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Dough, you're kuchen

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bread is fickle, isn't it? I have made Dan Lepard's Sour Cream Sandwich Bread so many times and the dough has always been perfectly behaved, but the last time I did, it played the temperamental prima donna.
    I used the same brand of ingredients that I always do, weighed everything to the gram/millilitre, did exactly as instructed in the recipe, and waited just as long for the alchemy to happen. The dough, however, had something else in mind. It was a little obstinate, less compliant, refusing to do as required.
    But wait, actually I did change something. I usually only make half the dough, but this time, I went with the full amount. Can it be that I have a problem handling larger quantities? I never have a problem eating a whole loaf on my own.
    Well, if I cannot cajole the dough into seeing things my way, I have to trick it into submission. Give it a different part to play. Take away its main role as the sandwich bread and put it into the supporting role as the base for a coffee cake.
    Worked like a charm. In fact, the sour cream dough even managed to steal some of the thunder away from the blueberries and sour strawberries that I used for the topping.
    Here's how it went down:
    I made the sour cream dough (as per Dan Lepard's recipe) by first mixing together sour cream and water. To that I added salt, caster sugar and yeast, and then mixed in plain white flour to form a rough ball*. The dough was then rested and kneaded (the quick 10-second knead), and left to rise.
    *This is where the dough started acting up. It was a little wet so I took the risk and added slightly more flour but it just wouldn't budge. It remained wet and I could only handle it with a plastic dough scraper. So I let the dough rest until it had doubled in size, then spread half of it into a greased and floured 30cm x 10cm tin and set it aside for 10 minutes. I refrigerated the other half.
    After resting, the dough was brushed with beaten egg and topped with chopped strawberries and whole blueberries. I made a crumble (Nigella Lawson's recipe) with self-raising flour, ground almonds, ground cinnamon, unsalted butter, caster sugar, brown sugar crystals, and flaked almonds, and spread half of that on top of the berries, baked it at 180°C for about 40 minutes until the base was cooked (main picture above). 
Apple-passion fruit crumble kuchen
    The next day, I used the other half of the dough for an apple-passion fruit version. Instead of brushing the dough with egg, I spread it with a thick layer of apricot jam and topped that with one diced green apple and the pulp of a large passionfruit. The other half of the crumble was used but with an extra sprinkling of sliced almonds.
    I baked this kuchen for longer, just under an hour, and the topping was crispier, toastier and the jam became nicely sticky. I preferred this to the berry kuchen. Perhaps if the strawberries had been sweeter, and I should have used jam for that one too.  Apple and passion fruit are a good combination.
    I wouldn't serve this as a dessert; it's a snack for elevenses or teatime. For the past two mornings, I had a sufficiently large slab with my cup of coffee for breakfast. It made my day.

Daring Bakers: Candylicious!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I went through a phase when I was so interested in making candy that I bought myself a candy thermometer and Candy Making For Dummies.
    As if that was all the equipment that was needed, I imagined myself quitting my newspaper job and becoming a candymaker, enticing millions... well, thou... hundreds of people with my own brand of confectionery and becoming a hero to dentists.
   That was about two years ago. I have used the candy thermometer twice in that time and only opened the Dummies book at end-June this year for a recipe for jelly candy (paté de fruit), which I tried numerous times and failed each time. Candy conglomerate? A queue outside my door? People would more likely be lining up to pelt me with jawbreakers they got from someone else's shop.
    Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive to take part in this month's Daring Bakers challenge when I saw "Candylicious!" screaming from the title. Here's the brief:
The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!
   For the recipes and all the instructions, here's the document.
   The Daring Bakers had to make two types of candy: one had to have chocolate either in it or on it, and the other could be any other candy. The main challenge – although I like to look at it as "the lesson of the month" – was to temper chocolate.
    Among the choices of non-chocolate candy was sponge candy (also called honeycomb or sea foam candy). The last time I made this candy was almost three years ago. It was for the first edition of Don't Call Me Chef, the newspaper cooking column my mates and I started co-producing in December 2009. The recipe from Lisa and Mandy was slightly different, so why not?
    Well, that first time I made honeycomb candy, it took a few tries and a kilo of sugar before I finally got it right. This time, I failed again the first time round. Experts always warn us to keep an eye on the syrup once the sugar is melted because it can burn if kept on the heat a second longer than necessary. But no-o-o-o... I had to go do some washing up, and pfft, everything in the pot was suddenly black and smelly!

A honey bee pays a visit (right) and chocolate-covered truffles 
    Never mind, clean the pot and on to the next try. Fortunately, I only decided to make a third of the amount given in the recipe, so it didn't feel like a total waste. The second time, as evidenced by the pictures, turned out better even if it wasn't perfect. At least I got a crown out of it.
    For the chocolate candy, I made a chocolate-covered cake truffle. Since I wanted to focus on the chocolate coating, I admit I did take a short cut with the cake part of the truffle. I already had crumbs from a batch of cream cheese-swirled brownies which didn't cook all the way through, so I added a little rum to it and made little rum balls which would be dipped in tempered chocolate. Nothing difficult in that task.
    The tempering was another story. Without a chocolate thermometer, I relied solely on appearance, but without any expertise, of course I couldn't tell by eye or feel if the chocolate was ready. In the end, it was still chocolate even though it didn't pass any tempering test ­­– it wasn't shiny, it didn't snap and it certainly wouldn't have qualified for any confectionery title I might have dreamed for myself.
    Those truffles got eaten but nobody was fooled. Everyone knew it was solely because of the rum.

Deconstructing Boston

Monday, August 15, 2011

At the risk of being accused of blasphemy, I am paraphrasing a line from the Bible:

Man (or woman) shall not live by (other people's) bread (recipes) alone, 
but by the work of their own doing.

(Needs work.)

I've had an almost full bag of dark rye flour sitting in the fridge for a while now and I've been looking for ways to use it up. Boston Brown Bread of course uses the flour and I've wanted to make it for awhile. However, lack of proper equipment has prevented me from doing so. It's steamed and I don't have any vessel big enough for it. But I should also admit that I don't want to keep the gas fire on for two hours or more. Also BBB is a baking powder and soda bread and they're okay, but I like yeasted breads.

So, I was looking at Tom Jaine's BBB recipe from his Making Bread At Home, and saw that it uses the same amount of rye, cornmeal and wholemeal flours. I started with that ratio and then added white bread flour and enough liquid to get a wet but pliable dough. The Brown Bread I made has Three Grains and is Baked in a Can. The name doesn't roll off the tongue as easily as the alliterative Boston Brown Bread, but it turned out edible.

On its own, though, it is not an easy bread to eat because it is so stodgy. But put it together with Boston Baked Beans and you get that Bogart-Hepburn sync that peanut butter and jelly have, or bagels and cream cheese, or rum and raisin. I wonder if the people who first put them together knew how wonderful the combination would be!
With homemade baked beans and a fried egg
The baked beans are homemade and were cooked in a crock pot. The taste is what you would expect of good baked beans but without the undesirable metallic taste. Now if they look a little dark, yes, I burned them. I didn't realise there wasn't enough water covering them when I left them overnight to stew and the next morning, while the aroma was quite lovely, the beans had blackened. However, the beans were still a little firm, so I topped up the water and left them to cook in the pot for a couple more hours, and this time, I checked from time to time. Despite the colour, they didn't taste burned, and the beans were al dente, not mushy soft.

I checked out some recipes to get an idea of the ingredients, but I just went with taste when making the sauce. It has molasses, brown sugar, ground mustard and hotdog mustard (the mustard is supposed to be Dijon), salt, cider vinegar and water. I used dried pinto beans that had been soaked overnight.

For my own purposes, I have recorded the recipe for the bread here, but it definitely needs tweaking. I think whether steamed or baked, bread with these low-gluten flours will be dense, even with the addition of white bread flour.
1. The ingredients; 2. the slurry; 3. white bread flour added; 4. the proofed dough 
For this Three-Grain Brown Bread in a Can,

Step 1: Mix together 90g each rye flour, cornmeal and fine wholemeal flour (pic 1 above; L-R in plate). Stir in 1 tbsp malt flour, ½ tsp instant yeast and ½ tsp salt. Add 50ml molasses and 200ml milk and mix into a slurry (pic 2). Leave to rest for 30 minutes. The mixture will smooth out and flatten in the bowl.

Step 2: Add 120g strong white bread flour to the slurry and stir to combine. The dough should come together into a wet ball. Use a plastic dough scraper to fold the dough over itself a few times until smooth. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes, then repeat folding. Repeat resting and folding one more time (pic 3). Place bowl in a large plastic bag and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Step 3: Remove dough from fridge. It will have doubled in size. Punch down and fold over itself a few times with a plastic dough scraper. Divide dough into two. To one portion, I folded in two large pinches of caraway seeds;  I left the other portion plain. Place into two greased and lined coffee cans or large fruit tins. Cover and leave to rise until doubled in size (pic 4).

Step 4: Preheat the oven at 250°C for 30 minutes while the dough is proofing in the tin. As soon as the dough goes into the oven, turn it down to 180°C. Bake for 30-35 minutes until top is brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Cool before slicing.

Mug my words, it's cake

Friday, August 12, 2011

There are a lot of cravings I can tell myself I don't need to fulfil: a candy bar, fried chicken from a fast food chain, a soda pop. The craving comes, I say no, and it passes.

But I never ignore the voice telling me to have chocolate cake. Thank goodness I don't have them very often  because I don't like store-bought cake and making it myself is too much trouble.

Many years ago, my cousin and I tried making cake in a microwave. The vanilla batter tasted good as we were mixing it and the little cupcakes we made puffed up beautifully in the oven, but once out, they tasted quite horrible and hardened almost immediately. I never tried to make cake in the microwave again.

But when I got this recent craving, I thought I'd look online for a microwave recipe. Maybe there was one that I could try. Well, there are many.

So 12 years later, I was making a cake in the microwave again. This time, the recipe was for just one cake, and it would be made in a coffee mug. The recipe is from, but here's a quick rundown of what I did using an alternative suggested at the site:
In a mug, mix 4 tablespoons each of sugar and flour with 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa and 3 tablespoons of chopped chocolate. Add 3 tablespoons each of milk and oil and a splash of vanilla extract. Stir everything together. Microwave on Medium for 4 minutes.
Mud cake in a mug. Next time, clean up the sides first.
I suppose I could have eaten it out of the mug but I thought I'd try to unmould it. So I ran a small spatula around the outside of the cake and inverted the cake onto a plate. A little bit of the base stayed in the mug, so I scooped it out and pressed it onto the top of the cake. I ate it with a scoop of tangy Greek yoghurt.

The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of egg, but it also states that the egg can be omitted for a fudgier cake, which is what I did. The mixture was supposed to crown up to the rim of the mug while cooking, but mine didn't rise much. I don't know if it was supposed to be oozy in the middle, like a molten lava cake, but mine came out cooked all the way. It might have been in the oven for too long. Next time, go for three minutes.

I really liked how the inside was red like a Devil's Food Cake. That happens when bicarbonate of soda is added to cocoa powder. Thing is, there is no soda in this chocolate cake. That's something to read up on for another time.

First spoonful of this cake, and I was impressed. It was fudgy and tasted very good. I was actually surprised. Even though it took some time for me to photograph, the cake remained soft. For one minute of work and four minutes of waiting, this was not bad at all.

But notice the 4 tablespoons of sugar among the ingredients? And the 3 tablespoons of oil? By the time, I was into the third scoop, it had become too much for me. I couldn't go on and finished the yoghurt, leaving the cake on the plate. Half an hour later, I had a headache, a sign of too much sugar. The cake remained soft though. I will need to work out a better balance of ingredients for myself. Since it only takes five minutes, I'll be experimenting until I get this right.

For now, even the thought of this cake will be quite enough to keep the cravings away for a while.

Mmm... is for mint

Monday, August 8, 2011

The fresh mint in the picture above is a week old. I got it at a little grocer's shop close to the place I go to for pilates. It surprises me that the leaves are still so fresh after a week. A week! I've never had mint last a week. The mint I get from the many other places starts to wilt and the leaves turn black and mushy after only a day. The grocers must get their supply from some fine growers. How green are their thumbs and what are they putting in their soil?

I've tried growing mint in a pot on my balcony many times. Every article I've read about mint and every person I've spoken to about it says mint is one of the easiest plants to grow. Just stick a cutting in soil and it'll be growing like a weed in no time, they tell me. That makes me feel shamefully small and useless since every cutting I've potted, while initially showing promise, has ended up lacklustre and insipid like so many American Idols after their win. (At least I can uproot my plants and start over with new soil and fertiliser.)

Minty rice salad
Mint is one of those herbs I like to use like a salad leaf, especially when it is as lush as the bunch I recently bought. In the rice salad and the chicken noodles shown here, mint leaves feature prominently.

Mint is also used in confection, usually cold desserts, but often, only as that bit of garnish on top of the cream or fruit. Why shouldn't it be an ingredient with a more starring role in a sweet?

With that in mind, I looked around for something minty and sweet. Mint and chocolate go well together and when I searched for "fresh mint and chocolate", lo and behold, there are several recipes online with the two ingredients together.
Minty chicken noodles

Fresh mint is easy to incorporate onto a chocolate chip ice cream, for example, but a fresh mint and chocolate chip cookies is quite unusual. Here are a number of sites with recipes:
Une Gamine dans la Cuisine
Heather Cristo Cooks

Like a lot of people, I have my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and here I would just have to add chopped fresh mint to it. However, I thought I would try something else and decided to go with Michael Ruhlman's ratio which uses the same amount of butter, sugar and flour. With just those ingredients, I'll get a crisp plain cookie, but since I am adding egg and chocolate, it should be slightly softer and chewier. However, when I mixed the dough, it was a little too soft for my liking and didn't firm up very much after chilling in the fridge. So I added a little more flour. The dough still spread out quite a bit in the oven, but it has the texture of a brandy snap, only without the lacy look.

Minty chocolate cookies
Makes 16 cookies

50g butter, softened

50g soft brown sugar
White from 1 medium egg
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
80g plain flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
50g coarsely chopped dark chocolate
4-6 tbsp coarsely chopped mint leaves (depending on strength of mint and individual preference)
  • Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in egg white and vanilla extract.
  • Combine flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt; add to butter mixture. Stir in chocolate chunks and mint (to taste). Place the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up.
  • Meanwhile, preheat oven at 180°C. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop heaped teaspoons of the dough onto the sheets 7cm apart; bake until golden brown, 10-12 minutes. 
  • Leave the cookies to cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store tightly covered.
Pretty flecks of green 

Hey mac

Friday, August 5, 2011

It has been a tiring week at work. I haven't been cooking as even the simplest task of boiling water for pasta and tossing it with a few slices of fried garlic and tinned anchovies has been too much for me. My lunches have been mostly from the shops around my workplace but being a little heavy, they make me quite lethargic.

But last night I decided that I needed to bake something and it had to be something simple because I wasn't in the mood to knead, beat or whisk. The item still had to look pretty though.

Well, since I am currently fixated on biscuits/cookies, it would have to be something of that persuasion. The fridge and pantry didn't have much but there was enough to make coconut macaroons. With half a tin of cherries sitting in the back of the fridge and a whole bag of white chocolate on hand, the macaroons could even be sandwich cookies.

Within minutes I was done with the mixing. The oven was heating up and I was ready to spoon portions of the coconut mixture onto the parchment-lined baking sheet when I looked at the instructions again (the recipe is scribbled in rather bad handwriting) and noticed that I had to refrigerate the mixture overnight.

I debated on whether to chance it and go ahead and bake. I mean, the cookies wouldn't turn out bad, surely?

In the end, the instructions won and I turned off the oven, put the coconut mixture in the fridge. The chocolate cherry filling wasn't difficult to make and I wanted it in the fridge too so it was quickly made and I washed up.

As soon as I was up this morning, the macaroons were shaped, baked and cooled before I sandwiched a pair with the pink crème that had nicely firmed up overnight. Not an ideal breakfast, but cute enough to keep me happy until the end of the day. TGIF.

Makes 10 sandwiches

Dainty little bites
50g dessicated coconut
50g caster sugar
2 medium egg whites
½ teaspoon coconut extract
Pinch of salt
  • Stir together all the ingredients. Refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour or overnight.

  • Preheat the oven to 175°C. Line baking sheets with parchment. Form heaping teaspoonfuls of the coconut mixture into balls and place on the sheets; flatten into discs. These cookies do not spread so they can be placed close together. Bake, rotating the sheets halfway through for even cooking, until edges begin to turn golden, 9-10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool completely.

  • Sandwich two cookies together with the Chocolate Cherry Filling (recipe follows).
Chocolate Cherry Filling
70g white chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons sour cream
35g tinned cherries, drained (about 7)*
Dash of balsamic vinegar
  • Melt chocolate and sour cream together in the microwave or in a double boiler over simmering water. Remove from heat and stir in the cherries and vinegar. Cool, then blend until smooth. Refrigerate to firm up to a spreading consistency before using.
    * Alternatively, use a little more than a tablespoon of cherry jam (or other red fruit jam).


    Pillow talk on a date

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Give me a packet of Fig Newtons and I will polish it off in one sitting. Heck, give me two packets and I may only falter with the last two slices to go. I will eat it all and not feel an iota of guilt for it. I will not skip meals or even think of the exercise I will have to do to work off the empty calories. That is how much I love Fig Newtons (not named for Sir Isaac Newton, by the way).

    Unfortunately, Fig Newtons are hard to come by in Malaysia nowadays. Although, I have to say that the last time I managed to get them, I didn't feel like eating the whole packet. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think they tasted quite the way I remembered them. Perhaps my tastes have changed or I have just grown up and no longer feel the childhood glee of getting a biscuit that seemed so exotic because it came "from overseas".

    Ingredients can now be made in a lab, but I won't speculate on whether the company that produces Fig Newtons is doing anything different to their recipe and just go on to making my own biscuit based on what I remember.

    It's not difficult to get figs, but since dates are in abundance at the moment due to the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which starts today, I want to get this dried fruit in everything. Already I have made a sticky glaze for chicken and a rice salad with dates, and now on to some confection.
    Deglet Nour: Cheery, sunny and a good eating date
    Because figs have those tiny seeds and dates don't, I have added poppy seeds to the date filling to replicate the texture of the Fig Newton filling. Another ingredient I added but which I did not include in the recipe below is glacé pineapple. I used only one little ring of it (chopped up and cooked with the dates), and while I don't think it makes a big difference, there is a hint of tartness in the filling which I like. The pineapple is purely optional, of course.

    To make the rolls, I divide the dough into four because it's easier to handle smaller portions. The dough is quite soft, and it's easier to roll it out between cling film. In fact, a rolling pin isn't even necessary as the dough can be easily pressed out with my hands. The cling film also helps form straight edges.

    The verdict: These date pillows (the name is from a biscuit recipe book that I no longer have)  may slightly resemble traditional Fig Newtons but besides the fact that they don't contain figs, are quite different. The date pillows are made with natural ingredients, organic flour and free-range eggs, and the pastry is more tender and buttery, but I have to admit I prefer the texture of the commercial Fig Newton pastry as it is not so crumbly. I'll need to work on the dough some more.

    For now, I am happy to have a batch of good homemade biscuits on stand-by. Next time, I must remember not to try them as soon as they come out of the oven no matter how tempting they look. That date filling is hot!

    Another slice?
    Makes 20 cookies

    125g butter
    75g caster (fine) sugar
    1 medium egg, lightly beaten
    220g pastry flour sifted with a pinch of salt

    225g dried dates, chopped
    1½ tablespoons poppy seeds 
    40-50g caster sugar (to taste)
    100ml water
    1 tablespoon lemon juice

    Egg wash (combined)
    1 medium egg
    ¼ teaspoon water
    Pinch of salt
    • To make the dough, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg gradually and mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and mix just to combine. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the refrigerator.
    • To make the filling, place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Turn down heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and there is no more liquid in the pan, about 5 minutes. Process or blend for a few seconds until smooth. Set aside to cool.
    • To assemble the date pillows, divide the dough into four portions. Work with one quarter at a time and refrigerate the other portions. Place one portion on a piece of cling film, cover with another piece and roll or press out into a 10cm x 20cm rectangle. Use the edge of the cling film to help neaten and even out the edges of the dough. Brush the edges with egg wash. Place a quarter of the filling along the centre of each piece of dough. Use the edge of the cling film to fold the edge of the dough up to cover the filling. Roll each log so that the seam is on the bottom. Leave the cling film in and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
    • Line baking sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 180°C. Remove filled logs from the fridge, place onto the parchment-line sheets and unwrap the cling film carefully. Make deep slits in the logs 4cm apart but do not cut all the way through.
    • Egg-wash the top of the logs. Bake until nicely browned, 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the sheet; while still warm, slice the logs all the way through to separate the pillows and cool them on a wire rack.