August 28, 2009

"My Sweet Malaysia": Tambun Biscuits or Tau Sar Beng 淡汶豆沙餅

I'm happy and proud to be a part of the Merdeka Open House this year. (By the way, merdeka means independence in Malay.) It is an annual food-blogging event that's held in conjunction with Malaysia's Independence Day. This year, our country will turn 52. Thanks, Babe in the City - KL for hosting this virtual open house for us all Malaysians out there! Very, very meaningful indeed!

I've been following the event since I discovered it last year. But, I never get around to take part in it till now because I only started my blog about three months ago. This year's Merdeka Day means a lot to me because it'll be my first one back home since I left for the States in January 2007, and I haven't been home since then. I'll be flying out in less than eight hours and touch down early Sunday morning at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to reunite with my beloved family and friends. Can hardly wait!!! *Hold my breath ... Ahh ...*

Little did I realize how precious and lovely my country is till I left home. As Malaysians, we should cherish, preserve and protect the multicultural and rich heritage of our country wherever we are. I'm glad to say that it is the diversity of our country that has helped build the tolerance against and openness toward cultural differences in me.

For instance, as a Malaysian of southern Chinese descent, I like to experiment with different stuff in my cooking, baking and eating habit. You'll see that easily once you've started mingling with other Chinese from especially mainland China. (This is just my opinion based on my experience.) Of course just like any other countries, we can't expect Malaysia to be perfect, i.e. corruption-, crime-, drugs-, alcohol-free and so forth. It takes time for things to change.

So, for my virgin entry in the Merdeka Open House, I'm entering tau sar beng, or Tambun biscuits (淡汶豆沙餅) since the theme for this year's is "My Sweet Malaysia." As the theme implies, the food has to be Malaysian and sweet. The pastry is a very delicate treat with sweetened mung bean paste wrapped in flaky Chinese pastry. They can only be found in Malaysia because they were invented by some Chinese who had settled in Malaysia years ago.

The recipes that I used for Chinese flaky pastry and mung bean paste came from SeaDragon, another great Malaysian baker blogging from the Down Under. I'd have to say they're definitely a keeper! I remember I did have pandan Tambun biscuits before. So, I decided to knead in some pandan paste to half the dough for Chinese flaky pastry. So, I ended up having original and pandan tau sar beng.

Just so you wonder, my mung bean paste is dark in color because I used whole instead of skinned mung beans to make it. Yet, the taste wasn't affected! They tasted oh-so-good that they brought tears to my eyes--they reminded me so much of home!

Selamat Hari Merdeka ke semua Anak Malaysia! (In Malay: A happy Merdeka Day to all Malaysians!)

Tambun Biscuits or Tau Sar Beng 淡汶豆沙餅 (Adapted from SeaDragon's)
Makes 20 biscuits

For the Chinese flaky pastry Water dough:
100g bread flour
100g cake flour

70g lard (you can use shortening instead, but I prefer lard), at room temperature
20g powdered sugar
100ml water, or adjust as necessary

Oil dough:
120g cake flour
60g lard (you can use shortening, but I prefer lard), at room temperature

400g mung bean paste, divided into 20 equal portions with each weighing at 20g and set aside for use later

1 egg, slightly beaten for eggwash
some white sesame seeds, to be sprinkled as "topping"
  1. For the water dough: Combine (A) together and sift into a mixing bowl, then cut in lard. Stir in powdered sugar to combine, followed by enough water and mix to get a soft dough, knead till it's smooth to touch. Cover it with cling wrap and set aside to let rest for 15-20 minutes
  2. For the oil dough: Cut 60g lard into 120g cake flour till combined, knead it till it has the same malleability/pliability as the water dough
  3. After the water dough has rested for 15-20 minutes, divide it and the oil dough respectively into 20 equal portions (I did this by weighing the whole deal and doing math 101 ... if you get what I mean); cover them up to let rest for another 15 minutes
  4. To each portion of the two dough, wrap one portion of the oil dough into one portion of the water dough and seal the edges tightly. Then, roll the combined dough out into an oval or a tongue shape and roll it up from the shorter end Swiss roll-style to get a "cigar"
    Repeat with the remainder in the same manner
  5. To each of the "cigar," turn them 90 degrees so that they look like the capital letter "I"
    Roll out again into a tongue shape and roll it up from the shorter end Swiss roll-style Repeat with the remainder in the same manner
    *Refer to here for the photos on how to carry out steps 4 and 5
  6. Roughly round each of the rolled-up dough up
  7. Roll out each combined dough into a flat round disk with the center thicker than the edges, then wrap in a portion of the mung bean paste. Seal the edges tightly; repeat with the remainder in the same manner
  8. Arrange them on prepared baking sheet(s), then apply eggwash and sprinkle with some white sesame seeds over each
  9. Bake them at 200C/400F for 18-20 minutes or till light golden in color

August 20, 2009

Buns, Buns, Buns!

My family has a palate for soft and fluffy Asian-style bread. And if we can choose, we'd go for white instead of wholemeal bread. :P Nonetheless, I'd personally go for wholemeal ones just because of its higher nutritious values.

Since I started making bread 1.5 years ago, I've come to realize it's been a bumpy ride and I pick up something new each time:
  • Use 70-80% plain bread flour and 20-30% wholemeal/whole-wheat flour of the total amount of flour called for in the recipe if you're planning on making wholemeal bread
    Never ever use 100% wholemeal flour even when you've extra vital wheat gluten added to the whole deal to increase the gluten content. Nothing but fiber will only stop the network of gluten from forming, and you'll end up with flat, malformed, rock-hard cooked dough! When there's either not enough gluten or the network is too weak and improperly formed due to low gluten content even after you've kneaded the dough like crazy, your "bread" loaf isn't going to slice properly--it'll be dense, crumble and look dry. Furthermore, the dough isn't going to rise properly.

  • Use Pullman loaf tins for the best results This is especially true when it comes making loaves and pull-out buns or rolls. Of course, this doesn't apply to buns or rolls that are meant to be baked on baking sheets so that they'll still retain their own shape and "identity." Bread loaves and buns baked in Pullman loaf tins have really thin crust and soft, fluffy crumbs. Definitely worth the investment!
  • Never pull your bread dough by hands--ALWAYS use a sharp thin-bladed knife to help you with dividing the dough! And, only slice to divide the dough up in one direction and in a sawing motion. These will not pull and damage the gluten network that you've built through kneading.
  • Let the dough rest for 10~20 minutes each time after working with it. This is to relax the gluten and minimize the chances of dough shrinkage later on
  • ALWAYS seal your dough properly for proofing Expect flat, rock-hard cooked dough to appear before you if you don't follow this rule. Dough that's not been properly sealed is like a punctured tire: no matter how much air you're trying to pump into, it'll just leak out and the end product will not be in its maximum volume
OK, enough said! I'm starting to sound long-winded *sigh.* Back to the business, I'd like to share with you my two recent bread projects. I've actually made something similar before. But after seeing Grace's, I became motivated to try making milk crisp buns again. Coincidentally last weekend, my family friends were planning on a concert trip, which pretty much took up the whole Saturday. So, I jumped on the chance and offered to make something to take along. I did--I couldn't believe I made three different things in one day! (I'll talk about the third baked goods here sometime in the future.)

These milk crisp buns were still soft and fluffy the next day, and I used 70% bread flour and 30% wholemeal flour--all thanks to the good old trusted tangzhong (湯種) method. The filling was very milky and creamy, not too sweet and tasted like custard. The desiccated coconut on the outside was a perfect match and actually enhanced the custard, milky flavor of the filling. Though for some reasons, I still can't figure out why they're called milk crisp buns. Are they supposed to have a crispy crust? Did I do something wrong?

In the meantime, I doubled the sweet bun dough recipe that came from the milk crisp bun recipe and turned the rest into ham and cheese buns with spring onion topping. Because pictures speak better than words, I'll just have you hop over here and check out the method for shaping these savory buns. They were inspired by fellow Malaysian SeaDragon, and I've been a big fan of his work since my first days in the kitchen. I guess the only thing different that I did was I spread some of them with Dijon mustard, some with sweet chili sauce while the remaining with ketchup to create variety. But, this is optional.

Wholemeal Sweet Bun Dough recipe (adapted from Grace's)

372g bread flour (70% of the recipe's flour amount)
160g wholemeal flour (30% of the recipe's flour amount)
40g milk powder
84g sugar
1 tsp salt
12g yeast

60g eggs, slightly beaten and at room temperature
268g tangzhong (湯種), at room temperature
64g warm water, at 43C/110F

44g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  1. Combine (A) together, then stir in (B) and mix together till a dough forms
  2. Turn the dough onto a working surface--don't flour the surface! Knead till gluten starts to develop, then knead in the butter and continue kneading till the dough reaches the windowpane stage--that is, the dough should not stick to your hands and when pulled, it should be able to stretch out slightly into a thin "membrane" before it breaks and for the light to pass through
  3. Round the dough up into a smooth round ball and place into a big oiled bowl, cover and let it proof till doubled in size
  4. Deflate the dough and divide into 18~20 equal portions. (I did it by weighing the entire dough and working on math 101 to get the answers if you get what I mean ... It's been a while. So, I don't remember how much each portion weighed. :P By the way, half the batch became the milk crisp buns and the other half became the ham and cheese buns.)
    Round each portion up into a smooth round ball and cover to let rest for 10 minutes; then, proceed with the remaining steps depending on what type of buns you're planning to make
Milk Crisp Buns 奶酥麵包 (adapted from Grace's)
For the milky filling:

70g butter (I used 40g butter and 30g shortening by referring to here, which I believe the filling would've been much better if I'd used all butter. Learned my lesson LOL!)
30g powdered sugar
1/8 tsp salt
30g eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp corn flour
80g milk powder

Desiccated coconut, for coating the buns
  1. For the milky custardy filling: beat (A) till light and pale, then, mix in the eggs gradually to blend well
    Stir in (D) by hands using a rubber spatula till just combined--don't overmix it. Divide into 9~10 equal portions. (Once again, I weighed the whole mixture and did math 101 to get the answers.)
    Roughly roll each portion into a ball and arrange to place in a covered container, chill in the fridge till ready to use (I did mine the night before.)
  2. To assemble: roll each portion of the bread dough out into a disk with its center being thicker than the edges, wrap in one portion of the milky filling and seal the edges tightly to enclose the filling; repeat with the remaining dough and filling till used up
    Dip the surface of each filled bun into some water and coat evenly with some desiccated coconut, arrange them on prepared baking sheets--leaving some room for dough expansion
    Cover them and let proof till almost doubled
  3. Bake at 180C/350F for 15 minutes or till the buns have turned golden brown; immediately transfer them to cool completely on cooling racks before serving

Ham & Cheese Buns with Spring Onion Topping 火腿芝士蔥(adapted from Grace's & SeaDragon's)

enough ham enough finely shredded Cheddar cheese

1 stalk spring onion, finely chopped
1/2 egg
ground white pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
ketchup/Dijon mustard/sweet chili sauce

(F) [for egg wash, optional] 
1/2 egg
1/2 tsp water
  1. To assemble: roll each portion of the dough out into an oval shape; cut out ham so that it fits over the oval-shaped dough--but of course, leave some edges for sealing later on
  2. Position a slice of ham over each oval-shaped dough--leaving some edges for sealing, then spread one of the three sauces (e.g. sweet chili sauce or ketchup) over the ham evenly--this actually acts as a "glue" to the shredded cheese--but don't be too generous on this!
    Evenly sprinkle some shredded cheese over the ham, then roll it up from the shorter end in Swiss roll style and pinch seams tightly to seal the dough; repeat with the remainder
  3. Arrange each filled bun onto prepared baking sheet--leaving some room in between each for expansion Use scissors to make a lengthwise cut across the middle of each bun to expose the inside--but, leaving about 1cm (about 0.5 inch) uncut
  4. Cover them up and let proof till almost doubled
  5. When the buns are almost doubled in size, mix together (F) for the egg wash and mix together (E) for topping; egg wash each bun's surface, then spoon some of the mixture over the "cut" of each bun--careful not to overfill them
  6. Bake 180C/350F 15 minutes or till golden brown
  7. Immediately transfer buns to cool on wire rack completely before serving

August 18, 2009

Cantonese steamed egg custard 鮮奶燉蛋

Chinese desserts are relatively plainer and WAY less sweet than Western desserts. Amongst us, Cantonese have the biggest sweet tooth. I've heard Chinese from other parts of China asking why we Cantonese have such a big sweet tooth--or teeth?

There are so many Cantonese desserts such as ginger milk curd (薑汁撞奶), steamed white sugar cake (白糖倫教糕), mango mochi (芒果糯米糍), peanut mochi (花生糯米糍), claypot pudding (砵仔糕), sesame glutinous rice balls or jin dui (煎堆), Cantonese-style and other types of mooncakes (月餅) originating from Guangdong, black sesame-filled glutinous rice balls (擂茶湯圓), Hong Kong-style egg tarts (蛋撻), etc. Well, I can still keep the list going but guess I should better stop here.

One of them that I grew up having every so often was steamed egg custard (鮮奶燉蛋). Yet, I've only come to appreciate it after I'd left home for the States.

A while back, I got hit by a craving for steamed custard badly. So, I tried to replicate the smooth, silky and yet not-too-heavy, not-too-sweet custard that I remember. I failed in my maiden attempt. Motivated by my kiasu (meaning afraid of losing in Hokkien,) no-die attitude, I was determined to get it right. So, I turned to my wise Mom for rescue.

I eventually got it right during my second attempt and it's never failed me since then. I've made it so many times that I've lost count of it! The recipe is alright except for its method--perhaps, it just doesn't work for me. It was adapted from Siukwan's. I realized the principle is the same as the one for making Chinese steamed eggs (蒸水蛋) and Japanese chawanmushi. These babies are too fragile for super high heat: they're meant to be cooked slowly under gentle heat to achieve that signature smoothness and silkiness of steamed eggs and custard. Thanks Mom! So, here's the recipe with my modification.

Cantonese Steamed Egg Custard 鮮奶燉蛋 (adapted from Siukwan's)

236ml milk 
4 tsp sugar, or to taste

1 large egg, at room temperature
  1. Heat (A) together till the sugar has fully dissolved. (Because it's such a small recipe, I do this in the microwave.) Set it aside to let cool completely
  2. Place the serving bowls or ramekins that you'd like to use for steaming the custard in the steamer or a wok that has a steaming rack set over it; cover the steamer or wok with its lid.
    Then, bring the water in the steamer or wok to a full rolling boil over high heat--this is also to heat up the ramekins besides getting the water ready for steaming
  3. Slightly beat the egg to break it, then whisk it into the cooled milk to combine well.
    When the steamer or wok has come to a full rolling boil, pour the egg-milk mixture through a fine sieve and into the ramekins--this is to strain out bubbles and some other solids in order to get a smooth, silky surface and texture
  4. Immediately turn the heat down to low, place a chopstick (or something similar if you don't have it) underneath the steamer's lid to create an "exit" for excess steam/heat to escape--this is to prevent the mixture from getting overcooked and thus, wrinkled!
  5. The entire cooking time takes quite a while depending on how big of a batch it is and how much each ramekin is filled. This recipe normally takes between 30 and 45 minutes, it's done when the surface of the custard looks barely set and still jiggles a bit when gently tapped. So, please check every so often to avoid overcooking the custard.
  6. Uncover the steamer/wok and let the ramekin of custard sit in it for a while till it's become not-too-hot before removing the custard from the steamer or wok.
  7. Serve it warm, at room temperature or chilled, depending on your preference.

August 16, 2009

Clafoutis aux Fraises

 I've noticed that I have a tendency to churn out stuff in the kitchen faster than I can blog about them in front of the computer. This post is long overdue because I actually made this the end of last month! Just look at my Flickr photostream, I update them more and faster than my blog! Sigh ... What's a woman supposed to do when she's taken over by lazy bones!

I've actually been wanting to make clafoutis a LONG, LONG time ago. But, never got around to do it. For some odd reasons, the word clafoutis fascinates me ... Well, French fascinates me in general though I'm not proficient in that language. Still learning ... I only know some basic words and terms that are used in culinary and pastry arts, not good enough to communicate with people in French. *speechless*

So far, I've seen other bloggers make this classic French dessert either with or without a crust. I think those without a crust resemble more of custard that's served in ramekin (just like crème brûlée but it's not burned and with fruits.) Nonetheless, I decided to try out the one recipe that I have, which is taken out of Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets. And, this comes with a crust.

The recipe is actually meant for clafoutis aux cerises, or cherry clafoutis. But because I didn't have any cherries, I decided to change it into clafoutis aux fraises. (Fraises are strawberries in French.) That was when my hand-picked strawberries, which were then frozen, were put to good use.

What I did was I had them thawed overnight in the fridge. Then, I drained them real well (and painstakingly stemmed those soft, mushy strawberries one by one) before using. I wonder if baking with still-frozen strawberries will actually ruin the custard with the excess liquid oozing out of the berries as they're being thawed in the oven. I haven't tried this myself. Do enlighten me though if you know of and have tried doing this.

In the meantime, I really love the tart crust. It's a pâte sucrée recipe that is also taken from the book, and I've used it to make tarte aux pommes au pain de mie and tarte au chocolat. If you do it right, this recipe gives you a crumbly, rich, nutty and buttery crust! Definitely a keeper! Though it makes a big batch, don't try to mess around with the figures because the texture will be affected. So, just stick to the recipe and freeze the extra dough for future use. (Isn't it handy to have frozen dough to save you from any emergency!?)

Aside from the berry change, I pretty much stuck to the original recipe. Other than tart cherries, strawberries and most other berries go really well with vanilla-flavored custard. (Duh! Who doesn't know how versatile vanilla is!) The smooth, creamy and dreamy flavor of vanilla pairing up with the summery sweet and slightly tangy touch of strawberries ... hmm ... thinking about it makes me want to whip up another one right away!

Clafoutis aux Fraises or Strawberry Clafoutis [adapted from Pâtisserie Mulot, in Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets] 
Makes an 11-inch tart

For the pâte sucrée crust:

290g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g powdered sugar, sifted 

70g pulverized almonds (it doesn't really matter whether they're blanched or not; unblanched ones will give your tart crust specks)
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

2 large eggs, at room temperature
490g all-purpose flour, sifted
  1. Cream butter till creamy, then mix in powdered sugar till blended
  2. Mix in (A) to creamed mixture till blended, then mix in eggs one at a time--mixing well after each addition--till just combined
  3. Stir in flour and combine the mixture together using a spatula or wooden spoon by hand till the flour is just incorporated--stop when moist curds and clumps start to gather into a ball of dough. DON'T overwork it; otherwise, you'll end up with a tough crust later on!
  4. Turn the dough out and gather it together by hands to get a ball, then divide it into 3 equal portions or however big of portions you'd like to fit your tart mold(s). Gently pat each down to get a disk, then wrap it well with cling wrap; repeat with the remainder.
  5. Let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes, or up to 2 days, in fridge. It keeps well frozen for up to a month.
  6. To bake the tart crust dough, grease your tart mold(s), the one that has removable base, and place it on a baking sheet; set aside
  7. Pâte sucrée dough is slightly difficult to roll, it's recommended to roll it out between sheets of cling film: flatten a large piece of cling film against the counter and roll the dough between that and another sheet of cling film. Turn the dough over every so often to ensure an even rolling out of both sides. Also, lift the sheets of cling film several times so that they don't get creased and get rolled into the dough. Pop the dough into the fridge on a baking sheet, still in between the two plastic sheets, if it gets too soft; remove the whole deal from fridge and continue working on it once it's hardened up a bit
  8. Remove one sheet of cling film and center the dough over the tart mold with its exposed side down, press the dough against the mold base and up the sides; remove the cling film, then roll your rolling pin across the rim of the mold to trim off excess dough. You can patch cracks or splits with extra dough if there's any; moisten the edges to "glue" them into place. DON'T stretch the dough as this will cause the dough to shrink during baking
  9. Let the dough rest in fridge for at least 30 minutes
  10. Bake it at 180C/350F for 20-25 minutes or till it gets very slightly colored for a partially baked crust; otherwise, bake it for another 3-5 minutes/till golden for a fully baked crust
  11. Transfer crust onto a wire rack to cool completely

To assemble:

One 11-inch partially baked pâte sucrée crust

3 large eggs, at room temperature
75g sugar

240g heavy cream
pulp of 1/2 moist, plump vanilla beans or 2 tsp vanilla essence

403g fresh or frozen strawberries--thawed, drained and hulled
  1. Place the tart crust on a baking sheet and have it ready on one side; preheat the oven to 200C/400F
  2. Whisk the eggs till they're blended, then mix in the sugar, followed by (B)--whisk till the mixture is just blended; overbeating the cream will give you whipped cream!
  3. Use a rubber spatula to gently stir the berries into the mixture for even distribution
  4. Turn the batter into the crust, poke the berries around so that they're evenly scattered. Don't overfill the crust. If you've too much batter, pour in just enough to fill the tart and bake; at 10-minute mark, remove the tart from oven and pour in as much remaining batter as possible and continue with the baking
  5. Bake for 25 minutes or till custard is set in the center--it shouldn't jiggle when it's being tapped. Transfer to cool tart on the rack till it's warm or room temperature for serving Clafoutis keeps well for up to 12 hours at room temperature. But, it's best served shortly after it's been made and unchilled

August 9, 2009

Braised Tofu, Preserved Radish & Shrimp Soup with Cilantro 紅燒豆腐及龍舌鳳尾湯

I love tofu, a.k.a. beancurd. It's one of the healthiest food that you can find. Because there isn't any Asian grocers (especially those catered to Chinese) locally, tofu has become a treat for me during my 2-1/2 year stay in the U.S. (A place I'd consider in the middle of nowhere! Obscure huh?)

I'd stock blocks of tofu up whenever me or my friends get the chance to travel down to Minneapolis and St. Paul, the closest metro area from us. As I'll be flying home in a little over two weeks, I have been unable to get around to do it. But, my craving for braised tofu hit me terribly lately. So, I had to give in and purchased a block of (expensive) tofu locally! Ouch!

Braised tofu (紅燒豆腐) is my all-time favorite! I can gobble up gulps of rice with it instantly! I actually learned how to prepare this dish by referring to Angie's recipe. (By the way, she's got a new blog. Check it out here.) Nonetheless, you don't really need to look at the recipe once you've gotten familiar with the ingredients and methods. The point is recipes should be taken as reference in Chinese cooking; it'll just be eyeballing once you've mastered it.

Another dish I made alongside with the braised tofu was shrimp and preserved radish soup with cilantro. It's a traditional Teochew dish from Chaoshan (潮汕), a cultural and linguistic center in northeastern Guangdong (廣東). I'm 100 percent Cantonese (廣東人) with my father coming from the Yue-speaking (粵語) group while my mother coming from the Teochew-speaking (潮州話) group. (Yue is more commonly known as Cantonese.) Even though they grew up speaking two different dialects, they can both trace their roots in Guangdong because these two dialectic groups are originated there.

OK, back to the main topic! This soup is called the Soup of Dragon's Tongue and Phoenix's Tails when literally translated (龍舌鳳尾湯). We Chinese love to name things in a different way ... if you get what I mean. We seek for prosperity, good luck and peace. So, a name such as this was born. Oftentimes, you can't tell what the dish is by its name if you're from another different culture. Fancy, eh? Anyway, Dragon's Tongue refers to the preserved radish (菜脯) while Phoenix's Tails refer to the shrimps/prawns. Cilantro is used to remove the "fishy" taste of seafood.

I actually learned how to make this while I was watching an old episode of the Chinese variety show 大明星突襲小廚房 (meaning "top celebrity invading a small kitchen.") My favorite singer Hins Cheung (張敬軒) was the featured celebrity. He and the host actually invaded the kitchen of a Teochew family. Ah ..., that's why the Teochew dish! The Teochew aunty made three classic Teochew dishes, with one being that soup. Looked healthily yummy while plain and simple, which suits our palate, I decided to give it a try though my Teochew mom has neither heard about nor tasted it. Probably, her ancestors came from another different town within the Chaoshan region? Anyhow, I'd better stopped rambling now. Here're the recipes:

Braised tofu 紅燒豆腐 [Adapted from Angie's]

300g extra firm tofu

20g dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked till they're softened
1 Tbsp minced garlic

150g bell pepper

100ml water from soaking the mushrooms

1 tsp Shaoxing cooking wine 紹酒
1/2 tsp powdered chicken bouillion  
1/2 Tbsp dark soy sauce 老抽 
1 Tbsp oyster sauce 蠔油 
2/3 tsp salt 
1 stalk of spring onion, cut into long sections 

1 tsp corn flour 
1 Tbsp water 

A few drops of sesame oil 麻油
  1. Drain the tofu and pat it dry, then slice it into rectangular slices
  2. Drain the mushrooms and squeeze out excess water, reserve the soaking water for use later; slice mushrooms into thin slices lengthwise and set aside
    Wash the bell peppers and slice them into thin slices lengthwise, set aside
  3. Heat up enough cooking oil in the wok. Poke a bamboo chopstick into the hot oil to test it--it's ready when you see tiny bubbles emerging around the chopstick
  4. Turn the heat down to medium and deep-fry tofu slices until they've turned golden brown, then dish them out and place onto paper kitchen towel-lined plate to have excess oil absorbed; set aside
  5. Leave some oil in the wok and heat it up again, then stir-fry to sauté (A) till fragrant; stir in bell peppers and stir-fry briefly (say, 1 or 2 min) so that they won't get overcooked, season with (B) and then pour in water to stir briefly till just ingredients are evenly distributed. Cover the wok with lid and turn down to low-medium heat to braise them for 3~5 minutes
  6. Mix well (C) to make slurry, then uncover wok; stir in the spring onion and season with salt. Turn up to high heat and stir in the slurry; cook till the gravy in the wok has thickened. Turn off the heat and give it a few drops of sesame oil to taste
  7. Dish it out and serve immediately while it's still hot with bowls of rice!

Chaoshan Preserved Radish and Shrimp/Prawn Soup with Cilantro 龍舌鳳尾湯

300g large fresh raw shrimps/prawns (I used small frozen ones because they were what was available locally)
3-5 slices of preserved radish 菜脯
750-800ml water
1/2 handful of cilantro leaves
Fish sauce, to taste (I used salt because I don't have fish sauce)
  1. Briefly blanch the shrimps in boiling water till their color has just begun to fade, turn off heat, immediately dish them out and drain well; set aside
  2. Place the water in a wok that's been set over medium-low heat, place in the preserved radish slices while bringing the water to a boil
  3. Then, stir in the shrimps into the boiling water and let simmer over moderate fire for 3~4 minutes till the shrimps are cooked--don't overcook them! Stir in the cilantro leaves and let it cook 30 seconds to 1 minute; season to taste with fish sauce
  4. Dish out and serve hot

August 2, 2009

Lethally Chocolate: Chocolate Wassants & Sablés Korova

Last Friday, I didn't know that I'd be a part of the chocolate bake-off and bread-baking contest at the local county fair. Now that I do--I do know that I've taken home with me Le Cordon Bleu!

I'm glad that the chocolate wassants won the first place for the yeasted sweet roll category. Not surprisingly, these rolls are considered unique because the variety of sweet rolls and bread loaves that you can find in the U.S. and most other Western countries is VERY, VERY small in my opinion. Though, I do think that certain European countries like Denmark and France have quite a variety of these baked goods ... Good examples will be croissants and Danish. In the U.S., it's pretty predictable when it comes to yeasted sweet rolls--it's cinnamon rolls and sticky buns most of the time.

Unlike those in the U.S., Asian bakeries offer a variety of baked goods that Westerners will think of as exotic flavors. As I grew up, I had soft and fluffy bread loaves that had cheeses and ham, and other times, meat floss rolled into for a savory twist; I've also had buttery dessicated coconut filling, and other times, chocolate layers for a sweet treat. (By the way, after living in the U.S. for a while, I do have to admit that most Asians have a palate for soft and fluffy bread as opposed to the hard and crusty bread Europeans and Americans prefer.)

The point is Asian bakeries aren't stuck to the same old things! Besides offering the classics, we're constantly experimenting with something new to give people surprises. All these make baking and cooking even more exciting! Chocolate wassants are a good example. They were once a rave in Singapore when they debuted at a local bakery there in 2007. (See how competitive Asian bakeries are! The trend keeps changing all the time!) After seeing so many fellow Asian bloggers tried their hands on these delicious rolls, I was also tempted to try them myself.

These chocolate rolls are soft and fluffy with layers of bread and chocolate one after the other. Eating them is definitely a gastronomical experience. The recipe that I used came from Florence, a blogger whom I've admired for a long time. For the bread part, it calls for tangzhong (湯種), a bread starter that has been a rave for quite a few years in the Chinese baking community for its ability to produce the soft and fluffy texture that stays for several days most Asian-style bread and buns should have. I've been using this method of making bread long before I started to blog, and am loving it!

Besides winning a blue ribbon for the chocolate wassants, I also got the first place for the chocolate bake-off at the local county fair. The rewards? Sablés korova--the deadliest cookies to munch on, a box of gourmet truffles and US$25 gift certificate for me to shop at a famous chocolatier in town! I ended up with getting an even larger box of truffles today for me to take home and be shared with my family and friends in Malaysia. After having these sablés and some salted dark chocolate truffles, I can declare myself a BIG fan of the chocolat noir et a la fleur de sel combo!

Sablés korova are the famous creation of Pierre Hermé, the French pastry chef whom I'd die to meet IN PERSON at least once in my life! For the three batches I made, they were gone in less than two days. They're super rich and dark-chocolatey with hints of saltiness at the same time. One of my taste testers even commented that they were not too crunchy and not too fudgy, "very good!" Here's what some of the judges at the bake-off had to say:

"Love the fleur de sel!"

"Real good cookies!"

"Best cookies so far!"

Need I say more!? These are THE cookies to die for! Without further ado, here're the recipes:
Sablés Korova (adapted from Pierre Hermé Paris, in Dorie Greenspan's "Paris Sweets")

175g all-purpose flour
30g Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa)
1/2 tsp baking soda

150g unsalted butter, softened

120g light brown sugar
50g white granulated sugar
1/2 tsp fleur de sel or fine salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

150g dark chocolate, chopped into small bits
  1. Combine (A) together and sift once, set aside
  2. Cream butter till soft and creamy, then mix in (B) till well-blended; stir in flour mixture and chopped chocolate by hand and fold till just combined--DON'T OVERWORK the mixture--it should look really crumbly
  3. Scrape half the mixture onto a cling wrap-lined work surface and gather it till you get a dough, then form it into a log that's 4cm-in-diameter; repeat with the remaining half of the mixture
    Wrap the logs up really well with cling wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours
    *The logs of dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month if wrapped well
  4. Using a thin-bladed knife, slice the chilled dough into 1.5cm-thick slices--squeeze them back together if they break; arrange them on parchment paper-lined baking sheets with 2.5cm spaced in between each slice
  5. Bake them one sheet at a time at 180C/350F for 12 minutes--the cookies will neither look done nor firm, but that's how they should be; remove the sheets of cookies from the oven and let the cookies stand on the baking sheets over the cooling racks till they're warm or at room temperature, then remove them from the sheets and pop them into your mouth or store them in an airtight container. Can you resist eating them up right away!? However, in my opinion, these cookies are best on the next day after baking.

Chocolate Wassants (adapted from
Makes 12 rolls
For the chocolate sheet:

40g plain flour
100g sugar
2 egg whites

100ml milk
40g baking cocoa

20g butter
  1. Whisk (A) together till smooth and set aside; in the meantime, scald the milk in a saucepan and then mix in the cocoa till blended thoroughly over low-medium heat
  2. Slowly whisk in the egg-white mixture to the chocolate milk as you stir the chocolate milk; stir the mixture continuously till thickened and REALLY dry
  3. Remove the dried chocolate mixture from heat and blend in butter till incorporated, then let it cool aside completely
  4. Place cooled chocolate paste into a Ziploc bag and roll it out in between the two sheets of plastic to get a 22cmx14cm rectangle; then seal it airtight and refrigerate for at least two hours upon using
For the bread part:

250-270g bread flour
70g plain flour
20g milk powder
5g salt
40g sugar

100g tangzhong
25g egg yolks

115g warm water, at 43C/110F
8g active dry yeast

26g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  1. Dissolve (E) together and let sit till frothy
  2. Combine (C) together and make a well in the center, stir in yeast mixture and (D); mix together till the mixture pulls together and forms a dough that pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl
  3. Turn dough out onto a working surface--don't flour your hands and the surface because the stickier your dough is the softer your bread will be--keep kneading it until strands of gluten have developed, then knead in the butter till incorporated
    Keep kneading the dough until it's achieved the windowpane stage--should be smooth and elastic; round it up and place into an oiled bowl to proof till doubled
  4. Deflate dough and roll it out into a 31x22cm rectangle, place the cold chocolate sheet in the middle; fold both sides towards the center to fully enclose the chocolate sheet, then seal all the edges tightly
  5. Turn the package 90° and roll it out into a 60x22cm rectangle, then do the tour double
  6. Turn the package 90° again and roll it out into a 54x22cm rectangle, then cut it into triangles with each being 9cm in base length and 22cm in height
  7. Tightly roll each triangle of dough from the wide ends towards the point, then arrange them on greased baking trays with the point-side down--leaving some room for expansion in between; cover and leave aside to proof till almost doubled
  8. Bake them at 180C/350F for 18-20 minutes or till they're golden brown; immediately transfer them onto cooling rack to let cool completely
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