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And one for the road (trip)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


A moving vehicle is no place for squidgy food and as much as a sandwich with an oozy slaw or freshly reconstituted soupy cup noodles will hit the spot on a long car journey, they are just a recipe for disaster. This kind of food should be restricted to rest areas and picnic tables.
Biscuits (or cookies) are made for travel. After all, in their earliest form, they were hard square crackers made only with water and flour. They were convenient food for soldiers, explorers and pioneers due to their long storage life, and were perfect for those long journeys over land and sea.
However, like saucy food, it's better to keep to chewy – perhaps even cakey – cookies instead of crumbly ones for the car.
In terms of aptly named snacks for a car trip, a perfect one would be Rocky Road (in real life, of course, we can do without the bumps!). Rocky Road started out as a milk chocolate bar with marshmallow and cashew nuts. Later, a chocolate ice cream with walnuts and marshmallows used the same name, and then, a baker translated the concoction into a brownie, with a gooey topping of marshmallow, nuts and chocolate chips.
Rocky Road has all the components that I like but sticky marshmallow is not car-ride-friendly. So I swapped the brownie base for a chewy cookie dough and wrapped it around a marshmallow so the gooey bit would be in the centre. I added some coffee to bring out the flavour of the chocolate rather than to help with alertness.
Car ride cookies
I've posted on other road-themed snacks before. One of them was the Happy Trails Bar, which is made with trail mix (dried fruit, grains, nuts). It's kind of on the healthy side – which defeats the purpose of a road trip snack!
Another suggestion was Tiger Brownies, which I based on the old slogan of a petrol company, "Put a tiger in your tank". These are good ol' fudgy chocolate brownies with swirls of orange-coloured and flavoured cream cheese. They're best eaten chilled so they’re probably not ideal for a long car ride.
Finally, a snack with an entertaining and unusual shape whose name fits the road trip theme – at least for someone in no hurry to get anywhere: Turtle Cookies!
Note on the recipe:
I am normally fastidious with keeping ingredient quantities to either weight or volume, but in this instance, there is a mix of both measurements – I feel butter and flour need to be weighed exactly, while there's room to play around with the quantity of chocolate chunks and pecans. It works for me ;-)

Rocky Road Chunky Chews
Makes 12 large cookies

100g butter (a little less than ½ cup), softened
½ cup firmly packed soft brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tbsp instant coffee granules
½ tbsp hot water
155g (about 1¼ cup) plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp sea salt or ¼ tsp table salt
¾ cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans
6 regular-sized marshmallows, cut in half

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Dissolve coffee granules in hot water and add to the mixture.
Combine flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt; fold into butter mixture. Stir in chocolate chunks and nuts. Place the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up.
Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Flatten one piece and place a marshmallow half in the centre. Fold the dough around the marshmallow to enclose it and form a thick disc. Repeat with the remaining dough and marshmallows.
Space cookies 5cm apart on ungreased baking sheets and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven at 180°C. After the chilling time, bake the cookies until golden brown, 13-15 minutes.
Leave the cookies to cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store tightly covered. Eat within a week.

Daring Bakers: Mille Feuille/Napoleon

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it a step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!
(I have to say I didn't feel any guilt creating – or eating – this dessert!)
Suz provided an excellent recipe and step-by-step instructions for the mille feuille, from the pastry to the filling and assembly. I followed the recipe for the puff pastry exactly and didn't have any problems.
To make a small mille feuille, I only needed half of the pastry and used the other half for some old-school cream horns which took me back to my childhood.
Suz wrote that the traditional mille feuille is filled with a vanilla pastry cream (crème pâtissière). It is also known as a Napoleon (thought to refer to Naples in Italy rather than the diminutive French emperor), a custard slice or a vanilla slice. It’s often topped with royal icing and distinctive chocolate squiggles.
Succulent and sweet red dragon fruit
Well, my strips of pastry were a little burnt and so I thought I would draw attention away from that by building the layers up with slices of fruit. I've read that strawberries are commonly used, but I stayed local and used red dragon fruit. Instead of a custard-based pastry cream, my mille feuille has a filling of whipped cream and jam – it takes less work but is no less delicious, I think. The vanilla icing for the top is also much easier to make and doesn't contain raw egg whites as in a royal icing. The chocolate icing for the feathered effect is a paste of cocoa powder, powdered sugar and water.
French for "thousand sheets", the mille feuille gets its name from the multi-layered puff pastry which expands when cooked. However, the pastry layers of the mille feuille are actually pressed down while baking to prevent this from happening and I've always wondered why. None of my reference books nor online searches has an explanation. I posed this question on the Daring Bakers forum and Heather, Renata and Suz had thought about it too. Renata and Suz suggest it might be for texture since puffed up, "bumpy" pastry isn't very neat or flat. That's certainly plausible.
A thousand visible sheets or not, no one can say this dish wouldn't be the high point of any high tea.
The slicing could be a little less messy :-p
Mille Feuille with Dragon Fruit
Serves 6

325g puff pastry, preferably homemade (here are the recipe and instructions)

Vanilla Icing
125g (1 cup) icing sugar, sifted
¼ tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Icing
30g (¼ cup) icing sugar, sifted
½ tbsp cocoa powder

110g raspberry jam
160ml cream, whipped
½ large red dragon fruit

On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out to about 30cm x 24cm. Cut the rectangle into three equal pieces (10cm x 24cm).
Place the pastry on a large baking sheet lined with grease-proof paper. Prick the pastry strips all over with a fork. Place another sheet of grease-proof paper over the top and then a heavy baking tray.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Bake the pastry for about 25 minutes, removing the top layer of grease-proof paper and tray 10 minutes before the end for the tops to brown. Keep an eye on them and lower the temperature if they are browning too much. Cool on a wire rack.
To make Chocolate Icing: Mix the icing sugar and cocoa with ½ tbsp hot water to get a smooth paste like melted chocolate, adding more water if necessary. Spoon into a paper icing bag.
To make Vanilla Icing: In a heatproof bowl, mix the icing sugar and vanilla with 1-1½ tsp hot water. Stand the bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring until the icing is smooth and glossy. Spread icing on one of the cooled pastry strips. Pipe diagonal lines with Chocolate Icing. Drag a skewer along the icing at intervals in alternate directions to give a feathered effect. Leave to set on a wire rack.
To make the filling: Peel the dragon fruit and cut the half into four wedges. Cut each wedge into thin slices. Spread jam over the two un-iced pastry strips and top with slices of dragon fruit, overlapping them slightly. Cover the fruit with whipped cream. Finally, sandwich the three layers together with the iced strip on top.
Cut into six slices with a serrated knife and serve.

Pignola: Pine nut bread

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I don't drink alcohol, but I do use it in cooking and baking. It leaves a hint of flavour but not a very strong boozy content.
So I wasn't worried that I would be tipsy before work when I decided to include rum-soaked dates in some buns I was planning to have for breakfast. These buns are based on the pignola, a bread I first read about in Linda Collister's book Bread: From Ciabatta to Rye. This is how she describes it:
A rich, sweet, light-textured Italian breakfast bread flavoured with oranges. It is made with pine nuts and hazelnuts in Southern Italy and with almonds in Sardinia. The nuts are generally toasted for maximum flavour.
I searched around for more information, but even The Oxford Companion to Italian Food only had a reference to the nut (pinoli, pignoli, pinocchi) and to its uses in sweets, sauces, ice creams and tonics ("...good for aches and pains, beneficial to the stupid and paralytic, clearing up ulcers, and coughs..,", according to Mattioli) but nothing about the bread it gives its name to. Online sources have many references to pine nut cookies, and strangely, all the bread recipes that appear seem to be sourced from Linda Collister or adapted from her recipe.
There is no sugar in this recipe, except for the liberal dusting of icing sugar on the buns after they bake, so any sweetness comes from the dried fruit and orange juice (if using). Since I use rum, my buns aren't all that sweet and since they already have quite a bit of butter in them, I spread on jam. But I like them "bare" as well.
The texture of this bun is a cross between bread and a scone. I don't know if that is how it should be, but I like the contrast of medium soft crumb and creamy pine nuts. I think the dates had been over-macerated (I forgot about them and left them soaking in rum for four days!) and got mashed into the dough during the kneading.
Since these buns are Italian-inspired, I think another way to use them is in an ice cream sandwich, which, if I'm not mistaken, is a common snack in the southern part of Italy where their wonderful gelato is scooped into a sweet bun, like brioche. The nuts and fruit in pignola would complement the ice cream nicely. However, a whole bun may be too big for the snack so I would probably just use half.

This is submitted to YeastSpotting.
Dust liberally with icing sugar
Pine Nut & Rum-soaked Date Breakfast Bread
Based on the Pignola recipe in Bread: From Ciabatta to Rye. Makes 8 large buns

100g dried dates, quartered
3 tbsp dark rum¹
400g unbleached strong white bread flour
1 tsp sea salt
150g unsalted butter, diced
2¼ tsp (7g) easy-blend dried yeast
2 medium eggs, beaten
2 tbsp tepid water
30g almond halves², lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
100g pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
Icing sugar, for dusting

Put the dates and rum in a bowl and soak overnight.
Next day, mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Rub the diced butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the dried yeast on the mixture and stir in until combined.
Make a well in the centre and add the beaten eggs, rum-soaked date mixture (the dates would have absorbed the rum and there will be very little liquid) and tepid water. Gradually work in the flour to make a very soft, slightly sticky dough (almost like a drop cookie dough). If there are dry crumbs in the bowl, or the dough seems dry and tough, work in a little more tepid water, 1 teaspoon at a time.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Knead for 5 minutes. It will be soft and pliable but not as sticky. Return it to the bowl, place bowl in a large plastic bag (or cover with cling film) and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 3 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
Turn out the risen dough onto a lightly oiled work surface, sprinkle with the nuts and gently work them in. When they are evenly distributed, divide the dough into 8 equal portions, shape them into balls and pat them into rounds about 7cm wide and 2.5cm thick³. Set well apart on a greased baking sheet. Slip the baking sheet into a large plastic bag, inflate slightly, tie the opening with a rubber band to seal, then let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Allow longer if the dough has been refrigerated.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190°C.
Uncover the dough and bake in the preheated oven until the buns are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped underneath, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, dust liberally with icing sugar and let cool.
Eat within 4 days or freeze for up to 1 month.
¹ Instead of rum, use the grated zest and juice of 2 oranges.
² Instead of halved almonds, use whole hazelnuts.
³ The dough can also be shaped as a large loaf. After the nuts have been worked in, shape the dough into a ball and pat into a round 20cm in diameter and 3.5cm thick. Baking time is about 35 minutes.

Sourdough Surprises: Grissini

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sourdough Surprises found yet another excellent way to use sourdough starter: Grissini or breadsticks.
I made them quite hefty and long, and holding one in my hand made me feel like a majorette who twirls a baton as she leads the school marching band!
Sourdough Surprises suggested this recipe. The dough has a combination of whole wheat and white bread flour, with more of the WW. I know it's not terribly good for me, but I changed the proportions and used more white bread flour. I don't know if it's the type of flour we get here in Malaysia or my palate, but I find the taste of WW unappealing. Anyway, there is still some of it in these grissini, so I feel I am not completely ignoring my health!
Marmalade and cream cheese twists
Cheddar, pepper and whole-grain mustard were my spicy topping of choice. But I also made a sweet version that combined marmalade and cream cheese. The sweet-sour jam really worked with the tang of the sourdough. Obviously, these breadsticks were no longer appetisers, which is what grissini are meant for. They were fatter than the savoury version (two strips of dough are twisted together) and became my breakfast bread instead!

Stretch and twist to the length of the baking tray
Cheese & Mustard Sourdough Grissini
Dough recipe adapted from mimicooksMakes about 16 breadsticks (about 30cm long)

100g whole wheat flour
240g bread flour
1½ tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
230g well-fed 100% hydration sourdough starter
180-200g water

3-4 tbsp grain mustard
Finely grated cheddar cheese, about 150g
Ground pepper (black or Szechuan)

Combine all of the dough ingredients, except the water, in a bowl and mix well. Add the lower amount of water and stir in. If mixture is too dry, add extra water by the tablespoon until it forms a medium soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until a pliable dough forms, 5-10 minutes. The dough should be able to stretch without breaking. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with a clean kitchen towel. Let the dough ferment for 2-3 hours with a fold at 40 and 80 minutes (Fold: Pat the dough into a 20cm x 10cm rectangle and fold it like a letter. Do not pat it roughly, you want to form air pockets and stretch the gluten but you don’t want to abuse the dough).
At the end of the fermentation time, preheat the oven to 180°C and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Meanwhile, divide the dough into 2 pieces. Working with one piece at a time, flatten each piece into a rough rectangle, about 5mm thick. Spread rectangle with half the mustard. Sprinkle liberally with cheese and pepper, pressing in gently to adhere. Cut the rectangle into 2cm-wide strips. Each piece of dough should yield 8-10 strips. Move the dough strips one at a time to the cookie sheet. Holding one end down, twist each strip while pulling gently to stretch it to the length of the cookie sheet. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Bake the grissini for 30-40 minutes, until browned. Remove from the oven and transfer the bread to wire racks to cool completely.

To make Marmalade and Cream Cheese Twists, divide the dough into four pieces and flatten each one into a rectangle. Spread two rectangles with cream cheese and the other two with marmalade. Stack a cheese and a marmalade rectangle together. Cut into strands and twist them together. Arrange the breadsticks on baking sheets and dust with icing sugar. Bake as for the savoury grissini.

Horn of plenty

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


When the roti man (a bread vendor who sells his wares from a motorcycle) came by, children would drop everything and run to him as if he was the pied piper. He would summon the people in the vicinity with an old-fashion bike horn (with the long trumpet, rubber bulb and parp-parp sound), and while the adults would come by for a loaf of sliced bread and perhaps some buns, the children would be drawn by the colourful snack cakes and crisp packets hanging from every inch of space on his bike.
Rock on, roti man!
The snack that I liked the most was the cream cone. We know them now as cream horns, but they've always been cone shaped, so the name was apt and to this day I still refer to them as cream cones.
I know now that the cream in the centre of the snail-shell swirl of puff pastry wasn't really whipped cream how could it be when the cones were packed in plastic bags and lasted a long time at room temperature. As a child, I thought it was the most delicious thing I would ever taste and that it would be my favourite snack forever.
You know what? I still think it is one of my favourite snacks. I don't think I've seen them in bakeries, and I haven't bought anything from a bread vendor in a long time, but that just means I have to make them at home. The metal cone-shaped moulds are available at baking supply shops.
If making these pastries for "finer" dining, Chantilly cream (cream whipped with icing sugar) can be used, but I wanted to replicate the cream cones of my childhood as much as possible and have used mock cream, made with whipped butter and with gelatine added to stabilise it. It was a little too sweet, but as my sister (one of the tasters) said, that amount of sugar is probably need to get the butter stiff. I'm going to try with just a little less next time. She thought the pastry (which is homemade) was exactly how it should be.
As for the shaping, I initially thought that I had to hold the cone in one hand and wind the strip of pastry around it with the other (the cone in the picture, top right, foreground, shows the technique before I found out the right way to do it). But that just creates a mess because the pastry gets stretched and it looks awful in the end. Then I came upon a video on how to shape the cones. Every day, I find new ways to love the Culinary Institute of YouTube ;-)
Moulds and uncooked shells (top); filled for your pleasure

Cream Horns
Makes 10

400g puff pastry (block), preferably homemade
2 tbsp caster sugar
Mock cream (recipe below)
1-1½ tbsp smooth berry jam (optional)
Icing sugar

Preheat oven to 200°C. Lightly grease metal cones with oil or melted butter. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone sheet. Place sugar on a plate.
On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a 40m by 20cm rectangle. Using a sharp knife or pizza wheel, cut out 10 long strips, 2cm wide.
Separate a strip from the rest of the pastry. Lightly brush water along the whole length of the strip. Place the tip of a metal cone at one end of the pastry. Turn the cone with one hand to roll the pastry around it, overlapping the edges of the pastry strip slightly until the end.
Brush water on the top side of the cream horn. Sprinkle with sugar. Place sugar side up on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then carefully remove the metal cones and bake a further 5 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
To assemble, spoon a little jam (if using) into the base of each horn. Using a piping bag (fitted with a star nozzle, if desired), fill horns with mock cream. Serve cream horns dusted with icing sugar.

Mock Cream
110g caster sugar
1 tsp gelatine (powder/granules)
1 tbsp milk
80ml (⅓ cup) water
125g butter, softened
½ tsp vanilla extract

Combine sugar, gelatine, milk and water in a small saucepan; stir over low heat without boiling until  sugar and gelatine dissolve. Cool to room temperature.
Beat butter and vanilla extract with electric mixer until white and fluffy. With the motor running, gradually beat in sugar mixture until fluffy; this will take up to 15 minutes. Mock cream thickens upon standing.
Note: The next time I make mock cream, I will try using about 90g of sugar instead so it isn't as sweet. I actually used salted butter this time, but it didn't help cut through the sweetness. But like I said above, the taste does remind me of the cream cones of my childhoo.

Flat-out good

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Earth is round (all right, it's an oblate spheroid if we want to be pedantic), but flat breads rule the world.
They're found in just about every cuisine, they're not very difficult to make and a lot of the time, they're cooked on the stove which leaves the oven out of the equation – and my apartment not heating up like a sauna.
Flat breads are my current obsession and lunch of choice. These ones came about after I saw a recipe for a flaky and multilayered Moroccan flat bread called r'ghayef at Diplomatic Kitchen. Although I didn't follow the recipe to a T, I liked the way the dough was wrapped around the filling and then folded to give it multiple layers.
Stretch gently, and be sure to patch up large holes in the centre
The flat bread is made with a lightly yeasted dough which is pliable and can be stretched thinly like strudel dough – you'll be able to see through it. I do the stretching by hand, simply pressing it out and pulling the edges gently until it forms a rough square. If there are holes in the centre of the square, patch them up with a little dough pinched off from the edge.
The filling is spread on, the two sides are folded in and overlapped and then the top third is folded down. Finally, the bottom third if folded under – it forms an 'S' shape if viewed from the side. I haven't shown this very well in the step-by-step picture above, but if this is confusing, do go to Diplomatic Kitchen for a better view.
Another way to make these filled flat breads is to simply roll them up like a Swiss roll and twirl them into snail-shell-shaped spirals as shown in my post on sourdough roti.
I used the curry leaf powder I posted on recently in the filling of one of the breads. Some it was stirred into softened butter (about a tablespoon of each) and that's the green paste seen in the picture.
Another filling was leftover minced beef curry. This made something like the Malaysian murtabak (variations are found elsewhere in the world, of course), which is often served with pickled onion – steep thinly sliced red onion in a mixture of white vinegar, sugar and salt (all to taste). They turn a bright pink after a while, although my onions (below) aren't so bright any more after they had spent a few days in the fridge. The lesson from this is to make just enough for the meal so there are no leftovers.
Filled with leftover curry and served with pickled onion
Flat Bread Dough
Makes 2 layered flat breads

125g all-purpose flour
Large pinch of salt
Large pinch of yeast
100ml water, approximate
1 tbsp butter, softened

Mix flour, salt and yeast together in a mixing bowl. Add almost all the water and stir into the flour, adding more water as needed so that there are no dry bits. Bring the mixture together into a rough ball.
Spread the softened butter on the ball and knead in until fully incorporated. On a work surface, continue kneading until it forms a soft and pliable dough, 10-12 minutes. Return dough to the bowl, cover with a tea towel and set aside to double in size. Because of the small amount of yeast in the dough, it may be best to place the bowl in a large plastic bag and in the fridge to proof overnight.
A note on cooking
After the breads have been filled and folded, leave them aside for about 10 minutes for the dough to relax. Heat up a frying pan or tawa on high heat and lightly oil the surface. Place the bread in the pan and turn down the heat to medium. Using a metal spatula, press the bread so that it flattens and expands outwards. When the bottom is browned, flip it over to cook the other side.

Currying flavour

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Any plant that requires more than weekly watering and occasional pruning is going to die in my care. I've killed many and now have more empty pots than plants on my apartment balcony.
I've tried to grow chillies and coriander and they have not survived past the first fruiting/sprouting. Even mint, which people say will grow wild if you just stick a stalk in soil, starts to wilt after a while. Obviously, I don't have a green thumb.
Curry leaf, or karuvepillai in Tamil, is one of those hardy plants that seem to grow easily. A lot of people have them in pots, many have a tree in their yard, and some even plant them just outside their house gates – and share it with their neighbours.
It's hard to imagine a South Indian curry without curry leaves. They are put in for flavour (many fried dishes also have crisp fried curry leaves as a garnish), but diners often just leave them on the side their plates and they are discarded at the end of a meal. Not me, I love curry leaves and pick them out of the curry (sometimes off someone else's plate!) to eat. 
Most recipes call for a sprig or two, and cooks who grow their own plants can just pluck off what they need. But if you have to buy curry leaves (which I did to make this minced beef curry), they usually come in a bunch or packet, and to use up that amount would take me many, many curries (they can be dried and stored, though).
So, I looked around online and found some curry leaf chutneys and powders (podi). They are popular South Indian condiments and are a good way to use these aromatic leaves. The powder is often sprinkled on rice or flatbreads, and can be used to flavour Indian "soups" like rasam. Recipes abound online, and each has its own special mix of spices. I've kept the mix simple, but I'm already imagining how I can use the powder in combination with other ingredients in various dishes.
Coming up: How I use curry leaf podi
Some of the dhall in this coarsely ground curry leaf powder has remained whole. 
Curry Leaf Podi (powder)
Makes about 3/4 cups

1½ cups firmly packed curry leaves (stems removed)
1 tsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp asafoetida powder
2 tbsp black gram (urad) dhall, rinsed and drained
3-5 dried chillies, soaked to soften and drained
1 piece dried tamarind (assam gelugor)
Salt to taste

Wash the curry leaves and drain well to remove as much water as possible. Dab with a kitchen towel. In a dry frying pan over medium low heat, toss the curry leaves until they are dry and slightly crisp. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a low flame. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they start to sputter. Add the asafoetida and dhall. Fry until the dhall turns reddish brown, about 2 minutes.
Add the dried chillies (use to taste and tolerance to heat) and tamarind. Stir until chillies start to colour and become crisp, 1-2 minutes.
Add curry leaves and toss together, 1 minute.
Take mixture off the heat and grind to a powder in a mini blender or food processor (how fine is up to individual tastes). Add salt to taste. Cool and store in an air-tight jar.