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Daring Bakers: Back to Basics – Scones

Friday, January 27, 2012

Gosh, is it the 27th of the month already?
I made the ginger cream scones pictured (and I seemed to have chosen the dreariest day to photograph them) some time ago and was going to try some other flavours, including savoury ones (mmm, pizza) and ginger beer scones from Dan Lepard (mmm, mmm), but have completely lost track of time. There has been a string of holidays in Malaysia in the past few weeks – Christmas and New Year's, then Chinese New Year on Jan 23-24 – and with all that celebrating, the first month of the year has just come and gone so quickly!
As I type this out, it is already 7.24am on Jan 27 and I should be getting ready for work. But the Daring Bakers post on our monthly challenges on the 27th and I shall not be late!
Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (aka biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!
Audax' precise instructions were invaluable, and the end result of 16 batches (!) of scones. What dedication. I have made scones, but I don't think that I have made them 16 times in my whole life! For a glimpse of the scones from other Daring Bakers, head to The Daring Kitchen.
To add to all the recipes already out there, here's another from the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, with my own metric conversions and minor changes. (And now I really must get ready for work!)
Lovely for breakfast, teatime and any time in between
Simple Ginger Cream Scones
Based on the recipe in Cook's Illustrated Cookbook. Makes 8

280g all-purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
90g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
100g coarsely chopped crystallised ginger
200ml heavy cream, approximate

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 225°C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Pulse flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in food processor to combine, about 3 pulses. Scatter butter evenly over top and continue to pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with some slightly larger pieces of butter, about 12 more pulses. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and stir in crystallised ginger. Stir in about two-thirds of the cream first until dough begins to form; add more cream if mixture is still dry. This should take only about 30 seconds.
Turn dough and any floury bits out onto floured counter and lightly knead until a rough, sticky ball forms, 5-10 seconds. Pat dough into a disk about 2cm thick. Cut out rounds using a 6cm cutter. Gather the dough scraps and pat out again, a little thicker this time, and cut out more rounds.
Place rounds on prepared baking sheet. Brush top with cream. Bake until tops of scones are lightly golden brown, 12-15 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Homemade Clotted Cream
From Cook's Illustrated Cookbook. Makes 2 cups

375ml pasteurised (not ultra-pasteurised) heavy cream
125ml buttermilk

Combine cream and buttermilk in jar or measuring cup. Stir, cover and let stand at room temperature until mixture has thickened to the consistency of soft whipped cream, 12-24 hours. Refrigerate; cream will continue to thicken as it chills. 
Clotted cream can be refrigerated for up to 10 days.

Broccoli burgers in onion seed buns

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

We're told that broccoli is good for us, and that we should eat it a few times a week. Like a good little girl who listens to her mother, I've been doing that a lot lately. But then, you don't need to disguise it in any way to make me eat the vegetable.
However, just for a change, I thought I would have broccoli other than in the form of steamed florets or a stir-fry. So into burger patties it went.
I feel a little embarrassed giving a recipe for the patties because the ingredients are simply what I had at home. That is the charm of the burger – and cooking in general I suppose.
The star of the show must, however, be the burger bun. I ditched the plain soft roll and used one flavoured with onion seeds and fried onions. They complemented the broccoli patties very well. The buns are based on Dan Lepard's onion seed hotdog rolls at The Guardian. I made only half the amount of dough and shaped the rolls as round burger buns.

Broccoli burger patties flavoured with jalapeño sauce (left) and sambal oelek
Broccoli Patties
Makes 4 patties

2 cups broccoli florets
4 tbsp pumpkin seeds
4-5 tbsp hard cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped spring onion
1 egg, beaten

Seasonings (to taste)
Jalapeño sauce
Sambal oelek
Salt and pepper

Cook the broccoli florets (steam, blanch or microwave) until just tender. Place in a food processor with the seeds, cheese, garlic, spring onion and egg. Pulse to coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl.
Divide the mixture into four and season each portion individually as desired. Add enough breadcrumbs (1½-2 tbsp) to each portion so that the mixture holds together. Form into 2cm-thick patties. Cook in a 180°C oven, on the stove or grill until both sides are golden and patty is warm in the centre*.
Just before assembling the burgers, place a slice of cheese on the patty and leave to melt. Lay the patty over salad leaves in a split bun with grilled tomato slices and serve with more of the seasoning sauce, a pickled gherkin and roasted sweet potato wedges.
* I check by piercing the tip of a knife through the centre of the patty and holding it against my lower lip. And yes, there have been times when I have burned myself...
* * *
In Malaysia, I don't know where to get black onion seeds (also known as kalonji or nigella seeds). I've looked around the shops but have not found them anywhere. My supply comes from London, and to be honest, the only time I see the seeds being used in recipes is in those from British and Australian publications. Dan Lepard suggests fennel seeds as an alternative. 
I also got some nigella seeds from Morocco, but I was told that type is not used in cooking. What you do with the seeds is wrap about a teaspoon of them in a handkerchief and use it as a kind of inhaler throughout the day. It's said to clear the sinuses, but I get the feeling it does more than that... if you know what I mean. ;-)
Onion seeds and fried onion make for flavourful buns
Onion Seed Burger Buns

About 200g onions, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tbsp sunflower oil, plus a little extra for kneading
1 tsp black onion (kalonji) seeds, or fennel seeds
35g cold milk
1 egg yolk
¾ tsp fine salt
¾ tsp dry instant yeast
250g strong white flour
50g strong wholemeal flour
1 tsp custard powder

Gently cook the onions in oil for 10-15 minutes until they're soft, golden brown and have lost most of their moisture, then scrape into a bowl. Mix in the seeds, milk, egg yolk, salt and 100ml warm water. Add the yeast and flours, mix to a sticky dough, adding more water if needed, then leave for 10 minutes.
Oil your hands and a 30cm area of worktop. Knead the dough for 10 seconds, leave for 10 minutes, then repeat twice more at 10-minute intervals. Return the dough to the bowl and leave for an hour.
Divide the dough into four (scaled to about 125g each) and shape into balls. Press down lightly and place seam-side down on a lightly greased or non-stick paper-lined tray. Cover, leave for 1½ hours or until doubled in size. Mix the custard powder into a slurry with 1-1½ tbsp water and brush the tops of the buns with the glaze. Bake at 200°C for 25 minutes.

Go bananas, go nuts

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Michael Caines was just named best chef in Britain. I admit that I didn't know much about him but for the fact that he was a Michelin-starred chef and that he had lost an arm in a car accident. And then I watched him in an old episode of the Good Food Channel show Perfect in which he makes three types of cakes, and I knew I had to find out more about him. (And just as I started reading up, there was news of him winning best chef for the second time! What *perfect* timing!)
One of the cakes he made on the show was a banana walnut cake with cream cheese frosting. Now, this show pits two cooking icons against each other and they both had to make three types of cakes – a Victoria Sponge, an everyday cake, and a fancy decorated one. They were judged by a panel of three experts and his cakes won each time.
The simplest one of the three, I thought, was the banana cake. It certainly wasn't difficult and if mine turned out anything like his, then I can see why the judges were so happy with it. It is light and nutty, and you can taste the banana but it doesn't overpower. The cream cheese frosting meets the level of sweetness that I like – just right. All the ingredients in the recipe are weighed, and that's probably why it's perfect.
By the way, if anyone needs a last-minute cake for their Chinese New Year party, this is a quick one to whip up.
I'm still carrying around some holiday weight from Christmas and shouldn't be eating so much of these sweet things, but I couldn't help it with this cake. I ate a slice (all right, two!) the day after I made it, took most of it to the office except for one more slice which I finished this morning. 
Well, I'm just filling my daily requirement of fruit.
Brick and mortar... but only in appearance, not in texture!
Michael Caines' Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Serves 6-8

85g butter
115g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
220g plain flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
225g ripe bananas (about 2 large ones), mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
85g walnuts, coarsely broken

For the frosting
200g cream cheese
100g unsalted butter
150g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease a 22x12x10cm loaf pan well.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and the sugar together for 3 minutes, then add the eggs gradually and beat until the mixture is well creamed. Add the vanilla and mix well.
Sieve the flour, salt, soda and baking powder together.
Alternately add the mashed banana and sieved dry ingredients to the creamed butter, sugar and egg mixture until well incorporated.
Stir in the walnuts and pour into the prepared loaf pan, leaving a slightly lower elvel in the middle. This will ensure that the cake rises evenly.
Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean, then remove from the pan and allow to cool a little on a wire rack before frosting.
For the frosting: Beat the cream cheese and butter together in a mixing bowl, then beat in the sugar and vanilla until smooth and soft. Spread the frosting over the slightly warm cake.
This cake is best left for a day before serving.

The bouquet of garlic

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My kitchen was smelling this past week. I'd been cooking quite a bit with strong-smelling food items for a newspaper article I was writing on dishes made with such ingredients and features recipes for lentils with garlic chips and salt fish croquettes.
My fingers smelled of garlic and some of the salt fish smell hung about in the kitchen, but when that dissipated, there was another smell that I couldn't place. I had also cooked some dishes with chicken livers and I was sure the offal was the cause. Unlike the salt fish, which was strong but not offensive, this smell wasn't pleasant. Not completely horrendous, but it still caused my nose to twitch. I vowed never to cook chicken livers again.
And then last night, as I was moving some mess from one side of the kitchen counter to another area, I discovered the real source of the smell. It was a tub of sourdough leaven that I had forgotten about. I won't go into how it looked; suffice it to say, it was nasty. The container along with its contents were duly discarded.
Garlic, as I said in the article, is probably used in every cuisine in the world, and unless we are allergic to it or its smell, or if our beliefs prohibit its consumption, it's hard to imagine cooking without garlic.
In November 2010, I had the pleasure of tasting the extraordinary Lebanese charcoal-grilled chicken at Al-Jannah in Sydney. The chicken is served with a garlic sauce, which I really loved. Since then, I have made that sauce several times using various recipes and methods. Basically, the sauce blends together raw garlic, salt, oil and lemon juice, and sometimes egg white and water are also added. From the picture above, it doesn't look very intimidating, but I assure you it has a good kick! And it gets more intense a day or two later.
I like the recipe at thefoodblog as it produces a sauce that's good enough for me (I doubt I'll ever be able to get it exactly right) and a yield that's just nice for half a chicken and the two people eating it. The blogger recommends using a normal blender and I have done it that way before, but the machine didn't pulverise just five cloves of garlic very well. So I tried it with an immersion/stick blender and that works for me. I take no credit for the recipe though – it is from thefoodblog.
Based on the recipe at thefoodblog

Toum is a Lebanese dish. Here are a few Malaysian ones.

Clover-leaf pies

Sunday, January 8, 2012

That's it, the oven is finally done in. It has baked its last pie.
But unlike hammering the proverbial final nail in the coffin, with the oven, it was a screw that gave out.
First, the right side of the handle bar on the door came off. I got a screwdriver and reattached the handle. This was while the oven was on and a tray of pies was baking.
When the pies were done, I pulled on the handle again to open the door. This was when the left side came off. Only this time, it wasn't a loose screw – the handle had broken off. I had to pull gingerly on the section still left in the door to open it. 
The oven demonstrates its true waywardness
I have used my oven a lot in the past 12 years and it has served me well, but it hasn't been in tiptop condition for a while – it provided the (re)name of this blog, after all. The temperature is all wonky – it doesn't heat well from the bottom and overheats at the top. I've learnt how to adapt to the oven, but really, it should have been replaced a long time ago. I hope the one to be installed will be as lucky as a four-leaf clover.
But back to the pies. The filling is a bit of this and a little of that left over from Christmas lunch. The pastry is made with cream cheese and the original recipe, from Dan Lepard at The Guardian, is for a pot pie topping, but it's sturdy enough to use for hand pies as well.
In the top picture, the pies are resting on a large dinner plate so each pie is a substantial portion. Each is in the shape of a clover leaflet or flower petal. To do this:
1. Divide the pastry into four equal portions.
2. Roll out a portion into a 20cm circle.
3. Cut the circle in half through the diameter to make two half-moons.
4. Place filling on one side of each half-moon. Brush egg glaze around the edges.
5. Fold the other half over the filling to form quadrants. Press or crimp the open edges to seal.
Light and flaky but strong enough to hold a good amount of filling
Light Cream Cheese Pastry
Enough for 8 hand pies

400g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
150g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
150g cream cheese
1 egg
1 beaten egg, for glazing

Work the butter and cheese through the sifted dry ingredients in a bowl with your hands, then add the egg and knead to a smooth dough; or if you have a big sturdy food processor, simply add all the ingredients at once and combine, or in batches. Wrap in cling film and chill for 10 minutes. 
To use: Roll the pastry into sheets 5mm thick, cut out into desired shapes and fill. Brush the edges with beaten egg; enclose the filling. Brush the top with glaze and cut vents. Sprinkle with seeds, if desired. Place on a greased baking tray and bake at 200°C until puffy and golden, about 25 minutes.

A few pastries from the past:

Fired up by gas

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

These holes in the foccacia remind me of the tunnels made by termites in the base of the massive tamarind tree next to my childhood house. Not such a nice image now, but the holes in the anthill fascinated me then just as these holes in the bread fascinate me now.
This foccacia is from Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf – he calls it olive oil flatbread. The top is a bit darker than the picture in his book, but the beautiful pockets of air are quite similar. Only thing, the middle of my flatbread domed up a little, causing it to be not quite a flat bread, and I blame that on the uneven heat in my oven.
Dan Lepard's recipe has the addition of a white leaven as well as malt powder in the rather wet dough. He explains in this post (with recipe) on foccacia and another one on ciabatta in his blog about the factors that affect crumb aeration: water content and sufficient working of the dough during mixing – folding and stretching the dough gently help create that open texture.
Folding the dough during the first stage of kneading. This is repeated another two times.
This time, the top got a simple drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt, but I'd like to try a topping of oil and tomatoes next time.

Here's more bread:

Essential toppings

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I tell myself after Christmas that I am going to give myself some time before I mix up a combination of butter, sugar, eggs and flour again.
And then I go and do it all over again for New Year's Day.
I can't help myself.
It is only a simple chocolate cake with a simple frosting, but that is how I like it. I'm not big on cakes with lots of icing and fancy looking decorations like all those cupcakes that entice with the way they look but taste quite ordinary.
I like toppings that are baked on or into the cake, like streusel and fruit. The topping needs to add value to the cake and not simply be pretty.
There are a few toppings and cake fillings that I use over and over because they taste good and aren't very difficult to make.
I still don't have the perfect cream cheese icing, with just the right amount of sugar, and I never know when exactly to take caramelising sugar off the heat before it burns! Those are two of my quests for 2012.
* * *
Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting
Enough to fill and frost a two-layer 20cm cake
Perfect pairing: Any cake would be so lucky to have this frosting as a partner!

225g plain chocolate
¼ tsp salt
175g sour cream

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Cool slightly, then stir in the salt and sour cream. Use frosting immediately while it is still soft; it will get firmer when refrigerated.

* * *
Streusel Topping
Streusel-topped coffee cake
For a 22cm round cake
Perfect pairing: Coffee cake, fruit crumbles

100g walnuts, finely chopped
50g soft brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
50g unsalted butter, diced

Mix walnuts, sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Add butter and cut into the mixture with a pastry cutter or two butter knives until it forms clumps. Sprinkle on top of cake batter/fruit fillings or between layers before baking.

* * *
Chocolate Coconut Frosting
From Luscious Coconut Desserts by Lori Longbotham 
For a 22cm round cake. 
Perfect pairing: German chocolate cake

¾ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
Large pinch of salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
1½ cups dessicated or flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together the evaporated milk, brown sugar, egg yolks, and salt just until smooth in a medium heavy saucepan. Put the saucepan over medium heat, add the butter and cocoa powder, and cook, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes until the butter has melted and the mixture is slightly thickened; do not let the mixture boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat. With a rubber spatula, stir in the coconut, pecans and vanilla. Let cool to room temperature before spreading on the cake.
* * *
Speckled: Mille crepe cake with vanilla (seed) pastry cream between the layers
Vanilla Pastry Cream
Makes about 2½ cups. Use as a filling; not suitable as frosting
Perfect pairing: Use to top a pavlova, or in a trifle, and between the pancakes in a mille crêpe cake.

250ml cream
250ml milk
120g caster sugar, divided
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean (preferable), or ½ tsp vanilla extract
30g cornstarch
Pinch of salt
70g room temperature egg yolks (about 4)

Combine cream, milk, 60g caster sugar and vanilla seeds or extract in a medium saucepan. Place on the stove and bring to the boil.
Meanwhile, combine cornstarch, the remaining 60g caster sugar and salt in a large bowl and whisk in the egg yolks until smooth, thick and pale yellow.
When the milk/cream mixture starts to boil, pour ¾ of the mixture into the yolk mixture. Whisk lightly until smooth. Then pour it all back into the pot with the remaining cream. Whisk briskly over medium-high heat until thick. Pour into a shallow pan to cool.