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Daring Bakers: Pastel de Tres Leches

Friday, September 27, 2013

I have wondered what a tres leches cake would taste like ~ actually it was more the texture that I was worried about. Would it be soggy? Would it be too sweet with all that condensed milk in it? So although I was curious, I never really wanted to find out and perhaps waste a cake. Until this Daring Baker's challenge.
Inma of la GalletIKA was our September 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and wow, did she bring us something decadent and delicious! Pastel de Tres Leches or Three Milk Cake: creamy yet airy, super moist but not soggy ... just plain delish!
According to Inma, her recipe was slightly adapted from the one given by one of Mexico's best pastry chefs, Paulina Abascal, to the magazine Revista Secretos de la Pastelería Caserais.
Being the coconut fiend that I am, of course I made the coconut tres leches cake variation that Inma provided. I changed the recipe slightly, scaling it down by about half (using three medium eggs instead of five large ones), including some rice flour in the mix and adding coconut extract for flavour. This was certainly a light, airy sponge.
The cake was baked in a log shape in what is called a "half roll bake pan". I saw it one day and bought it thinking I would use it all the time, but haven't. It does make a nice looking cake with the fluted top, which also makes dividing the cake very easy. However, after spreading the topping on, that was all lost. (A week later, I made the cake again, this time in a rectangle baking tin.)
Looking at Inma's recipe, I thought there was just too much leche, so I used just a quarter of what was called for in her original recipe. Maybe the larger amount was necessary, but I really didn't want to end up with too much extra milk. Having said that though, the mixture was absolutely delicious! I bet it would make superb ice cream. (And I used the leftover as a topping for butterscotch banana sourdough pancakes.) 
A cake filled with three kinds of milk, and decorated with pastry cream and coloured dessicated coconut
Coconut Pastel de Tres Leche
Three-milk cake with a touch of chocolate. Serves 10-12

3 medium eggs, separated, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
60g caster sugar
½ tsp each vanilla extract and coconut extract
65g all-purpose flour
1 tbsp rice flour
1½ tbsp cocoa powder mixed into a paste with 2 tbsp water

100ml condensed milk (or condensed filled milk)
90ml fresh coconut milk (or a good quality canned or boxed one)
60ml evaporated milk (or evaporated filled milk)

Whipped cream or pastry cream
Toasted shredded or dessicated coconut

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a half roll bake pan (or similar sized pan) well.
Beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they form soft peaks, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat on medium high speed until they form stiff peaks, 3-5 minutes.
Beat the egg yolks until they are pale and thickened, and leave ribbons when the whisk is lifted, 3-5 minutes. Quickly beat in the extracts.
Add the beaten yolks to the whites and fold together with a large rubber spatula. They do not have to be completely blended at this time.
Stir the flours together and sift over the eggs. Fold in quickly but gently to keep the mixture from deflating. Fold in the cocoa paste (it's okay of it's streaky).
Transfer to the prepared tin, level the top and bake until risen and and springy, and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.
Cool in the pan, then invert onto a wire rack. Place rack over a large baking pan. With a skewer or fork, poke holes all over the cake right down to the bottom.
For the filling, heat the three milks together with a pinch of salt until the mixture comes to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for a further 3 minutes. Take off the heat and leave for 5 minutes.
Spoon a third of the warm milk over the cake and leave for 10 minutes. Repeat this two more times. (As the milk sits, it will thicken, so after the third application, it will leave a sticky topping on the cake.) Don't forget to spoon the milk that drips down into the baking tray below the wire rack back onto the cake.
Refrigerate the cake overnight for the milk to soak in thoroughly.
Spread whipped cream or pastry cream over the cake, and decorate with toasted coconut.

Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink flapjacks

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why aren't rolled oats sold in smaller packets, say, 250g? I mean, how much oats can one person eat? I'm not a horse.
All right, I know I'm complaining about nothing really. Although I sometimes do have a problem using up half a kilo of rolled oats. Especially since I tend to forget it's there.
Today, I took the day off work since I worked last weekend. I woke up really hungry and since I didn't have anywhere to go  I love staying at home and don't leave it unless I absolutely have to!  I looked through the food store and fridge for something to eat and found a number of things.
On their own, each one was not breakfast material. But put those bits of nuts, chocolate, dried fruit and rolled oats together, and here was something I could pour milk on and eat like muesli. But even better, muesli bars or flapjacks! Something I could keep for those mornings when I am in no mood to butter my toast.
Pureéd dates are the glue that holds these bars together and rolled oats form the bulk. There are no eggs or flour, so the mixture can be eaten raw. I put in whatever I thought would taste good in the mix, hence the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink reference. I didn't add any kind of sweetener since the dried fruit were sweet enough for me. These bars are chewy and crunchy too from the nuts and seeds.
Still have about two cups of rolled oats to use up though. Any ideas?
Chewy and crunchy breakfast bars
Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Flapjacks
Makes 20 (roughly 3cm by 6cm) bars

1 cup pitted dates
1 cup rolled oats, toasted
1 cup dessicated coconut, toasted
½ cup mashed banana
½-⅔ cup miscellaneous ingredients (a combination of seeds, chopped nuts, chocolate, dried fruit)*
½ tsp ground spice*
Liquid sweetener to taste (honey, agave nectar, jam etc), if required

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line base and sides of a 21cm square pan (or equivalent size) with greaseproof paper.
Pureé the dates with a tablespoon of warm water. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add oats, coconut, banana, miscellaneous ingredients and ground spice. Stir together until the mixture clumps together. Taste; add sweetener, if required. If mixture is crumbly, add a little more pureéd dates, sweetener, or a neutral-flavoured oil (or coconut oil).
The mixture should clump together. Press firmly into a tin before baking. 
Tip into the prepared pan and press down firmly with your palm or the back of a spoon to level the surface and compact the mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. Leave in the tin to cool slightly, then score into bars. Cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.
* My miscellaneous ingredients were: walnuts, white chocolate, crystallised ginger, candied winter melon, toasted white sesame seeds, flax seeds and black sesame seeds. I used allspice in the mix, and sprinkled some cinnamon on top before baking the flapjacks.

Sourdough Surprise: Butterscotch plantain pancakes

Friday, September 20, 2013

I am not kidding when I say the plantain was as long as my arm – there it is in the picture below. It's called pisang tanduk or horn banana in Malay for good reason.
I wanted to make a curry or plaintain chips and you need still green bananas for that, which this one isn't. So I ended up making fritters.
My mother got the banana at the farmer's market. The thing is,I didn't just have one banana, not even two. My mother got three and each one weighed about 400g! Needless to say, I had to find a few more uses for the giant bananas beyond fritters.
So pancakes it was since Sourdough Surprises suggested pancakes and waffles with unusual flavours for this month. (I wish I had a waffle maker because I would have liked to try the plantain in waffles instead.) To give it a boost, I was inspired by Dan Lepard's recipe for a butterscotch banana cake in his book, Short and Sweet, and cooked the banana in a sugar syrup before adding to the pancake batter. I used condensed milk instead.
What a stack! Pour on tres leches and dig in. 
I'm happy with how these pancakes turned out. I ate them with a three-milk mixture (tres leches; from an upcoming recipe) of condensed, evaporated and coconut milks.
After seeing what the Sourdough Surprises group came up with, I really need to get a waffle maker!

Pan-fried steamed buns

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The chilli sauce in the picture looks like a Chinese character, doesn't it? I just hope I haven't scribbled (more like dribbled) a bad word!
And the chopsticks? They're obviously a prop since I can't pick up anything as big as the steamed buns with chopsticks. 
I am no expert maker of pau or steamed buns, but if I'm feeding myself, these are good enough. I like these two-in-one pan-fried and steamed buns – they are placed in a little oil to brown the bottom and then water is poured into the pan so the pau are steamed until done.
Filling ingredients for pan-fried steamed pau
I use a mushroom filling with lots of different vegetables thrown into the mix for taste and texture.
What's important is the type of flour that is used. Water Lily or Hong Kong flour is a fine, low-protein flour which makes the pau fluffy. It's also bleached, however. With buns that are only steamed, apparently if you put a few drops of white vinegar in the steaming water, it keeps the buns white.
After the bottom is fried, water is added to the pan to steam the buns
Pan-fried Steamed Buns
Makes 6 medium buns

1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
¼ cup julienned carrot
½ cup shredded cabbage
¼ cup thinly sliced snow peas
1 spring onion, white part, chopped
2 tbsp oyster sauce

150g pau flour (Water Lily or Hong Kong flour; low-protein flour)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp sugar
½ tbsp oil
A drop of alkaline water (air abu), optional
70ml water, approximate
Neutral-flavoured oil (like corn or vegetable), for brushing

Assembly and cooking
1½ tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sesame seeds, optional
1 tbsp all-purpose flour mixed with 1 cup water
1 spring onion, green part, chopped
Chilli sauce, to serve

To make the filling, heat oil and sesame oil in a frying pan. Sauté the garlic briefly and then add the other ingredients. Toss briefly and then remove to a plate to cool.
To make the buns, sift flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Stir in instant yeast, sugar, oil and alkaline water. Gradually add water and continue mixing to form a firm ball.
Transfer dough to a work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, five to eight minutes. Cover dough with a damp tea towel and allow to rise until twice its size.
Scale dough into six equal pieces and form into balls. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside for five minutes.
To assemble, roll out each ball into a circle about 8cm wide. Brush the centre of the circle with a little hoisin sauce and place a mound of filling on it. Gather up the edges and pleat neatly (or just press together and twist!). Press the bottoms of the buns in the sesame seeds, if using.
To cook, heat the oil and sesame oil in a large lidded pan. Place the buns in the pan and cook until the bottoms are crisp and a deep brown. Pour in the flour solution and cover the pan to steam the buns. Leave until puffed up and water has evaporated, six to eight minutes. Sprinkle with chopped spring onion and serve immediately with chilli sauce.

Terengganu salted fish

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I was in the northeastern state of Terengganu last week. Besides a healthy tan, I brought back the not quite so healthy seafood snacks, crackers and salted whitebait.
My mother told me to prepare the salted fish or ikan masin by soaking and rinsing in water three times before using, which I did because I normally listen to my mother. I soaked the fish for about 15 minutes each time, but three dunkings in water seem to have rid the fish of all its salty flavour as well. Not quite what I look for in salted fish.
Ikan masin, soaked (left) and fried
Anyway, I went ahead and fried the little fish until crisp, then tossed them together with fried onion rings, red chillies, lemongrass and a tamarind sauce. 
Together with a quick cabbage stir-fry and rice, lunch was served. Simple, delicious kampung food.
Not quite so kampung food was what we had in the little riverside town of Chukai on our way to our destination – baked crabs at the famous Tong Juan restaurant.
They certainly weren't stingy with the filling in each crab – there was a lot of it and it was very fresh. We had two crab shells each, which was really filling, especially since we had the meal with rice.
Personally, I thought the crab meat needed a boost of something. Terengganu food leans towards the sweet side and I have chilli in my blood, so I added quite a lot of the accompanying chilli sauce to it.

Baked peppers stuffed with pearl couscous

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I could have simply stir-fried a chopped red pepper, tossed it with some cooked pearl couscous, added herbs and nuts and had a very nice dinner. 
But while flipping through the pages of Nigel Slater's Tender Volume 1, I came upon his recipe for "stuffed peppers for an autumn day". Well, I had no autumn day, but most of the ingredients were in the fridge or cupboard, so it was baked stuffed peppers with pearl couscous for me.
Pearl couscous (also known variously in the Middle East as mograbieh, Israeli couscous or fregola) is not the easiest ingredient to get here, but with more Middle Easterners coming to live here, grocers have started to have a small stock of it. It's still very expensive for the average Malaysian income though, but I like the texture and pleasant chewiness, and I don't begrudge a single sen I spend on good food. It can, of course, be replaced with a grain such as rice or bulgur, in this dish.
Ready for the oven: Bake the peppers in the same pan the stuffing was cooked in
Stuffed Peppers with Pearl Couscous
Serves 1. Adapted from Nigel Slater's Tender Vol. I

1 large red pepper (capsicum)
¼ cup pearl couscous*
Olive oil
2 stalks spring onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, diced
Large pinch of paprika
2 tbsp sunflower seeds, toasted
½ a lemon, zested
1 small handful fresh mint, chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 180°C.
Half the red pepper through the stalk, and remove the core.
Cook the pearl couscous in plenty of salted water (like pasta) until tender. Drain and toss lightly in olive oil.
Over moderate heat, soften the white part of the spring onion in a little oil. Add the garlic, paprika and lemon zest.
When fragrant, add the cooked pearl couscous and toss together. Take off the heat and add the sunflower seeds and mint. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Scoop the stuffing into the pepper halves, place them in an oven-proof dish (or use the same pan in which you cooked the stuffing) and drizzle with olive oil. Cover the pan loosely with foil and bake for 35-45 minutes until sizzling.
Serve, drizzled with the pan juices. Goes nicely with Greek yoghurt.
* Replace with ordinary couscous or a grain like rice or bulgur.