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Bread bulletin: Tin can roti*

Friday, April 30, 2010

Doesn't this look like one of those round bales of hay?
(*roti = Malay for bread)

Those large tins of fruit cocktail and cherries in syrup come in handy after the contents have been used. Each one holds about 550ml and is large enough to be used as a baking tin.

I remember bakeries and roti men selling cylindrical bread when I was little. The loaf was yellow and slightly sweet, but you don't get them anymore. I wonder why.

It makes sense to bake bread in tall cans, especially for food like burgers. Instead of making individual buns, slices of tin can bread already have the perfect shape for those patties. Besides, there's the novelty factor.

Of course, you can get special cylindrical bakeware, which is used for items like Boston Brown Bread to give it its customary round shape. Those baking tins can be opened at both ends to facilitate the removal of the bread. But if you grease the used tin cans well or use parchment paper, the bread won't stick and ruin that perfect shape.
The risen dough   
Once the dough in the tin has risen to about 2cm from the top, cover the mouth of the tin securely with a piece of greased aluminium foil before placing the tins into a hot oven to bake. The dough will rise some more during the baking but with nowhere to go, the top (which will become one end of the loaf when you're ready to cut it) will be flat.
Delightful discs for all dem delicious dollops to devour... Yipes, that deserves a 'D' for destroying the English language!
I made a dough using white and wholemeal flour, with a little rye flour thrown in for good measure, but not enough for this bread to be called a rye. For the two tins, I used a total of 2¼ cups of flour.

Daring Bakers: Steamed Suet Pudding

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Steamed Ginger Suet Pudding.  Serve with golden syrup and more chopped glacé ginger.
It's a good thing I live in Asia because I left this to the last minute but can still post on the April 2010 Daring Bakers' challenge on time because we're a few hours ahead of the West. In fact, I only started making the dish at 9.30pm last night!

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.
I joined the Daring Bakers last month and I was looking forward to my first challenge, but when I saw it was a steamed suet pudding, it didn't make me jump for joy.

It's not as though I wasn't familiar with steamed puddings ­­– they're big in Asia, and there are a lot of tasty ones here. I just wasn't keen on keeping my gas going for two to three, or even four hours.

So instead of one big pudding, I decided to make several smaller ones in little fluted moulds. It took only 45 minutes. Also, about a month ago, I got the Tupperware Steam It, a "revolutionary" type of steamer based on the characteristics of the traditional bamboo steamer, but made of plastic and able to withstand the heat of a wok. It was the first time I had tried it and I was not disappointed. You can read about it here, and here's my picture of it. Yes, it actually sits directly in the wok with the fire below.
Tupperware's 'Steam It', the brand's new steamer. It might only be available in Malaysia at the moment though.
The moulds went into the top tier. My mistake was to fill them to the top and wrap the aluminium foil too tightly. The puddings rose a lot while cooking, pushed against the foil and came out lopsided! I was too tired to take a picture then, so I removed the puddings from the moulds and refrigerated them. Early this morning, I put them back in the steamer to reheat and soften. This is what they look like.
The wonky steamed puddings! They're being reheated here. For the main picture, I levelled the bottom of one of the puddings so it sits evenly.
You can get the original recipe here. I followed the basic recipe but added 70g glacé ginger (chopped medium fine) to the mix. I had half a box of vegetable suet, but it seemed to have gone mouldy (my mistake; I didn't refrigerate it), so I used Crisco brand vegetable shortening instead. Because I used 6 half-cup moulds, it took only 45 minutes. It's advisable to use bigger ramekins and fill them up to three-quarters full so that the batter doesn't spill over.

Dough see dough

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Want to know what my dream house looks like? Well, this would be it. It would be on some moor somewhere, perhaps on a cliff overlooking the sea, a solitary structure, remote and bucolic... but with electricity and indoor plumbing, of course.

I would spend my days kneading dough and baking bread. From morning till night, that would be all that I did in my little house on the moor by the sea equipped with electric power and running water. Knead, knead, knead, bake, bake, bake...

Isn't that starting to sound like torture and punishment?

As much as I love making bread and as lovely as the premises and environs may be where I dream to be cloistered, I had a nightmare in which I couldn't make enough flour tortillas and bread rolls for Crazy Juliet, the little sandwich business I run with Veggie Chick, now into its fourth week (we only serve on Mondays). I am surrounded by dough in various stages of proofing, my hands caked with the hardened stuff and a mushroom cloud of flour lingering over my head.

* * *
Well, it wasn't torture, after all. Every week I panic, and every week I get down to the task and complete it. It brings in hardly any income and with all our effort, we're practically giving away sandwiches. It's not going to get me my dream house but for now, it's fun to do and I'm teaching myself about the food business from scratch.

These are the filled mushroom pockets proofing. Just before they go into the oven, they get brushed with a light salt solution and sprinkled with sesame seeds. As you can see, they don't look homogeneous. They have the same amount of dough ­­– believe me, I weighed each portion ­­– and the same amount of filling ­­– mixed mushrooms (oyster, shiitake and enoki) and baby spinach on a bed of potatoes ­­– but these were shaped by my hands, not a machine. I think that's the nice part about the sandwiches actually.

The other sandwich I'm making is a Mexican Chicken Wrap. This is the picture I have on our menu.

The one I am making looks similar but instead of lettuce, the greens are a tangy shredded cabbage relish. The chicken is stir-fried with green bell peppers and onions in a taco seasoning. The flour tortillas are homemade, and that's where I have a small problem ­­– "small" being the operative word, actually.

From past experiments, I need to make 11-inch tortillas so they'll be big enough to make a nice substantial envelope for the filling. However, the largest pan I have is just over 9 inches wide. I actually tried making the bigger tortillas in a wok but with gravity wreaking havoc, the edges kept sliding down and pleating, and the middle was too crusty. I'll figure something out...

Belly button gazing: Part II

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What, did I think I was Frank Gehry with this architectural structure?
Macarons have been photographed from every angle and styled in all the different ways that I decided to just pile them together and capture whatever comes out of that, hence the strange sculpture you see here. Or maybe, I just didn't plan my composition...

I know these macarons aren't the colourful little things that they're supposed to be. I did add a touch of pink gel colouring to the batch but not enough obviously and some of the cookies were burnt, hence the orange tinge. But I'm happy to report that I finally got down to the task of making the cookies and am pretty happy that I did even if the result wasn't a complete success.

At the end of Part I, I had separated eggs and was ageing the whites to make them runnier, which would give them better volume when whisked. After doing the necessary ­­– and we'll get to that in a bit ­­– I put the tray in the oven, came back to check on the baking cookies a few minutes later and yelled like Hiro in Heroes. Only instead of "Yatta!", I shrieked, "FEET!" They also had lovely smooth rounded tops.

But as you can see from the picture above, I cut the feet from under the macarons. When I took them out of the oven after the specified time and the shells were firm, I found that the insides were still soft. So I turned them over, smooshing the insides up a little in the process. I tried to smooth out the dough with a palette knife and put the tray back into the oven, but the result was what you see on the right. This obviously requires further research.

The next time I make macarons, it will definitely be with small changes to the recipe. The cookies were extremely sweet on their own but with the pastry cream and raspberry jelly filling (not together; only three of each for the photo) they gave me a toothache.

Here are a few things to note.

Ground almonds
When I first read up about macarons, it was surprising to find that almond meal is not easily available in many countries. In Malaysia, however, baking supply shops sell little and big bags of ground almonds! But I give the meal another round in the food processor with some icing sugar to pulverise it.

Eggs by weight
Many recipes indicate the number of egg whites to use and unless the size of the eggs is indicated, large ones are usually used in recipes. However, after I found out last year that it can be painful for chickens to lay large eggs, I now only use medium free-range eggs and so I went by weight. Some recipes also give measurements by volume (cups).

How to age egg whites
The advice is to leave egg whites at room temperature overnight. In Malaysia where temperatures go beyond 27˚C/80˚F even at night, it isn't advisable to leave eggs out. It can, however, be done in the fridge, only it takes a bit longer. Here's what to do: Separate eggs and measure by weight or volume for the required quantity. Place egg whites in a small clean bowl and cover tightly with cling film. Poke a few holes in the cling film. Place bowl in the fridge and leave for three days.

I used the recipe from Joe Pastry. His measurements are in ounces but I have made the conversions and the metric quantities are given below. For what to do next, please visit his site. I followed his instructions to the letter and made 2 dozen 3.5cm cookies (though some were a bit wonky) for 12 sandwiches.

108 g blanched almonds (or almond meal)
198g icing sugar
99g egg white
50g caster sugar
Few drops colouring

Belly button gazing: Part I

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I love crafting with papier mache and baking and this olde worlde signboard I made demonstrates both these passions.
One of my ultimate quests in the realm of baking is to make a perfect macaron (pronounced /ma-kah-ron/, a distant cousin of the macaroon), those French almond meringue cookie layers that come in so many colours and with a variety of fillings.

A while ago, I was at a press event to promote the World Instant Noodle Association's summit in Kuala Lumpur that's scheduled for later this month. Besides being served instant noodle dishes that had been elevated to haute cuisine status (unnecessary, I think, since instant noodles are the ultimate in instant gratification; but to each his own), there was also an array of lovely little macarons in various colours, all just slightly bigger than a 50 sen coin. The chef who had created the noodle dishes was Nathalie Arbefeuille, a Frenchwoman who runs Nathalie's Gourmet Studio in Kuala Lumpur. I presume she and her team had made the macarons as well since they're featured on her website. They were very good ­­– I've only had French-style macarons once before so this was a real treat. Silly me, I only tried a couple of purple ones with a chewy berry filling and I regret that I didn't try the other flavours, but I didn't want to look like a glutton – that's only for when I'm alone.

I don't know anything about I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita, but I had to mention the book so that I could put a picture of its cover here. Aren't the cookies cute? See, this is why I have to make them.

I have attempted it before but have never been successful. Sure, the taste is correct but good macaron cookies have smooth rounded tops and something called "feet" on them, which I've never been able to achieve. But armed with information from David Lebovitz (and links from his blog) and Joe Pastry (who has step-by-step pictures to go with his instructions), as well as tips and recipes from Serious Eats, I will attempt to make these cuties again.

* * *
According to many sources, the best egg whites for macarons are those that have been aged as they whip better. Not actually knowing when I would try to make macarons, I went ahead and separated some eggs anyway and now have a bowl of whites that have been sitting in the fridge for three days. This has forced me to get down to the task soon so the next instalment in the tale of the belly buttons should be up in the not too distant future. By the way, the reference to navels is explained in this Wall Street Journal article. There's also a video where the WSJ reporter stopped passers-by on the streets of Paris, and asked them to taste macarons from the famous French patisserie Ladurée and a fast food chain (in France, macarons are sold at that American burger joint; quelle horreur!) to see if they could tell the difference.

Juliet gets bagged

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Baggies filled and ready for collection.
Crazy Juliet, the sandwich business Veggie Chick and I started, served its first sandwiches two days ago. I have to admit that this endeavour kept me nervous and preoccupied for a while and I have not been focusing as much on the other things I should be doing. But it's a relief now that the first one is out of the way.

The picture above shows the paper bags with our logo on them. We made a rubber stamp and all, proof that  we're mighty serious about this venture. Here are a couple more pictures from assembly day.

The big seller: Thyme roast chicken, marinated red peppers and coriander pesto in a wholemeal bun.
Don't worry, I washed my hands! VC getting a shot of me placing onion jam on top of the grilled eggplant and focaccia.

We put up our menu for next Monday yesterday (selections: chicken loaf; cola beef; and egg medley) and there is still interest so looks like we're in business!

One sizzling chickie

Monday, April 5, 2010

Treat them well and chillies will work wonders for your dishes. (This picture really has little to do with the story; just thought the post needed an image, and since I open with the chilli...)
Listen up and listen good: Don't let anyone tell you that wearing gloves while cutting chilli will prevent the heat from burning your hands and anything else you may touch after that. I wore gloves and still BURNED MY EYEBALLS!

It was the first time I had decided to wear gloves when handling chillies and only because I had to put on my contact lenses after that. The dish I was preparing was mango relish to go with Thai-style grilled chicken, or gai yang.

So after the task, I go put on my lenses and, well... imagine your eyeballs being bitten by a dozen red ants. Of course, I burned one eyeball first and leaped around quite a bit in the bathroom as if that would make the pain go away, and then jumped around some more when the second contact lens went in. For quite a time after that, my eyes kept tearing and my nose running.

Okay, so maybe those thick rubber gloves, the ones the British call Marigolds, would have been more effective ­­– my thin plastic disposable ones were useless!

If not for the tastiness of the chicken and mango dish (used as a sandwich filling for the April Don't Call Me Chef column; see tab above), I would have blamed the universe for putting me through that pain. But this is gai yang we're talking about, a dish famous all over Thailand. A whole bird is spatchcocked, marinated with a combination of herbs and spices and grilled – sometimes at less-than-sanitary stalls set up by the roadside.

I first tasted this flavourful and aromatic chicken under such conditions many years ago. Travelling with my teammates by bus from Kangar, in Perlis, to Kota Bharu, Kelantan, for an inter-school sports meet, we broke journey in the Thai border town of Sadao the route through southern Thailand was faster than going all the way down to Grik in Perak to take the East-West Highway. All we needed to get into Thailand was a border pass. 

Sadao at the time was basically a stopover town for lorry drivers taking the trunk road between the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia and the east coast of the country. It was tame by today's standards. None of the go-go bars and massage parlours that I understand openly operate there nowadays. Good thing too, because 25 years ago, teenagers still blushed at the mention of undergarments.

Amid the exhaust fumes of trundling lorries, the aroma of chicken thighs cooking on a small clay brazier drew forth the pack of schoolchildren, and at only RM1 apiece, we could not have cared less about hygiene.

Nor about losing most of our games. Leaving Kelantan a week later, all we could think about was stopping in Sadao for another round of gai yang. 

Note: For the recipe, go to Don't Call Me Chef (the link will be up soon is now up) The recipe uses chicken breast (for the sandwich challenge) but you can substitute with 2 whole chicken thighs. It will serve 2 instead of 4.

Crazy time for sandwiches

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I am writing this as I wait for my rosemary focaccia dough to rise. It is 6.45 in the morning and I have been up for a while now, stressing out from wondering if I have taken on more than I can handle.

Veggie Chick and I have been planning a little homemade sandwich business for a while now. We call our outfit Crazy Juliet. We're just supplying in-house at the office and serving only on Mondays. We put out the menu with a selection of three options earlier this week ­­– thyme roast chicken, curried tempeh and grilled eggplant ­­– and got 23 orders. That's actually a doable number for us.

Only thing is, it's the Easter weekend and in hindsight, it may not have been the best decision, for me at least, to start serving on the Monday after Easter. I want to enjoy the day with my family but I am stressing out over whether I will have time after Sunday's lunch to prepare my part of the orders. With the focaccia out of the way, I still have wholemeal buns to make, chicken to roast and some grilling to do. And please don't think VC is not doing much; we work on separate sandwiches and this week I have two to make but next time she'll have the bulk of the tasks. I guess we underestimated the interest in homemade sandwiches.

With so much still to do, I don't know if I'll be able to fulfil my seven-year-old nephew's request. Two days ago, he asked if I could make Easter eggs ­­which we did together a couple of years ago – just the empty shells, coloured and filled with confetti. That I may disappoint him is really painful for me.
* * *
It's 12.24pm now and I came back from the baking supply shop and market a while ago. I've just marinated the chicken, which gets cooked tomorrow and have cut up the focaccia into individual portions ready to be filled with grilled eggplant, onion jam and a few other condiments. Here's the bread.

You know, I bought four bags of white and wholemeal flour and a multi-packet box of instant yeast and thought that was a lot. How wrong I was! As I was paying, this guy puts his shopping basket down at the cashier's and it is filled with those blue 500g packages of Bruggeman yeast. There must have been at least two dozen packages! He even asked the manager if there was more. And here I thought I was going to do a lot of breadmaking...

So now it's on to the wholemeal buns for the roast chicken. I really hope I have time later today to work on those Easter eggs...
* * *
It's 10.19pm now and I've just come back from Easter mass and dinner with some of my family. My wholemeal buns, which were proofing while I was out of the house, are now in the oven and smelling good. I doubt I'll be making those Easter eggs for my nephew though. My mum is planning an Easter egg hunt tomorrow so I hope he won't be too disappointed. I feel really bad...