July 29, 2010

Simply Chewy, Simply Chunky, Simply Blondies!

Since I last blogged here about a week ago, life has been pretty terribly interesting for me. When I say “terribly,” I mean it. It’s been terrible. I feel fatigued after working overtime to catch up with assignments in the past couple of days. And, that’s not it.

After a swollen pink eye, I was bugged by an achy tooth. Double whammy! A few hours ago, I was still sitting at the clinic – diligently waiting to have my tooth extracted. It’s gone. But, I’m feeling the pain as the anesthetic is worn off. Luckily, I’m on medical leave. I do have to say, though, that this post was painstakingly composed. Haha!

I brought something to read along while waiting for my turn in the clinic’s reception area. Suddenly, I heard the bawling of a kid coming from the dentist’s room. I wondered to myself, “Why hadn’t you come to see the dentist and have the goddamn tooth removed earlier!?”

I realized that one of my greatest fears has to do with dentists and anything related to them. This faulty tooth had been bugging me for a few years actually; however, I was reluctant to see these people professionals. And so, the long delay. (Because of the phobia fear!?) This time around, I promised myself to get rid of the problem once and for all. What amazed me was I stayed pretty calm. Now that I also know my teeth are worth a million! The money spent on my tooth can buy me a round-trip bus ticket to and fro Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Haha! Seems like I’ll have more dates with Ms. Dentist over the next few years -- when my wisdom teeth start to grow and force their way out. (I still lack the wisdom needed to be a grown-up. Haha!)

I realized one more thing: Having a tooth extracted is something a foodie will never, ever look forward to. I’m forced to ground myself to a toddler’s diet by taking soft, mushy and runny foods. No strenuous workout. Minimal talking too, verbally. *Sob*

Anyway, this post has come a little awkward. As you know, I’m a slow (and long-winded) blogger. Though I was trained to be a journalist, I could never seem to blog about all my bakes and dishes in a timely fashion. (I have months of backlogs to clear, slowly. Haha!) This week, though, I have to make it an exception.

Bars (or bar cookies) were unheard of in my world until I began my 3-year stint in America. I was so naïve that I didn’t know brownies are bars till then. (The brownies I grew up eating were cakey, which were very untypical American. That was why I misplaced brownies under the Lethally Chocolaty Cake category at the back of my brain. *LOL*) When I was in the States, besides lemon bars and fudgy brownies (yet to blog about), one of the first few bars I was introduced to were no other than blondies.

I had my first blondies during the Christmas of 2008. (Yes, Thanksgiving and Christmas equate long bake-a-thon! Miss it!) The bars were made by my family friends for the cookie swap at their family’s annual Christmas gathering. (The Lockes and the Mathews, if you’re reading this, thank you so much for the invitation!) Based on what I can recall, blondies have to be chewy, soft, SWEET and give you that deep butterscotch flavor.

Just this Sunday, I made blondies to satisfy my cravings. I have two blondie recipes to choose from. To justify the money spent, I decided to go with the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours.” Honestly, this book has been put to pretty good use. But, I have yet to blog about my other bakes from the book. And, these blondies aren't the first recipe I've tried out from the book. *LOL*

I decided to blog about the blondies in a timely manner because I just discovered that Tuesdays With Dorie (TWD) bakers also made these bars for this week’s assignment. It was a pure accident! Thought it’d be fun to join TWD just this once. I wonder if there’ll be another pure coincidence again ...

Anyway, money wasn’t the only deciding factor. Greenspan named hers “Chewy, Chunky Blondies.” “Chewy” and “chunky” really caught my attention. I’d been meaning to replicate these bars, but something had gotten my way. I couldn’t find butterscotch chips and Heath toffee bits in Malaysia! (Or I didn’t look hard enough!?) Frankly, I’m not a big fan of butterscotch chips; however, I don’t mind using them in my foods. If I could choose, I’d prefer peanut butter chips to butterscotch ones, anytime. (Can’t find those here either!) I guess I really took these ingredients for granted when I was still in the States.

After a visit to the clinic (for my pink eye) last week, I went to pick up a few items at the local supermarket with my mom. As I swooshed past the confectionery aisle, something grabbed a hold of me from the corner of my eye: Andes Toffee Crunch Thins! I excitedly said to myself, “It's blondies time!” Yes, these make good substitute!

Pardon me for the horrible shots of these blondies. I photographed them just before going off to work this Monday morning as it’d been raining nonstop from Sunday afternoon till early that morning. Do bear in mind, though, blondie recipes are easy to execute. Not time-consuming whatsoever. It’s just that I was also making some good ol’ potato bread at the same time; therefore, I was a bit slow in getting the foods photographed toward the end of the day. Yet to blog about these delectably soft rolls. We shall see when that happens. Haha!

I referred to my other blondie recipe and altered Dorie’s a wee bit by reducing the sugars and adding in a tablespoon of molasses and light corn syrup each. (Light corn syrup is labeled as “liquid glucose” outside of the States.) I know the sugars are there to give the bars that chewiness, but I couldn’t bear witnessing myself dumping that much sugar into my bake! In addition to that, I used fresh grated coconut in mine. In Malaysia, we don’t have sweetened flaked coconut. And, I don’t look forward to using that actually. Nothing beats fresh coconut flavor!

Result? Blondies that are equally chewy as the ones I had in the States – except these are REALLY chunky. With each bite, I get a little surprise here and there. I love the chunks of chocolate, toffee bits and walnuts within! The downside is these bars are a tad too greasy to my liking. Or did I do something wrong!? No doubt, though, mine don’t look exactly like the ones in the book. After looking at other TWD bakers’ blondies, I feel better. At least, mine aren’t the only ones that turned out darker. Haha! Mine still taste like blondies, except chunkier.

My cravings have been fixed. My only complaint now is since the loss of a tooth this morning, I’m having a hard time chewing on the bars, which are still sitting on the dining table. How I wish I can share some of them with all you sweet-toothed!

Chewy, Chunky Blondies
Adapted from "Baking: From My Home to Yours," by Dorie Greenspan & "Joy of Cooking: Christmas Cookies," by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker

220 g all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

227 g unsalted butter -- softened at room temperature

300 g light brown sugar
* I used 220 g. *
115 g granulated sugar
* I used 100 g. *

1 Tbsp molasses
* Not blackstrap molasses! *
1 Tbsp light corn syrup (liquid glucose)

2 large eggs -- at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

170 g bittersweet chocolate -- chopped into bits / semisweet chocolate chips
170 g butterscotch chips / Heath Toffee Bits
* I used coarsely chopped Andes Toffee Crunch Thins. The candy comes in 132 grams per box; therefore, I only used that much. *
75~100 g sweetened shredded coconut
* I used fresh grated one. *
113 g walnuts
* To toast the walnuts, bake them at 150°C for 13~15 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let them cool completely before use. Coarsely chop cooled walnuts; set aside. *
  1. Grease a 9x13-inch pan and set aside for use later.
    * I used a slightly smaller pan, which is around 8"x12". And, I lined it with parchment instead. *
  2. Whisk (A) together and sift once; set aside for use later.
    * I sifted mine, which was additional, to break up all the big and small lumps and to REALLY ensure that the ingredients are well distributed throughout the flour mixture. *
  3. Cream the butter on medium speed till smooth and creamy, then add in (B) and beat for 3 minutes or till well incorporated. Mix in (C) quick to just combine.
  4. Add in the eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time, beating well with each addition. Then, mix in the vanilla extract to blend well.
  5. Reduce to the speed on the hand/stand mixer to low, blend in the flour mixture till the the flour mixture has just disappeared into the batter. Now, do this by hand and with help from a rubber spatula, stir in (D) to evenly distribute them throughout the batter.
  6. Scrape the batter from your mixing bowl and into the prepared pan. With a rubber spatula, smooth out the top of the batter to ensure an even surface as best you can.
  7. Bake at 160°C for 40 minutes or till test done, i.e. the knife comes out clean when inserted into the center of the blondies. The blondies should pull away from the sides of the pan slightly and the top gives a nice honey-brown color.
  8. Remove the blondies from the oven; transfer the whole pan to the cooling rack to let cool completely before cutting to serve and/or store airtight.

July 23, 2010

A Little Thank-You Note and Tangzhong Cinnamon Bread 一些感言與湯種肉桂麵包

This week, the muse must have left me for a vacation elsewhere. Been having a mental block, I think. Worse comes worst, I woke up with a swollen pink eye yesterday morning; therefore, I’ve been on a medical leave. However, I can’t guarantee you of a short post. I’ll try to keep it concisely short as I should not be staring at the computer screen for too long anyway.

This would be an opportunity for me to thank some of my blogger friends – since I’m pretty wordless. I’ve been delaying these for who-knows-how-long. I’m a slow blogger, as always. Hope you aren’t annoyed. Haha!

Two months ago, Edith of Precious Moments rendered me the Sunshine Award. I could never seem to squeeze in some space to officially acknowledge my receipt of the Award because the usual Pei-Lin always has something to ramble about, except these few days. Recently, Jess of Bakericious handed me two more awards: the Stylish Blogger Award and A Blog With Substance Award. Now, I’ve got three in total to acknowledge. Man, it’s time:
Dearest Edith and Jess,
Thank you so much for the e-plaques! I’m honored to be one of the Award recipients! I’m glad that you think of me and take me as a friend – not just a friend – but a friend who also shares your passion for baking, cooking and blogging.

(Did I make this sound like a thank-you speech or what? Haha!)

But, I’ve decided not to tag along because I noticed that these Awards have been spreading like wildfire in the Food Blogosphere. I do feel pleased and honored for such an acknowledgment received, though. Instead of sharing the joy with only a few other fellow bloggers, I’d like to share the Awards with all of you: my fellow bloggers, readers, visitors, bakers, cooks, as well as food photographers and stylists. (I know I’m not qualified to be called a food photographer and stylist, as of now.)

For the most part, it is the encouraging words from you that keep me going. I feel tired out by other commitment in life; I once thought of giving up blogging as I couldn’t seem to cope with it. Gradually, I’m back on track again – because of the encouraging words received and sincerity I’ve been sensing from you guys. Thank you!

Anyway, to fill in the gap, here are 10 of the many things in life that make Pei-Lin grin. On the other hand, here are 10 random and REALLY boring trivial things about me:

  • I almost always give others the impression that I’m Chinese-illiterate. Among the Malaysian-Chinese, the derogatory terms “banana (香蕉人)” and “ABC” are used to refer to Chinese who can’t understand Chinese (中文). I’m neither one of those, and I hate being stereotyped that way. In fact, right from my kindergarten to senior high school years, I was educated in Chinese.
  • I can speak, read and write, in the order of my proficiency level, in English and Chinese (Cantonese 廣府話 and Mandarin 普通話, Malaysian Mandarin to be exact *LOL*), as well as Bahasa Malaysia (B.M.). My written English is better than my spoken one, I think. (Due to the slower response I give when I talk!?) To all fellow Malaysians: I know there is nothing to brag about. Almost everyone here can speak these three languages. When compared to you guys, my B.M. sucks, big-time. Haha!
  • I'm an indecisive shopper. Let's say I want to purchase two bags of good-quality imported chocolate chips. I'll first grab what I want, then in a few minutes' time, I'll return to the same spot to place the bags of morsels at where they belong. Throughout my stay at the store, I can repeat the above for three to four times till I've finally made up my mind. Do bear in mind I'm also having the same dilemma with a few other items on my shopping list. That's why I always shop alone because I can drive the people around me crazy. *LOL*
  • One of my wildest dreams is to save up enough money so that I can go backpack traveling in France and conquer (all) the local pâtisseries and boulangeries. (Thanks to the book “Paris Sweets!”)
  • Another one of my wildest dreams is to save up money and have a few months of retreat at Le Cordon Bleu, which also happens to be part of my retirement plan. That means, I’ll be a 60-year-old pastry school student by then!? Haha! (I know we change as we age. Hope that I won’t lose my passion for culinary art as time passes.)
  • I don’t like to be passively entertained as I feel that my time can be put to better use by doing something else; therefore, I hardly go for a karaoke session, watch television and go for a movie (unless the show is a good one like "Julie & Julia").  However, I don’t mind watching culinary programs.
  • I hope to be a freelance food writer (note: NOT food critic), food photographer and stylist someday.
  • I’m not a fussy eater. Nonetheless, there are a few items that I won’t want to consume: petai, "stinky tofu" (臭豆腐), instant noodles, fresh Chinese-style "yellow noodles" (鹼水麵), soft drink and flavored beverages, "commercialized" fast food, alcohol and candy. (I do use alcohol in my cooking and baking though.)
  • I write better than I talk. That’s why I prefer writing to express myself. Probably, I’m more of an introvert. The thing with me is when I find that I can click with that person I’m talking to, I can keep the ball rolling with ease. But when I feel there’s a lack of chemistry, I find it VERY challenging for me to carry on – because I don’t know what else to talk about!?
  • Oh! One more thing about me is when I'm given bread and rice, I’ll pick bread. Whole-wheat one preferably. Why? Because I can eat this much food in this little time. Since I make my own bread, I might as well just eat it. I don’t mind having rice. But, I can only take this much food at a time; hence, the compromise.

I love cinnamon rolls and cinnamon swirl loaf. I only came to appreciate the sweet bread during my 3-year stay in the States. (Because none of my family members fancies herbs and spices!? I’m the black sheep at home, I love herbs and spices. The more pungent, the better. In fact, many Chinese I’ve come to know of don’t really care about spices. Perhaps, spices are too intense for them. My observation can be erroneous though.)

As opposed to Asian bakeries, American bakeries offer less variety of (fancy) sweet rolls. Sticky pecan rolls and cinnamon rolls are the ones I can think of, for now. I love the warm and woody scent of cinnamon. Sweeten things up and marry the spice with rum-soaked raisins and toasted walnuts gives the otherwise plain-looking bread a new depth of life.

It’s been over 2.5 years since I started making bread. One of the first breads I baked was no other than the cinnamon roll. As time goes, I’ve switched from making plain white ones to whole-wheat ones. (I don’t mind white bread occasionally. But, I do try to avoid it whenever possible.) As usual, Pei-Lin tweaked recipe, again.

When I made these cinnamon rolls and loaves (back in February this year), I replaced the basic sweet white bread recipe with my favorite whole-wheat bread recipe. (I doubled the recipe, too, for my breakfasts and lunch that whole week at work. I froze the extra. Till now, I'm still not sick of it.) Of course, when compared to the plain white ones, mine turned out to be denser and less fluffy. Mine had that something (fibrous) for you to chew on. (It’s whole wheat. Duh!)

I used the tangzhong method (湯種法) for these spicy sweet rolls. (My favorite way of making bread, hands down. Read more about the method here, here and here.) I’m well aware that not everyone likes this whole-wheat bread idea. So, here’s the original recipe for you to refer to. In the meantime, I’ve also included the changes I made alongside. Remember, bread making is a live science. Once you’ve mastered the principles and theories behind, you can run free with your creativity and imagination! Don't forget that practice makes perfect.

Cinnamon Rolls and Cinnamon Swirl Loaf 肉桂麵包與肉桂吐司
Adapted from "Bread Doctor," by Yvonne Chen 摘自《65°C湯種麵包》。陳郁芬 著

* The instruction below is meant for manual kneading of the bread dough. I've never kneaded my bread dough with a bread machine or sturdy stand mixer. So, please adapt the following accordingly. *

For whole-wheat bread base, refer to the recipe here

For white bread base:

210 g plain bread flour
56 g plain cake flour
20 g milk powder/dry milk
42 g caster/granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt

6 g instant dry yeast

30 g whole egg -- at room temperature and slightly beaten
85 g water -- at room temperature will do
84 g tangzhong (湯種) -- at room temperature

22 g unsalted butter -- cubed and chilled

For the filling:
* Kindly adjust the quantity stated for the ingredients for the filling to your liking. Some people like it extra-spicy while some don't. Some like more raisins and/or walnuts while others don't. *

5 g (1 heaped Tbsp) ground cinnamon
20 g caster/granulated sugar

50 g rum-soaked raisins
* Soak the raisins in enough rum for 2 hours. Once soaked, drain them. I reserved the rum for brushing on the bread later on. *
50 g toasted walnuts -- coarsely chopped
* Toast the walnuts at 150°C for 13~15 minutes; remove from the oven and let cool completely before using. *

For the simple glaze:
* Optional, though, as I think the bread is good enough without the glaze. *

70 g powdered sugar -- or quantity to be adjusted as necessary
1 Tbsp room-temperature water/cold milk -- or quantity to be adjusted as necessary
A few drops of vanilla extract -- optional

  1. Combine (A) together in a large mixing bowl, then scatter the yeast all over the flour mixture and mix well to evenly distribute the ingredients.
  2. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and stir in (B); mix everything together with a large, sturdy wooden spoon till the mixture has come together. Continue mixing till a dough has formed and starts to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl.
  3. Turn the dough out onto the counter and keep kneading it till gluten has developed. Now, knead the cold cubed butter into the dough to incorporate. Once the butter has been incorporated, keep kneading the dough till it's reached the windowpane stage.
  4. Round the dough up; gather up and pinch the seams to seal well. Place the dough into a large oiled mixing bowl and cover with a sheet of cling wrap, then set aside to proof till it's has doubled in size.
    * Nowadays, I usually place the dough on a lightly floured counter and invert my large mixing bowl to cover the dough to let it proof. That's just me being plain lazy. Haha! *
  5. Once the dough has doubled in size, deflate the dough and knead briefly to get rid of the gas trapped within. To know whether it's doubled in size, do the "poking test": dip your finger in some bread or plain flour and gently, slowly poke your finger 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.

  6. For cinnamon rolls:

    * The following is how I shaped mine, which is way different than the author of the book. *

    On a lightly floured counter, with a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a 1 inch-thick rectangle. (You decide how long, how wide the rectangle should be.) Now, brush the surface with the rum reserved from soaking raisins -- leaving about 1" space, lengthwise, untouched, along the topmost part the rectangle. With your hand, slightly press down on this 1" "reserved" space to make it thinner than the remaining part of the dough.
    Combine (C) together and scatter the cinnamon sugar evenly over the rum-moistened surface of the dough. Then, scatter the walnuts and raisins evenly over the cinnamon-sugared surface of the dough.
    Roll up the rectangular dough tightly, lengthwise, from bottom up (i.e. like for a Swiss roll). Seal the dough up by pinching the seams tightly. (That's why you have to purposely leave 1" space "untainted" while you brush and fill the dough.)
    With a sharp thin-bladed knife, slice to divide the dough up into (smaller) equal sections, i.e. by 5~7 centimeters each. As you slice the dough, move the knife in only one direction -- NOT in a sawing motion; otherwise, you may risk destroying the gluten network formed within.
    Place the sliced-up dough on greased/parchment-lined baking sheet(s), spacing apart to allow room for expansion. If you want pull-apart cinnabons, use greased/parchment-lined baking pan(s) instead and place the sliced-up dough closer to each other.

    For cinnamon swirl loaf:
    Grease a 6"(L) x 3"(W) x 3"(H) Pullman loaf pan; set aside for use later. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a 7"x5" rectangle. Brush the surface with rum reserved from soaking raisins -- leaving 1.5"~2" space "untouched" along the left, right and topmost area of the dough's surface. Now, scatter the cinnamon sugar evenly over the rum-moistened part of the dough and then followed by the raisins and walnuts. Tightly roll the dough from bottom up (i.e. like for a Swiss roll). Pinch the seams tightly to seal the dough, then press both ends of the dough tightly to seal the dough too. Fold both ends over so that they're now tucked underneath the "log"; place the whole deal into the prepared loaf pan.

    * I made mine in a way bigger Pullman loaf pan, with the lid on, and of course, with even more dough. The above instruction is solely for reference. Please adapt to the situation accordingly. When it comes to the shaping of bread and buns, I eyeball most of the time. *

  7. Cover with cling wrap and set aside to proof till almost doubled in size.
  8. For rolls: bake at 160°C for 15~17 minutes or till the rolls look golden and cooked through.
    For loaf: bake at 160°C for 25~30 minutes or till the loaf looks golden and cooked through. Give the top of the loaf a gentle tap -- if the tap sounds "hollow," that means the loaf is done.
  9. Remove the bread from the oven and transfer them onto cooling rack(s) to let cool completely.
  10. If what you've made are cinnamon rolls, you may need the glaze. Combine (D) together till the mixture becomes smooth and has reached a desired consistency. Too thin? Add more powdered sugar. Too thick? Add more water/milk.
    Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cinnabons, then put the rolls aside to set the glaze before serving.

July 14, 2010

Where East Meets West: Coconut-Pandan and Rum-Raisin Mochi Cakes

I abandoned my little journal for more than a week! (It ain’t the first time you know.) How I wish I have the power to process information every evening after work. I just don’t. Taking public transportation in Kuala Lumpur is enough to tire me out. (Those reckless bus drivers and conductors are nuts!) Not to mention about those overly aggressive, cunning "comrades" I have to deal with for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. What’s worse, I’ve been unusually prone to making mistakes since last week. Coming home, I often pick up unfinished business where they were once left. Jaded, man!

Well, sorry about that … I just feel like venting out. Hope you don’t mind; otherwise, just ignore the sleepy and crabby Pei-Lin. What I do want to share with you though is …

I have always loved mochi. I love giving my mouth a delicious workout by chewing on mochi. (A good way to digress, too. I’m a dreamer.)

Green tea daifuku, which is a type of mochi, filled with home-made azuki bean paste (dated March 2009). Ahem, pardon me for the unappetizing shot ... It was me who bit the daifuku. Haha!

If you’ve read this or known me long enough through my words, you know my blog wasn’t named after my love for mochi.

Some say mochi is Japanese. Some say Chinese. Some say Korean. Whomever it may belong to, I, as a person who shuns ambiguity, have tucked away mochi in the “East Asian Loop” located at the back of my brain. I reckoned mochi was born in the Far East, to be fair and square to everyone. That’s also why as a third-generation Malaysian-Chinese, I named my blog after dodol, a treat from Malaysia and its neighboring countries; as well as mochi, a treat from China and its neighboring countries. They’re an edible representation of who I am:

Malaysian + Chinese + foodie + sweet tooth = Pei-Lin (Eat me!)

Anyway, one of my culinary misadventures had to do with mochi. No, no. It should be mochi bread.

When I was a college student, I once lived a laid-back and carefree life in rural America. I had all the time I wanted to “blog hop.” (Not now. Not anymore!) I hopped from one blog to another like how a happy bunny would. All of a sudden, I bumped into mochi bread. “Interesting!” I thought to myself.

I searched high and low on the Internet. Unfortunately, there wasn’t isn’t any from-scratch recipe for the famous chewy Korean mochi bread, which was once a rage among Asian food bloggers. Only premix will save the day.

Stranded in the middle of nowhere, I tried to save myself from driveling too much before the computer screen. The daredevil in me decided to construct these chewy morsels from scratch. I googled, I read up on others’ experiments, I relied on others’ recipes, in a hope that my curiosity would be fed with delectably chewy results. However, after a few attempts:
I think I sort of failed. Though haven't tasted the real deal, the interior should look kind of hollow with some holes instead of dense like mine based on what I've seen in others. Need to try them again ...

Updates: After four attempts, I gave up on the "holy grail" in searching for the baked-from-scratch recipes for these chewy little morsels ...

That was what I recorded in my culinary journal on Flickr – I didn’t have a blog back then. My heart ached. My waistline expanded. I surrendered!

One of my many culinary fiascoes: pandan "mochi bread" (dated April 2009)

(OK, I wasn’t the only one who polished off the flops! My family friends’ grandkids helped me out with that! It was a delicious task. They even commented that my kitchen fiasco tasted awesome! Haha! Mara, Jonathan, Aaron and Megan, thank you! I miss you four little stars so much!)

That horrid episode didn’t dishearten me from admiring mochi. I heart its stickiness and chewiness. I love squishing it playfully. So soft. What an adorable creature. I love how not cloyingly sweet most mochi-ish desserts are, including the mochi cake.

Now, that IS interesting! Mochi cake!? How oxymoronic can that be?

I first came across mochi cake on my buttery fingers, a blog written by Wendy, who’s a talented 17-year-old Hong Kong baker. Her mochi cakes were inspired by Y, another wonderful baker blogging from the Down Under. After sucking up all the adjectives and verbal adjectives, I was cajoled convinced. I immediately bookmarked the recipe! “Ah, the result of crossbreeding mochi with cake!” I told myself excitedly.

That was four months ago though – during which Pei-Lin got sidetracked … by other recipes.
Early last month, as I was slacking catching up with others on Twitter, Su-yin’s tweet seized my attention. Another lovely fellow Malaysian blogging from London, she was raving about how scrumptious her mochi cake turned out on one Sunday night. My, oh my! I’m sure it was wicked! That reminded me of the promise long gone. Too bad, I’d already cooked and baked whatever I needed for the week. “Alright,” I said to myself, “Next weekend has gotta be mochi cake!” (Su-yin, thank you for the reminder!)

This recipe is SO versatile. So many bloggers have tweaked the original recipe and made a version of their own. Wendy made hers green tea, black sesame and chocolate flavored. Y made hers blondie. The Food Librarian made hers with fresh cherries. Sonia made hers green tea, too! Feeling inspired, I decided to marry East and West together in mine.

Presenting to you my coconut-screwpine and rum-raisin mochi cakes!

On the left: coconut-pandan flavored; on the right: rum-raisin flavored

Locally, screwpine is better known by its Malay name “pandan.” Ask just about anyone from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei, pandan is no stranger. It is sometimes dubbed the “vanilla of Southeast Asia.” We love a touch of pandan in our food, be it sweet or savory. One of the best flavor combos has got to be coconut and pandan, hands down! Just imagine the tropical whiff of the coconut working wonders with the sweet floral fragrance of the pandan leaves. You’ve got to give coconut – with pandan a shot if you haven’t done so, especially when you’re not from this region. For those of you residing in the “West,” you should be able to get pandan leaves at large Asian grocers. The leaves come refrigerated though, which is unlike here, where we can simply snip off a few from the garden – fresh. (Pandan is commonly cultivated here. My mom used to have several large pandan plants in her small yard. Dang, the dog killed them all! So, I went and begged for a few pandan leaves from my neighbor.)

Pandan plant: This used to be in my mom's tiny garden ... It's now gone! *Sob*

I wanted rum and raisins in my cake because the boozy combo is also one of my favorites. They’re match made in heaven, just like the coconut-and-pandan combo! However, it wasn’t all rosy along the way. Blame myself for being sloppy and lazy. I subbed butter for oil. Then, I made a grave mistake by mixing the oil together with the other liquids before folding them into the eggs-and-sugar mixture! In the end, the mixture refused to emulsify! Argh! Think of it this way: The whole process was basically like making génoise batter – except that it was gluten free. *Slap myself*

So, the coconut-pandan mochi cake from my maiden attempt turned out to be denser and shorter in height than the rum-raisin one (as pictured), which was from my second attempt. The green coconut-pandan cake bore a chewier texture, with tighter crumbs, kind of kuih-like. (Kuih, or kuih-muih in its plural form, refers to the variety of bite-sized local snacks from Malaysia and Singapore. They are usually sweet, though can be savory. Chewiness is associated with kuih.) The good news is, just like what I’d twat Faithy that same Sunday night, who also made the cake long ago, no matter how badly the recipe was screwed up, my coconut-pandan mochi cake was JUST as delectable! I felt like I was eating a fluffier kuih bakar! Haha!

Between the two flavor combos I have here, I prefer coconut and pandan to rum and raisins. That’s simply because I found that the coconut-pandan flavor remained strong even on the second and third day. My rum-raisin one was the opposite though. I could only taste the rum the same day the cake was made. So, if you plan on polishing off the whole deal in one sitting after baking, rum and raisins ain’t a bad choice!

Other than that, I can safely say that I got the texture right on my second attempt. Mochi cake is at its best on the day it was made. As you bite into the cake, you’d feel like as though you’re eating a fluffy cake. But as you slowly work it in your mouth, the cake gets springier – and yet remains fluffily cakey at the same time! Nope, you aren’t being duped! You’re eating mochi cake! It’s gluten free!

Mochi Cake (makes a 7x7-inch cake and three regular-sized cupcakes)
Adapted from lemonpi's

Coconut-Pandan mochi cupcakes topped with some chocolate chips

Coconut and pandan variant:

187 g evaporated milk/thick coconut milk
2 long pandan leaves

1/4 tsp pandan paste
* Can be found at Asian grocers, if you're residing in the "West." *
210 g glutinous rice/mochiko flour
15 g coconut milk powder
* For those of you residing in the "West," coconut milk powder can be found at Asian grocers. *
1 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs -- at room temperature
175 g caster sugar
Pinch of salt

85 g neutral-flavored oil
* As mentioned, I replaced unsalted butter with oil. I used corn oil. No olive oil, please. *

75 g fresh grated coconut
  1. Lightly grease and line a 7"x7" square pan with parchment; set aside. Also, get three regular-sized cupcake liners ready as there will be more batter than you'd need for the square pan.
    * I don't have a 12"x8"x1.5" rectangular pan with me. *
  2. Blend (A) together in a blender/food processor. Then, pass and press the mixture through a strainer to separate the solids from the liquid completely; discard the leaves. Now, mix the pandan milk together with the pandan paste; set aside.
  3. Combine (B) together and sift once, set aside.
  4. Cream (C) together till pale and fluffy. (I had mine creamed till the ribbon stage.) Now, fold in the oil gently to combine, and followed by the pandan milk. Fold the ingredients together gently to avoid deflating the air incorporated within.
  5. Gently and gradually fold the flour mixture into the wet mixture -- halfway through, fold in the grated coconut too. Ensure that you get a homogeneous mixture.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and cupcake liners. Ensure the surface of the batter is smooth and even.
  7. Bake at 170°C for 20~25 minutes or till test done, i.e. the toothpick, when inserted into the center of the cake(s), comes out clean.
  8. Remove the cake(s) from the oven, and let it cool in the pan completely before unmolding to slice and serve.

Rum and raisins variant:

225 g glutinous rice/mochiko flour
1 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs -- at room temperature
175 g caster sugar

85 g neutral-flavored oil
* As mentioned, I replaced unsalted butter with oil. I used corn oil. No olive oil, please. *

2 tsp imitation rum
* I used McCormick's. *
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
27 g rum
* I used light rum. I'd go for dark rum if I have it. Utilize the rum from soaking the raisins, as stated below. *
160 g evaporated milk

150~200 g raisins -- soaked in rum for 2 hours, and then drained well
Extra glutinous rice/mochiko flour -- to coat the raisins with
  1. Lightly grease and line a 7"x7" square pan with parchment; set aside. Also, get three regular-sized cupcake liners ready as there will be more batter than you'd need for the square pan.
    * I don't have a 12"x8"x1.5" rectangular pan with me. *
  2. Coat the rum-soaked raisins with some glutinous rice flour; set aside. This is to prevent the raisins from sinking to the bottom of the cake as it bakes later on.
  3. Combine (A) together and sift once, set aside. Mix (C) together and set aside.
  4. Cream (B) together till pale and fluffy. (I had mine creamed till the ribbon stage.) Now, fold in the oil gently to combine, and followed by the rum-evaporated milk mixture. Fold the ingredients together gently to avoid deflating the air incorporated within.
  5. Gently and gradually fold the flour mixture into the wet mixture -- halfway through, fold in the flour-coated raisins too. Ensure that you get a homogeneous mixture.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and cupcake liners. Ensure the surface of the batter is smooth and even.
  7. Bake at 170°C for 20~25 minutes or till test done, i.e. the toothpick, when inserted into the center of the cake(s), comes out clean.
  8. Remove the cake(s) from the oven, and let it cool in the pan completely before unmolding to slice and serve.
Oops! Overfilled cupcake liners; hence, the awkward-looking mochi cupcakes ... Haha!

Before I sign off, here's something a little unrelated somewhat related. I'm sending this post to The Sunday Creative. (Dang, I missed last week's!) This week's creative prompt is "connect." Mochi cake is an edible connection between the East and West:

Mochi (East) + Cake (West) = Mochi Cake (Fusion)

It's that simple! (Yay! I made it through this week's challenge!) Hope you get to try mochi cake, if you haven't!

    July 2, 2010

    Minnesota Wild Rice Hotdish and a Happy Fourth of July!

    Warning: a SUPER-LONG post ahead. Read it at your own risk.

    Since late last week, I’ve been all geared up for the Fourth of July! In fact, during my stay in the States, my favorite holiday was and still is the Fourth of July. It’s all about family, friends, fun and merriness. It’s all about summer. It’s THE only time of the year to get out, get real and have fun – with short pants, T-shirt and flip-flops on! So long, winter coats!

    Looking back, I realized I actually celebrated the Independence Day differently each year. Instead of getting stuck at one place, I found myself partying away in different parts of the country. OK, I’ve got to admit it wasn’t as glamorous as the “Hollywood style.” But, I enjoyed every bit of it.

    July 04, 2007

    It was my first six months in an alien culture back then – in a friendly Minnesotan town called Bemidji (Buh-Mee-Jee). I told myself, “Heck, you’ve gotta get very well acquainted with the folks here – it’s gonna be your home for another 2 years!” Since I was taking summer courses during that long 3-month break, I diligently stayed in town.

    Just with what most Americans would do during the summer – we grilled, we ate, we chilled out with family and friends. We also managed to do something a little unconventional: picking juneberries on the Fourth of July of that scorching-hot summer that very year. And, it was pretty dry too!

    Juneberries are aptly named so as their season normally falls in June. The ripe ones are dark purplish in color whereas the unripe ones are red (sort of). Fairly common in northern Minnesota. I was surprised to even learn that Americans from other parts of the country, especially the South, haven’t heard about this fruit. The berries are small and taste SWEET! No tartness whatsoever! Whenever my family friends manage to pick enough of these, which is rare as the fruit doesn’t come by a lot, they’d make juneberry pie, preserve and even juneberry sauce to serve with biscuits or vanilla ice cream. Yummy!

    Minnesota is nicknamed “the Land of 10,000 Lakes,” which is both true and false as there’re actually more than 10,000 of them out there! You’d probably be hit by the sight of lake(s) almost everywhere you go – as long as it’s within Minnesota. Several of us youngsters decided to go on a boat ride to enjoy the sun out there after lunch. We had plenty to choose from. In the end, we invaded Big Bass Lake.

    The annual Fourth-of-July parade – the small-town America way! I love this very shot the most. Somehow, it gives me the feel of that Pioneer spirit I once read about … as though I'm traveling back in time to the Westward Movement. I know, these folks here are supposed to be lumberjacks. Oh, well …

    Here comes the famous Paul and Babe, from the widespread lumberjack legend, especially in parts of America where the lumber industry once played (and may still be playing) a crucial role in the economy.

    July 04, 2008

    After convincing me for an entire week, my American best friend Becky drove me home with her, to Prior Lake, MN, which is a suburb of the Twin Cities. (Thank you so much for the invitation, Becky! Haha! I know I was stubborn.)

    Becky (in the middle) and her family

    Part of the Minneapolis skyline, by the Great Mississippi. If I ain’t mistaken, the old site of General Mills is on the left side in the shot below ... (My memory can be faulty. Correct me if that’s the case.)

    Once the world’s largest shopping mall, the Mall of America. It’s in Bloomington, a suburb of the Twin Cities, MN.

    Like I said, Minnesota has gobs of lakes. The name of Becky’s hometown is aptly named after a lake called Prior Lake, which is just outside her backyard, literally! Here in Minnesota, it’s very common for the average families to own boats or pontoons. These babies are put to good use during the short-lived Minnesota summer.

    Gettin’ red, blue and white! Gettin’ ready for the Fourth of July!

    On the Fourth of July, many Minnesotans ravel in the festivities by, on and in the water. At Becky’s hometown, the boats and pontoons are all parked at Candy Cove, which is part of Prior Lake where water is calmer and thus, safer. People will then just stay there to hang out for half the day!

    I was under the sun for close to 5 hours, and I forgot about applying sunscreen on my shoulders! Bummer! My shoulders got sunburned, big-time. *Sob* In the end, I had to live with a prickly sensation and great pain for one whole week!

    Anyway, this was the party I talked about. It's just crazy! The view is amazing! Never in my life had I seen this kind of party till then …

    Sorry for the obscurity in this shot. I took this while we were waiting for firework display – on the lake! Apparently, the pontoon jolted and so, my hands shook too. From the scene below, you can imagine how many boats and pontoons there are … Again, SIMPLY AMAZING! It’s like we are having traffic congestion on the lake. Haha!

    Finally, firework display!

    Minnesota is also known for its Scandinavian heritage. I once read in The New York Times that the state has the most Norwegian descendants in the country. A handful of Swedes and Germans, too. Becky’s family is part Norwegian and part Swedish. During my stay there, not only did I get to know Becky’s family, I also got to visit with her relatives who traveled all the way from Norway. Fun! (I only remember two Minnesotan-Norwegian terms: “far-mor(?)” and “uffda!”)

    July 04, 2009

    I traveled eastward to the state of Illinois to join a huge family reunion with my American family the Fourth of July last year. Nope, my family friends aren’t from Illinois. The three families involved chose to converge there due to geographic reasons I suppose. This is what happens when you’ve got families dispersed all over the U.S. (There was one who flew back from the Netherlands just for this, too!)

    As we drove for 12 hours(?), we swung by these places of interest in Wisconsin, which is a state just east of Minnesota. It’s nicknamed “America’s Dairyland.” Now I understand why …

    We also stopped by the Little House Wayside in Pepin, WI. It’s the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the great American writer from the turn of the 20th century.

    The reunion organizers decided to rent a campground. To be honest, that was sort of my first time camping out. Haha!

    The infinitely vast corn field of northern Illinois. Simply breathtaking …

    Tornado aftermath: near the campground, from years back …

    Last but not least, there, I met some of the greatest people I could ever get to know of. Though it was my first time joining the event, they welcomed and treated me with great hospitality, which made me feel right at home. I enjoyed the company and had fabulous time getting to know more people. Unforgettable moments!

    An indoor Fourth-of-July parade, brought to you by these lovely moms and kids. It was supposed to be held outdoors. Oh, well! Thanks to the rain!

    Now, though I’m miles away from America, I’ll still participate in virtual Fourth-of-July festivities – just like what I did for last year’s Thanksgiving. So, I decided to whip up something special. Nope, it wasn't dessert.

    It’s American, it’s Minnesotan – and it’s hotdish.

    Hotdish is a potluck staple and comfort food in Minnesota and the neighboring states of the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin. According to the Free Dictionary by Farlex, “Minnesota and the Dakotas have a lot of Scandinavian heritage; hotdish may be a calque of the Norwegian ‘varmrett,’ which is a compound word that translates literally to ‘warm dish’” (n.d.).

    Before baking

    Beyond the upper Midwest, hotdish is often known as “casserole.” As an outsider, I interpret hotdish as a concoction of filling and yet affordable ingredients that have been partially cooked and then baked together. With loads of carbs. (For non-Minnesotans, you’ll get what I mean once you’ve looked at the recipe below.)

    After baking

    Why carbs-laden? Why filling and yet affordable at the same time? My imagination tells me because it’s FREEZING up there. (Winter goes as long as 6 or 7 months in Minnesota. The worst I’d had was close to -35°C!) And back in the olden days, making hotdish was a perfect way to cook and eat without going broke. So, ingredients such as rice, meat, heavy cream, milk, potatoes and corn will find their way into the hotdish. Cream of mushrooms seems to be ubiquitous in the world of hotdish.

    My confession is that I never cooked hotdish when I was in Minnesota. I didn’t even bother about it as I knew for sure there’d be at least one hotdish present at almost every potluck I went for. *Grinning* Well, it’d been a while since I had hotdish, I thought, “Why not?”

    This hotdish is what I’d call Minnesotan-Minnesotan. Why? Because of the use of wild rice. Wild rice is the state grain of Minnesota.

    There’s this small bag of wild rice with me. I sent it to my mom via a friend who went to Malaysia for a visit in November 2007. Fast forward. In 2010, I asked her, “The rice is still here!?” She answered, “I don’t know what this is and what to do with this!” Surprisingly, the rice is still good. No "invaders" whatsoever – even in the hot and humid Malaysia!

    Wild rice is indirectly related to Asian rice. And, it doesn’t come cheap. It’s got a nutty scent to it. When it’s soaked, to me, it smells like tea leaves. When it’s cooked, to me, it smells both tea-like and intensely nutty. When I was steaming wild rice last Sunday, the kitchen smelled like a teahouse. Haha!

    Cooked wild rice has a rather chewy texture to it, which I love.

    Just search on the Internet. You’ll be swarmed and spoiled by the recipes out there! Unlike mac and cheese or peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, hotdish isn’t defined by a fixed set of ingredients. You can tweak the recipes as you like. However, do not leave out cream of mushrooms and/or cream-of-whatever-you-like; otherwise, the ingredients aren't going to bind. It’ll end up as neither Minnesotan nor hotdish.

    Minnesota Wild Rice Hotdish
    Adapted from VisitBemidji.com

    * This recipe yields a lot. I got two regular-sized casseroles out of it, more than enough to last me for a whole week for lunch at work. This is what I call bulk cooking. And, I froze the leftover extra. *

    270 g (1.5 cups) wild rice -- soaked in room-temperature water overnight

    946 mL (4 cups) water
    1/2 tsp salt

    Regular cooking oil -- for browning the meats in
    227 g (0.5 lb.) bacon -- cut into pieces
    680 g (1.5 lb.) ground beef (Ground pork, chicken or venison works, too)
    43 g (3 Tbsp) salted or unsalted butter
    * I used regular cooking oil, which is a cheaper alternative, and eyeballed the quantity needed. *
    1 small onion, chopped

    170 g canned button mushrooms -- sliced
    2 cups diced celery
    * I used the leaves, too, which added so much flavor. *

    Enough regular cooking oil -- for greasing the bakeware with

    1 tsp light soy sauce, or to taste
    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    Ground nutmeg, to taste
    1 can (286 g) cream of chicken soup, undiluted
    1 can (286 g) cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
    1.5~2 soup cans of milk (Just use the can for the above-mentioned soup)
    1. To cook the wild rice: drain the soaked-and-thus-softened rice, then in medium-large kettle/pot/saucepan, bring [A] to a boil. Once the water has reached a boil, stir in the rice gently to avoid splattering HOT water on yourself! Now, reduce the heat to low to keep the water at a steady simmer; cover the kettle with its lid. Let the rice cook for 45~60 minutes or till the rice gets tender and its kernels pop open.
      Once the rice has gotten tender and its kernels are popped open, uncover the kettle and fluff the rice with a fork. Then, let simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered -- stirring occasionally. After the 5 minutes, turn off the heat and drain off any excess liquid. Set the cooked rice aside for use later.
      Note: Steaming is just one of the many methods of cooking wild rice.
    2. Over moderately high heat, heat up some cooking oil in a large skillet. Once the oil has gotten hot, reduce to medium heat and add in the bacon to cook till it's browned. Dish up the browned bacon and set aside. Repeat the same to the ground beef.
      * I did all these in a large wok. *
    3. Scald the butter in a large skillet till melted and hot. Then, stir in the onion to sauté till it's fragrant and looks somewhat translucent. Now, stir in [B] and cook till tender. Once they're done with cooking, dish them up.
      * Again, I did all these in a large wok. *
    4. Grease the bottom and sides of casserole(s)/roasting pan(s)/baking pan(s) with regular cooking oil; set aside.
    5. Toss the meats, celery, mushroom, wild rice and [C] together real well (as pictured below), then divide evenly and transfer the mixture into the prepared casserole(s). For the two casseroles I used for this dish, each of them was filled to the top. Of course, don't overdo this.
    6. Bake at 180°C~190°C, covered, for the first 30 minutes, then uncovered, for the last 15~30 minutes. When the mixture is cooking up in the oven, it sizzles. Fun to watch actually. The tell-tale sign of when the dish is done is the "crust" that forms atop the wild rice mixture.
    7. Remove the hotdish from the oven. It's at its best when served hot or warm, especially on the freezing windchill nights of Minnesota. What a comfort food!
     All mixed up and ready to be baked (As mentioned above in step #5)

    I’m sending my Fourth-of-July post to The Sunday Creative, as my maiden entry in this weekly creative project hosted by Maegan of Life Set to Words.

    This week’s creative prompt is “open,” a word that best describes this wonderful place called America. It is a free and open country with unbounded freedom of expression; with some of the most open-minded people I could ever come to know of, who come with great tolerance and openness toward different cultures. There, I was known and respected for who I am not for what I wear. Thanks, guys! I learned tremendously from y’all in the last 3 years of my life too. Hope to revisit my “family” and friends there someday!

    Happy Fourth of July! Happy 234th Birthday to the United States of America!

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