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Laksa make a deal

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

As a Malaysian, I consider the ability to make a good curry laksa the mark of a cook who has reached a certain standard just as the ability to make a good soup is to a professional chef or an omelette is to a line cook in a diner.
I've been telling myself that curry laksa is one of those dishes that takes too much trouble to make at home. Many recipes in Malaysian cookbooks have a long list of herbs and spices that need to be ground together, and then simmered in a broth for a long time to develop its flavour. Looking at recipes just makes me want to go out and get a packet of ready-made spice mix rather than prepare all those ingredients myself and wait around for far too long to have my first bowl of laksa. It's too much. Too much.
I have my fill of curry laksa when my godmother, Louise, makes it. But I've never taken the trouble to find out how she does it.
And then I asked one day, and she gave me a basic recipe for a gravy. And I found it's something I can actually manage. There is, of course, no definitive curry laksa recipe. My aunty's recipe may or may not be good enough to go into the curry laksa business with, but in our family, we never stop at just one or even two bowls.
The base is vegetarian (some cooks add belacan or shrimp paste), and she makes a thick chicken curry on the side to add to the condiments and gravy. It gives the dish a more intense curry flavour but I think the gravy is pretty good on its own.
A vegetarian curry is good too. I've tried it with pumpkin and fried eggplant along with the usual condiments and garnishes.

Louise's Basic Curry Laksa Gravy (Vegetarian)
Serves 4

1½ coconuts, grated
10 dried chillies, soaked in water to softened
6 fresh red chillies
2cm turmeric root
2cm galangal
4 stalks lemongrass
10 shallots
3 tbsp cooking oil
5 tbsp curry powder
2 stalks laksa leaves (daun kesum)
Salt to taste

Condiments and garnishes
Fried tofu puffs
Long beans, trimmed and cut into 3cm lengths
Cooked cubes of pumpkin
Lightly sautéed cubes of eggplant
Lightly sautéed cubes of tofu
Rice vermicelli noodles, blanched
Fresh bean sprouts
Limes, halved
Mint leaves
Chilli sambal (recipe follows)

Squeeze the grated coconut to extract 30ml thick coconut milk. Set aside. To the squeezed grated coconut, add warm water and extract 1.2 litres of "thin" (second pressing) coconut milk (keep adding water a cup at a time until enough coconut milk has be extracted). Set aside. (Alternatively, use a good quality boxed or tinned coconut cream, and add water to thin it down slightly.)
Finely grind or blend the dried and fresh chillies, turmeric root, galangal, lemongrass and shallots. Heat the oil and fry the ground ingredients until aromatic and the oil separates. Add the curry powder and fry until golden.
Add the thin coconut milk; bring to the boil over low heat. Add the laksa leaves and season to taste. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, then add thick coconut milk and bring up to a simmer. Adjust seasoning.
Add this stage, the tofu puffs and long beans can be added to soften. Just before serving, add the pumpkin, eggplant and tofu cubes to heat through.
To serve, place some blanched vermicelli noodles in a bowl with fresh bean sprouts. Pour over the gravy. Serve with a garnish of mint leaves, and lime and chilli sambal on the side.

Chilli Sambal
80g ground chilli
2 cloves garlic, finely ground
120ml vegetable oil

Heat the oil and fry the ground chilli and garlic until there there is a red film of oil on the top of the mixture.

Daring Bakers: Sans Rival

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.
I'd never heard of Sans Rival, but after reading Catherine's recipe and instructions, I realised it was a dacquoise and similar to a marjolaine. I did wonder though why a country with historical ties to the Spanish would have a cake with a French name.
I made up the cake using only five egg whites, baking it in a sheet pan and cutting the cake into three. I used almond meal in the cake. I know the layers are not as crisp as they should be and that is probably due to my not using as much sugar or ground almonds.
The buttercream filling is flavoured with peanut praline. I had made a batch of Microwave Peanut Brittle a few days earlier and processed that into a powder.The outside of the cake, though, is frosted with plain buttercream.
Catherine's recipe for buttercream entails melting sugar to the thread stage. I burn sugar more often than not, so I used a method of making buttercream that doesn't require doing that. It produces an equally delicious, fluffy result.
In keeping with the peanut theme, the top of the cake is garnished with peanut butter crumbs. I actually got the idea from an episode of Man vs Food, where host Adam Richman has a peanut butter cream pie at Yoder's in Sarasota, Florida.
Now, while I welcome chocolate in everything, this time I exercised a little restraint. With the peanut praline and peanut butter crumbs, the chocolate would have taken the already elaborate cake over the top.
Put these components together for a cake that wows
Almond Dacquoise
Adapted from a recipe in The New York Times 
Makes one sheet cake

5 medium egg whites
Large pinch of cream of tartar
¼ cup caster sugar
2 tbsp plain flour 
½ cup ground almonds

Preheat oven at 150°C. Grease a 28cm by 23cm shallow baking tin and line with baking paper. 
With an electric mixer, whisk egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Add sugar slowly and whisk until stiff but not dry. Fold in the flour and ground almonds. Pour into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake for 18-20 minutes until brown.
Remove from the oven and invert onto a cooling rack. Remove the tin and leave inverted with the paper facing up. Cover the cake with a damp tea towel for a few minutes, then remove paper while cake is still warm. Leave to cool completely.
When ready to assemble cake, cut the cake into three equal pieces along the width.

Microwave Peanut Brittle/Praline 
Important note: Made in an 800W microwave oven

1 cup white sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
1 cup salted peanuts
1 tsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda

Butter a cookie sheet. Combine sugar and corn syrup in a 2 quart glass bowl and microwave on High 4 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Stir in peanuts and continue microwaving for 3½ minutes, then stir in butter and vanilla and microwave for 1½ minutes. (Adjust times based on microwave oven wattage.)
Stir in baking soda until light and foamy. Pour onto cookie sheet and spread thin. Cool completely and break into pieces and serve.
To make praline: Place brittle in a food processor and grind until fine.

Buttercream (Pastry Cream)
Makes about 2½ cups

4 egg yolks
½ cup caster sugar
¼ cup plain flour
1 tsp powdered gelatine
1 cup milk
½ cup unsalted butter

Beat egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale. Gently whisk in flour.
Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatine over 1 tbsp of water and set aside to bloom.
Heat the milk to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Whisk of the hot milk into the egg mixture, then pour the egg mixture into the remaining milk. Boil, stirring constantly, over medium-high heat until thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the gelatine. Transfer custard to a bowl and let cool (the bowl can be placed in the freezer while you beat the butter).
Beat the butter until soft and creamy. When the custard is completely cool, whisk in the softened butter. Keep whisking until creamy and mixture stays on the whisk. Store the buttercream in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Peanut Butter Crumbs
Makes about ¾ cups

½ cup icing sugar, sifted
3 tbsp peanut butter

Place the icing sugar in a bowl and add the peanut butter. Rub in the peanut butter, forming rough crumbs.
Luscious layers
Assembling the Cake
Almond dacquoise (cut into three equal pieces)
2 cups buttercream, divided
¼ cup peanut praline
½ cup peanut butter crumbs
Toasted flaked almonds

To 1¼ cups of the buttercream, stir in the peanut praline.Place one cake layer on the serving platter and spread with the praline buttercream. Refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.
Cover the praline buttercream with the second cake layer. Spread with of the praline buttercream and refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.
Top the praline buttercream with the third cake layer and spread with the remaining praline buttercream. Spread the sides of the cake with the plain buttercream. Press the flaked almonds onto the sides and sprinkle the top of the cake with the peanut butter crumbs. Refrigerate until firm.


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Other Daring Bakers challenges 

Square off these

Thursday, November 24, 2011

These crackers should definitely be thinner.
I made them to use up some dark rye flour. Finishing the bag was harder than I thought. I’ve made bread with it a couple of times but I'm not really sold on the coarse texture. (Mental note: Next time, get the finer type of flour.)
The crackers are all right and go really well with a thick and creamy soup but still, 30 pieces – tiles, more like! is a little hard to finish when there are only two people in the house and the Husband made a face after tasting one.
After sitting around in the glass bottle for a while, and not looking very attractive at that, I decided I would use the crackers for something else. So into the food processor they went where I whizzed them into crumbs, added melted butter and pressed them into a tart pan. After blind baking, I filled the tart case with a mixture of eggs, milk, cheese and various vegetables, and out came a flavourful (and more attractive) quiche with a savoury crust.
Quiche with a rye cracker crust
But back to the crackers.
I like the method of shaping crackers by simply rolling the dough out on parchment/baking paper and then cutting them with a pizza or fluted wheel. They are then baked like that without separating the pieces. Out of the oven, they come apart easily.
Roll out on parchment, place on a baking sheet and cut into squares with a pizza/fluted cutter, then bake

Similar recipes are available all over the Net, and I take no credit for the one I give below I am simply documenting it so I can access it easily. I might try it with spelt flour next time, as recommended by an online site.
The thing I want to know is why they’re attributed to New York? If someone can point me to the origins of these crackers, I would greatly appreciate it.

New York Rye Crackers
Makes about 3 dozen pieces

120g rye flour
100g all-purpose flour
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic salt
cup vegetable oil
1 tsp honey
65ml water, or as needed

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients except the water. Process briefly to blend. Gradually add enough water until mixture comes together into a moist ball.
Preheat oven to 190°C.
Place dough onto a sheet of baking paper and roll out as thin as possible (this can be done in batches). Transfer the baking paper to a baking sheet. Use a fluted pastry wheel or pizza wheel to cut through the sheet of dough into 3cm squares. The crackers do not need to be separated. Use a fork to prick the surface of the crackers. Bake for 12-15 minutes until crisp. 
When done, remove baking sheet from oven, separate crackers and place on a wire rack to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.

Corn for good

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My teeth are not falling out of my gums yet and I'd like to bite into the kind of corn cobs that I used to enjoy as a child. They just don't grow them anymore.
That corn had firm kernels and getting through a whole cob took effort and time. You could gnaw on them like a dog does on a bone and work your jaw real good. We children would be at it while we played, grossing each other out with wide grins that showed off kernels stuck between our gappy teeth (of course, some had fewer front teeth than others!).
Great-Uncle Ben, who lived next door, had a little plot and grew a few stalks of corn. I don't remember them yielding many ears, but we did learn a little about how they are grown (none of which I remember).
We always kept the corn silk when we shucked corn. When we had enough, we would make rather authentic-looking beards with them. Our school skits or plays always had an old man with a corn silk beard. (I think if we knew the silk had medicinal properties, perhaps our costumes would have been more mediocre!)
Casablanca corn: Kernels as big as hazelnuts
The last time I bit into good firm kernels was in Morocco a couple of years ago and before that in Sri Lanka in 2003. Both times, the chewing took a while, but these jaw-wrenching occasions were highly enjoyable.
Now, I may use frozen corn kernels in fried rice and patties or include them as an ingredient in something like this Jalapeño and corn loaf; and I make popcorn with dry kernels, but I like to eat fresh corn on the cob as corn on the cob. They can be steamed or boiled, but I also microwave them: peel, clean, moisten the cobs under running water, place on a plate and microwave for four minutes, turning once halfway through the cooking time. Out of the oven, sprinkle with some salt and they're good to go.
Nowadays, corn is bred as sweetcorn; the kernels are tender and you can eat them like in those classic cartoons where people look like typewriters. What we called sweetcorn when I was young was tinned creamed corn. My mother Lucy used this to make her bread pudding, a  regular teatime treat for us. Before I asked her how she made it, I searched for recipes online. Funny, but they were either for corn bread made with cornmeal and cream corn or a savoury sort of bread and butter pudding with fresh corn kernels and cheese. I suspect my mother simply threw things together and came up with this pudding, and when it worked the first time, she just went with her gut after that, adjusting the amounts according to how many slices of bread she had.
My mother didn't give me exact amounts – and didn't get the hint from me to make her bread pudding! – when I asked for the recipe. I don't think she even knew how much of everything she put into her pudding. But it always came out the way her children liked it, which proves, a mother always knows. 
She used commercial white sandwich bread and to keep it authentic, I set my prejudices and homemade bread aside, and bought a loaf.
I needed a real recipe and weighed everything starting with the egg, then added equal weights of almost everything else, as in a pound cake. But the mixture was a little runny so I added more bread to form a firmer mixture.
The pudding got nice and puffy in the oven and as it turned out, the finished product wasn't bad. I don't know if I can say it tasted the way I remember my mother making it, though. Next time, I won't hint – I'm going to tell her straight out to make her bread pudding for me!
Did my mama just dump things together for this? 
Lucy’s Bread Pudding
Serves 6
2 tbsp margarine (or softened butter)
3-4 tbsp sugar
100g (about ½ cup) cream-style corn
1 egg, beaten
6 slices sandwich bread, with crusts on

Preheat the oven at 190°C. Grease an 18cm square baking tin.
Beat all the ingredients except the bread together in a mixing bowl until combined. Tear up the bread roughly and soak in a little water just to soften*. Squeeze out the water and add bread pieces to the mixing bowl. Stir to combine and transfer to the baking tin. Smooth the top and bake until the centre is cooked and the top is crisp and golden, 30-35 minutes.
Cool slightly and cut into squares or bars.
* I think this softening process is only necessary if the bread is a few days old and a bit dry. Fresh bread needn't be softened. Remember, we're talking about commercial "plastic" bread here.
  For extra flavour, add a little vanilla extract.

Sponge job

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I am recycling today.
The picture is from many moons ago when I wrote about the Victoria Sponge for the cookery column in the newspaper I work for (the theme was retro food), but I think this is such a great-tasting cake for something so uncomplicated and with an almost fool-proof recipe that it deserves to be repeated.
Sponge cakes were one of the first baked goods to be made in the 17th century without yeast as the raising agent. Helen Simpson writes in The Ritz London Book of Afternoon Tea that the eggs had to be beaten for three hours with a fork or a bunch of birch twigs to whip in enough air to leaven the cake, a task obviously assigned to some poor kitchen wench. Their counterparts two hundred years later must have heaved a sigh of relief when Alfred Bird invented baking powder in 1843.
Created in honour of Queen Victoria who was apparently fond of cakes, and with the craze for tea parties in 18th century England, the Victoria Sponge – not really a traditional sponge since it contains butter – was a hit for its rich taste and tender crumb.
Today, while the cake may be considered the plainer sister of a more elaborate torte, it is no less delicious. Certainly, it is much easier to make.
I made the layers in two 18cm round tins. However, as the picture shows, the two layers are not the same height. The layer on the top was made in a shallow tin and the cake rose higher than the one made in the tin with the higher sides. I thought it would be the other way round.

Classic Victoria Sponge
Serves 6

100g butter, softened
100g castor sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk

75g butter, softened
100g icing sugar, sifted
4 heaped tbsp good-quality strawberry jam
Icing sugar, to decorate

Lightly grease and line two 18cm sandwich tins. Preheat oven at 180°C. Beat all the cake ingredients together in a large bowl until you have a smooth, soft batter (an electric mixer does the job in 5 minutes, but a wooden spoon and some muscle are fine too). Divide mixture between tins; smooth the tops. Bake 20 minutes until golden and cakes spring back when pressed. Cool in the tins a few minutes, then turn onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
To make the filling, beat butter until smooth and creamy; gradually beat in icing sugar. Spread the buttercream over the bottom of one of the sponges, top it with jam and sandwich the second sponge on top.
Dust with icing sugar before serving. Best eaten the same day.

A good meal

Monday, November 14, 2011

I read Jay Rayner's piece in The Guardian about how he dislikes slow eaters and it made me laugh because just two days ago, as I was licking my fingers at the end of my lunch of lentil rice and chilli eggplant, I thought about how fast I had finished that plate of food.
I am normally a medium-speed eater and what's in the picture above was all I had – rice, eggplant and a little mango chutney – but it was good and I ate it quickly.
Then I was reminded of someone who gobbled down his food in three minutes flat! I was having a lunch meeting with him and he ordered – I remember this clearly – spaghetti with chilli tuna while I had a shepherd's pie. As soon as the food got to our table, he started on his pasta and literally sucked the whole thing down! I swear, I had only taken two bites of my pie and he was done.
Back to my own cooking. These two dishes didn't take long to cook. First, the eggplant sambal. It uses fresh and dried chillies. Now, I have tried several times to grow chillies in pots on my balcony, but I haven't had any luck at all with that. Red chillies are really expensive right now, but I needed only a small amount. Fortunately, I managed to get some rather hot ones.
Well, my hands were still burning long after I had finished handling the chillies, but it was worth it. The amount of chilli used is, of course, according to personal taste. Also, some people prefer the sauce a little watery, but I like it thick so that when I scoop it up with a spoon, it doesn't run off.
With that kind of heat, it should got with something milder, and the lentil rice is a good accompaniment. I would say my dish is Indian-inspired although it is similar to the Middle Eastern dish, mujadarrah, which also contains lentils and fried onions.
I made more rice than can be eaten by normal appetites in one sitting because I used a rice cooker and I think the machine works better when it cooks at least a cup of rice.
I used red lentils and wished they would remain red, or at least turn pink, after they cook. Wouldn't that make the rice look pretty? But what they lose in colour, they more than make up for in flavour and texture.
Sambal terung
Sambal Terung (Fried Eggplant with Chilli)
Serves 2
2 long eggplants (about 250g)
4 tbsp oil
5-6 dried chillies, softened in hot water (deseeded if preferred)
2-4 red chillies (deseeded if preferred)
3 shallots, peeled
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
    Cut the eggplants into 10cm lengths and then quarter them lengthwise. Heat the oil and fry the eggplants in batches until lightly browned. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Reserve the oil.
    To make the chilli paste: Pound or blend the dried and red chillies, shallots and garlic until fine. Add 1 tsp of the oil used to fry the eggplant to loosen the paste.
    Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a pan and fry the chilli paste until fragrant and the oil separates from the mixture, about 5 minutes. Add the tamarind paste, sugar and salt. Add water if necessary if the paste is too thick. Stir-fry for about 1 minute. Adjust seasoning. Remove pan from heat.
    Arrange the fried eggplant in a serving dish and spoon the chilli sauce over them.
      This is what would be described as 'gebu' in Malay – tender and fluffy
      Rice with Lentils and Fried Onion Rings
      Serves 3-4
      2 tbsp ghee or cooking oil
      1 medium (about 50g) red onion, sliced into thin rings
      90g (about ½ cup) dried red or brown lentils, soaked for 30 minutes
      200g (about 1 cup) Basmathi rice, washed and drained well
      375ml (1½ cups) water or stock
      ½ tsp salt
      ¼ tsp garam masala

        Heat ghee or oil and sauté onion rings until crisp and browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
        In the remaining ghee in the pan, add lentils and rice; stir well so they are coated with the ghee. The next step can be continued in the pan or done in a rice cooker.
        Add water or stock and salt to the mixture in the pan, cover and cook over a low heat until done; OR
        Transfer the mixture to a rice cooker, add water or stock and salt; cook until done.
        When rice and lentils are cooked, stir in the garam masala and half the fried onions. Garnish with the remaining fried onions and serve with Chilli Eggplant.


          Friday, November 11, 2011

          The Wayward Oven takes over today.
          Written as The Thymes for two years, it was due for a change. I started in October 2009 as an extension of a cookery column I write in collaboration with my newspaper colleagues Hungry Caterpillar and Veggie Chick. My "character" was Marty Thyme, thus the name of the blog. While I continue to use that byline for the cookery column, the correlation between the newspaper articles and my posts has diminished, making the name redundant for this blog. Anyway, I never thought anyone could tell what the blog was about from the name.
          The Wayward Oven (or TWO), on the other hand, says a lot about what happens in my kitchen. After searing my arm – the left; why is it always the left?! – for the umpteenth time on the hot grill of the oven, I thought about how everything is always perfect on TV cooking shows (the ones with celebrity chefs; reality cooking programmes at least show the not-so-pretty side). Kitchen mishaps are bound to happen; I doubt anyone has been so lucky to cook perfectly every time. And that's the reason for the name. Some people have a ghost in their computer, I have an obstinate imp in my oven (okay, now the thought of critters living in my appliances is scaring me a little).
          There's no big, significant reason I chose to launch the blog today, 11.11.11. It is just an easy date to remember, although 11 happens to be my favourite number and was on my jerseys for all the sports teams I played on when I was a student (I was a girl-jock once). I should be fed up of the sequence by now since I have spent the past week editing related features for the 11.11.11 issue of the newspaper.
          Many of the posts inherited from this blog's predecessor have been on breadmaking and sweets and other dishes made in the oven. Because I love baked goods so much, these recipes will continue to appear, but I am determined to try more new techniques, and document the process at every step. Also, I am making an effort to cook more South-East Asian dishes. 
          I'll end this post with a recipe to show my new-found enthusiasm. It's only a fried rice but it's my version of Millionaire's Fried Rice. This dish  is said to have originated in Singapore when two sisters served it in a Chinatown coffee shop located opposite the Chinese Millionaire's Club. It is supposed to contain a liberal amount of crab, scallops and I think shark's fin (horrors!) is even included. I've made my dish solely with crab meat, which came from the few claws left over from a crab curry my mother cooked on the weekend.

          Not a millionaire's version, but certainly good enough for me
          Crab Fried Rice
          Serves 2

          1 tbsp cooking oil
          2 shallots, thinly sliced
          ½ cup medium chopped cabbage
          ½ cup medium chopped bok choy
          Salt and pepper
          2 cups cooked rice
          1 tbsp light soy sauce
          1 cup crab meat (fresh or cooked)
          1 egg, beaten

            Heat the oil in a wok and sauté the shallots until golden brown. Add cabbage, bok choy and salt and pepper to taste.

            Add rice and mix well. Sprinkle a little soy sauce over the rice and toss. Push the rice aside, leaving space for frying the egg; add the beaten egg and season with salt and pepper. Let egg set, then toss through the rice, breaking it up.
            Stir in the crab meat (I added a little of the curry gravy as well). If the crab meat is uncooked, toss with the rice until cooked; if using meat from a dressed crab, toss until heated through.

              Easier than pie

              Monday, November 7, 2011

              A pie, when made right, is nice, but unless I have the time, I think there is too much work involved. And making pie isn't as easy as the idiom proclaims – the dough needs to be rolled out (not to mention made well in the first place) and properly laid into the pie dish, blind-baked, cooled, filled, maybe topped with an upper crust, crimped and baked again. After all that effort, I can't even guarantee that I will get everything right.
                  I don't like to say a recipe is fast or easy; we don't all have the same levels of cooking skills so it's relative. But I do think a cobbler is easier to make than a double-crust (or even single-crust) pie because the preparation isn't as elaborate: a biscuit topping spooned onto a fruit filling is the most direct way to describe it.
                  A cobbler isn't the most elegant-looking dish, but unlike a pie, it has all the elements of a perfect dessert and can hold its own – it doesn't need ice cream or cream or custard to make it better than it already is.
                  I have another cobbler recipe out in print today ("The upper crust"). The filling uses pineapple and the biscuit dough is made with buttermilk.
                  Still in the cobbler mood, I looked for inspiration in my latest acquisition, the newly minted Cook's Illustrated Cookbook. I liked the sound of a biscuit topping with crystallised ginger added to it but didn't want to use pineapple again. Mango seemed like a good combination with ginger.
                  That's the good thing about a cobbler – it can be made with almost any fruit. Tropical fruit, I suppose, is unusual in a cobbler, but if strawberries and balsamic vinegar go well together and maple syrup and bacon are a marriage made in culinary heaven, then combining pineapple or mango with ginger, vanilla or allspice can't be bad.
                  It wasn't.
              A cobbler is easily tweaked to use whatever fruit is available
                 The fruit is prebaked before the topping is put on and baked some more. In that initial baking, the fruit caramelises and adds flavour. Since I had half a tin of cherries left over from the pineapple cobbler I had made earlier, I added that to the mango and blueberries. It gave the mix a rosy tinge and broke down into a jammy texture.

              Use a light hand when mixing the biscuit dough for a tender topping
                  My sister Judy helped with the recipe. She was a little timid when rubbing in the butter, though, so I took over and she snapped the pictures.
              A sprinkling of flavoured sugar adds crunch to the topping
                  When Judy saw the amount of dough we had mixed, she remarked that there might be too little of it for the top. But the dough rises and spreads out in the oven, while remaining puffy, and lets some of the filling show through for an attractive finish as well.
              The cherries become jammy when they bake
                  We made this at my godmother's home yesterday and she put out a vintage table-cloth inlaid with lovely needlework for the photo. Being the clumsy clod that I am, I was so afraid I would get a spill on the cloth but Godma insisted I use it. Fortunately, it remained stain-free.
              No need for formalities, just scoop and serve
              Serves 6-8

              450g mango flesh, diced (about 2 cups)
              150g blueberries
              100g tinned cherries, drained
              3 tbsp caster sugar
              ¼ tsp allspice
              1 tbsp cornstarch
              Pinch of salt
              ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
              Zest and juice of 1 lime

              Ginger biscuit topping
              140g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
              60g (3 tbsp) caster sugar
              ¾ tsp baking powder
              ¼ tsp baking soda
              ¼ salt
              3 tbsp minced crystallised ginger
              50g (5 tbsp) unsalted butter, diced and chilled
              80g full-fat plain yoghurt
              1 tbsp coarse sugar
              Pinch of ginger powder
              • Preheat oven to 220°C. Add all the filling ingredients to a buttered 23cm pie dish. Toss gently, then arrange the fruit evenly in the dish. Bake until the fruit begin to bubble around the edges, about 10 minutes.
              • For the biscuit topping: While the fruit is baking, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and crystallised ginger together in a medium bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until mixture resembled coarse meal (this can be done in a food processor). Add the yoghurt and mix with a fork until a cohesive dough comes together (do not overmix). This step should be done just before the biscuit topping is mounded on the fruit to bake.
              • Remove the fruit from the oven and put mounds of dough (about a heaped tablespoon each; use an ice cream scoop for even-sized portions) on top of the fruit, spacing them slightly apart.
              • Mix the 1 tbsp of coarse sugar and ginger powder together and sprinkle each mound with the mixture.
              • Return to the oven and bake until filling is bubbling and biscuits are golden brown, about 20 minutes, rotating pie dish halfway through baking. Transfer to wire rack to cool until warm, about 20 minutes, before serving.
              PRINTABLE RECIPE

              Top this box mix

              Friday, November 4, 2011

              I was missing my oven – wonky as it is – and needed to use it. I didn't want to bake anything with a lot of ingredients or with too much prep work, so to the pantry I went and came out with:
              • A box of Ghirardelli Chocolate Supreme brownie mix;
              • A packet of Werther's Original toffee; and
              • A bag of mini salty pretzels I had brought back from the US (it had been in my checked-in baggage and didn't get crushed!).
                  I know it's not difficult to make brownies from scratch and this is sort of cheating, but I like Ghirardelli brownie mixes, and am not ashamed to say I use them. Their brownies don't have the synthetic after-taste of many other box mixes. The similarity is that you add egg, oil and water.
                  I had read about brownies with a topping of salty pretzels and toffee and when I typed "pretzel and toffee brownies" into Google, I got 419,000 results in 0.15 seconds. And so I thought I might make the 419,001st brownie with a topping of pretzels and toffee.
              The components
                  I assembled the components, chopped up the toffee, mixed up the brownie batter, filled 13 cupcake cases (a 12-cup muffin pan and an extra mould) with it and topped each portion with toffee pieces and one mini pretzel, which was broken up roughly. I baked the cupcakes as directed and out came something I could get used to. They were a little sweet but a glass of cold milk was the perfect counter to that.
              Salty and sweet with crunch and chewiness – all in a bite
                  In hindsight, I probably should have used a little more pretzel bits, maybe from 1½ pretzels. Adjustments shall be made next time.