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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ondeh Ondeh Kosong - Sweet Potato Balls

Onde Onde Gosong

Onde Onde Gosong 3

Ondeh Ondeh Gosong2

A few weeks ago, when my colleague from the US was here for a customer call, I had taken him to True Blue Cuisine, a Nonya (Straits Chinese) restaurant. The ambience was breathtaking and showcased the vibrancy of the Peranankan Culture in a most splendid way. I have taken bold liberty to paste 2 photos from their website to make up for the inadequacy of my description of the restaurant.

True Blue Cuisine

We ordered the signature Nonya dishes (Ayam Buah Keluak, Nonya Chap Chye, Beef Rendang, Ngoh Hiang) - they did not disappoint but to be honest, I had tasted better Nonya Cuisine along Katong Upper East Coast Road. There was one dish, however, that left an impression and that was the Kosong Ondeh Ondeh. This was Ondeh Ondeh (boiled sweet potato ball rolled in grated coconut) without the Gula Melaka (palm sugar) filling. I was struck by the softness and the simple taste and have kept dreaming about going back just for the Ondeh Ondeh.
Coincidentally, earlier this week, when I was shopping at a Japanese Supermarket in town, they were promoting their air flown sweet potato from Japan. Unwittingly, I picked 2 tubers after tasting the samples offered to me by the sales promoter. I so regreted it as they were quite expensive. I ended up feeling rather stupid to have paid that kind of money for 2 pieces of  'poor man's food' . (And no, I am not disclosing how much I paid for them, too embarrassing)

To put them to some good use, I decided to try my hand at replicating what I ate at True Blue Cuisine. I googled for a recipe and found the post by Baking Mum with the most fitting description to what I am trying to achieve.

I used 1/2 of a tuber for this initial experiment. I must say that the sweet potato tasted really good on its own after steaming. Encouraged, I went ahead to work with Baking Mum's recipe. The end result was not as soft as I had wanted - possibly for 2 reasons :
1. Mine did not have any filling. I believe the juiciness of the Gula Melaka filling would have yielded a softer texture.
2. I probably did not master the right amount of water to be added to the dough.

As a result of which, I felt my Ondeh Ondeh was a little on the chewy side. To repeat this again, I would :

1. Reduce the ratio of Tapioca flour to Sweet Potato ( probably just 10% of Tapioca flour to bind)
2. Add more water to get a softer dough.

Anybody else out there who has better experience with this, please do advice. I would greatly appreciate it for I still have one-and-a-half sweet potato to play with....;-)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Coffee Rum Raisin Dacquoise

Dacquoise Collage

Dacquoise 3

Dacquoise 5

Dacquoise with coffee
My first job with a Japanese company, almost 20 years ago had brought me many new first experiences. I ate Zaru soba and sashimi for the first time in my life during my welcome lunch. Things were rather different then- Japanese food was not as ubiquitous as today. I remember also looking forward to every Japanese guest/boss's visit- for invariably, they will come bearing delectable Japanese treats wrapped meticulously in pretty gift boxes. There were baked rice crackers, the recognisable Tokyo Banana (a banana shaped sponge filled with custard), the significant Pigeon Biscuit from Kamakura and some delicious sandwich cookie with rum soaked rasin butter cream. I didn't know what those raisin butter cream cookies were but they were the firm favourite at the Singapore office and I do still recall that they were rather expensive and probably still are today.

It was only quite recently when I was surfing at the Japanese Amazon that I saw these cookies again and realised that they are actually Dacquoise.  Originated from South Western France, Dax, Dacquoise are more commonly seen in the west in the form of a layered or sandwiched cake. (See this link to Martha Stewart's Site)These almond or hazelnut meringue based pastry are commonly used as a cake base. The Japanese, I believe are the people who have made it so astoundingly popular as a sandwich cookie.

Less temperamental and more baker- friendly than the macarons, these are delicious on their own or paired with tea or coffee.

I use a recipe from Keiko Ishida's new book,Okashii which uses a beautiful coffee rum butter cream and rum soaked raisins. Suprisingly, the velvety rum laced cream did not over power the biscuit which I feel should really be the star of this treat. However, I do have to warn that given our humid and warm weather in Singapore, these little morsels will need to be refrigerated. They turn soft quite easily when left at room temperature.

Coffee Cream Dacquoise (adapted from Keiko Ishida's Okashii)

Ground almonds                  90g (ground hazelnut can also be used)
Icing sugar                           40g
Castor sugar                        20g
Egg white powder               1g
Egg white                            100g

Coffee Cream
Unsalted butter                    100g
Egg Whites                          35g
Icing sugar                           35g
Coffee powder                    2tsp
Rum                                    2 tsp

1. Preheat oven to 180C.
2. In a clean mixing bowl, whip egg white and add sugar and egg white powder in 3 additions until meringue forms stiff peaks.
3. Sift ground almond and icing sugar together. Fold the sifted dry ingredients into the meringue.
4. Using a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip, pipe round discs of the batter onto parchment paper.I use a oval mousse ring for mine.
5. Dust icing sugar twice over the piped dacquoise. The second dusting should be done just before baking.
6. Bake at 180C for 15 mins.
7. Cool biscuit completely before removing from the parchment paper.

Butter Cream
1. In a clean mixing bowl, whip egg white and sugar until stiff peaks are formed.
2. In another bowl, whip room temperature butter until pale and creamy. At low speed mix meringue with creamed butter.
3. Mix coffee powder with Rum and add it to the butter cream.

1. Pipe coffee butter cream onto smooth face of Dacquoise biscuit. Place about 3-4 rum soaked raisin over the cream and sandwich this with another piece of Dacquoise biscuit.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pecan Snowballs aka Mexican Wedding Cookies

Snow Ball2

Snow Balls 1

I envy those who are able to post regularly. The frequency of my posting is made sporadic by my business trips. I especially dread these trips when the holiday season is near for I am one who enjoy the thrill of anticipation than the actual event itself. The festive air start to sizzle in Singapore from November when the downtown shopping belt becomes bathed in the annual Christmas Light Up. The Christmas light up in Singapore is especially beautiful this year, thanks to the APEC meeting which was held here in mid October.

I have dreamt of baking up a storm every year, churning out trays of cookies, cakes and sweet treats to be packed in pretty boxes and presented to friends as Christmas gifts. Unfortunately, I have never been able to do so as my travel schedule invariably gets packed all the way to just a few days before Christmas. Last year, I only managed to get back on 23rd Dec. This year, slightly better, I got home on the 20th - totally drained. I didn't get to bake until late tonight - turning out only 2 trays of Pecan Snowballs also known as Mexican Wedding Cookies.

I chose to bake these as they are relatively easy to make and keep well. For those who are not familiar, the Mexican Wedding Cookies, are special occassion cookies served usually during weddings and Christmas. They are made with either ground almond, hazelnut or pecans. The texture of the cookie is buttery and short - best described as 'melt in the mouth' . The cookies are also known in different regions by different names. They have been called Snowballs, Russian Teacakes or Swedish Teacakes.

They would be absolutely divine with coffee but are equally hard-to-put-down when eaten on their own.

There are a couple more stuff I would like to make for give aways - if I can juggle working in the kitchen, cleaning my apartment and preparing for my Christmas Dinner party. Till the next posting, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Pecan Snowballs Recipe :

60 g      Toasted Pecans
100g     All purpose plain flour
40g       Corn Flour
1/4 tsp  Salt
115g     Unsalted butter
15g       Icing Sugar
1/2 tbsp Water
1tsp      Vanilla Extract

1. Sift plain flour, corn flour and salt together.
2. Blitz pecans with 1/3 of flour mixture.
3. In a mixing bowl, beat butter with a paddle attachment until light and creamy. Add Icing sugar and beat at low speed. Add water and vanilla extract.
4. Add flour mixture in 3 additions.
5. Chill the cookie dough in the fridge for 1 hour.
6. Shape the chilled cookie dough into round balls.
7. Bake in a 150 C preheated oven for 25 mins.
8. Cool down cookie and roll in powdered sugar.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fish Porridge - Experimenting With Soft Water

Fish Porridge close up

Fish Porridge

When L and I were in Penang last month, we ate  all our meals at street side food stalls. For one of the dinners, L ordered some pig intestine porridge which I had frowned upon. It was suprisingly delicious. L said something which stuck in my mind - the Teochew style porridge was cooked so well that even though it is cooked soft through the core, the grains had remained intact. This is rather different from Cantonese congee where the rice is cooked in water that is kept at a rolling boil. The rice grain tend to split after a few minutes of vigourous boiling and the end result is a smooth, gluey - almost paste like consistency. I do enjoy the Cantonese congee (especially with chinese fried croutons Youtiao) but the Teochew porridge offers a different experience in texture that is equally satisfying - if it is cooked right.

When it is not done right, Teochew porridge can taste like rice mixed with soup. Perhaps it is for this reason that I don't normally order Teochew porridge when I eat out. I have been pondering about how to achieve 'mushy soft' rice grains without splitting the grain. Obviously, the heat needs to be controlled carefully but I also can't help but feel that there may be other tricks to it. I recall someone telling me how using 'soft water' to boil red bean soup yields soft bean without turning the soup into a mushy gruel.

Armed with that little piece of hear-say, I decided to experiment. Hard water, by definition contains calcium and tends to be alkaline in nature. In nature, water can be softened when it is passes through peat, sandstone or some sedimentory rocks. I remember I have a set of chinese tea cups that are made from clay. I immersed one of my cups in a pot of water overnight and used this water to cook my porridge. For most part of the cooking process, the water was maintained at a reasonble rolling boil and at the end of the cooking process, I was delighted to observe the rice grain did not split and it was cooked to the core.

I need to verify again if this is indeed due to the water but then, deep down, I am also scoffing at myself. Who am I kidding? Will the food stalls really go through the trouble to treat their water before cooking?
Anyway, my fish porridge was really tasty. Apart from the soft whole rice grains, the sliced fish turned out really smooth and firm. It was wholesome and satisfying and I am pretty confident that L will be impressed.

Recipe :

White Jasmine Rice (thai long grain rice)  : 1 cup
Water : 10 cups (actually I never really measure the amount of water used when I cook porridge.It is less critical than cooking rice)

Sliced fish fillet , marinated with a little salt, chinese wine, egg white and corn starch.
For garnish : finely juliened ginger, finely sliced chilli, chopped spring onion.
( Unlike baking, I never get precise when I do Chinese cooking. The best measuring device is your tongue.)

Method :

1. Bring water to boil in the pot.
2. Wash rice until water is clear. Add a little oil to the washed rice. When the water starts to boil in the pot, add the washed rice into the pot. Use a ladle to stir the rice grain quickly to prevent them from settling down.
3. Adjust heat to get water to a gentle rolling boil. (not simmer) I left the lid of the pot slightly ajar.
4. Check at intervals to see if rice is cooked. Add hot water if water level in the pot becomes too low. (again judge by your own preference how 'soupy'you like your porridge to be)
5. When rice is almost cooked through, add marinated sliced fish. These should cook through pretty fast. Season with salt to taste.
6. Ladle the porridge into a bowl and garnish with ginger, spring onion and chilli. I also added a little seseame oil to my porridge.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Last PostCard From Paris - Laduree, Mariage Freres, Green Tea Financier

Laduree Collage

Macaron collage

Mariage Freres Front

Mariage Freres2

Tea Canisters


Yuzu Temple Frost

Financier Collage

2 days in Paris is too short to do anything properly but as I sort through my stash of photographs, I was suprised that there is still a treasure trough of momentos.. I am stealing time off to put up this post so it will have to be a short one - lest someone at work sees that instead of working on my budget numbers and writing call reports, I am still baking in the kitchen and writing my blog.

Laduree is the only wildly famous pastry shop I managed to visit during this trip. The macarons are indeed very very good. The flavours are fascinating. I had originally frowned upon the black liquorice macaron but discovered that it was actually quite delicious. I am not a fan of liquorice but it was dosed just right - you taste the sweetness of liquorice as you bite into and chew the little biscuit. The medicinal tingle only makes its appearance after the last bit of the black morsel has been swallowed. Even that, the tingle so subtle... it felt... adult chic.

I had more fun at Mariage Freres.Somehow, I have always been more of a tea person and have a closet full of tea leaves that I never seem to be able to finish. The first Mariage Freres Tea Salon at Bourg-Tibourg is especially lovely - the aged wooden counters has the charm of an old world tea trading warehouse. Needless to say, I went crazy over the tea collection and brought back quite a number of momentos... one of which is their new tea, Yuzu Temple which is a light green tea infused with Yuzu - the bouquet hovers between that of  sweet mandarin and  refreshing lime. Utterly delightful.

What better way to linger over the Paris experience than baking another batch of French pastry to be enjoyed with my Mariage Frere tea. As it is with the Madeleine, the Financier is another symbolic French treat - simple but iconic. No respectable French Patisserie should be without them.

The Financier is a small, dense, buttery cake made with almond meal and browned butter. Browning the butter adds a myriad of complex flavours to the cake. Butter, when heated to the point of protein precipitation releases a nutty caramelised aroma which is amazingly comforting. However, care needs to be taken when browning the butter as the line between brown butter and burnt butter is very very fine. Hence, I always try to standby a bowl of ice water to cool down the butter immediately after the butter has browned.

These little ingots turned out really well and go really well with tea or coffee. By the time, I had finished taking the photos, I had already devoured 3 ingots.

 Fiancier with Tea

Financier collection

Recipe (adapted from Keiko Ishida's Okashi)

Pastry flour        50g
Corn flour          5g
Baking powder  1/2 tsp
Egg White          130g

Castor Sugar      130g
Ground almonds 50g
Salt                    pinch
Unsalted butter  130g
Green tea powder 10g

Method :
1. Preheat oven to 220C.
2. Sift flour,corn flour, baking powder and green tea powder together.
3. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat egg white with sugar and salt. Add ground almond, and flour mixture in stages.
4. In a heavy saucepan, heat butter until brown and fragrant. Once browned, transfer butter to a different bowl and cool down immediately using ice water.
5. Add browned butter gradually to flour batter and mix well to incorporate butter into flour batter.
6. Pour batter into molds and bake at 220C for 12mins.


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