The Oven has baked its last loaf. This blog is no longer being updated.

My cooking videos appear at

I write on food at

Short, dark and handsome

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I've been watching the TV show, 2 Broke Girls. It's not the best, or even cleverest, show around and a lot of things don't make sense: like how two penniless women can keep a full-grown horse (all they seem to feed him is skinny carrots), or how they can stand on the job in a diner in six-inch heels (and keep wearing them throughout the day). Err, why am I watching it?
In one episode it was pointed out that the cupcakes are made from prepared box mix. Well, it doesn't surprise me that they're not made from scratch – after all, none of the chain bakeries and some standalone shops do that. How else would they be able to produce hundreds of cakes a day? (What's not right is calling their business Max's Homemade Cupcakes. Again, why am I watching the show?)
However, a couple of the flavours those girls have on the show sound intriguing. Beer batter with maple bacon frosting? Oh yeah, I can see that being a hit (especially with the stoners, said Martha Stewart in the episode in which she appears).
In contrast, a brown sugar chocolate cupcake with treacle chocolate fudge icing may not sound as compelling. But this chocolate-on-chocolate ensemble – surely the direct opposite of Max's Very Very Vanilla Cupcake – doesn't need a fancy name after you peel off a little of the cupcake case, lick the icing off your fingers (yes, it is gooey) and then take a bite.
Mind the gooeyness 
These cupcakes are made from Dan Lepard's recipe for Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake (which he makes in a loaf pan) and covered with Treacle Chocolate Fudge Icing from his book, Short and Sweet (see him talking about it in this video.) Mr Lepard provided the recipe for the cake in The Guardian way back in 2005 and the recipe for a similarly named frosting two years later. That frosting contains egg yolks, however, while the one in the book doesn't. If the icing is left in the fridge, it becomes firm and I can imagine it becoming delicious truffles. Or drop a spoonful of it into chocolate cake batter baked in a ramekin and the cake would come out with an oozy molten lava centre.
A little bit about Short and Sweet: A lot of the recipes can be found on The Guardian website, but this book is so much more than a collection of recipes. And it's not filled with the mundane me-me-me writings of celebrity chefs who come out with books to coincide with their TV shows. Short and Sweet is an excellent baking reference – which is why I got the book – with recipes that I know are going to keep my oven in constant service and my family and mates in baked goods for a while.

Daring Bakers: Savarin

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Every step of the process of making savarin is rather enjoyable! The dough is very sticky, and developing the gluten by hand takes a while, but I really liked it. And when the outcome is as delicious as it was, well, all that effort was worth it.
Natalia of Gatti Fili e Farina challenged us to make a traditional Savarin, complete with soaking syrup and cream filling! We were to follow the Savarin recipe but were allowed to be creative with the soaking syrup and filling, allowing us to come up with some very delicious cakes!
I made mini savarins with half the recipe provided by Natalia. Almost all the liquid in the dough comes from the eggs which I thought was unusual since water is usually one of the components of bread. I didn't follow the instructions as given though and made the dough with much fewer steps.
I mixed and kneading the dough completely by hand, so I know this can be done without a machine.
Here's a video of how I kneaded the sticky dough (or view it on YouTube). This was after about 25 minutes, and the dough was already getting stronger. It was my first attempt at filming anything with my phone camera (the DSLR is being serviced) and I was holding it in my left hand so the video is a little shaky.

My kitchen is not the brightest spot in the flat so I had to take the mixing bowl to a table by the door to the balcony, and there are sounds of cars passing by outside. In between, when the dough plops against the bowl, there's a squelching sound of air bubbles popping. Also, the dough starts coming away from the sides of the bowl and takes scraps sticking there along with it. Another eight minutes of this and the dough had become nice and elastic, and was ready for the proofing stage.
Pipe savarin dough into mini bundt moulds
To get the dough into the mini bundt moulds, I used a piping bag, pressing out three blobs to fill the holes, then cutting the dough with oiled scissors. With a wet finger, I smoothed out the surface. Unfortunately, the pattern doesn't really show up on the mini savarins (the grooves are too shallow). And I probably could have got one or two extra savarins if I hadn't overfilled some of the moulds.
Mini savarin with lime syrup, coconut custard and grilled pineapple
Mini Lime Savarin
Makes 10-12. Find the original recipe here.

175g bread flour, divided
2 tsp sugar
¾ tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp water
3 medium eggs, separated
½ tsp table salt
40g butter, softened
Lime syrup (recipe follows)

To serve
Coconut custard pudding
Grilled pineapple rings
Toasted dessicated coconut

Place 2 tbsp flour, sugar, yeast and water in a small bowl. Blend into a paste and set aside for 10 minutes.
Put the remaining flour in a large mixing bowl with the egg whites. Stir together to form a batter. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Add yeast mixture to the egg white mixture along with the egg yolks and salt. Mix to blend.
Add butter in three batches and stir well to blend well after each addition.
Knead the dough until elastic (see video above). Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Set aside until tripled in size.
Lightly oil a 10-hole mini bundt pan and scoop savarin dough into a piping bag. Pipe dough into the moulds (or use two teaspoons), cutting the portions with oiled kitchen scissors. Smooth out the surface with a wet finger. Cover the pan and set aside until dough reaches near the top of the moulds.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180°C. Bake mini savarin until golden and cooked, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool in tin, 10 minutes, then completely on a wire rack. Dunk into warm syrup. Pipe coconut custard into the centre of the ring, sprinkle with toasted coconut and serve with grilled pineapple rings.

Lime Syrup
½ cup caster sugar
100ml water
Large pinch of salt
2 tbsp lime juice
½ tbsp rose water

Put sugar, water and salt into a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Lower heat and simmer syrup for 10 minutes until slightly reduced and thickened. Take off the heat and stir in lime juice and rose water. Use while still warm.
* * *
Traditional savarin ring
I used the recipe from this video to make a savarin in my new 24cm classic savarin mould.
It rose very high and emerged from the tin looking like an inner tube!
Not your traditional savarin
I diverted from tradition by slicing the savarin in half  and brushing on an orange-pomegranate syrup. There were pockets of dry crumb though, because they didn't get enough syrup.
The savarin was filled with pastry cream, then the topped was glazed with salted brown sugar toffee.
Pastry cream-filled savarin with salty toffee glaze 
This savarin was all right but I definitely prefer the mini ones since they're much easier to eat.
Check out other savarins in the slideshow on The Daring Kitchen.

Not-so-slow snail (bread)

Friday, April 12, 2013

These buns started out with a recipe for Sweet Saffron Bread from Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf. Besides saffron, the bread also contains currants and is formed into an "S" shape.
The loaf starts off with a sponge made with some of the flour, water and a little yeast, and then all the rest of the ingredients are added. I also mixed some boiling water with saffron as it would be added later.
After the sponge and saffron water were prepared, I took a look inside Tom Jaine's Making Bread At Home which has a recipe for Guatemalan Sweet Buns. This bread also starts off with a sponge before the final dough is mixed. No saffron or currants, but the buns are flavoured with aniseed and they contain a little more sugar than Dan Lepard's saffron bread. What I found interesting was the addition of coconut milk.
Both recipes looked awfully good, so what else could I do but combine the two!
I decided on rolls because they're easier to eat and I don't have to do any slicing before eating. (I'm lazy that way.) Instead of aniseed, I used cardamom.
The Guatemalan buns are coiled into a snail shape, or ensaïmada in Spanish, also the name for a famed sweet bread snack which is said to have originated from the island of Mallorca/Majorca, although there are versions in many other Spanish-speaking countries.
The dough was soft but easy to work with, the golden yellow was beautiful and I could smell the coconut milk, cardamom and vanilla in it. After it baked, however, none of the aromas were distinctive any more. But the buns were fluffy and I liked that little bit of sweetness in them. I used half the dough for cinnamon buns.
This has been submitted to YeastSpotting.
Make cinnamon rolls with the same dough
Sweet Coconut-Saffron Snail Bread
Makes 9 large rolls

100g all-purpose flour
¼ tsp instant yeast
100g milk

Final dough
Pinch of saffron threads (about ½ tsp)
¾ tbsp boiling water
250g bread flour
25g sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cardamom powder
60g butter, divided
150g coconut milk
⅛ tsp vanilla extract
Snow or icing sugar

Mix the sponge ingredients in a bowl, cover and set aside for 1 hour.
Place the saffron threads in a small bowl and pour in the boiling water. Set aside for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, stir the bread flour, sugar, salt and cardamom powder together. Rub in half the butter until well incorporated.
Hold back about 2 tbsp of coconut milk and stir the rest into the saffron solution with the vanilla extract. Add to the sponge and blend well. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients until it all comes together into a rough dough. If there are dry spots, add the extra coconut milk. Cover the bowl and set aside for 10 minutes.
Stretch and fold the dough over itself a few times in the bowl and form into a ball; it should be soft but not sticky. Cover the bowl.
Do the stretching and folding three more times over an hour, forming the dough into a ball each time. Then cover the bowl and leave the dough to double in size, 1-1½ hours.
Melt the remaining butter. Place in a shallow bowl and cool.
Coiling the ropes into 'snail shells'
Divide the dough into nine even pieces and roll each one into a rope about 35cm long. Dip the whole length of the rope in the melted butter (or brush the butter on). Lay one end of the rope on a baking tray and coil it into a spiral, tucking the other end underneath. The middle section will be slightly higher than the edges. Do the same with the other pieces. Cover and set aside for about 20 minutes until slightly risen.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C. Bake the rolls until the tops are golden, 20-25 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool for five minutes, then dredge heavily with snow or icing sugar.

'Varai' good!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

I got this recipe from Mr S. Siluvairasu, the proprietor of the Yarl Beach Inn in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, when I stayed there in August 2003. I haven't cooked it much, which is a shame since it isn't difficult to do at all and is really delicious.
Actually what Mr Silu cooked when I was there (on a press assignment) was shark varai  (pronounced vah-ray) – flaked shark meat cooked with grated coconut and spices. Prawns are an alternative, and the dish can be eaten with rice, thosai or stringhoppers.
One of Mr Silu's other specialities that I enjoyed was baked crabs, also a well-known dish in Jaffna and another recipe that he gave me. That one takes a bit more preparation but it's also a really wonderful dish.

Mr Silu’s Prawn Varai

500g prawns, shelled and cleaned
150g grated coconut
2 tsp chilli powder
Pinch of turmeric powder
¼ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cumin powder
Salt to taste
3 shallots, sliced
3 dried chillies, soaked and cut into 1cm lengths
Leaves from 1 sprig of curry leaves
2 tbsp cooking oil

Steam the prawns until tender. Cool and chop finely (do not mince; you want little chunks).
Mix prawns with grated coconut, chilli powder, turmeric powder, black pepper, cumin powder and salt. Set aside.
Heat oil in a wok and fry the sliced shallots, dried chillies and curry leaves over medium heat until shallots are golden.
Add prawn mixture and fry, stirring constantly, until dry and coconut turns lightly golden. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Ka'ach bilmalch make the rounds

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sometimes I make bread just for the sake of making bread. Sure, I eat it too but even while I am eating my way through one loaf, I start another because the breadmaking process is so appealing.
And then I end up with bits and bobs in the freezer. As I write this, I probably have enough bread to feed our two-person household for at least three weeks. There are half loaves of barley bread and pure levain country brown, a whole ciabatta, six sourdough tangzhong buns and a few slices of ... well, I have to admit, I don't know what bread those slices came from. In the fridge I found enough struan for about three bites and an eighth of an onion loaf. Tell me I don't bake too much bread.
So what am I doing making these little bread rings called ka'ach bilmalch?
Because ka'ach bilmalch is no ordinary bread that might only be eaten when I remember to take out the butter from the fridge to soften until it is spreadable. Ka'ach bilmalch is bread I could eat on its own in one sitting if I allowed myself to. There is never any ka'ach bilmalch left after two days.
(I say ka'ach bilmalch a lot, don't I? And I'm not even sure how to pronounce the name. Kaa-ash beel-malsh?)
Bread for sale, from Jerusalem
This is yet another recipe from the gorgeous Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (I have the Ebury Press edition, with the beautiful cloth-bound cover). They introduce the savoury bread snack with a story of the family that makes it under the Abadi brand, which all Jerusalemites know so well that it's become the generic name for ka'ach bilmalch.
Although made with a yeast dough, ka'ach bilmalch are more cookie than bread. They're supposed to have a "pleasant crunch, hard crumble". Similar cookies can be found elsewhere in the Middle East and they remind me of the kahk or Iraqi bread bracelets I've made before.
This is off to YeastSpotting.
Simply moreish
Ka'ach Bilmalch
Makes 15-20. From Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

250g all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp instant yeast
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp ground cumin
¾ tbsp fennel seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
50g sunflower oil
50g butter, cubed and softened
50-60ml water, approximate
1 egg, for glaze
1 tsp black and white sesame seed mixture

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Stir in yeast, sugar, cumin and fennel. Make a well in the centre and add oil. Stir to combine. Rub in butter. Gradually add water and mix to a soft dough. Knead until smooth, about two minutes. Form into a ball, cover and set aside for 10 minutes.
Place dough on a work surface and press into a rough rectangle. Using a bench scraper, cut dough into small portions (pic 1). Roll out each portion into a 12cm to 13cm rope and press ends together, overlapping slightly, to form a ring (pic 2). Place on a parchment-lined baking tray.
Brush rings with egg and sprinkle lightly with sesame seed mixture (pic 3). Cover and set aside for 30 minutes to rise (pic 4).
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200°C. Bake rings for 20 to 22 minutes until puffed and top is golden. This next step is optional; I do this to get the crust lightly crisp without making the cookies too crunchy: Turn off the oven, prop open the oven door with a wooden spoon and leave the rings inside for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before storing in an air-tight container. Eat ka'ach bilmalch on their own or serve with a dip.