April 29, 2010

Tangzhong Rotiboy, Plus Troubleshooting the Tangzhong Method and Bread Making

Pei-Lin has been having a headache all day. There was this little fight debate in her.
Ego: Dude! You’ve abandoned your journal for 13 solid days!? Ugh … What’s wrong with you? Now, move your butt and get the words flowing!

Id: I’m tired … I’m tired … Gimme my bed and pillows … I want sleep … I want at least 8 hours of sleep!

Ego: But, but … if she's really giving in to you, she will lose her momentum to write for fun – and her love for creative writing! Remember only practice makes perfect! The passion for writing in her will extinguish … Her world will be dark and cold …

Id: I spent goddamn 10 hours out on the road and at work every day. Don’t I deserve a good-night’s sleep!? Where’s my bed? Where are my pillows?

Ego: Pei-Lin, listen to me! Write, write, write! You know the muse is always with ya! At least, a little entry on your journal, okay? Pretty please?

Id: Hush, hush! Pei-Lin, close your eyes … Clear your mind … Take a deep breath … and let go. Sleep now. Sleep now. Here are some nice little cuddly and fluffy pillows for you on the sofa …

Ego: #@%$&%^@#$!!! Get the hell outta here, you moron!

Id: No, you’re the one who should leave her in peace!

Superego: Shut up! Knock it off! Why not straighten things up with a compromise so that Pei-Lin can get over with both her itch to write and her desperate need for 8 hours of sleep! Remember she’s got to work tomorrow. Pei-Lin, what say you?
I still want to write because writing keeps me sane amidst all the confusion in life. I feel more organized that way. Ha!

About 2 months ago, on a tiring Wednesday evening after work, as I ran towards my room to grab a few things, the blinking and ringing of my cell phone caught my attention. The number was unidentified. Feeling dubious and wary at the same time, I was very curious. So, I answered the mystery call anyway.

“Hello, is this Pei-Lin speaking?”

“Yes, this is she. May I know who’s on the line? *Silent for 5 seconds* Are you ZM?”

“You’ve got it right, my friend! It’s me, ZM!”

Memories flashed back, it was overwhelming. I was dumbstruck on the spot for another 5 seconds before I could utter, “Hey! How’re ya?”

It’d been 4 years since I last saw her. We’ve been close, close friends since the first days we knew each other in high school. Close to 8 years I’d say. Since the day I left for the U.S., I’d lost touch of her. When asked of how she got my number, she said it was through another high school buddy of ours. Now, this is what I call destiny or yuan fen (緣份). It looks like our friendship is destined not to vanish despite the different directions in life we’re pursuing.

These two girls decided on a meet-up, in 4 years since 2006. With our busy schedules, we compromised and settled on a Friday evening, which meant we’d have to get off work sharp and rush to KLCC. KLCC was the only place that worked best for the both of us.

Me: But hey, where should we be waiting for each other at KLCC then?

ZM: Erm … I dunno. At the subway?

Me: No, that isn’t a good idea. I hate the crowd and pickpockets!

Me: No, no point of clambering up to the top of the shopping mall for that bookstore. Hey, how about Rotiboy? It’s close to the entrance of the shopping mall. A strategic location. Oh, and remember those good old days? Well, it’s feasible. Don’t you think?

So, on that very Friday evening, I found ZM in front of the Rotiboy we talked about. It was an awesome girls’ night-out: We chatted for 3 hours! (No drinking, please. No alcohol for me except in my baking and cooking.) Though it was hard, we still had to part and say goodbye.

Oops, sorry that I digressed! Anyway, this very Rotiboy outlet means a lot to us. We love it not only for its strategic location, but for the fact that since high school, it’s been a point for us to meet up whenever we wind up chilling out at KLCC. Last but not least, we LOVE to inhale the addictively sweet caffeinated aroma it carries.

Caffeinated aroma!? A few years back, the bakery Rotiboy started selling Mexican buns, a.k.a. Rotiboys, which is another name apparently named after the business. Thanks to the bun, the business bloomed and Rotiboy opened gobs of outlets in many parts of the Far East. We were once struck by the Rotiboy fever. Inexplicably, people would queue up, patiently waiting for their turn, right outside the bakery, for their share of the Rotiboy.

The Rotiboy is such a lovable creature. Don’t be fooled by its humble look. The pillow-soft bread within is enclosed, not quite actually, in a slightly crisp and crumbly sweet shell … or should I say topping. I swear that your nose will be engulfed in the mysteriously addictive aroma Rotiboy unleashes, fresh off the oven: It’s a cross between the scent of burned sugar and coffee! I always call it “THAT burned caffeinated smell!” Engrossing indeed. If only perfumeries carried such fragrance ...

So, to emulate the softness and fluffiness of the bun, I went with the trusted tangzhong (湯種) method, which is known for its ability to slow down the staling process of bread – on top of giving our home-made bread a soft texture without the use of additives such as bread improver. And for another record breaker, I used plain bread flour instead of whole-wheat flour for these buns! (Bah ... This ain’t whole grain, Pei-Lin. Ya know, it’s refined food, eh!)

I’ve already given a fairly detailed review on the tangzhong method here. Due to the overwhelming response and based on the comments and questions I’ve received so far, here’s a little troubleshooting write-up to share with y’all on tangzhong and bread making:
  • Whole-wheat/Wholemeal bread won’t be as soft and fluffy as plain white bread. With the fiber, whole-wheat bread isn’t going to melt in your mouth, unlike white bread.
  • The consistency of the tangzhong should be slimy and on the runny side. As you cook the flour-and-water mixture over low heat to obtain tangzhong, pay close attention at all times! The soonest you start to feel the mixture has barely thickened and to see that there are trails with every whisk that you make (with the metal whisk you use for stirring the mixture), remove tangzhong from the heat to stop its cooking process. Yeap, you’re not wrong – tangzhong should be that runny!
  • You may also use milk in place of water to cook tangzhong.
  • Bread dough made with tangzhong is always relatively stickier than the one made via the (regular) direct method (直接法). For some odd reasons, if the dough ends up dry(!?), work in more water, milk, egg(s), heavy cream (if you’re willing to spend on that) or tangzhong (if there’s any left).
  • Don’t knead the COLD, CUBED butter into the dough too early. You’ve got to wait till gluten has developed before incorporating the fat into the pile of mess; otherwise, the fat will stop gluten from forming.
  • The wetter and stickier a bread dough is, the softer and more tender the end product (i.e. bread) will be.
  • Eyeballing works like a charm – I sometimes don’t follow recipes to a tee when it comes to bread making. If you’re baking bread with a Pullman loaf tin, for a perfect square loaf, make sure 1/3 to 1/2 of the tin is filled with bread dough before the second round of proofing. If you want the loaf to be taller than that, fill the prepared loaf tin half-full or a little beyond that. Remember, whole-wheat bread requires more dough than plain white one to fill the tin due to the presence of fiber and its lower gluten content.
  • Bread can be baked in just about any pans provided that they’re ovenproof, e.g. an 8-inch round cake pan, a 9x13-inch pan, muffin pan and so forth. Do bear in mind that you need to eyeball the quantity of dough needed so that the dough will eventually fill the pan(s) after proofing and baking. Also, adjust the time it takes for the bread dough to cook through as it bakes.
  • If you let your bread machine or sturdy stand mixer to knead the dough while you run some other errands, remember to pay attention every so often because you may just have the dough overkneaded by the machine! I knead my bread dough with a pair of good old trusty hands my parents have given me and with assistance from my eyes and brain. So, it’s pretty unlikely for me to end up with an overworked dough – the arms may even become exhausted halfway through the kneading process. And, I usually knead mine for close to 1 hour.
  • If the bread crust gets too hard, which is untypical of Asian-style soft bread but resembles that of European artisan bread, it could be that the oven temperature is unstable that it fluctuates during baking. If that wasn’t the case, your bread could have been overbaked! Different ovens behave differently. So, the suggested time in the recipe is just a reference. That said, you may set your oven timer according to the recipe; however, do check your oven 5 to 10 minutes before the time’s up! On top of that, here’s a wild guess of mine as this has happened to me personally: The surface of the dough got “air-dried” that a layer of “skin” formed prior to baking because the dough wasn’t properly covered (with e.g. cling wrap) during proofing. BUT, don’t take my words here as this is, once again, purely a wild guess of mine based on personal experience.
  • If you’re short of time halfway through bread making but still want to proceed anyway, you may perform low-temperature proofing on the dough. Just be sure to wrap the dough up real well with at least three layers of (clean) plastic bags, then press out the air inside the bags thoroughly so that no air gets trapped within before tying a dead knot to the bags. (Oh, oil the insides of the bags so that the dough can be removed easily later on!) You may now let the yeast do its job slowly in the refrigerator at low temperature (5°C) for up to 72 hours. Beyond that, you’re going to get an extremely wet dough, dead yeast and a strong alcoholic smell – GAME OVER! However, I gauge by looking at the size of the dough, which should have been doubled in size by then. For me, it’s always been 36 to 56 hours of proofing. Once the dough has been proofed, carefully and gently pull it out of the fridge lest it get deflated. Then, set the dough aside to warm it up to room temperature before proceeding with the rest of the recipe (whichever one that you use).
    All the aforementioned measures are to ensure that the bags won’t burst as a result of the expanding dough; and that the dough won’t be overproofed should there be extra room for expansion and more oxygen to feed the yeast till it gets hyperactive that it keeps producing too much carbon dioxide and alcohol, which eventually leads to its suicide. (Well, I suck at chemistry! Pardon me for that.)
    Dough proofed via this method tends to be REALLY wet and flabby. So, don’t hesitate to flour your own hands, rolling pin, work surface and whatever that will come into contact with the sticky mess – of course, don’t overdo it as this may affect the bread’s texture. Bread made via low-temperature proofing is softer and moister due to the absorption of more moisture by the flour during the long hours of fermentation. The bread will also be more flavorful due the slow chemical reactions that the yeast renders as the dough is proofing – you’ll say: “Oh, it’s that good bread smell! Haven’t had that for ages!”
Made when I was a student in the States: my first attempt at making chocolate wassants, via the tangzhong method, but I let the dough proof at low temperature overnight (Dated August 2008)

Coming to think about it, I noticed that I haven’t been sharing bread-related posts lately though in actuality, I do bake bread on almost every weekend to fill my lunchbox for the following week. (If you check out my Flickr photostream, you’ll notice that.) Hmmm … I wonder what’s with my brain … Anyway, set all my BS aside. Without further ado, here’s a good, good Rotiboy recipe I’d like to share with you: It’s made via the tangzhong method and with plain bread flour – definitely not my usual whole-wheat style. (Ugh!) Good luck!

Rotiboys, a.k.a. Mexican Buns 墨西哥麵包 (Makes 9)
Adapted from "Bread Doctor" by Yvonne Chen   摘自《65C湯種麵包》。 陳郁芬

*The following instructions are meant for manual kneading. Adapt them if you're kneading your dough with either a bread machine or a stand mixer.*

For the bread:

210 g bread flour
56 g cake flour
6 g instant (dry) yeast
20 g milk powder
42 g caster sugar

1/2 tsp salt

30 g eggs -- slightly beaten and at room temperature
85 g water (at room temperature will do)

22 g unsalted butter -- cold and cubed

For the topping:

40 g unsalted butter -- softened
60 g shortening

80 g powdered sugar -- sifted
1 egg -- at room temperature
1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp instant coffee granules
1/2 tsp very hot water

100 g cake flour -- sifted

Enough miniature chocolate chips (optional; I used these for fun. The original Rotiboy doesn't have chocolate chips!)

The "poking test": Checkin' 1-2-3! Dough has indeed been proofed!
  1. Combine (A) together real well, then mix in the salt. Now, mix (B) together and stir into the flour mixture; using a sturdy wooden spoon, combine everything together very well till a dough starts to form and subsequently, pulls away from the sides of your huge mixing bowl
  2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead till gluten has developed -- you can feel the dough tightening up and becoming less sticky. Now, gradually knead in the cold butter cubes till fully incorporated
  3. Once the butter has been incorporated, keep kneading the dough till it has achieved the windowpane stage, i.e. a thin "membrane" will form by slowly, gently pulling the dough out towards opposite directions. The dough shouldn't be sticky by now; it should feel smooth and supple.
  4. Round the dough up and place it into an oiled mixing bowl, then cover the whole deal with cling wrap and set the dough aside to proof till doubled in size. To know whether it's doubled in size, do the "poking test" (as pictured right above): dip your finger in some bread or plain flour and gently, slowly poke into the dough--of course, don't puncture it! If an indentation remains at where you poked your finger in, this means proofing is sufficient; otherwise, if that spot bounces back, let it proof further till the dough has doubled in size
  5. Deflate the dough, knead for a little bit and divide it into nine equal portions (at 60 g each). Round each portion up into a tight ball and cover with cling wrap; let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
  6. To shape the dough, shape each portion of the dough into a round ball -- gather and pinch the seams tightly to seal the dough well. As you do this, arrange each portion of the shaped dough on greased or parchment-lined baking sheet(s) -- allow some room for expansion in between each bun.
  7. Once the buns have been shaped, cover the buns with cling wrap and set them aside to proof till almost doubled in size
  8. When the dough is just about done from proofing, prepare the batter for the topping. The thing with the batter for Rotiboy's topping is that you shouldn't overbeat the mixture -- stop mixing once things are just incorporated. An overmixed batter has too much air incorporated, which will give a porous surface to the topping of your Rotiboys upon baking.
    Mix (C) together till just blended with a metal hand whisk, then sift in the powdered sugar and whisk till just combined
    Gradually mix the egg in several portions into the fats-sugar mixture till just incorporated. (Mixing in the egg in one shot will have the mixture and egg separated!) On the other hand, dissolve (D) together to get a coffee paste. Then, mix it into the egg mixture along with the salt till just combined.
    Sift the cake flour over the mixture, using a metal hand whisk, combine everything together till the flour is fully blended with the rest of the ingredients -- the final batter should have attained a glossy look by now. Remember to mix them up till only incorporated -- don't overmix!
  9. Transfer the mixture into piping bag, which is fitted with a 1-centimeter plain-nozzle tip. Pipe the topping batter onto each bun, which should have doubled in size by now, in a circular motion beginning from the center. For each bun, 1/3 of its surface should be covered in the topping batter.
    Now, sprinkle some miniature chocolate chips over each bun (i.e. over the piped topping batter), if desired
  10. Bake at 160°C for 15 minutes
  11. Remove the buns from the oven and transfer to cool on cooling rack(s) slightly before eating -- Rotiboys are at their best when served warm!

April 16, 2010

Yet Another Mango Episode: Mango-Mascarpone Trifle 芒果芭菲

It’s been pretty bumpy this week. There are so many things going on, and for the most part, they’re pretty disappointing. Didn’t mean to let the pessimist in me bug you, but I’ve been haunted by technical issues with my darling laptop.

The situation is kind of funny, which isn’t making any sense to me. Or, am I too retarded to grasp it!? (Oh, dammit!) Plain oxymora. First, I can use neither Chrome nor Internet Explorer; I can’t sign in to MSN, can’t listen to my favorite station on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and can’t upload photos onto my Flickr page. (Thank, goodness! Luckily, there’s more than one computer within my reach.) But, I still can tweet and be tweeted on Twitter; I still can receive updates on Flickr; I still can check my mails with Gmail; I still can surf the Net with Mozilla Firefox; and, I STILL CAN blog with Blogger. Geez, I hope I’m not counting my chickens before they’re hatched … I’m still in the midst of penning down my thoughts. *Crossing fingers*

On top of being an addict for bakeware, cookware, cookbooks, food, cameras, props, music and any books that catch my fancy, I’m not ashamed of labeling myself an Internet junkie. I can survive without TV – but not without my computer and the Internet. Now that I’m using a malfunctioning computer, my life has turned topsy-turvy. And, I never ever expect myself to excel in everything; otherwise, that will sound a little too ambitious. Ah, I’m still patiently waiting for my technology-savvy brother to be back this weekend to help fix this damn problem!

This may seem like a minor blow. (OK, maybe it ain’t really nothin’ for me after all … I’m literally paralyzed! *Sob*) Nevertheless, through this incident, I’ve gradually come to realize I can get insecure pretty easily. I can get crippled by financial insecurity; I can get irritated by little details. To top it off, I’m an impatient person, too. However, there’s this funny thing about me. I can patiently let my bread dough rise to proof for 1 to 2 hours. I can let my cakes and cookies cool off after baking – but once they’re completely cooled, I can’t stop my itchy hands from inching out to sample a few just to satisfy the nosy parker in me. Hahaha …! Oxymora again! So, another new lesson learned: I’m a person of both contrasts and unpredictability. I do sound scary, eh?

Whilst I can’t do much about the situation with my shallow computer science knowledge, I’ll just have to wait for my savior to be back this weekend to resurrect my computer. So, pardon me for being "less active" lately in visiting food blogs. In the meantime, I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been featured on this spanking-new foodie site that’s dedicated to baking, and it’s aptly named “Baking is Hot.” Do hop over there to check out other really cool food blogs and recipes!

To cap it all, here’s another recipe devoted to my love for MANGO and VERRINES. (Oh, did I tell you I’m a verrine aficionado, too?) And since the mango season will be concluding soon, why not?

The story started out with this cookbook I spotted at the Hong Kong book fair organized by Kinokuniya, my favorite bookstore in town. All books displayed were made in Hong Kong, literally. Growing up in Asia and having lived in the States for close to 3 years, my palate is truly East-meets-West. (Is that a lame one or what? Ha!) One way to prove that is compared to almost everyone I’ve met back home in Malaysia, I have an unusually sweet tooth, which is very typical of American and something I’ve acquired during my stay there. (Most Asians have what I'd call “savory tooth.” *LOL* Hope it makes sense to you; otherwise, forget it. Maybe my sense of humor just sucks. *Tsk, tsk*)

My observation tells me that the Asian cookbook publishing industry is getting TOO commercialized. I personally prefer cookbooks published in the West for their detail and meticulousness anytime – though they’re probably a tad too sweet for many “Asia-grown Asian” taste buds. Sorry, no offense. This is just my two cents. For recipes that are supposed to be lengthy at where deemed appropriate, e.g. because they’re formulated for an elaborate dish or cake (l’Opera is a great example), they’re in fact overly brief and summarized. The authors and editors probably assume that most of us cookbook readers are way past the intermediate levels!? Or it’s just another means to be cost- and “energy-efficient!?” This is just sad …

Luckily, this recipe didn’t take me too long to figure out that some things were missing … So, I had to fix it somehow. Boy, glad that I did.

Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe, yea? It’s long simply because it’s VERRINE! Verrine is made up of several components, with each contributing to the symphony orchestra of the end product. Can be either sweet or savory, too! So, the recipe is lengthy but simple! The result is remarkable.

The symphony orchestra turned out to be phenomenally scrumptious! This mango-mascarpone trifle won applause from the humble audience of taste testers and me. The enticing sweetness and fruity aroma of juicy mango complement perfectly with the mild tang and luscious softness of Italian mascarpone. This heavenly couple gives off a toothsome experience that simply lingers on your tongue and captures your senses. Finishing up with almond génoise renders the glassed dessert fresh nuttiness. Oh, it’s a glass of sweet memories made with love and passion! Pure enjoyment!

Mango-Mascarpone Trifle 芒果芭菲
Adapted from "Dessert for You," by Rachel Yau    摘自《為您做甜品》。丘桂玲 著

* The number of glasses of verrine you can get out of this recipe varies as it really depends on the size of the serving vessels used. *

For the almond génoise:

110 g almonds
* I used whole almonds, with skin on. *
40 g powdered sugar
124 g egg whites, at room temperature
50 g caster sugar
  1. To toast the almonds, bake the nuts at 150C for 10~15 minutes; remove them from the oven and set aside to let cool completely before using
  2. To get pulverized almonds: place the cooled toasted almonds and powdered sugar together in the food processor, then give the sugar-coated nuts quick and short pulses till you get fine pulverized almonds. Sift the sugar-pulverized almond mixture twice; set aside
    * Sugar helps with absorbing the oil from the nuts and prevents the nuts from clumping together as you pulverize the nuts. *
    ** Alternatively, you can use store-bought almond meal, which will work just as good. But, I think commercial one lacks the fresh nutty flavor that I love. Still, It really is up to you. If you opt for store-bought one, simply combine it together with the powdered sugar, then sift twice and set aside for use in step #4. **
  3. To get the meringue: in a clean grease-free metal mixing bowl, whip the egg whites till they get foamy, then gradually beat in the 50 g caster sugar as you keep whipping the egg whites; keep whipping them up till they have attained stiff peaks and look glossy
  4. Gently fold the almond-powdered sugar mixture to the meringue, in 2~3 batches, till just incorporated -- DON'T overdo this lest deflating the meringue by forcing out the air within
  5. Transfer the batter into a piping bag that's fitted with a plain-tip nozzle. Next, pipe the batter out in a circular motion -- beginning from the center -- to get a big circle, on a parchment-lined baking tray
    * If you're frugal, just spread the batter on a parchment-lined baking tray with help from a rubber spatula -- just gotta make sure that the batter is spread till about 1-inch thick. *
  6. Bake at 180C for 15 minutes or till it looks slightly browned and the toothpick comes out clean once taken out after inserting into the center of the cake
  7. Remove the cake from the oven; transfer the cake onto a cooling rack to let cool completely before using
For the mango purée:

500 g mango flesh, puréed
4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
80 g caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
  1. Combine (B) together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat over low heat till the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has barely thickened -- keep stirring at all times to prevent burning at the bottom
  2. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the mixture cool completely aside
    Remember to pick out and discard the vanilla bean before using. (Or, you may keep it for some other uses.)
For the vanilla mascarpone:

3 egg yolks, at room temperature
25 g caster sugar

1 vanilla bean, split
125 mL  milk

250 g mascarpone
250 mL heavy cream, chilled

6 g powdered gelatine
70 mL water -- at room temperature will do
  1. Heat (D) together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan to bring to a boil OR microwave (D) together in a microwaveable vessel on HIGH till they start to boil -- monitor at all times while doing this
    Cover and set the mixture aside to let the flavors infuse for about 1 hour
  2. Meanwhile, cream (C) together till pale, sticky and thick (i.e. the ribbon stage)
  3. Reheat the vanilla milk from step #1 to bring it to a boil again. Next, remove from the heat once the milk starts to boil and discard the vanilla bean (or you can reserve it for some other purposes)
  4. Gradually temper the hot vanilla milk into the beaten yolks, then set the whole deal aside to cool slightly till it's less hot -- well, not too cool either. In the meantime, sprinkle the powdered gelatine from (E) over the 70 mL water to bloom (i.e. soften) it, which should just take around 5 minutes
  5. Once the yolk-milk mixture has gotten slightly cooler, blend in the gelatine and stir to make sure that the gelatine gets dissolved into the warm mixture completely. Next, set the whole deal aside to cool completely
  6. Once the yolk-milk mixture has cooled off, gradually blend it into the mascarpone -- a few tablespoons at a time -- to incorporate them altogether. If this were done all at once, the mixtures will separate!
  7. Now whip the chilled heavy cream till it's looks mousse-like (70-percent stiff); fold the semi-whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture gently till just incorporated, in 2~3 batches
To assemble:
  1. Depending on your serving vessels, use a suitable cookie cutter to cut out the almond génoise so that the cut-out cake fits each serving vessel
  2. Place the cut-out cake at the bottom of the glasses that you're planning to use, then pour over the mango purée till about 1-centimeter thick. Next, pour over some of the mascarpone mixture till about 2-cm thick.
    Repeat step #2 to each of the serving vessels that you're planning to use. After that, send all the glasses to chill in the fridge till the mixtures have set completely
    * But seriously, how you want to divide the mixtures among your serving vessels is clearly a matter of preference. *
  3. Once the first layers of the three components have fully set, repeat the layering and chilling instructions in step #2 to each of the serving vessels -- stop filling them once each is 80-percent full
  4. Once the whole deal has set completely, you may serve the dessert. Garnish as desired; served chilled.

April 13, 2010


Recipe, courtesy of SeaDragon, for classic Malaysian-Chinese pastry Tambun biscuit (淡汶豆沙餅), is featured on Baking is Hot (April 10, 2010).

Pei-Lin, the owner-cum-author of Dodol & Mochi, is one of the three winners of the "My Tiffin Moment" Contest, which was organized by The Star's Don't Call Me Chef and Tupperware. Her work was featured in the December 2010 issue of the monthly food column (Dec 06, 2010).
Dec 2010 Don't Call Me Chef -- Tiffins Carry the Memory

Pei-Lin, the owner-cum-author of Dodol & Mochi, was a featured blogger for the March 2011 issue of Don't Call Me Chef, a monthly food column run by The Star (March 07, 2011).
A Featured Blogger

April 9, 2010

Thai Coconut-Mango Jelly, Awards & the Phenomenon of Food Photo-Journaling

Congratulations to myself! I finally found a time to actually sit down in front of my computer; read, think through and analyze with my brain; speak and write from my heart and with my guts. Such precious moments!

But before I initiate flame on the cannon and begin to fire projectiles of my thought (at you), I would like to thank my lovely fellow bloggers-cum-friends Anncoo, Bee Bee, Joslynn and Tracie for bestowing upon me these lovely awards:

Don’t the e-plaques look chic and sleek! I’ve come to realize that many fellow bloggers out there have already received the awards. As much as I hate doing this, I think I’ve got to put a halt to the tagging, which has been spreading like bushfire in, especially, the food blogosphere.

Nonetheless, I’d love to dedicate the honors to you: my fellow home-based food bloggers who keep posting up wonderful work; my readers and blog visitors who actually care to read about my nonsense and who can put up with my long-windedness. Kudos to you! Thanks a million for the encouraging words that you’ve been sending me via emails and comments on my blog posts! You’ve totally made my year! I promise I’ll keep this little journal alive as long as I’m still breathing despite the insanely hectic schedule. (Y’know what, at certain point, I almost felt like my life has been hit by an apocalypse. *Fainted*)

Easter sunset, taken on April 10, 2009, by Prior Lake, Minn., U.S.A.

Anyway, let’s shift our focus here for just a bit. I thought I could seal my mouth real well on this issue phenomenon. After what I saw yesterday and what I’ve been reading these past couple of days, I seriously think I need to speak out!

I was invited to an informal dinner by the company I’ve been working for. A number of co-workers joined as well. Quite a big crowd of 10, and these folks opted for Chili’s (restaurant.) After placing order to the waiter, I diligently listened and responded to the conversation that was rolling at the table. The restaurant was dimly lit; the ambience was rather pub-like. Pardon me for my ostensibly shallow knowledge of fine dining – I’m a wild once-rusticated urbanite who hardly eats out. Then, when the plates of food began to flow in, point-and-shoot and cell-phone cameras popped out of nowhere. Flashed. Snapped. Flashed. Snapped. The rest of the crowd made way for the photographers while patiently waiting for their turn to feed their hungry soul. It was close to 8.30 that evening before we got to eat, after a tiring day at work.

The cynic in me stirred up instances of suspicion. After reading this article from The New York Times, I’ve been feeling disturbed by the fact that many people nowadays photograph just about every food that goes into their stomach. What next? Post all the food pictures onto Facebook and all other social networking Web sites imaginable!? Show you what they’ve eaten and criticize the food even though they aren’t professionally certified chefs but self-proclaimed foodies who think they have the finest and most adventurous taste buds in the universe!? For crying out loud, for what!? “Yo, dude! Look, I had Chili’s sizzling beef steak!” Erm ... yea? What else? “Hey, I had Chili’s molten chocolate cake with that that gigantic scoop of ice cream and oodles of chocolate sauce on top!”

My chocolate cake with molten peanut butter center. It's been a while since I last made molten cake.

Jealous now? Me, no. I could see you definitely enjoyed the food, just like how I would. I, too, love beef steaks and molten cakes. I, too, take pictures of beef steaks and molten cakes – but not with every freaking plate of food that I eat. Here are my reasons to justify my stand on the said matter, and they’re purely Pei-Lin’s:
  • Flash and poorly lit places are a no-no for any food photographers. (Or am I just nitpicking!?)
  • Cell-phone cameras are one of the worst food photography gadgets ever.
  • Every criticism should be constructive and should come with credibility and responsibility: If you aren’t professionally trained chefs or don’t have culinary knowledge – even for you to survive in the kitchen while fiddling with a Chinese cleaver – please don’t try to criticize the work of others. Enjoy the meal and pay with due respect. I personally think you can only condemn the chefs in the event of food poisoning that resulted from dining out. Oh, file a lawsuit too to do yourself some justice!
  • Cameras and flashes are an eyesore at diners and restaurants, where hungry people are waiting diligently and patiently to curb their hunger once the food has arrived – and some just want a peace of mind while ingesting their food!
Like I said, for me, food unlocks the many interesting facets of a culture, especially one that’s new to me. Whenever I cook or bake a new dish, I pick up a new lesson: I get to learn about the language, customs and celebrations, and many other aspects of the culture.

My fresh garden-and-seafood pasta salad, inspired by my American mom Bonnie and my American brother Luke's love for pasta salad. Let's see if I can recall the recipe for this; it was all done by eyeballing.

I’m not a good food photographer. However, I do post pictures of steaks, molten cakes and other foods – but only when they’re home-made and simply because I love doing so. Adequate styling has to be made to the object of the photo shoot for the sake of presentation. I guess it’s that obsession-compulsion and perfectionist in me. Whenever I get to try others’ food, my culinary understanding increases further. As long as I’m alive, I’m imperfect: just got to think twice before commenting or criticizing. Last but not least, mine still hasn’t gotten to the point where psychiatrists and psychoanalysts would consider pathological; it’s an idiosyncrasy. *LOL*

I’m going to leave it to you to decide whether you agree or disagree with me on this. If the said article resonates in you and that you’ve formed some sort of opinion regarding that, it’d be great if you can share it with me. But, I was just trying to speak out my mind. No bad intention at all. So, please don’t attempt to spam or blackmail me. Everyone deserves the rights to free speech and free expression according to the First Amendment.

Before I can finally shut up, I’d love to share with you this interesting Thai recipe. Thailand is just north of my home country Malaysia. As a neighbor, I get to eat Thai dishes from time to time. And, I’ve got to admit that Thai food is among my favorites. I simply adore its burning-hot sensation, flavor intensity and piquancy. The wide array of ingredients used is fascinating.

Over these last few weeks, mangoes have been getting ubiquitous. About 2 weeks ago, I managed to yank 3 kilograms worth of Thai mangoes back from the local night bazaar for a super-good deal. I paid MYR10.00, or USD3.00, for that many mangoes! I’d say it was a good investment. Besides eating them raw, I incorporated them in my dessert.

After much debate between the angelic Pei-Lin and the devilish Pei-Lin, I discarded the idea of making the Thai dessert of mangoes with sticky rice and sweet coconut sauce. Although it’s my favorite Thai dessert, I didn’t want to be the one who sucked in most of the calories from the glutinous rice! Well, I did try to make this when I was in the States and my American family friends loved it. Perhaps, shall remake this the next time I have a bigger crowd to feed. Hahaha …!

Khao neaw mamuang, or the Thai dessert of mangoes with sticky rice and sweet coconut sauce, made on June 30, 2009

In the end, I made wun mamuang, which translates as coconut-mango jelly in Thai. It’s one of those answers you’ll be delighted to hear when you have a bad case of sweets cravings. It’s rich and yet doesn’t feel heavy both in your mouth and on your hips. The use of agar renders the jelly a nice little texture that’s neither too soft nor too hard; that springs a little at your first bite and yet disintegrates as your teeth sink deeper. The mellow tropical marriage of mango and coconut becomes the highlight of the day. So fruity, so refreshing. Not cloyingly sweet, too! Having one slice definitely is not enough! Perfect on hot, hot summer days!

Here’s to dedicate this traditional Southeast Asian treat to all you out there who will be getting splashed and drenched during Songkran next week, including my great helper who’s now back in her hometown in Cambodia reveling in pre-Songkran festivities! Once again, Happy Songkran!

Wun Mamuang, or Thai Coconut-Mango Jelly
Adapted from "Periplus Mini Cookbooks: Thai Cakes and Desserts," by Chat Mingkwan

For the bottom layer:

1 Tbsp unflavored powdered agar
375 mL water
50 g caster sugar
250 mL thick coconut milk
** I used canned coconut cream, which worked just as well. **

250 mL puréed mango flesh
** The mangoes I used had orange-colored flesh; hence, the "gold" color of my jelly. **
  1. Combine (A) together in heavy-bottomed saucepan; over medium heat, heat to fully dissolve the sugar and slowly bring the mixture to a boil whilst stirring constantly
  2. Once the mixture has come to a boil, remove from the heat and leave aside to let cool slightly
    ** Don't let the mixture cool away for too long as it does set easily, like what happened to mine. To remedy the situation, I dumped the almost-set mixture into the blender and puréed it real well. **
  3. When the mixture has cooled slightly, stir in the puréed mango flesh.
  4. Estimate and prepare metal or plastic mold(s) that is/are of the right size and height. Run the mold(s) in cold water, then set on a flat surface and pour in the mango mixture -- the agar mixture should not exceed 3/4 the capacity of the tin.
    ** I used two very, very small rectangular loaf tins. So, the molds I used are metal. I'm sure you can find the right mold(s) for the jelly. Well, just trust your brain and judgment. **
    **Running the tin/mold in cold water will help ease the unmolding of the jelly from the tin later on.**
  5. Chill the deal in the fridge for 20 minutes or till the bottom layer has completely set
For the top layer:

1/2 Tbsp unflavored powdered agar
375 mL water
2 Tbsp caster sugar
1 pandan/screwpine leaf, cut into 4-centimeter pieces

1/4 tsp salt
60 mL puréed mango flesh
** The mangoes I used had orange-colored flesh; hence, the "gold" color of my jelly. **

1 ripe mango -- washed to clean, peeled and flesh sliced into bite-sized pieces
** The mangoes I used had orange-colored flesh; hence, the "gold" color of my jelly. **
  1. Whilst the bottom layer is chilling, prepare the top layer: first, combine (B) together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly -- the sugar should have also dissolved fully by then.
  2. Stir the salt into the hot agar mixture till well-mixed, remove from the heat; pick out to discard the pandan leaf, then set aside to cool. Once cooled, mix in the puréed mango flesh. Set aside.
    ** Don't let the mixture cool away for too long as it does set easily, like what happened to mine. To remedy the situation, I dumped the almost-set mixture into the blender and puréed it real well. **
  3. Arrange the mango slices on top of the fully set bottom layer. Then, pour the mixture for the top layer over.
    ** I learned from another fellow blogger Shirley, of køkken69, that to reduce the likelihood of the two layers of jelly "detaching" from one another, skip the cooling process. Instead, immediately combine the mango purée with the hot agar mixture and pour it over the fully set, chilled bottom layer whilst the mixture is still HOT! She made the same jelly with the same recipe not too long ago. What a coincidence! Good tips! Why didn't I think of that!? Thanks, Shirley! **
  4. Chill the whole deal in the fridge for 40 minutes or till the top layer has fully set.
  5. Slice the fully set jelly into desired shapes, unmold or dish out, and serve chilled. Best consumed on the same day it was made.
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