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Year-end baking disasters

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Unless my oven goes completely kaput, I see my baking in the last few days of 2013 to be mishap-free – although for my own self, I foresee hands and arms with inevitable burns due to my inherent ability to get into accidents.
My last few baked dishes, however, have been quite terrible. The peppermint meringue mice in the picture above received some compliments, but these were the ones that survived the journey from my home to the office where we were having a Christmas pot luck. Most had cracked or lost their ears and tails. But that probably saved everyone from eating them because they were so tooth-achingly sweet!
I only made them to use up the leftover egg whites after using the yolks for a turkey-shaped challah I was determined to make.
Shaping the turkey-shaped challah
The loaf started out fine. I followed the instructions for what this site called the "Turkallah" although I changed a little of the head and neck. 
The problem started when the loaf was ready for the oven. I normally bake free-standing loaves directly on a heavy upturned baking tray that I place in the oven when I am preheating it. This is how I was going to bake the turkey loaf as well. 
But then, I clumsily slid the loaf into the oven and part of it hit the side and was distorted. I tried my best to reshape it on the hot baking tray, but unfortunately, the turkey lost its beak.
The turkey loses its beak.
I took the loaf to the office pot luck and no one could figure out what it was. One colleague said it looked like a dragon and another thought it was a Christmas stocking. Thank goodness, it was cooked well and tasted good.
But the worst was yet to come.
The whoopie pies disassembled themselves after sitting for a while (right).
The gingerbread whoopie pies with marshmallow fluff filling I made for the Daring Bakers challenge were a disaster. The marshmallow fluff was stiff enough after I had made it, but it turned liquid a few minutes after the cookies were sandwiched together. Refrigeration didn't help. So just for the picture, I squeezed them into shape. Shortly after the picture was taken, they slid apart again.
Here's wishing everyone a Happy New Year, and may all your baking be excellent!

Sigara böreği: Turkish cigar-shaped snacks

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I didn't get the chance to try cigarette börek or sigara böreği in Istanbul. This pastry, shaped like a Turkish cigar, is made with a phyllo-like flaky dough called yufka and filled with ingredients like feta, parsley and sometimes potato or meat.
I saw other kinds of börek though – made in the larger pie-like shape and snail shell, but not the cigars.
Yufka pastry apparently comes in various thicknesses. The thicker ones are eaten like flatbread and used for wrapping meats and to scoop up dips (like the one in the picture below). The thinner ones are used for pastries like the börek. A lot of recipes say to use phyllo pastry if yufka is not available. Phyllo is thinner though, so about three leaves need to be layered together.
A thicker version of yufka is the flatbread seen in the background. Chicken doner with rice and (inset) pickled chillies. 
I decided to make my own pastry, based on the type you might use for a strudel. The dough is elastic so it can be stretched until quite thin. I've used this recipe for a strudel before, but this time, I left out the egg yolk.
The filling is a mixture of mashed potato, shredded cheddar, a Turkish hard cheese and snipped spring onions (green onions). I don't know what the Turkish cheese is called; it has the crumbly texture of parmigiano-reggiano and tastes like a sharp blue cheese – very sharp, in fact, which I only realised after the börek were cooked. 
I bought the cheese at a grocery shop in the northwest quarter of Istanbul where hardly any English is spoken, but it's where the locals shop. One of the delightful shopkeepers saw me looking at this variety and cut off a piece for me to taste. I liked it and chose a chunk that was already portioned. He weighed it and it cost 11 Turkish lira (about RM17.50), which is a really good price for organic, unprocessed cheese.
Turkish spice mix
The filling is seasoned with a spice mix that I got in Kadıköy, a town on the Asian side of Istanbul. This is one of the residential areas of the city but again, not much English is spoken. There are some shops catering to tourists but the prices are not inflated because it's also where the locals shop. 
According to the tube, the mix has eight type of spices. The names are all in Turkish, though, so I had to do some Googling to find out the English names. Except for one spice (poy), I found out (if I've correctly identified them) that the others are mint (nane), fenugreek (çemek), white pepper (toz biber), Greek oregano or wild thyme (kekik), sumak (no English name), coriander (kişniş) and red pepper flakes (pul biber). 
Make the sigara böreği in advance and store in the fridge or freezer.  
My börek are fried, but they can also be baked. I'm hopeless at frying but since I made only six this time, this was quicker and I got to eat them sooner!

Cigarette Börek (Sigara Böreği)
Makes 6

95g bread flour
Pinch of salt
50ml water, plus extra if needed
1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing and frying
½ tsp apple cider vinegar
Filling*, about 1¼ cups

Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Combine the liquids and add to the bowl. Bring everything together to form a soft dough, adding more water if necessary. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Divide dough into six equal balls. Roll out the dough into an elongated oval until very thin. Then, using the back of your fists, slowly stretch out the oval into a rough triangle until you can see through it (a few small holes are okay).
Brush the surface with oil. Place a row of filling at the wider end, fold in the lower points of the triangle and roll up towards the upper point. Make the rest of the börek.
At this stage, the börek can be stored in the fridge or freezer.
Heat up a large frying pan and add about 2 tbsp of oil. Fry the börek until brown on all sides. Serve with a dip.
* The filling is a mixture of mashed potato, shredded cheddar, a Turkish hard cheese and snipped spring onions (green onions), and seasoned with a Turkish spice mix. 

Simit: Turkey in a roll

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I could eat one simit a day every day for the rest of my life. This is one of the best bread rolls I have ever had. (Why only one? It's huge!)

Before visiting Istanbul, I did some research on the breads that I could get here, and the simit most interested me. I liked the twisted ring shape and heavy sesame seed coating.

I looked up some recipes and made what I imagined simit to be based on pictures I had seen. The dough is a simple one, quite firm, which is rolled out into snakes, twisted, formed into rings, dunked in date syrup and encrusted in sesame seeds before being baked.

What I made tasted all right, but they were not simit. Nothing close to the real thing as I found out when I got here and had my first bite.

So, now that I have fallen in love with authentic Turkish simit, what am I going to do when I get home? :-(

Peacock-shaped bread

Monday, December 2, 2013

I set out to make The Great British Bake Off Series 4 contestant Ruby Tandoh's white chocolate and orange peacock bread from Episode 2 for yesterday's Don't Call Me Chef column. Here are the links to the episode on YouTube and the recipe from the series website.
I knew I would make a bread and when I saw the peacock-shaped bread, that was the recipe I wanted to try.
Shaping and decorating the peacock
I had to watch bits of the episode a few times to understand how the peacock was shaped. It wasn't complicated but because of the large amount of instant yeast in the dough, it got puffy too quickly in our warm weather. You can bet that I completed this bread way before the show's alloted four hours was up. However, I only managed to fit eight feathers on the body although the recipe called for nine. (The last feather got baked on its own and eaten almost as soon as it came out of the oven.) 
Screen grab of Ruby's peacock bread
Still, I think the peacock didn't turn out too badly. Comparing it against Ruby's (pictured above), it looks almost alike. I probably adorned it more than I should have, and it could have done with a little more browning on top. But all in all, I'm happy with it.