pressing down lightly so it sticks to the dough. If you are not cooking them immediately, you can refrigerate them at this stage in a stack with cling film between each pancake. The dough will remain soft.
  • When ready to cook, heat oil in a skillet and shallow-fry the pancakes, pressing down lightly with a spatula so they cook evenly. This also makes them puff up slightly as air pockets will form. Cook until both sides are golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve plain or with a dipping sauce.
  • A ready-made chilli sauce go well with the pancakes, but make a simple dip by mixing soy sauce and rice vinegar with minced ginger, garlic and spring onion to taste.

Oil and water DO mix

Monday, February 1, 2010

Crackling Tiger on Emerald Lake
There's a reason deep-frying is best left to professional kitchens. They have the proper tools and equipment, gas stoves with flames hot enough to singe your eyebrows from 5m away and a batallion of minions to clean up oily splatters.

Deep-frying has always been my nemesis and even when I managed relative success, I still got badly burnt in the process. For a recent project, I armed myself with a wok cover in my left hand to shield me from splattering oil, but still managed to burn the tip of one finger of my right hand as I was lowering something into the hot oil.

So it was with trepidation that I decided to make lotus seed paste crêpes for February's "Don't Call Me Chef" cookery column on our favourite Chinese dishes (here's the link to the pdf). These confection are seldom found outside of restaurants and are often served as the final course at a Chinese wedding banquet. Traditionally, they are deep-fried.

The pastry "skin" is made from a combination of two kinds of dough, one containing water, the other is a mixture of flour and shortening. It's the rolling and folding of these two dough together that produce crisp, flaky layers, much like "Western" puff pastry. I have made puff pastry and I think this Chinese pastry skin is much easier to handle.

It was the frying that consistently ruined my efforts. They say third time's the charm, but after four failed attempts at deep-frying ­­– the outside burns before the inside cooks or it just soaks up the oil; look, I know it's because the oil is either too hot or not hot enough or there's too little of it... I admit I am lousy at it – I decided to give up and use the oven. The crêpe doesn't have the same crispness or dark golden colour that comes with deep-frying but I think the difference is negligible when the result is edible.

Lotus paste comes in 1kg packets and I had wondered what I was going to do with all the leftover, but after making it five times, only 1½ cups of it remained. I made some cupcakes using the paste in a filling and you can find the recipe in the post just before this one ("In lotus pose"). For the benefit of those who didn't get to this site through The Star, here's the recipe for the crêpe. (By the way, the paste in the newspaper was fluorescent green due to a printing error. It should be emerald, as in the pictures here, and that inspired the evocative name "Crackling Tiger on Emerald Lake", the tiger referring to this coming lunar new year of course.)

Beautiful bars
Serves 2-3

1¾ cups lotus seed paste (red bean is a good substitute), divided into 4 portions
Some oil and sesame seeds to garnish

Water dough
¾ cup unbleached plain flour
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 tablespoon shortening (I use Crisco)
3-4 tablespoons water

Oil dough
½ cup cake flour, sifted
3 tablespoons shortening

Water dough: Sift the flour and icing sugar together. Rub in the shortening, then gradually add the water until the mixture comes together (you may not need to add all the water). It will hold together but will be stiff and stringy; knead for 3-4 minutes and the dough will become smooth and elastic.

Oil dough: Combine the ingredients and press together into a ball. This dough will hold together but be a little powdery.
  • Cover both dough and set aside to rest for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 190°C. Divide the water and oil dough into 4 portions for easy handling. Roll or press out the water dough into a disk and place the oil dough in the centre, then wrap the water dough around it to enclose and form into a ball. 
  • Roll out the dough into a long oval (pic 1), then roll into a Swiss roll (pic 2). Give the dough a quarter turn (pic 3) and roll out lengthwise again. Make a Swiss roll again, give it another quarter turn and finally, roll out into a rough rectangle (pic 4). Spread one portion of lotus paste on one half of the pastry and fold the other half over (pix below).
Multiple strata are produced after the pastry has been rolled out. When baked, they puff up into flaky layers.
  • Place pastry in a baking tray. Brush oil on the top and scatter with sesame seeds, lightly pressing them into the pastry. Bake for 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve cut into bars.


Postscript (Feb 13, 2010)

Katie emailed me after this post came out to ask if the Chinese pastry skin freezes well. I thought it might since most pastries can be frozen. Well, I tried it over the weekend and here's my report.

I made the pastry skin up to the final roll. One batch I froze without the filling, and another I filled with the lotus paste (both types were wrapped in cling film before freezing). For the unfilled pastry, take out of the freezer and thaw for 30-45 minutes before spreading with the lotus paste and then bake as usual. For the filled pastry, I put it straight in the preheated oven and baked for 5 minutes longer than asked for the recipe. 

Result: The batch without the filling worked well. I wasn't as pleased with the one frozen with the filling. The outside layers crisped up, but the inside was a little dense and uncooked.