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Daring Bakers: Twelve Days of Cookies

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday season is the time for sharing and Peta of Peta Eats is sharing a dozen cookies, some classics and some of her own, from all over the world with us.
When the November Daring Bakers challenge was announced, I of course imagined myself making all 12 cookies. In reality, however, that was never going to happen. But while expecting to make two kinds of biscuits, at the most, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself with more than that in the end. (Well, I couldn't have a bonanza in my biscuit tin if it were filled with only one type of cookie now, could I?)
From Peta's recipes, I made the Lebkuchen but with a couple of substitutions: The recipe calls for honey but I was forced to add molasses and agave syrup as well as I didn't have the amount needed of any single one of those ingredients. By choice, I replaced the brown sugar with red palm sugar for a richer flavour. And I added allspice to the list of spices. The raw cookie dough was like fudge and tasted very good and if not for the raw egg in it, I would have eaten it without baking the cookies! The ones shaped like Christmas trees have a "glass window" (couldn't get a stained effect, unfortunately), made by filling cutouts in the cookies with crushed clear coloured hard sweets before they are baked.
I made three other biscuits as well. The Fig Bars (my favourite biscuit) are based on the Date Pillows I posted on a while ago, while the Lime Meltaways (for the tang) and Chocolate Pretzels (for the shape) are from Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies, a 2006 special issue magazine.
After all the biscuits were made, I happened to have an egg white left over and decided to use it for Fortune Cookies (I halved the recipe from and managed to make seven cookies) they just add interest to the biscuit tin! (And the fortunes will cheer me up after my heart fails from all the butter and sugar I've had!)
Many thanks to Peta for all her hard work, her tips in her Food Talk article on making piped short bread and especially her lebkuchen recipe! And check out what the Daring Bakers made in the slideshow at the site. There are so many varieties, colours and shapes. Lots of ideas for future cookie bakes.
Here are few other items that I think would be perfect for any festivity:
Red Velvet Whoopie Pies (with recipe link)

Whey hey! A pastry that pops

Friday, November 23, 2012

The few plants on my balcony get fed some good stuff every time I make yoghurt. After straining the curd to get thick Greek-style yoghurt (or yoghurt cheese as it is also called), I pour the whey onto the plants since I've read that the protein in it is good for them.
And then I read about using the whey as a substitute for the liquid in baking. How long has this been going on? Why have I not informed myself on this sooner?
Sorry, plants. It's plain water from the tap for you fellows from now on.
Well, I started experimenting by using whey instead of water in a straightforward bread recipe. The texture was the same but there was a slight tang to the taste, as if I had added a sourdough leaven. It was quite pleasant.
But what I was really pleased about – and I know I did not imagine this – was that after manually kneading the dough, my hands felt softer. So that's another good reason to use whey. And to knead dough by hand.
Right, while I was quite confident that whey would not adversely affect a bread dough, I didn't know what to expect with pie pastry since it's a bit more temperamental. I chose to make toaster pastries, based on that famous brand, Pop-Tarts®, a snack which I have never eaten before but which I like the look of. They're flat, filled with nice things and easy to carry about – what's not to like?
I am pleased to say that the pastry with the whey turned out well.
Bake until partly cooked, freeze and then cook in the toaster oven until fully cooked

The tarts were filled with raspberry and apricot jams and a chocolate spread. Now, as the montage above (top, right) shows, some of the tarts leaked jam. I love the Bonne Maman brand, but the raspberry jam was just too runny to stay put inside the pastry shell. The apricot, from another brand, was more set, and the chocolate spread, of course, hardly moved at all.
These tarts are meant to be toasted in a toaster oven as the pastry is not sturdy enough for a pop-up toaster like commercial Pop-Tarts. But that's a good thing. The pastry is soft – and stays that way when chilled – yet it is easy to work with. And it is tender after baking, although keep an eye on the tarts when they're in the toaster oven or they may end up burnt like the first two I toasted here.
Keep an eye on the tarts when toasting, and mind the hot filling when biting in

Toaster Tarts
Makes 9  palm-sized tarts

1 quantity whey pie dough
Fillings, about a tablespoon for each tart (eg. jam, chocolate spread, fruit slices, cream cheese)
1 egg, beaten

Whey Pie Dough
270g all-purpose flour
½ tsp table salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp caster sugar
70g white shortening (eg. Crisco)
180ml yoghurt whey (top up with water or milk if there isn't enough whey)

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together. Stir in the sugar. Rub the shortening into the flour mixture. Make a well in the centre and pour in almost all the whey. Bring the ingredients together into a ball, adding more whey if the mixture is too dry. Knead the dough for 10 seconds, then form into a disc and wrap in cling film. Chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a large baking sheet or line with non-stick paper.
Divide the dough into two. Roll each portion out into a 30cm by 24cm rectangle, and cut each one into 9 smaller rectangles, roughly 10cm by 8cm (life is too short to be absolutely precise with this; don't worry, it'll all work out in the end). Brush half of the pieces with beaten egg and place a heaped tablespoon of filling in the centre. Spread the filling to 1.5cm from the edge. Lay the other 9 pieces of pastry on top of the filling. Press the edges of the pastry together and crimp with the fork. Prick the tops several times with a fork.
Place tarts on the baking sheet and bake until the tops turn light brown, 10-12 minutes. This will only cook them partly. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Place them on a tray and freeze them, about 30 minutes. Store in freezer bags.
To eat, pop a tart into a medium hot toaster oven (200°C) for 5-7 minutes and cook until golden brown. Take care when biting into the tart as the filling will be hot.

Sourdough Surprises: Scones

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Preamble: This post was originally published at 7am on Nov 20, but later in the day, I noticed a mistake and opened the post to edit. However, due to a technical error (read: my own mistake!), all the text, including the recipe, and pictures were erased! I've rewritten the post but cannot find the piece of paper I scribbled the recipe on so I have to leave it out for now. I'll put it in when I find it!

Update, Nov 27: Found the recipe! It appears at the bottom of the post.

Sourdough scones have been on my list of recipes to try for some time but I have been sitting on it and it took Sourdough Surprises to get me off my behind.
It was 10.56pm on Oct 24 and I was just getting ready to shut down the computer and go to bed when I remembered that I hadn't checked the challenge for November. When I saw what it would be, I immediately got my starter out of the fridge and fed it so that it would be bubbling the next morning and I could start on my scones post-haste.
Sourdough Surprises suggested two recipes: one with an overnight fermented dough, and the other, a quick one. I have used a non-sourdough scone recipe with success and I adapted it by including the starter.
I've used a process of flavouring the scones from Peter Reinhart. He adds the flavourings in a sort of lamination just like puff or danish pastry. This way, I can make one batch of scone dough, divide it and flavour them separately for two types of scones.
Sweet and savoury scones
After mixing up a batch of sourdough scone dough, flatten it out into a rectangle and do a trifold, like an envelope. Repeat the trifold three more times for a total of four trifolds.
To add flavourings, sprinkle on the ingredients before each trifold. This way, the flavourings are layered in and not mixed in from the start, which I think distributes them better. For my savoury scones, I used a mixture of nutritional yeast, which tastes like cheese, and chilli powder. Zingy!
Layer in the flavour
Check out the other blogs and their scones. I'm sure none of them pressed any Delete buttons by accident *sheepish look*

Basic Dough for Sourdough Scones
Makes 6-8 cutout scones

55g cold butter
65g all-purpose flour
50g pastry (low protein) flour (if not available, use all-purpose flour)
½ tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
⅛ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp fine salt or ½ tsp flaky salt
90g refreshed starter
50g buttermilk or soured milk, approximate

Place butter in the freezer for at least 30 minutes to harden.
Whisk the flours, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together in a mixing bowl.
Grate the frozen butter over the dry ingredients in the bowl through the large holes of a box grater. With a fork, toss the mixture together so the threads of butter are distributed evenly and coated with flour.
Add the starter and stir together with the fork. Add ¾ of the buttermilk or soured milk; stir until all the flour is hydrated and the dough forms a coarse ball. Add a bit more butter if necessary to bring the dough together. It will be quite wet.
Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface; dust the top of the dough with flour. With floured hands, press the dough into a rectangle about 2cm thick. Use a metal scraper to fold one third to the centre and the other third on top like a business letter.
Rotate the dough 90 degrees and dust more flour underneath. Press out again into a rectangle and do another trifold. Repeat this two more times for a total of four trifolds.
Note: To add flavourings, sprinkle on the ingredients before each trifold.
After the fourth folding, dust under and on top of the dough one final time, then roll or press out the dough to 1.5cm thick. Cut out into circles, squares or triangles. Press the scraps together and roll out to 2cm thick. Cut out as many pieces as possible. Place on an ungreased baking pan about 2cm apart. Let the scones rest for 15-30 minutes (if possible place the tray in the refrigerator).
Preheat the oven to the maximum. Transfer the tray to the oven and turn down the oven to 230°C. Bake for about 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 6-10 minutes, until the tops and bottoms are a golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Have a heart, cook en papillote

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cooking en papillote or in parchment is a good way to retain flavour in a dish as it seals in the juices. I used to think that using paper would be difficult and messy, and that aluminium foil or cling film would be a better alternative. But unlike paper, foil and plastic are not permeable, and while that keeps the food from leaking, there is also the risk of overcooking. 
After using paper a few times, I found that it works very well, especially with  items like seafood and vegetables. It may not stand up well to the wet heat of a steamer, but it fares well in the oven.
Estimating the cooking time may take some trial and error at first. But a good indicator is looking at the colour of the paper. Once the packets start to brown and puff up, it won't be long before the food can come out of the oven. 
Snip, fill, fold, seal
Preparing and filling the paper parchment hearts

1. Fold a piece of parchment paper (about 30cm by 35cm) in half and cut it into a half-heart shape, staying as close to the outside edges as possible.
2. Open the parchment heart. Brush oil on the paper and place ingredients to one side of the fold line, at least 5cm from the paper’s edge.
3. Fold the top half of the heart over to enclose the ingredients. Starting at the top of the heart fold about 1cm of the edge towards the centre. Fold again to make a tight seal. Continue folding over the edge of the parchment packet, doubling the edge over so that it is tight.
4. When you come to the bottom of the heart, twist the tip and fold it under the packet to seal. Place on a rimmed baking tray to bake.
To serve, snip an "X" in the top of the packet and peel the paper open. 
Keep the colour
Tofu And Vegetable Parcels
Serves 4

3 cakes square white tofu
1 cup small broccoli florets
½ cup carrot matchsticks
1cm fresh ginger, minced
2 tsp light soya sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
4 prepared parchment paper hearts
Fresh coriander leaves, chopped, to serve 

Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut tofu into 3mm slices.
Brush parchment paper hearts with oil and divide tofu between them, overlapping the slices slightly.
Layer with broccoli florets and carrot matchsticks. Sprinkle with minced ginger.
Drizzle on the soya sauce and sesame oil.
Crimp the edges of the parcels tightly and place on a rimmed baking tray.
Bake for 15-18 minutes.
Cut open the parcels at the table and sprinkle each one with chopped coriander before serving.
Seal in the goodness
Mustard Mushrooms and Brown Rice Parcels
Serves 4

2 cups cooked brown rice
6 large dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup assorted fresh Asian mushrooms (shimeji, enoki, oyster)
½ red capsicum, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp coarse grain mustard
Salt and pepper
Oil for brushing
4 prepared parchment paper hearts
Salad leaves, to serve

Place the dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and cover with hot water. Leave to rehydrate and soften. Squeeze lightly to remove excess water (reserve the mushroom juice) and remove mushroom stems. Slice mushroom caps into three. Mix with the other Asian mushrooms and capsicum. Set aside.
Combine mustard and 1½ tbsp of the reserved mushroom juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss with the mushrooms and capsicum.
Heat oven to 220°C. Brush the parchment paper with oil. Divide brown rice among each parchment piece. Top with mushroom mixture and sprinkle with minced garlic. Pour on a little more of the mushroom juice if desired. Crimp the edges of the parcels tightly. Place parcels on a rimmed baking tray and bake until parcels are puffed, 20-25 minutes.
To serve, place parcels on individual plates, cut open and serve with salad leaves.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

A year ago tomorrow, The Wayward Oven went live. I chose the date 11.11.11 because it would be an easy one to remember. Only thing is, I didn't remember until I saw what today's date was.
Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Nice one.
The date is significant in a way. Tonight, I will be performing in a rhythm tap showcase, hence the odd inclusion of a picture of shoes at the top of the post in a blog about food. I don't know if it was a coincidence or my tap instructor chose it specifically for the sequence of numbers (written, by the way, in date-month-year order as Malaysians often do) but it would be a memorable date for some people (not forgetful me, of course!). The various groups have been practising separately so far, but at two full dress rehearsals over the past week, I got to see some really nifty moves and colourful outfits.
I have another short practice later this afternoon before the show starts at 8pm, so of course in my nervous state, I have to get into the kitchen to make something. Something simple that wouldn't take too long to make, and most importantly, get rid of the jitters!
Well, you know how it is. Sometimes you're not even looking and you find bits of dried ingredients in your fridge or pantry. A tablespoon here, a soupçon there – not enough to add any real flavour but with all of them together, they add up to something that can turn out to be quite enjoyable.
And that's how I came to make these colourful no-bake chewy snack bars with rice cereal, some marshmallows that had melted in their packet, a bit of dessicated coconut, melon seeds, crystallised ginger and a container of glacé cherries from I don't know when.
Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink squares
I started out by mixing about 2 cups of crisp rice cereal, and 2 tablespoons each of dessicated coconut and white melon seeds in a bowl. Then in went roughly chopped glacé cherries (five green and two red) along with six pieces of crystallised ginger, also chopped. Everything was mixed well to distribute the ingredients evenly.
After melting about 40g of salted butter in a medium saucepan over low heat, I added about three-quarters of a 283g (10oz) bag of marshmallows, stirring constantly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the marshmallows had melted, into the saucepan went the cereal mixture. It was stirred until everything was nicely combined and then dumped into a buttered 18cm square tin.
A piece of plastic was then placed over the top and I pressed down firmly with all my weight. The mixture was hot but fortunately, my asbestos palms prevented me from being too affected by the heat.
Once the surface was as smooth and even as I could get it, I scored the top into squares with a knife to make slicing easier later and left the mixture on the kitchen counter to cool. Then I put it in the fridge to firm up. Using an oiled knife, I cut the slab into 16 squares. Once one of the corners pieces was out, it was easy to lift the whole block out onto a chopping board to slice up.
These bars contain no added sugar, but they are sweet nevertheless. The crystallised ginger does add a lovely mellow heat, though, as well that hint of golden colour together with the red and green of the cherries to an otherwise bland looking snack bar. Both the coconut and melon seeds could have done with some light toasting. 
But that's the nice thing about these squares: anything goes.

Raising pies by hand

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Hand-raised pies have been on my to-do list for a while. These are pies that are shaped by hand and not in a tin. Because they're unsupported when they bake, the sides drop slightly and expand outwards like a pot belly. Think Melton Mowbray pies.
Now, there are people out there who call their pies "hand-raised" even though they are baked in a tin (often a deep muffin pan). I don't think that's completely accurate, although it does makes the process simpler. But where's the fun in that?
Because hand-raised pies bake without anything to hold them up, they need a strong shell and that's where hot water crust pastry comes in. This is another item that I've intended to try for some time. I haven't put it off because it is difficult – it's not – but the pastry has lard in it and that's not an ingredient I use in my baking.
So I did some reading and looked up several recipes, and found that vegetable shortening or suet is also used. In terms of flavour, neither ingredient can compete with lard, but I don't think it makes much difference in the texture so that's a trade-off I'm willing to make. I have used all shortening, all shredded suet (Atora brand) and a combination of both, with good results for all alternatives.
So that's the gravity-defying pastry sorted out.
Traditional hand-raised pies are often made with a wooden pie dolly, which I don't have. Later, I found out a jam jar or drinking glass can be easily employed as a substitute.
And then I saw a video where the pie maker didn't use any sort of utensil to help shape the pie. He did it all by hand. I tried it and love it!
Hand-raising a pie
The filling for hand-raised pies is very often made with uncooked pork meat. This means the filling can be pressed together in a tight ball which doesn't come apart. That makes it easier to mould the hot water pastry around it.
I have used a cooked filling of cubed chicken, chestnuts, mushrooms, potato and frozen peas (in hindsight, I should have left out the peas) which is slightly looser in texture, and it is a bit fiddly to put together but not impossible. I feel like I'm playing with modelling clay! Sculptors will probably know the feeling.
The sides of my pies didn't brown thanks to my wayward oven (the name of this blog wasn't chosen on a whim), but they were cooked properly and didn't have the dreaded soggy bottoms. One of these stout little pot-bellied pies makes the perfect portable lunch.
Eat hot or cold
Hand-Raised Pies
Makes 2 pies (about 7cm wide by 5cm high). Pastry based on Paul Hollywood's recipe.

100g plain flour
20g strong flour
25g butter
65ml boiling water
½ tsp salt
30g vegetable shortening or shredded suet, or a combination of both
1½ cups of cooked filling
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours then rub the butter in with your fingertips.
Mix together the boiling water, salt and shortening in a small saucepan. Heat and stir together until the shortening melts. Pour on top of the flour mixture, stirring with a spoon until everything comes together.
Tip the dough onto a work surface and knead briefly; bring together into a ball. It will be lumpy. Use the pastry while still warm.
Divide the pastry into two equal portions. From each half, remove a quarter of the pastry for the lids. Press out the lids into 6cm rounds and poke a small hole in the centre with a chopstick. 
On a lightly floured surface, press out the remaining three-quarters of the pastry into two 13cm rounds. Place a mound of filling (about ¾ cups) in the centre of each round and press together to keep it together as much as possible (a stickier filling will stay together better).
Sculpt the pastry around the filling, trying as much as possible to make sure it is the same thickness all around and on the base. This is a bit fiddly, but can be done with some patience. Cup both hands under the edge of the pastry round and press it up tightly against the filling, building the sides straight up until the top of the filling. Don't worry if it isn't very neat at first. Rotate the pie on the floured surface with your palms to even out the sides and to make sure the filling is packed in, ensuring there are no holes in the pastry.
Brush a little water inside the rim of the pastry. Place the lid on top of the filling and press the edges of the pastry together to seal, with the rim slightly rising above the lid. Rotate the pie on the floured surface while pressing the sides gently – this will help tidy up its appearance and build up the height. Crimp around the top. If the hole has closed, use the chopstick to open it up again. Place pies on a lightly greased baking tray and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C.
Brush the lids of the pies (not the crimp) with egg wash. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is nice and crisp all the way around.