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Monday, December 27, 2010
I must have traveled to New York more than 10 times over the last 15 years. During the earlier years, I would travel there to visit my grand uncle and grand aunt in Brookyln. I recall how their neighbourhood at Prospect Park populated by blacks and hispanics would morph to become rather hip and cosy. Subsequently, when I started working for my current American employment, I would frequent Connecticut and New Jersey at least once a year. Hence I am not totally unfamiliar with Manhattan. I am very comfortable with the subway and am used to walking 40 to 50 blocks in the city.
My visiting habits in Manhattan has gradually changed over the years. My 'free days' to roam get shorter so I no longer go to the musuems (I lost count of the number of big and small musuems I had visited). I am also no longer excited about department stores like Birmingham, SAKS Fifth Ave etc. Now when I do get to Macy's I would head straight for the household department and I would never pass by a Williams Sonoma store without just popping in for a quick twirl (even though all of them carry the same merchandises). Fine food stores like Dean & Deluca, Zbar and Wholefoods are also my favourite haunts.
Despite it all, there remains one place which I will always set aside time for when I am in Manhattan... It has become somewhat of a pilgrimage for me... going to Central Park. Summer in Central Park bustles with energy when buskers perform and superfit rollerbladers power glide through the park. Winter in Central Park is a little more pristine and quiet.... the trees are bare, the ponds are frozen...the joggers looking more austere in their long tights, hats and gloves.
I was lucky that the only free Saturday I had was not too cold to walk and sit around in the park for immediately the next day, temperature dropped and the big chill set in.
I started my walk from Strawberry Fields, the little plot dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. It was only a few days earlier that the public was commemorating John Lennon's death anniversary on the 8th Dec.
Loved the rows and rows of benches where people would sit and enjoy the scenery or read...
Whoever thought of putting the park in the city was brilliant and for me this is possibly the strongest identity of New York City yet....
Friday, December 24, 2010
Getting back to blogging after a month long haitus is proving to be harder than I thought. Amidst meetings in New Jersey, shopping in Manhattan and catching up with friends in Conneticut, I put all blogging activites on the back burner. When I got back a week ago, I found myself drawn into a spring cleaning mode - it all started with the bumper load I lugged back from Williams Sonoma - I desperately had to clear out old clutter to make way.... for shiny new toys. Things got worse when the company's account department cast their ultimatum, warning me that if I do not submit my 9 months' old overdue expense reports, I can kiss all my money good-bye...... that was my week leading up to the Christmas holidays.
As cold as it might be, Manhanttan was absolutely lovely around Christmas and drew visitors like a big magnet. Some highlights of my 3 weeks stay in US included my usual walk in Central Park on the only sunny Saturday before the chills set in, lingered in Williams Sonoma and Wholefoods supermarket, played X-box in a mobile arcade, cooked at the Vikings Culinary Center and ate some good food and...some not so good ones.
Interestingly, I was inspired to bake this Gingerbread Cupcake because of an unpleasant cupcake experience I had in Conneticut. I was told that when well known Cupcake Bake Shop, Crumbs opened one of its latest branch at posh and trendy Westport, it made the neighbourhood quite happy. However, I was skeptical right from the moment I walked into the store. The cupcakes were bigger than my fists and although there appeared to be a myriad of mouth watering flavours to choose from, their 'Signature size', in my opinion, took away their prettiness. We bought 2 cupcakes, the GingerBread and the Apple Caramel to bring home for after dinner dessert. Both were so coyingly sweet that I had to throw out my share after one bite.
The recipe I have chosen today is taken from Martha Stewart's Cupcake cook book. This has to be one of the best cupcakes I have had for a long time.
I like this even better than the Donna Hay chocolate cupcake. The Christmasy spices are warm and comforting. Devoid of any milk/liquid or leavening agent, the cupcake turned out to be suprisingly soft and fluffy. If you are still deliberating on what to bake for Christmas, I would strongly recommend this.
Last but not least, before I return to my expense reports, here's wishing all my lovely friends out there a Merry and Wonderful Christmas!
P.S. : Swee San, thanks for the reminder. I will be more than happy to submit this for your giveaway event.
So, officially - This is my entry for the Christmas Giveaway hosted by Swee San of The Sweet Spot.
Recipe : (Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes)
1.5Cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1.5 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tbsp unsulfured molasses
4 large eggs , room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar (I cut the sugar by 50%)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Gingerbread Cookie cutouts
Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners . Sift flour together with spices.
2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the molasses, and beat until combined. Add eggs one at a time, beating until well incorporated. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and slowly add in flour.
3. Spoon out batter into cupcake liners to 3/4 full.
4. Bake in oven for 25 mins or until skewer inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.
Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
113g Unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
80g Icing sugar
1/8 tsp Vanilla extract
1. Beat butter using an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
2. Reduce speed of mixer and add in icing sugar.
3. Add in Vanilla extract and beat until smooth and creamy.
5.5 cups All purpose flour
1 tsp Baking soda
1 tbsp plus 1tsp Ground ginger
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp Ground cinnamon
1 tsp Freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup Unsalted butter
1 cup Packed dark-brown sugar
2 Large eggs
1.5 cups Unsulfured molasses
1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and spices. With the electric mixer on medium high speed, cream buter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs and molasses and beat to combine. Reduce speed to low. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until just combined.
2. Divide dough into 3 portions. Flatten in to a disc and place in a plastic bag. Refrigerate until firm.
3. Roll out each disc to just under 1/4 inch thick.
4. Cut with mini gingerbread man cookie cutter.
5. Bake cookies until crisp - 8 to 10mins. Cool down and store in air tight tin.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Wide awake at 3am in the morning in New York, I invite you to relive my first visit to the famous Momofuku Noodles Bar... Sit with me at the bar counter for a view of the kitchen and the way the chefs and cooks work behind the counter...
I have to admit my first exposure to Momofuku was through David Chang's cookbook. Despite seeing various creations from his cookbook in the Food Blogosphere, I was hesitant to get the cookbook. As I browsed the book a couple of times at the bookshop, I had the impression that the recipes were... difficult. However, eventually I did succumb to it 3 weeks ago when I decided to order it from Book Depository. It is all just good timing that I should be in New York for more than 2 weeks and when I touched down over the Thanksgiving weekend, I had really wanted to make this my first meal in New York.
The Momofuku Noodle Bar, is American Korean Chef, David Chang's first restaurant in New York. This was where the Ramen fad started in New York and was also the place that made the pork belly buns so famous. Fronted by a simple facade, the restuarant does not look at all eye-catching from the outside. The interior was simple but stylish with a layout that induces a quick meal - definitely not meant to be a cosy place to linger.
I had the good fortune to sit at the kitchen counter, which gave me a good view of the bustle in the kitchen. The casually dressed waiting staff (baseball cap, T-shirt & jeans) constrasted oddly with the chefs and cooks who were all dressed in their smart white chef coats. As I watched the chef work deftly behind the counter at plating the dishes with a sprinkling of lotus seed shavings and a quinelle of siphoned cream.... I started to wonder if I am in for hype or substance.
Standing next to me at the counter, a guy wearing a base ball cap, wielded his authority over the orders as he meticulously inspected and wiped away any unsightly smudges on each plate before they were sent out to the diners. I cringed inwardly when I saw him reject 3 orders of Shitake mushroom buns from the cook... the first one for not having enough gravy, the second when 2 pieces of mushrooms had accidentally landed on the top of the buns, instead of in between the buns and the third when the amount of mushroom filling was unequal for the two buns on the plate. All three plates were chucked into the dumpster.
I ordered the Yuzu Palmer which was a Yuzu flavoured slushie spiked with Shoju (Japanese rice wine). It was refreshing and I knew that anything with Yuzu would have pleased me. For starters, I deliberated whether I should order the famous pork belly buns (our kong ba bao). I have never been a great fan of fatty pork belly and I couldn't help but notice that their pork belly strip was very light in colour compared to the heavily braised versions we have back home. In the end, I chose to have the shrimp buns which was absolutely delicious. The individual shrimps were pressed together to form a crunchy patty. Served with a tangy sauce on the white buns, it was my favourite dish of the meal. I wonder if the recipe is in the cookbook- I would love to replicate this at the first possible chance available.
The Momofuku Ramen was served with 2 strips of pork belly, shredded pork and a poached egg. The egg was poached perfectly but I think it lacked the bite of the typical Ramen Onsen egg (hard boiled egg white with runny egg yolk). Once poked, the whole poached egg would integrate into the soup base. The shredded pork was salty and flavourful, a great compliment to the noodles. The pork belly, strips was indeed well prepared. The layers of fat and pork was clearly visible and the whole combination of fat and lean was delicately balanced. However, I have to admit that this is not a Ramen that would get me excited. It was not robust enough to share a place with the flavourful pork broth ramen neither is it good enough to win a seat with some of the most delicate shio ramen I have tasted in Japan. At best, I would classify it as a tasty watered down Americanised Ramen.
I chose to finish off the meal with the apple crumble truffles which is essentially an apple crumble cake served in the form of a round ball. It is moist and delicious but somewhat of an odd item for the primarily asian fusion spread.
Judging from the waiting crowd, Momofuku undoubtedly has its following but I have mixed feelings about my first experience there. The scene in the kitchen excited me but it also made me wonder if they have gotten a tad too pretentious - espcially when I noted with dismay that the bowl in which they served my ramen had a chipped rim. This jarred with the way they chucked out three portions of shitake mushroom buns. The items on the menu are definitely not wallet friendly. I paid almost US$50 for this supposedly humble lunch. So, is Momofuku for real or is it a Ramen joint that is trying to behave like a 3 star restuarant? I am tempted to go back again to find out.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
For the last few days,I held the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook close to me like a bible. I would be poring over it in the kitchen,on the couch before the TV and finally before I turn in for the night in bed.... There are many good things in the book that get you excited.
The inspiration from that first visit still linger. I would have gladly replicate the ginger brulee tart immediately after I got back but the lengthy prep involved would have called for more patience and I just couldn't wait - hence the Passion Fruit Meringue Tart got its showcase first.
For those who are keen to try this, make sure you start 2 days in advance.
The cream needs to be infused with the spices overnight. Subsequently, after the custard is prepared, it has to be refrigerated overnight again. If you are the sort who can only manage one item per day, then you would need to get on with the sweet short crust pastry a day earlier. So much work? I think it will get more breezy after repeating this a couple more times, when the routine becomes more familiar. It is really not so difficult and the end result turns out really quite similar to what I ate at the store.For those who are not able to travel all the way to Sydney bakery for their treats, this is the greatest option available. And then, for those who are reluctant to pay AUS$5 per tart, you can save quite a few quids by making them yourself. The authenticity of the cookbook makes it a gem and because these treats are meant to look rustic, you can get away with a little shoddy workmanship and still look like a kitchen goddess.
If you fancy a Chai Spiced Brulee, you will not be disappointed.
720ml pouring (whipping cream) (35% fat)
5cm piece ginger, finely sliced
1 cardamon pod, bruised
1/2 cinnamon stick
10 egg yolks
80g caster sugar plus extra for burning
1 qty of sweet short crust pastry (see here)
1 1/2 tbsp pistachios chopped.
1. Put cream into a saucepan, add ginger,cardamon and cinnamon. Heat up. Once it starts to boil, remove from heat and leave to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to infuse flavours.
2. Next day, bring (1) to simmering point and remove from heat. Leave aside until ready to use.
3. Place egg yolks in a bowl. Whisk to combine. Add sugar and whisk for 30seconds until sugar dissolve. Pour in warm (2) slowly and whisk at low speed to combine.
4. Transfer (3) into a Bain Marie pan and heat over a simmering water bath. Make sure the pan does not touch the boiling water. Whisk the custard mixture using a hand whisk for 10-15mins over the water bath until smooth and thick.
5. Remove pan from water bath. Whisk briskly for another 2 mins to cool.
6. Over the next hour, whisk the custard quickly every 10mins until custard cools down. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
7. Roll out sweet crust pastry and cut into 11cm circles. Line 8cm tart cases. Refrigerate lined tart cases for 20mins. Blind bake tart cases at 200C for 25mins.
8. Cool down baked tart cases completely.
9. Pipe the refrigerated custard (6) into tart cases. Overfill the cases and spread the custard over edges of case.
10. Cover top of tart with castor sugar and with a blow torch, burn sugar until it caralmelises. Sprinkle chopped pistachios over brulee tart.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
During my previous trip to Sydney, I had lugged back the very hefty but highly raved baking cookbook, Bourke Street Bakery- The Ultimate Baking Companion. Authored by chefs Paul Allam and David Mcguinness, this is possibly one of the most generous and truthful cookbook I have come across in a long time - a true baking bible. The forward by Paul Allam had me totally sold : " Baking is part science, part stoneground milling and part river-running romance. But it's not the romance that will keep your baking consistently good, it's the science." Inspiring, is also the story about how the 2 friends had come together to set up the landmark bakery in Sydney's Surry Hills. I have great admiration and respect for people who have a strong sense of vision and conviction in what they set out to do. Amidst all the craze for intricate, aesthetically appealing multiple component French pastries, Bourke Street Bakery stayed committed to their vision that a bakery should be small, rustic, homely and comforting. Intrigued by the book itself, I made sure that Bourke Street Bakery would be my die-die-must-go destination when I returned to Sydney again last week. What I found was literally a hole in the wall. There were only a couple of seats in the bakery with hardly enough standing space to spare - as such, a queue is almost consistently spilling out onto the streets. Everything in the shop, from the furniture to the serveware screamed distressed and rustic. As I stared down at my breakfast on the tattered distressed table, I had a strange sense of satisfaction - I felt...almost local. And damn the camera for making me feel like an intruder in the warm and inviting neighbourhood store!
Both selection of my breakfast spread are firm favourites at the store. The pork & fennel sausage roll was substantial and delicious but the portion was too big for me. The ginger brulee tart, on the other hand was a well balanced and lovely blend of exotic spicy flavours - I could eat this again and again. I bought 2 more pastries to take away - the rhubarb almond tart and the passion fruit meringue tart. Unfortunately, I had foolishly walked around with the pastries for 5 hours and by the time, I got to them again, the meringue on the meringue tart had vanished totally into a small puddle of transparent syrup.
So here I am, picking the passion fruit meringue tart as my first recipe from Bourke Street Bakery. What I find most intriguing about this tart is the short crust pastry recipe. An interesting recipe that calls for the use of vinegar, it actually yields a somewhat stretchy dough. The dough will shrink a little as you line the tart case, leaving you with a slightly uneven edge around the rim resulting in a tart that looks rustic. I love it and am already planning to make another batch.
I am excited and am even feeling ambitious enough to want to bake through the whole book... well, we'll see.
And now to my most dreaded part of the blog - typing out recipes and this one's a killer!
Recipe : (Adapted from Bourke Street Bakery - please get the book as it is very detailed)
200g castor sugar
20g extra castor sugar
4 egg whites
Passion Fruit Bavarois
2 tsp gelatine powder
6 egg yolks
175g caster sugar
250ml passionfruit juice (I used passion fruit puree)
350ml whipping cream
Sweet Crust Pastry
400g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1.5cm cubes
20ml vinegar, chilled
100g caster sugar, chilled
170ml water, chilled
665g plain flour, chilled
Sweet Crust Pastry
1. Mix vinegar and sugar in a bowl. Add water stirring well until sugar dissolves.
2. Mix salt with flour. Toss butter through flour. Use fingertips to rub the butter into the flour to partly combine.
3. Turn out floury mix onto a a clean work surface. Sprinkle vinegar/sugar/water mixture over the dough. Use the palm of your hand to smear this mixture away from you across the work surface. Gather into a ball again and repeat the smearing process 2 more times.
4. Divide dough into 2 and flatten into a thick disc and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. (I left it overnight)
5. Remove dough from fridge and on a lightly floured board, roll out dough to about 3mm thick. Using a 11cm round cutter, cut rolled dough into individual circles to fit over a 8cm tart case.
6. Line (5) onto a buttered 8 cam tart case and chill in the fridge for about 20mins.
7. Blind bake (6) at 200C for 25mins.
Passion Fruit Bavarois
1. Mix gelatine powder with 2 tbsp milk and set aside.
2. Put rest of the milk in a saucepan and heat to almost boiling.
3. In a stainless steel bowl add egg yolks, sugar and passion fruit puree. Mix this over a simmering water bath, making sure that the bowl does not touch the water.
4. Pour in hot milk in (2) and whisk mixture over the simmering water bath for about 5 mins until mixture becomes quite thick. Add in (1). Stirring well to dissolve all gelatine.
5. Remove from heat and strain. Cool down mixture in the fridge for about an hour just beginning to set.
6. Whisk whipping cream until soft peaks are formed.
7. Fold in (6) into (5) to combine.
8. Pour (7) into tart cases and refrigerate to set.
1. Add sugar in a heavy saucepan. Carefully add water over sugar without stirring.
2. Heat (1) until sugar syrup boils and temperature reaches 118C.
3. When the syrup temperature is about 95C, start to beat egg whites in a clean bowl until foamy. Add extra sugar and continue to whisk until soft peaks are formed.
4. Add (2) into (3) - taking care not to pour syrup directly over the whisk to avoid splatter.
5. Continue whisking until meringue cools down.
To assemble : Pipe Italian Meringue over filled tarts. Using a palette knife to create a more rustic, natural look. Using a blow torch, brown the meringue.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
I was watching Masterchef US on TV last week . One of the elimination challenges was to cook a perfect egg dish using just one precious egg. The contestants had to prepare a dish that sheds spotlight on the egg itself.
Simple as it sounds , most contestants were striving to ensure that their dish turn out to be anything but… simple. As I watched them work frantically over the 30 mins, I wondered about what I would cook with the one egg if I were in their shoes. Possibly the Chawan Mushi / egg custard because it is interesting enough and more importantly, I can remember the ‘Golden Mixing Ratio’ of the recipe. What never ceases to marvel me when I watch reality cook shows like these is that the chefs and cooks never seem to have a need to refer to a recipe when they cook.
With food blogging, there is strong incentive to experiment with new recipes and dishes. As such, I find myself cooking increasingly by referring to new and interesting recipes. I was just chatting among some food blogger friends last weekend and I realize I am not alone in this. We all seem to share the same weakness for cookbooks and we now very rarely cook the same dish twice…… unless, of course if we had failed in our first attempt miserably.
I have always felt disturbed by the notion that I don’t cook any dish often enough to perfect it. The great cooks of my mother’s generation cook without a recipe but they do it often enough to iron out all the kinks and kooks.By then, they would have the whimsical feel of the recipe permanently imprinted in their mind and being. As such when they do share their recipe, they pass on a legacy, not just a set of instructions.
Today’s post is not a legacy, it is just a simple dish that I recall from my childhood- which I replicate without a recipe. The Chinese call it 蛋角(danjiao, egg dumpling) but really, it is the good old omelette, miniaturized and filled with minced meat sauce. This is a dish I would gladly eat with rice porridge or steamed white rice. Wholesome and simple, you can count on this to save the day even for the child with the most difficult eating habits.
Will this get me through the Masterchef Egg challenge? I doubt so – it is just too simple.
Meat Sauce refer here.
1 tsp light soya sauce
1.5 tsp Tapioca starch
1 tsp Water
Dash of pepper
1. Wet out the Tapioca starch with the tsp of water. Leave it to stand for 5 mins. If the water separates from the flour, decant the top layer water and retain the flour paste.
2. Beat the eggs in a bowl, season with soya sauce and pepper. Add (1) and stir to combine.
3. In a wok, heat up 1 - 2 tsp of oil.
4. Reduce heat to medium low.
5. Add 2 tbsp of (2) into wok. Once edges are formed, add 1 tbsp of minced meat sauce and seal the omelette by folding the omelette carefully over in half.
Friday, November 12, 2010
A failed experiment that needs further tweaking and I am not suprised nor discouraged by the outcome. It is normally easier to modify a savoury dish but baking calls for better precision. So when it occured to me to use the Pandan Coconut Custard to make this souffle dish, I was already deliberating about the possibility that the coconut oil in the custard will disturb the stability of the meringue. I went ahead with it anyway like a lab experiment.
I had also added some toasted dessicated coconut to the blend to give texture. The souffle rising slowly in the oven,had me feeling really hopeful but the cells of the souffle did look rather wet to me.
True enough when I got these out of the oven, I could sense that they were not as stable as the ones I made before. I suspect that the recipe is too 'wet'. The kaya/ custard was possibly too runny,hence the inside of the souffle felt more mushy. I am guessing that the runny consistency also affected stability of the air bubbles in the souffle. The souffle did not totally collapse on me. It just resided faster than before. Adding toasted dessicated coconut was a right thing to do. It complemented the pandan custard perfectly. I will need to tweak the ratio further and possibly use a thicker custard next time.
I know many of my fellow Singaporean/ Malaysian readers have commented how they would need to find ramekins to try their hand at making souffles. I recently chanced upon Ramekin Heaven at CSN - an ever growing online shopping mega mall which sells everything from bar tables and stools to cookware to shoes.Searh for Ramekins at their Cookware site and you will see what I mean.
I shall publish the failed recipe anyway and if anyone has any suggestions to modify this, I will be so happy to explore.
Egg White 100g
Castor Sugar 20g
Pandan Custard 300g
Toasted Dessicated Coconut 20g
1. Peheat oven to 170C. Butter and sugar coat ramekins thoroughly.
2. Whisk egg white and castor sugar until stiff peaks are formed.
3. Fold in cusstard and dessicated coconut working gently to avoid deflating the meringue.
4. Spoon or pipe (3) into ramekins. Using your thumb, go around the rim of the ramekin to clean up the edge of the ramekin.
5. Bake for 8-10mins until browned. (I baked for 15 mins)
Monday, November 8, 2010
Please believe me when I tell you that this cookies are awfully delicious. Do yourself a big favour, bookmark and bake this cookie soon! It is that good.
A cookie made with almost equal parts of peanut butter and fat and kissed by a Hershey chocolate droplet- anyone should be able to pull this off and impress.
For those who have been reading my blog, you will know that I am very selective when it comes to chocolates. I risk sounding like a snob but Hershey is not my chocolate of choice. However, there is something rather pretty and cute about the droplet shape that these kisses come in. This is a very classic and common recipe which originated from, who else, but Hershey's. My only wish for this recipe is to substitute the milk chocolate with dark chocolate kisses. Hershey's probably produces these in dark chocolates but the supermarket I got these only stock the milk chocolate versions.
For my recipe I also halved the amount of sugar used as I somewhat suspect that coming from Hershey's it could be a little too sweet for my taste. It turned out just fine for me.
Also, if I were to do this again, I would experiment this with butter instead of shortening.
Ok. Less talk more action - Enjoy!
P.S. : If I were smart enough, I should be scheduling this for publish later but I am impatient. I couldn't wait to share.
Recipe (as seen at Hershey's )
48 HERSHEY'S KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup REESE'S Creamy Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.
2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.
3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.
4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 4 dozen cookies.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
We have a saying in Chinese that goes like this... 吃饱饭没事做. Literal translation of that is 'Having nothing better to do after being fed'. The phrase is normally used to describe people who choose to engage in frivolous, meaningless deeds. As I kneaded the dough with perspiration beads forming on my fore head, that phrase resonated incessantly in my head.
Youtiao/ Yau Char Kuai are humble street food that I can find in many parts of Asia. In China/ Taiwan, this deep fried bread dough is taken for breakfast with soya bean milk. We also dip this into savoury porridge for breakfast or lunch. In Singapore/ Malaysia, we mix this with sweet prawn paste and vegetables in a local salad dish known as Rojak. And yes, we have also acquired the taste of dipping these in coffee.On the streets of Thailand, they have started serving this with pandan coconut custard. Quite simply, to me, the Yau Char Kuai/ Youtiao is the Baguette of the East.
However, nobody ever bothers to make this at home. When I was younger, we used to buy this for 30cents. Now with inflation and affluence, it has gone up to between 50cents and a dollar. Like what L had sensibly put it, you can get everything for a couple of bucks without any hassle.
When I first saw this recipe at Ellie's Almost Bourdain, I had wanted to make it. I was originally only curious about the custard because I had eaten it on crusty toasted bread in Bangkok and it was delicious. 2 weeks ago, when L and I were in Bangkok,we spotted these finger sized Youtiao and I knew I had to try them. L's verdict was that the longer versions tasted better as they are softer and more fluffy in the inside. The shorter ones which are stretched less, were denser. Then last week I came across an article in the papers about David Thompson whose cookbook ' Thai Street Food' was the original source of this recipe. David Thompson, an Australian chef who had won a Michelin star for his Thai restaurant, Nahm, in London, recently created some controversy when he opened a branch in Bangkok and caused general outrage after he was quoted as saying he was on a mission to revive Thai cuisine.
Words spoken out of ill-judgement, I felt. If anything, Thais are gentle but very nationalistic people. I can still recall how my Thai classmate in primary school used to tell me proudly that Thailand is the only SE Asian country that has never been conquered by foreigners.
Anyway, when I saw David Thompson's article, I immediately thought of this street dish again. Maybe it is a calling or whatever you call it, so as '吃饱饭没事做' as it may be, I still decided to make this.
I do recall seeing how the street vendors would pull and stretch the dough, cut them into thin strips, stack them together and press a chopstick over them. However, doing this at home is quite a feat. Awkward with the wet dough, I sprinkled flour on my pastry board and tried to roll the dough out as consistently as I could. Boy, did my kitchen look like a flour speckled war zone after the exercise. It took a while for me to get a feel for the dough. About half of my fried Youtiao looked really ugly, short and stubby with some looking more like fried dough squares. I got the hang of it after a while but working by yourself is tricky. I now know why there was always 2 people working at the stall, one would monitor the oil temperature and tend to the frying dough while the other concentrated on pulling and cutting the dough.
So would I do this again? Hmmm.... not in a heartbeat but I believe I would.
Recipe (As seen at Ellie's Almost Bourdain)
Please refer here for Pandan Coconut Custard
About 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of ammonia (baking ammonia) or 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) (* See note)
2 cups sieve plain (all-purpose) flour - more as needed
about 2 tsp vegetable oil
plenty of vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1.In a large bowl, mix the salt, sugar and bicarbonate with 1 cup of water, stirring until dissolved. Pour the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, then add a few tbsps of the prepared water. Work to make a loose, dry crumb then gradually incorporate the remainder of the water as well as the oil, kneading well after each addition. While kneading, occasionally gather the dough into a ball, pick it up and slap it several times, to stretch the gluten. When all is added, continue to knead and slap for at least 5 minutes - longer is better - to arrive at a silken, smooth, soft yet quite wet dough. The dough must be quite wet - if it's too dry, this will inhibit the puffing of the bread as it cooks.
2.Cover and leave to prove and ferment slightly in a warm, airy place for 6-8 hours or longer, until the dough has almost doubled in size and slowly springs back when pressed.
3.On the streets, the dough is patted and knocked back then slowly and gently stretched into long rectangular strips about 20 cm x 5 cm x 5 mm (8 in x 2 in x 3/4 in). Home cooks might prefer to roll the dough into the required shape. Make sure the surface and the rolling pin are dusted with plenty of flour to help prevent the dough from sticking. Leave to rest and prove for about 10 minutes, covered with a slightly damp cloth.
4.Now cut into smaller strips, each piece about 5 cm x 2 cm (2 in x 1 in). Brush the centre of a piece with a little water and top with another piece, pressing the middle sections lightly together. Repeat with the remaining strips. Some cooks use a skewer dusted with flour to do this, lifting one piece of the dough and pressing it against the other piece in the middle to secure the pair.
5.Pour the deep-frying oil into a large, stable wok or a wide heavy-based pan until it is about two-thirds full. Heat the oil over a medium-high flame until a cooking thermometer registers 180-190C (350-375F). Alternatively, test the temperature of the oil by dropping a cube of bread - it will brown in 10-15 seconds if the oil is hot enough.
6.Deep-fry the bread 4 or 5 pieces at a time until puffed, floating and golden. Turn each piece constantly during the deep-frying, to ensure that the dough puffs up then cooks and colours evenly. Experienced street cooks will deep-fry as many as 20 in a batch, but I have found that 4 or 5 at a time is enough to handle. Most cooks in Thailand will use a pair of large, long chopsticks to turn the pieces of bread - you can too, or a long-handled pair of tongs will do the trick. As each batch is cooked, lift out with chopsticks or tongs and drain on paper towel. Use a fine strainer to scoop out any scraps, which would taint the oil, and repeat until all of the shaped and cut dough is used.
7.Serve warm with a bowl of sugar or some dipping custard and a newspaper, and pepper with some gossip.