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A recipe that’s going to be passed down the generations

30 Jan

There’s one Chinese New Year cookie that I really love – pineapple tarts. But I’m quite specific about the type of tart. I only eat the sort with the melt in your mouth pastry. The pineapple filling has to be just right – lots of pineapple, sweet but not too sweet, with just the right amount of tartness to cut through the richness of the pastry.

In Singapore, it costs a pretty penny for a bottle of pineapple tarts especially during the festive season. There will be sellers that proclaim that their wares are “hand-grated pineapples” or “cognac infused” and such. So pineapple tarts have always seemed close to impossible to master on your own unless you had lots of skill or a secret recipe.

With a little time on my hands and a huge craving of pineapple tarts which aren’t readily available here, I embarked on a hunt for THE recipe. Unfortunately, I came up with a lot of recipes for the pastry but few for the pineapple filling as many Singaporeans ended up buying the jams premade. The recipes for the jams that I found often used canned pineapples which definitely cut down the time but to me, seemed to be a short cut and sugar laden. I was also not keen to buy any more ingredients than I already had in my kitchen as the likelihood of me finishing it would be low with only a couple of months to go in Melbourne. So I took the plunge and experimented with a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

It took me 2 goes with the jam to get it just right for my tastebuds and it allowed me to find out what the deal was with “hand grated” pineapple jams vs “food processor” pineapple jams. It also allowed me to tweak the pastry recipe to make it easier to handle and have a higher melt in your mouth factor.

The tarts aren’t actually difficult to do. It is just time consuming. From 1 large pineapple, I get 1 small bowl of jam (refer to the picture to get an idea of the ratio!). The jam actually makes about 70 cookies (depending on the size of the cookies) which can fill up 2 small jar as a gift but the time spent stirring the jam while it dries out is quite significant. It isn’t one of those things you can leave to simmer while doing something else.

Having said that, there is a certain amount of satisfcation I have looking and eating the cookies. It’s a definite keeper this recipe – hopefully, I’ll have time to make them once a year for family for Chinese New Year!

Pineapple tarts

Pineapple jam

Ingredients

1 large pineapple

5 tbs honey

1 tbs flour

3 tbs sugar

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground clove

¼ tsp ground start anise

Method

  1. Skin and de-eye 1 large pineapple. Core the pineapple and chop the flesh into quarters.
  2. Grate the pineapple and strain the pulp. Drink up the juice!
  3. Using a non-stick wok, fry the pulp until dry.
  4. Add the honey and stir continuously.
  5. Add the flour, sugar and spices. Stir until combined.
  6. Allow to cool and form small balls of jam to be placed on the tart.

Tips

  1. What’s the difference between hand grating and food processing? Hand grating means that the pulp has more “body” vs food processing where the pulp gets chopped up to finer bits. Hand grating also means that any little bit of core you miss out coring out ends up as a long fibrous bit in your jam. Food proccessing does give the option of using the core but one can end up with a jam that is softer as the fibres are a lot smaller.
  2. Be patient with the straining as you want the pulp to be dry. If you don’t strain well, you end up having to spend more time over the stove drying the pulp out. At the same time, you don’t want to place all the pulp in a cheese cloth and squeezing all the juice out as you need some of the juice to caramelise and give the pulp the flavor.
  3. What is I don’t have a wok? The wok is ideal as there is a large surface area to allow the pulp to dry but it is not 100% necessary. A saucepan works just fine.
  4. How dry is dry? I found that the pulp is dry enough when it starts to form a ball when you stir. It needs to be this dry as the jam needs to have a certain amount of “thickness” to allow you to make them into balls.
  5. The honey is used to make the jam sticky. Sugar on it’s own doesn’t have enough binding abilities.
  6. Every pineapple varies in sweetness so I suggest you taste the jam before you add the sugar.
  7. The flour gives the jam a firmness (like jam made with a bread maker)
  8. You can use a melon baller to give a uniformed sized ball each time.

Pastry

(Adapted from The Little Teochew)

Ingredients

1.6 cups all purpose flour

0.2 cup corn flour

150g butter (cold)

2 egg yolks + 2 tbs cold water (½ egg yolk for glazing, 1½ to add to the mixture)

3 tbs icing sugar

¼ tsp vanilla

Method

  1. Using a food processor, blitz the 2 flours and icing sugar with butter until crumbs form.
  2. Add the vanilla essence to 1½ of the egg yolk/water mixture.
  3. Slowly pouring the liquid mixture into the crumbs until it just comes together.
  4. Roll out pastry between 2 sheets of baking paper to about 0.8cm – 1cm thickness and place in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Using a cookie cutter, cut out the tart base.
  6. Place a jam ball on a tart base and press down gently on the ball.
  7. Using the remaining egg yolk as a wash, paint a light layer over the tart.
  8. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 160 degrees celsius

Tips

  1. You can rub the butter in with the flour but I find that the food processor is faster and less mess. It also takes out the muscle work of having to cut up the butter to rub in.
  2. Add the liquid portion to the crumb portion tablespoon by tablespoon until it just comes together. This is to avoid having a very sticky dough that is impossible to work with.
  3. I find that rolling the pastry out first at this point is easier as the butter is slightly melted, rather than putting it into the fridge and then having to exert strength to roll it out. Then I put the rolled out pastry into the fridge so that it is easier to handle (and less messy) for cutting up.  But don’t leave it for too long as it hardens up and makes it very difficult to cut.
  4. If you are working in a warm environment, I suggest planning everything and laying everything out first before starting on the pastry as this would make it a lot easier and less messy.
  5. The amount of pastry is slightly more the jam usually but it depends on the size of your pineapple.
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How to stealth bake for Christmas

24 Dec

Christmas baking in a small apartment is always tricky with a toddler around.  There usually isn’t enough room to roll out dough, cut dough, cool cookies and stuff.  To make it efficient, one would require a lot of space to set up a production line and no distractions.  I definitely don’t have the first and the second is tricky and the only time I have is when bubs is asleep.  I’ve tried baking while he’s awake and let’s just say that at every step of the way, he’s stuck a salivary finger in.

Bearing in mind that rolling out dough requires space and tends to slow one down with all the labor, I started my search for an easy way to make cookies.  All those crinkle cookies started appearing all over the shop, looking so tempting.  So it goes without saying that I would have to have a shot at them.

The night before the planned baking day, I started putting the dough together.  This went into the fridge overnight to harden and allow for manipulation the next day.  Then the big day came with bubs falling asleep very quickly.  How convenient!  But it meant I had to work fast!  I lay out the baking paper on the baking tray and placed the dough balls at the requisite 2 inches apart.  It could only take 12 balls!  Eek!  That meant that I had to work really really fast to get everything out of sight by the time bubs rose from his sleep.

The first tray went in.  I went on making balls, putting them on another sheet of baking paper so I could just quickly transfer them onto the tray once it came out of the oven.  But the 1st tray of cookies were a disaster.  It wasn’t a disaster in terms of taste.  It wasn’t burnt.  But it was really ugly!  I nearly got just 1 entire sheet of cookie!  I was very generous making my 1inch diameter dough balls.  No where online was it stated (I do research various blogs quite a bit before I launch into something new) that the cookie would end up THREE times  the original diameter!  Also, after the initial 10 minutes of baking, I found that the cookies seemed to be quite molten and ended up baking for another 10 minutes.  MISTAKE!  The cookies ended up still slightly molten but cooled to a crisp.  Yet again, my inexperience shone through.  But I had lots of dough left!

Armed with the knowledge I garnered from my first tray, I soldiered on.  I made the balls a lot smaller – about 2.5 cm across.  I ditched rolling the dough in sugar as it was already very sweet with me cutting down on the sugar prior to that.  Furthermore, I didn’t actually have any powdered sugar which was required to have that contrast with the usual crinkle cookies.  The cracks still showed up although not as dramatically.  I also continued to make the balls and lay them out on a plate, cutting the total time I spent on making these cookies.  Another time saving trick?  Since the dough actually melts into a puddle which is your cookie, I didn’t bother making the balls evenly round.

So did I manage to get everything done before bubs was up?  Surprisingly, yes.  I even got them all packed into a cookie jar, ready to be given away as a present.  Which goes to show, good planning does make for success and now I just need to know how to keep bub’s hands out of the jar.  His snail has already beaten him to them…

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Crinkle cookies

Adapted from Bakers Royale

Makes 48 cookies

Ingredients

1 3/4 cup plus 2 levelled tbs all purpose flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp salt

110g semi-sweet chocolate, melted

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup canola oil

50g butter, melted and warm

2 tbs honey

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1.5 tsp peppermint extract

Method

  1. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix the sugar, oil, butter and honey to blend.
  3. Mix in the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and peppermint extract.
  4. Mix in the melted chocolate.
  5. Add the dry ingredients from step one and stir until well mixed.
  6. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for several hours.
  7. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  8. Roll dough into balls of about 2.5cm in diameter and place on baking paper 2 inches apart.
  9. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.

Tips

  1. Refer to this post on how to melt chocolate.
  2. I hand mixed all the ingredients in this recipe and the results were great.
  3. The dough can be rather hard straight out of the fridge.  It may do well to take it out for a short while before handling.  Depending on the temperature of your room, you may want to work in batches.  I found that I didn’t have to do so.  The temperature was probably about 20 degrees at the most.
  4. To make the dough balls fast and approximately the same size, I used a table spoon to approximate the amount of dough required.  If you have a melon scoop and want to make small cookies, you could use that too.  Don’t bother to get perfect crack free spheres as this doesn’t have any bearing on how the cookies eventually turn out.
  5. What ever the size of the balls you make, just bear in mind that the cookies will turn out 3 times the original diameter and leave enough room in between each cookie.
  6. The cookie doesn’t actually cook to a firm finish.  It actually is slightly “lava” in consistency, being liquid under a slightly crisp crust.  I found that the timing for a slightly chewy cookie was obtained by baking until the cookies start to crack on the surface.  If the dough hasn’t cracked, it isn’t baked enough.  If the cookies come out slightly under baked, you can still salvage it by leaving it to cool (it firms up for handling) and then popping them into the oven again.
  7. The cookies actually deflate after coming out of the oven.  But you are on the right track!
  8. The cookies keep in an airtight jar for a week.

Kampar Chicken Biscuit 鸡仔饼 Revisited

25 Nov

Kampar Chicken Biscuits

While making my lemon meltaways the last time, I was just thinking to myself that I could use the method of rolling the 鸡仔饼 dough into a log and cutting it up to cut down (excuse the pun) the prep time.  I mean, who doesn’t want to get their hands on yummy biscuits faster?

The verdict?  The dough was more fiddly than the meltaways – I attribute it to the fact that vegetable oil was used.  The melting point is a lot lower than butter (or lard) so one had to work really fast.  Also, the dough seemed to attract a fair amount of condensation which made it sticky and messy to work with if you take a long time.  There is definitely no way of getting the requisite 2mm even thickness that one gets with rolling.  The dough doesn’t hold up.

BUT after baking, my MIL reckons it takes more like the real McCoy of her youth.  The biscuit is doughier and brings to mind another type of biscuit which I used to have in my childhood (the name of which I’m still trying to ascertain)  That biscuit is like a pinwheel with a gingery taste, colored in both brown and cream.

I think how one makes the biscuits would boil down to one’s preference.  I would make it this way if it were for my MIL since she likes the texture like this.  But for myself?  Crispy and thin is the way to go for me even if it means that it disappears in double quick time!

Tips

  1. Wrap dough with freezer film to facilitate handling.
  2. You can flatten the biscuits a bit more after cutting but I like the rough feel of the biscuits that are cut with the knife.

Meltaways

17 Nov

Lemon Meltaways

Embolden by my success with the cheesecakes, I decided that I’d venture on and try other baked goods.  Admittedly, not having a electric cake mixer does limit one’s repertoire a bit.  Or it makes you develop fantastic biceps.  I’m a bit of a wimp.  I decided to be a bit more creative by using my food processor as a mixing blade and it hasn’t failed me thus far!

I’m a huge fan of Martha Stewart.  Yes, I do know that it is all packaging and that she’s got a great staff that put up a great show, but you must give credit to her genius in building her empire, right?  Anyhow, I came across Lime Meltaways and my greedy little stomach told me that I had to try it out.  I was also sold on the idea that I could make the cookie dough and freeze for a quick snack later.  All the work in 1 go and then savor the fruits of your labor for a long while!

I didn’t have any lime so lemons were used instead.

Lemon Meltaways

(Adapted from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Method

  1. Place butter and 1/3 cup of caster sugar into food processor and cream at low speed.
  2. Add vanilla, lemon juice and zest and continue mixing at low speed.
  3. Mix the flour together and add to the butter mix, still mixing at low speed until all combined.
  4. Place mixture on parchment paper and roll into a 3cm log.
  5. Place log in the freezer for at least 1 hour.
  6. Cut cookies 1/4 of an inch thick
  7. Place on parchment paper and bake at 190 degrees celsius for 15 minutes.
  8. Take out of the oven to cool
  9. Sprinkle the rest of the sugar on top of the cookies.

Tips

  1. To make creaming faster, you can put the butter in microwave for a quick 10 seconds to soften it.  Do not melt it to liquid!
  2. Try varying the thickness of your cookies to see what you prefer.  The thinner cuts give a slightly crisper texture which the thicker ones a denser one.
  3. You can omit the sugar if you don’t like such sweet cookies.
  4. I buy lemon in bulk and process them for freezing so I always have lemons on hand.  Will put a post up one day on what I do.

Kampar 鸡仔饼 (Chicken biscuits)

4 Nov

Chicken Biscuit

Was feeling a tad nostalgic and stumbled upon the recipe for Kampar 鸡仔饼 at The Pleasure Monger.  The recipe looked easy enough and fueled by the urge to have a blast from the past, I gathered the necessary ingredients from Richmond to start once I had the chance.

The chance came on the day of the Melbourne Cup.  The little one was asleep and so I quickly busied myself as the whole process would involve quite a production line.  If bubs is up, he’d be sure to bring down either the cooling rack (and cookies) or the baking tray (and cookies).

I’m sure if you googled kampar chicken biscuits, you’d find tonnes of write ups on it, about how it doesn’t actually contain chicken and various recipes.  The one ingredient I found really interesting was nam yee (南乳).  When I was growing up, my grandmother would always eat porridge with 腐乳.  I thought it  was the same thing.  Initially I bought 南乳 and tasted it and felt it was not as salty as I remembered it to be. I attributed it to the brand and proceeded to buy a different brand.  The new brand looked a lot more like what I remembered and it was definitely saltier.  After speaking to my mother-in-law, I found out that it was actually different.  The second bottle was 腐乳 which is different!  There’s a good article on Wikipedia here so I won’t rewrite the tome.  I also found a tonne of recipes for using nam yee and am eager to try them at a later date as they sound yummy!

The biscuits were dead easy to make.  The only problem I faced was finding sufficient table top space for rolling out the dough, putting the baking tin and the cooling rack.  The apartment we stay in is tiny to say the least.

As with most cooks, I modified the recipe a bit to suit my taste buds.  I also don’t own a weighing scale so I have converted to cup measurements.  I also didn’t have a cookie cutter so I used an Ikea plastic cup to cut out my  biscuits.

Kampar 鸡仔饼

Makes about 50 biscuits (2″ across)

Adapted from  The Pleasure Monger

Ingredients

Portion A:
2.5 cups self-raising flour
1 cup icing sugar (I used slightly less)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped very finely
80g white sesame seeds

Portion B:
1 medium eggs
2 tablespoons honey
2 pieces Nam Yee, mashed to paste
1 tablespoon kecap manis (Indonesian thick and sweet soy sauce)
100ml sunflower oil

Method

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius.

Combine all of Portion A into a bowl after sifting.

Mash up the Nam Yee and add the rest of Portion B and mix it up.

Slowly pour Portion B into Portion A, continuously mixing, binding all the ingredients together to form a lump of dough.  If it doesn’t bind well, add more liquid.  I chose to use egg as the mixture seemed fairly oily enough.

Then roll the dough out between freezer film to 2mm thickness.  The freezer film makes removal really easy and it is reuseable.  The biscuits increase slightly in size so leaving a 1.5cm gap is good.

Rachel recommends baking for 6 minutes but I found my biscuits too pale and ended up baking them for 10 minutes or so.  But watch them closely!  I had a number of biscuits turn a really dark brown which didn’t look nice aesthetically but were yummy nonetheless.

The biscuits were terribly addictive.  And that’s what’s left after waiting for 2 days for the light conditions to be better for photography.  But they are so easy to make that I’m probably going to make more very soon!