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Daring Bakers: Panettone

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Wayward Oven
The December 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by the talented Marcellina of Marcellina in Cucina. Marcellina challenged us to create our own custom Panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread.
I was all ready to participate when the challenge was announced, but as the posting date got closer, my enthusiasm started to wane.
The process of making the panettone, according to the recipe Marcellina provided, is long and with several steps to the process. Now, although I would usually attempt any recipe that interests me no matter how complicated or time-consuming, I just couldn't get my head into the game this time. Until Saturday – two days after the posting date. 
I made mini panettones (panettoni) but I have to admit that they were an afterthought. See, I had made some rich sweet, eggy, buttery dough for a loaf that is based on the panettone recipe in Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. The dough was meant for a bread for another baking group I participate in, but there was a lot of it, so I took part of it, mixed in the glacé/dried fruit I had and baked the panettoni in mini cake cardboard liners.
The Wayward Oven
Not everyone will be familiar with winter melon. The gourd has a green skin and looks like a cucumber except it's fatter on one end. As a fresh vegetable, it's used a lot in soups; in candied form, it is one of the main ingredients in sugee (semolina) cake.
These glacé fruits are some of my favourites, but the downside is that the colours are quite pale so they don't show up well in the buns. The pop of flavours makes up for the lack of colour though. You would think that there was too much going on in the taste – the heat from the ginger, the sourness of citrus and pineapple, a honey sweetness from the winter melon, the brightness of the raisins – but it works. The only complaint I got was that there was too much fruit. I'll remember that next time. The sugar crust, from Dan Lepard's recipe in The Guardian but with an added touch of corn syrup, got the thumbs up. There's a good crunch to it.
The Wayward Oven
Oh, did I mention that the panettoni are leavened with sourdough starter? The dough came together easily, but took a long time to rise and only slightly at that. I was disappointed but baked them anyway.
And what a surprise I got when the buns plumped up in the oven! The dough wasn't evenly distributed between the boxes so there is a difference in sizes but the bigger ones can serve two.
The recipe for the sourdough-leavened dough will be posted on Jan 20 with the other bread I made.

Everything's coming up roses!

Friday, December 28, 2012

It's so nice being on leave. I have almost three weeks off from work and it coincides with the time my sister Joyce and her family are visiting from the US.
Last week, the day after they arrived, the whole family met at one of my brothers' homes for breakfast. My mother had ordered an array of local breakfast dishes like nasi lemak (coconut rice with sambal) and fried noodles as well as Indian specialities like tosai (rice and lentil pancakes), roti canai (flatbreads) and idli (steamed rice cakes) along with the accompanying chutneys and curries. I had a feeling these spice-rich and chilli-laden foods would not agree with my American brother-in-law, so I made a sweet breakfast bread for him.
A couple of days earlier, I had prepared some basic sweet yeasted dough from a recipe in Ciril Hitz book, Baking Artisan Pastries & Breads (Quarry Books) and used it for the bread. This video shows Ciril Hitz making his Russian braids in loaf pans. I made my bread according to his recipe except it's coiled to look somewhat like a rose.
The quantity of dough was sufficient for two loaves. I made the first one with about two-thirds of the dough and let it rise in a 22cm springform tin so it has a more defined shape (pictured above). This one I took to the office for a Christmas party.
Fill and roll, slice, braid, coil
The second loaf, which I made for Keith, was freestanding (pictured below). The crust was a deeper brown on the sides and the shape was a little less rose and a bit more knot, I think.
I'm sure any sweet yeast dough would be suitable for this braid. What I think is special is the Nut Filling that Ciril Hitz uses. It's also one of his basic recipes and he uses it for other confections in his book. The recipe is reproduced here with permission from the book publisher. I used almond meal and after spreading the paste on the rolled-out dough, I sprinkled on some ground cinnamon.
This braid was baked without a mould.
Both times I made the braid, I forgot to take a photo after the loaf was sliced, so there is no picture of the crumb. But it's not difficult to imagine the intertwined layers of dough and filling.
I also forgot to taste the bread both times. For the office party, I just dropped it off since I was already on leave, and at the family breakfast, after stuffing myself with a packet of nasi lemak and an idli, I didn't have room for anything else. But I have a feeling it wasn't bad since Keith kept eating it. (Or maybe he was just hungry!)

Season's greetings

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Sourdough Surprises: Cookies

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Sourdough Surprises group try out sourdough cookies this month, and after making a couple, I've come to realise that cookies are an ideal vehicle for sourdough starter. My cookies were inspired by two suggestions  Cherry Almond Biscotti and versatile cookies  from Jenni and Shelley.
My first recipe is a mash-up (pun completely intended!) of the sourdough banana bread and banana nut biscotti I've made before. I love both so much that I had to marry them and see what came out of the union.
Very good offspring, I must say.
However, the biscotti rose a bit too much, I think, so they have bigger bellies than normal biscotti. They might be a little difficult to dunk into a Champagne flute, but I have mine with coffee so they're fine.
My second cookie, with two types of chocolate, started off with 100g of flour. I added all the cocoa powder I had (and that's why it's 36g instead of a nice round number), and then just kept putting this and that into the mix until the consistency of the dough allowed me to use an ice-cream scoop to form little domes. The cookies stayed in shape in the oven and came out with the texture of brownies – they had a crunchy top and fudgy insides. I'm pretty happy with this attempt.
I'll be getting more ideas for sourdough cookies from these bakers:

I've only been baking with Sourdough Surprises since June, and have already learnt seven ways to use my starter. I'm going back and trying those that I missed  donuts, pretzels and cream cheese danish. Yum! Cookies were an excellent close to Sourdough Surprises for the year!

Sourdough Banana-Walnut Biscotti
Makes 2½ dozen

250g all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp coarse salt
150g mashed banana (about 3 medium)
100g 50%-hydration white leaven
50g egg (1 medium)
1 tbsp coconut oil
½ tsp vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp palm or brown sugar
50g walnuts, roughly broken

Preheat oven to 180°C.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt in a mixing bowl. In another bowl, combine the mashed banana, leaven, egg, oil and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture. The dough will be sticky.
Taste the dough and add sugar according to taste and the walnuts. Knead the dough briefly to evenly distribute the sugar and nuts, about 30 seconds.
Shape the dough into two 20cm-long logs with floured hands. Place rolls on a parchment-lined baking sheet; flatten to 1cm thickness.
Bake at 180°C until surface is firm and pale brown, 20-23 minutes. Remove rolls from baking sheet; cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, turn down the oven to 120°C. Cut each roll diagonally into 0.5cm slices. Place slices, cut sides down, on baking sheet; bake 9-12 minutes. Turn cookies over; bake an additional 7-10 minutes until nicely golden (cookies may be slightly soft in centre but will harden as they cool). Remove from baking sheet; cool completely on a wire rack.
Black beauties: Soft cookies with cocoa and dark chocolate
Sourdough Double Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Makes 1½ dozen

100g all-purpose flour
36g cocoa powder
90g palm or brown sugar
Large pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 medium egg
50g stiff leaven
70g vegetable oil
80g chocolate (70% cocoa), coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 190°C. In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients, except the chopped chocolate, and stir until everything is well mixed. Stir in the chocolate. Use a small ice cream scoop to drop cookie dough about 5cm apart on a paper-lined ungreased baking sheet (the cookies hold their shape but when the palm sugar melts, it leaks out and hardens) and bake in a preheated oven until firm on the outside, 12-15 minutes. 

Tangzhong to the rescue?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I learnt something last Christmas that both surprised and saddened me. I had made some braided challah bread to sandwich the meats and cold cuts that the family usually has on the day, and it was everything I've read a challah should be: slightly sweet, rich with eggs and fat, a soft crumb and a glossy crust. I expected it to go down a treat.
One of my nephews constructed his sandwich with the bread but after a couple of bites, he passed it over to his father. He said the challah was too flavourful and in competition with the meaty fillings.
Now, I appreciate the fact that many people only know bread as those bland square slices that come in a plastic bag or ultra-soft buns with sickly sweet creamy fillings in the centre, but when my own family  rejects something I made... that was disheartening :-(
This Christmas, I have been officially put in charge of bread. I can buy it, make it, whatever... I just have to supply enough bread to be eaten throughout the day. I am still bringing some "plastic" bread and a couple of those so-called "artisan" loaves from commercial producers – hah! How can every loaf purportedly made by hands look exactly alike? – but I am also trying out some tangzhong buns on the family.
Recipes for tangzhong bread – made with a roux – have been making their rounds on the web for some years now. It's credited to Yvonne Chen, the "65° Bread Doctor", and is a bread that suits Asian tastes as it is soft and sweet. Her recipe can be found on many online sites, and I used it for the 300+ slider buns (pictured right) I made for a food fair in September. I made 18 batches in all (each batch produced  17 buns; 18 if I was lucky), and by the fifth batch, I was weighing out the ingredients by memory!
Because the theme of the food fair was "yellow", I made the buns yellow with a roux that contained custard powder. The idea came from Dan Lepard's slider buns recipe, who based it on Yvonne Chen's method. But I like it so much that I have been using custard powder since then. I have also continued making buns because I like the individual portions (and I think they appeal to children too).
I also follow Dan Lepard's brief kneading method instead of lugging out the mixer. I use less yeast in this recipe and allow for a slow rising to suit my schedule. 
We'll have to wait until Christmas day to see if the fussy eaters will find these Tangzhong buns acceptable, but I have a feeling *fingers crossed* things will be okay.
Tangzhong with custard powder

Soft Buns using the Tangzhong Method
Makes 17 slider buns or 10 burger buns. This recipe is a slight modification on Yvonne Chen's, with advice and instruction from Dan Lepard.

Yellow Tangzhong (roux)
Makes enough for dough and glaze

13g bread flour
12g custard powder
125g water
1 tbsp milk powder

Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and mix well. Over medium-low heat, stir until mixture starts to thicken. Keep stirring until thickened and glossy but still soft – stir the roux and the lines should remain; a thermometer should read 65°C. Set aside to cool. It can also be refrigerated for not more than two days.
Buns made for burgers
350g white bread flour 
2 tbsp full-cream milk powder
40g sugar
5g salt
3g instant yeast
120g tangzhong (from above – reserve the remainder for the glaze)
1 medium (50g) egg
100g warm water
30g butter, softened

Reserved tangzhong (about 1 tbsp)

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, milk powder, sugar, salt and yeast. Add the tangzhong and egg. Stir together with a wooden spoon or dough whisk. Add water and stir until a rough ball forms. Cover bowl and set aside for 10 minutes.
Spread softened butter on the dough and knead it in the bowl until well incorporated. Cover and leave for 10 minutes. Give the dough a brief knead by stretching and folding it over on itself several times every 10 minutes over half an hour, each time forming the dough into a ball at the end and letting it sit seam side down in the mixing bowl. The dough will be soft and sticky at first but will start to lose the stickiness after every knead and will grow in size each time. After the final knead, cover the bowl and leave to double in size, 1-1½ hours. If making in advance, place the bowl in a large plastic bag and secure (or cover with cling film), then place in the refrigerator to proof until doubled in size, 6-8 hours.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Scale into 40g portions for slider buns or 70g portions (approximate; it's actually about 67g each) for burger buns. Leave the dough for a few minutes to relax, then shape them into smooth balls.
Flatten the buns
Mist the bottom of a 10cm-diameter flat-based container with oil (I use a round plastic lid), press the bun to flatten. Press firmly – the dough is robust and can take a lot of pressure – but avoid tearing the buns. Place them on the prepared baking sheet. Cover and leave for 15 minutes.
Just before baking, flatten the buns again. Add a few drops of water to the extra tangzhong to loosen it. Brush top of the buns with tangzhong and sprinkle with seeds. 
Bake until the tops are lightly golden (8-12 minutes for sliders; 12-17 minutes for burger buns). The buns will dome while baking but will fall slightly when removed from the oven to cool.

Chicken and salted beans

Monday, December 10, 2012

For a long time, I have felt daunted by the task of cooking Malaysian food. And even though I made up my mind earlier this year that I would try to cook more of it, I have not been doing so. I guess when Malaysian dishes are so easily available just down the road, there's no need to actually cook them at home.
But it's good to have a culinary repertoire  a few uncomplicated dishes that don't take all day to make but are different from the everyday fare and would be a treat whenever they're served.
The recipe for this Malay braised turmeric chicken with salted beans comes from Passion, a collaboration between two hotels in Malaysia: Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur Hotel and The Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa. The recipes are the signature dishes of the 13 chefs featured in the book, which also features the fermented beef sausages and sour masala jam that I posted on some time ago.
The chicken in the picture does look a little oily, but when the gravy is slathered on plain white rice,  it's hard not to have a second helping!

Braised Turmeric Chicken With Salted Beans
Serves 2

2 free-range chicken legs
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
500ml cooking oil
Curry leaves, to garnish

20ml cooking oil
60g ginger, sliced
5 shallots, sliced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
5 dried red chillies
250ml water
1 tsp salted beans
50ml sweet soya sauce
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1 tsp sugar

Season the chicken with turmeric powder and salt and deep-fry over medium heat until half-cooked; set aside.
In the remaining oil, fry the curry leaves for a few seconds. Place on kitchen paper to drain.
For the sauce: Heat the oil and sauté the ginger, shallots, garlic and dried chillies for three minutes.
Add water and salted beans, soya sauce, ground black pepper and sugar (no salt is needed as the beans are salty).
Add the chicken to the pan and braise with the ingredients till the chicken is well cooked. Drain.
Serve the chicken with the fried curry leaves sprinkled on top.

Freckled beauties

Sunday, December 2, 2012

When I was a child, I was a fan of Brazilian football  like many, I adored the superstars like Pele, Socrates and Zico. But I tell you if I had then tasted the Brazilian bread called pão de queijo, I don't know if those football greats would have even registered with me!
I first learnt about these buns from Renata over at Testado, Provado & Aprovado. Her blog is in Portuguese but put it through Google Translate and you'll read about what she considers "an eternal pleasure". Now that I've made the buns, I know exactly what she means.
The hole-y crumb
After reading up on the buns, I became aware of how popular they are and that everyone who has eaten them raves about how good they are. I won't disagree.
Pão de queijo is made with tapioca flour, which makes it gluten-free. The crust is crisp, and the crumb is... well, if you don't expect it, it can be a surprise. I actually thought the buns might be uncooked when they first came out of the oven and I broke one open to see what the inside was like: it was gummy and elastic. But after the buns cool slightly, the texture firms up although they remain springy, with a web of air pockets on the inside.
For the first batch (pictured at the top of the post), I made the buns exactly as in Renata's recipe, only I halved it. The ingredients were tapioca flour, milk, butter, salt, Monterey Jack cheese and eggs. I wasn't sure what the batter should look like –  mine was sticky and I used an ice cream scoop to shape the buns. When I left a comment for Renata at her blog, she emailed me and told me that the texture can be sticky (and is sometimes piped) or firm (and can be rolled with the hands). I got 17 buns out of the batch... and I finished all of them myself!
Clockwise from top left: Frozen unbaked buns; the second batch of buns; 'gummy' texture on the inside
When I made the buns again (pictured above), I used coconut oil instead of butter and included some grated Parmigiano Reggiano together with the other cheese. I didn't add as much egg and the dough was firmer – I could roll out balls with my hands. I made them smaller this time and got 35. I baked just four and froze the rest after shaping. This batch was a little crisper on the outside, perhaps due to the firmer dough
Today, I baked a few of the frozen buns to take with me to a meeting with some of my family. Like me, they couldn't quite decide what to make of the texture when they first bit into the pão. The rubber-like crumb was not what they had expected. But after they got over that little surprise, they really enjoyed the buns and loved the chewiness. My sister asked me to include more cheese and my mother dipped it into some curry and found it to be very tasty!
Since I have made it twice and can compare, I think I prefer the dough a little sticky. The buns seem to puff up a little more in the oven, but it's entirely up to individual tastes. I haven't recorded the process of making the buns in photos, so please visit Renata's blog for how the dough should look at each step.
Made after getting Renata's advice
Postscript, Dec 3, 2012: After this post was published, Renata left a comment (see below) and I realised that I had probably baked the buns for too long. They are supposed to be quite pale and should be taken out of the oven as soon as they start to brown. I have amended the recipe.

Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)
Makes 17 medium-small buns (four three-bite size). Can be easily scaled up.
125ml milk
1 tbsp coconut oil or 20g butter
½ tsp salt
250g tapioca flour (tepung ubi kayu)
125g cheese (eg. Monterey Jack, Parmesan, Cheddar), coarsely grated
1-2 medium eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200°C.
In a small saucepan, heat the milk, coconut oil and salt until small bubbles start to appear around the edge of the milk (if using butter, it should have melted). Do not allow it to come to a full boil.
Sift the flour into a large bowl and pour in the hot milk. The flour will immediately take on a gelatinous texture. Mix with a fork until the mixture is combined. There may be a few clumps, but at the next step it will be fixed.
When the mixture is cool enough to handle, rub it with your fingertips until it becomes crumbly. Stir in the cheese.
Mix in 1 egg. Stir with the fork until the mixture is hydrated and starts coming together. Add more egg until the mixture comes together into a sticky dough. You may not need to use all the egg.
Drop small spoonfuls (or use a small ice cream scoop) of the dough on a parchment-lined baking tray about 3cm apart.*
Bake the buns for about 25 minutes, or until puffed and freckled with golden brown spots just starting to brown with a few freckles. They may flatten slightly at first, but will puff up towards the end of baking time.
Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving serve them immediately.
* The unbaked buns can also be frozen. Place the balls on a tray lined with cling film or food-grade plastic and place in the freezer until hardened. Remove the balls from pan and place in a plastic bag, seal and store in the freezer. Bake them from frozen for about 5 minutes longer.
I have also baked five buns at a time in a toaster oven on HIGH  the setting just under TOAST  and they take 21 minutes from frozen to cook.