The Rainbow Zebra Cake

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

As food bloggers everywhere will tell you, we keep a list of “to-try-one-day” recipes. A list that probably never ends.

But every once in a while, the recipe I’ve bookmarked starts buzzing around in my brain like a whiny mosquito and I cannot rest until I bake that sucker out.

This rainbow/zebra/marble cake was one of them. I first saw the technique on Lily Ng’s blog, but the recipe was for a steamed cake that wouldn’t go down well with the fam.

Then I saw it on the Food Librarian’s blog, but this time for a baked cake – and one of the comments mentioned making them as cupcakes. Yes! Time to get cracking.

I didn’t follow the recipes given on the other blogs, instead I started out with a basic cupcake recipe by Margaret Fulton. This in turn is really her basic buttercake recipe with a little bit more milk. You can watch this doyen of Australian cooking making her basic butter cake here.

Once the cake batter was made, I divided it into three parts and added my natural flavourings. They were:

  • Yellow/cake colour – 1 tablespoon lemon juice + grated rind of half a lemon 
  •  Pink – About 2 tablespoons strawberry puree (leftover from this recipe and frozen). To make strawberry puree, I gently simmered a punnet of washed and hulled strawberries (about 250g) until the juices were released and the fruit had gone all mushy. I squished the fruit with a fork and kept a slow heat on until the juices reduced. The resulting mixture was pushed through a sieve to get a thick, highly flavoured puree. (I think better results can be probably achieved if frozen fruit is used – it releases more juice)
  • Purple – 2 tablespoons blueberry puree. I started with half a cup of blueberries and simmered and sieved as above.

Then I layered the mix in greased and lined large muffin pans. As I was doing this, I realised that the batter really needed to be a bit more “runny” so I added milk to each of the separate batters until I achieved a slightly “wetter” consistency. How much milk to add depends on the original “wetness” of the batter – eg the lemon juice one was “wetter” than the strawberry one for me.

Start with a dollop of one colour, then layer each colour on top of the first layer, alternating as you go. The Food Librarian has better step by step photos so do have a look at the technique to see how it’s done.

I think I put too much batter in the pans and managed to get ultra peaked cakes.

After a bit of judicious “trimming” and some glace icing flavoured with lemon juice, they didn’t look too bad at all.

Flavourwise, it tasted lemony with a hint of “something” but the “something” wasn’t well defined. I’d definitely do this one again with more fruit puree instead of milk and hopefully be able to get a really fruity flavoured cake.

EOWTTA*:D is for durian

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

*(eating our way through the alphabet)
Durian=(Durio zibethinus)

I’m sure a lot of you would have heard of this notorious fruit. This spiky football sized delicacy is either something you love or hate with a vengeance. My parents and I love durian but my brother used to run to the other side of the house in a bid to escape the “pong”. His resistance proved futile ☺. The smell of durian is extremely pervasive and very hard to hide – which is why it’s banned from many hotels and public transport systems in various parts of Malaysia and Singapore.

Since it’s the smell that defines this fruit, let’s start there first. Apparently the durian contains 63 volatile constituents – these include esters, ketones and sulphurous compounds – major culprits in the smell department(1). However, the actual component that contributes to the smell has not been determined yet.

Yes, but what does it really smell like? It is a really difficult odour to pinpoint and the fruit’s detractors have described it in various unflattering ways including rotting fish, garbage and old gym socks. Poor much aligned durian. Different varieties of durian actually smell vastly different from each other. For example, some Thai durian varieties aren’t considered as strong smelling as others.

Here’s my attempt at describing the smell: the first notes that hit you are actually very heady almost like the smell of overripe pineapple or strawberry, that really super sweet smell that’s verging slightly on the unpleasant. The mid-notes smell almost meaty – think frying onions and mince together. Then the base notes come in, a pungent, almost bitter aroma, quite “chemically” in fact – some have described it as akin to the smell of turpentine. This is just what I think I’m quite sure it smells different to each person which explains the strong divide.

Really, the only way to know is to take a really good sniff – go on, I dare you ☺

And the taste? Can’t really help you there either because the flavour is so strongly tied to the smell – it’s sweet if that helps. If you can’t get past the smell, then the taste isn’t going to bowl you over. Durian aficionados on the other hand will wax lyrical and fiercely debate the differences between durian varieties. The variety strongly affects how much the fruit costs – for example, in Malaysia, the D24 is considered to be a superior variety and fetches a higher price. Then there are others who seek out “durian kampung” (kampung=village), said to have a more distinct (sometimes bitter) flavour compared to the rest of its thorny bretheren.

Texture wise – it’s really creamy, like a very thick custard, but it does have some fibrous parts to it as well - almost like the mango for want of a better comparison. Durian is best enjoyed fresh and eaten with the hands – suck every last morsel of the seed, the best bit. (After eating durian, I do find that my mouth has that sort of “dry” feeling sometimes found after eating raw onions – probably due to the sulphur content).

Durian season was a highly anticipated event when I was a kid. Even today, whenever I head to Malaysia to visit the folks, I frequently hope that our trip will coincide with the fruiting season. The folks will ask “ Want to eat durian?” and the hunt begins for a good fruit (much to Mr. Kitchen Hand’s dismay – he’s not a believer ☺).

I can’t really tell you how to choose a good durian because that’s always been mum’s department. She sniffs the fruit, shakes it to listen to the “rattle”, examines it minutely before passing judgement. Then the price-haggling begins. I just wait patiently until the long awaited prize is borne back to the car and we head home to begin the feast!

There are many superstitions and beliefs associated with durian. We were always told that the durian is “heaty” – eating too much would cause one to sweat. (Due to indigestion more likely). Mum would also warn us about mixing durian and other “heaty” food like crab, or in my dad’s case – beer! The consequences of mixing the two together were death apparently. We’d always pooh-pooh these warnings, but a recent study suggests there may be a minute grain of truth in these beliefs. It is possible that the durian’s high sulphurous content may hinder the breakdown of alcohol in the system (2).

Another belief was drinking water out of the leftover durian shells would “cool” the body down - eating mangosteens is also supposed to help. Durian is usually described as the “King of Fruits” and mangosteens were sometimes referred to as the Queen – though I’m not sure if my family just made the latter one up.

And of course, one of these posts wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t find out halfway through that the fruit/vegetable in question has purported aphrodisiacal properties! Yes, the Javanese believe that the durian heats up more than the body (*wink*). Apparently there is a saying that translates to : when the durian falls, the sarongs go up!(3)

Please excuse the quality of this pic, it was taken years ago while on holiday in thailand. That's durian in the front, and the red ones are rambutan. The other deep purple fruit are mangosteens.

I could go on and on about the durian because I’m a fan and have many, many fond memories of this fruit. The Wikipedia
for Durian is really quite exhaustive so if you’re interested do surf on over there to read more.

As for culinary uses, durian can be used in dodol (a kind of sticky flour based delicacy with a chewy consistency), wajik (a rice based sweet),pengat & bubur(soupy type desserts). Durian also makes an appearance in ice-cream, custards or cakes.

I really wanted to find a whole durian to photograph for this post but had to be satisfied with the small tub of ready peeled fruit that I found. Durian freezes really well and is a great way of storing leftover fruit. (This lot was double bagged and hidden in the freezer, then cooked on a very windy day with all the windows open to disperse the smell – no complaints from Mr. Kitchen Hand).

Here’s a recipe for kuah (sauce) durian (sometimes called serawa durian) and it makes enough for two good serves. It is usually eaten with pulut (glutinous rice). I found that half a cup of glutinous rice was ample – follow the cooking directions on your packet of rice.

Simple serawa durian

Durian flesh (I started with about 225g, from 3 durian pieces)
50g coconut cream ( I used coconut cream I’d frozen in ice-cube trays. Usually, this dish is made with thick coconut milk).
½ cup water (adjust according to preference – may not need water if using milk instead of cream)
1 tbsp gula melaka (palm sugar)
1 tbsp caster sugar (or just use 2 tbsp caster sugar if palm sugar isn’t available. Adjust the sweetness according to sweetness of the fruit)

Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan and cook stirring over low heat until sugar has dissolved and durian achieves a custard-like consistency. This only takes about 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t boil it vigorously otherwise the coconut cream might separate.

Serve warm with glutinous rice or sliced white bread for dipping.

(The smell becomes quite mellow when served this way).

A different recipe for durian “stew”, can be found here.

Bear in mind that the durian smell lingers on everything, fingers, breath etc - so be prepared for social ostracisation :).


Malaysian Monday 9: Malaysia Fest 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

For a change, this Malaysian Monday isn’t about something I made, it’s about a few things I ate on Sunday at Malaysia Fest 2009. This is an annual festival held at Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour, Sydney and showcases a little bit of Malaysian culture and cuisine.

Truth be told, this is only the second time I’ve been because I couldn’t be bothered to make the trek into the city in previous years. Until my friend P told me about all the delicious food I was missing out on.

Mr. Kitchen hand was a bit tired after an epic effort cleaning the carpets on Saturday (my hero), so I took a very excited Mini-critic Senior into town for a feed. (Mini critic junior stayed home for afternoon naptime – she was a bit vocal about being left behind though, but we’ve promised to take her next year).

There were so many stalls to choose from, all offering something I wanted to eat. Oh look char kway teow (fried rice noodles), but ooh, there’s rojak (spicy fruit salad) over there, oh wait, is that laksa I spy?

Eventually, mini-critic senior made the decision to head to the Mamak stall for roti canai (a type of pan-fried bread), satay and nasi lemak (a rice dish). She loves this restaurant and earlier this year patiently lined up in the restaurant queue for close to 40 minutes because that was her chosen birthday treat (future food blogger in the making?).

Nasi lemak (literally Creamy Rice) is often touted as the national dish of Malaysia. It consists of rice cooked with coconut cream and various accompaniments. The usual sides include fried peanuts, crispy fried ikan bilis (anchovies), cucumber slices, half a boiled egg and sambal (fiery chilly relish). It is usually sold wrapped in banana leaves and newspaper and eaten anytime from breakfast through to dinnertime. The breakfast nasi lemak is usually very simple, but lunch and dinner versions can include rendang (a type of curry), or my favourite – fried chicken…mmmmmm. Chinese versions include taukwa (bean curd) as well – or maybe that’s just how my mum made it.

Not the best presentation of Nasi Lemak, but very tasty nonetheless

Satay is probably one of the most widely recognised Malaysian dishes. However, when Malaysians say satay, we are referring to the skewers of meat and not the sauce. The sauce is called kuah kacang (literally peanut sauce). The satay sauce at Mamak tastes really authentic – I’m still trying to work out how to replicate it. Mini-critic loves satay and I have to fend her off to make sure I get a fair share of the meal too.

Roti Canai (roti=bread, canai=knead) is also another famous Malaysian dish, and both the mini-critics love it. They eat it plain without any accompanying curries as they are still coming to terms with chilli. I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of the finished roti because mini-critic Senior was too hungry and hooked in straightaway.

After lunch, it’s time for Cendol. This isn’t the traditional way it’s served. Usually, the green cendol “noodles” (made of green bean/ mung bean flour) are placed in the bottom of a shallow bowl, then ice is shaved over the top. Gula melaka (palm sugar) syrup is then ladled over the top and a final spoonful of coconut cream is added for richness. Sometimes, cooked red beans (aduki beans) are added in with the noodles too. In Malaysia, cendol is usually bought from a street vendor and one can find a few different variations of cendol including cendol jagung (corn), cendol pulut (glutinous rice) and very rarely, cendol durian.

While eating, we were entertained by lots of performances, including a few Malaysian artistes flown over for the occasion. It was very hard work prying mini-critic senior away from the stage area.

Mini critic was fascinated by the cendol "noodles"

As an added bonus, when we wandered through Chinatown on our way back to the car, we bumped into a “Lion Dance troupe” working its way through Dixon Street.

If you live in Sydney and would like to check out Malaysia fest next year, keep an eye on the Darling Harbour calender.

Also I completely forgot to include Mr. Kitchen Hand’s scoring for last week’s Malaysian Monday, so here they are:
Scores out of 5 for Mama Carries biscuits
Appearance: 4: "Nice and cute and it doesn't look very Malaysian does it?"

Texture: 3.5"crunchy, biscuity"
Taste: 3.5 "Bit too sugary"

Have a great start to the week.

Daring Bakers September: Pursuing Puffed Perfection.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Okay, so I was getting a little cocky with these Daring Baker’s challenges. I’d completed all of two and thought, this is pretty easy, hey, hey, I could get used to this. Until this month’s challenge put me firmly back in my place.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Home-made puff pastry Steph? Uh-oh….

Actually, the making of the pastry wasn’t too bad once I got the hang of it, but trying to bake “perfect” vol-au-vent cases? Very trying indeed.

In my case, over four tries! (My list of “issues” are at the end of this post).

Attempt number one yielded passable vol-au-vent cases. At first, I was very happy with my puff-pastry attempt and how I got around not having proper vol-au-vent cutters. I used round cutters for the outside and mini cookie/biscuit cutters for the inside.

Then I had a look at the Daring Bakers forum. And developed a serious case of puff envy. Look at all those TALL flaky layers! Suddenly my cases looked pathetically flat in comparison. At least they tasted good once I filled them with: beetroot jam and slivers of star-anise roasted duck (leftovers), some salmon mousse, and lemon scented ricotta topped with candied tomatoes and crisp basil leaves.

They made a scrummylicious Father’s Day feast and the mini-critics adored the candied tomatoes ( recipe by Valli Little in the Feb 2009 issue of ABC Delicious magazine.)

I also turned the leftover cut-out pastry scraps into palmiers – these I was extremely happy with because they looked like the real deal. They tasted awesome too and disappeared within half an hour of cooling.

After some trouble-shooting and advice from Audax and Steph our hostess, I went for attempt number two.

Aaaaarrghhhhh! Who invited Dali to my party?

Sigh…now I had puff, but no stability!

This batch I filled with some coconut buttercream icing/frosting I found in the freezer. Oooooh …I cannot even begin to describe how luscious and utterly sinful they were. I am so glad I only made half the amount of pastry both times, and in this second attempt, I only really ended up baking half the made–up pastry anyway.

Right! I’ll show you who’s boss you $%^*! vol-au-vents!

Reveal day was starting to creep closer but there were too many things on my plate (intentional pun). Finally, with a day to spare, I made attempt number three. This time, instead of rolling the whole thing out, I divided the dough into three parts just in case (yes it only took me 3 attempts to work this out even though Steph had suggested doing so in the actual instructions!). I also added some lemon juice to relax the gluten.

Luckily I did divide and conquer because attempt number 3a fell apart, I ended up with puff balls and towers with holes in them – ha ha very funny pastry gods! (I’d forgotten to eggwash the bottom layer).

Attempt 3b rose, didn’t quite fall over but was still “skewy”, and attempt number 3c? Still slightly unstable but at least they looked like vol-au-vents and I achieved some height (3.5 cms yay!). (Some of the cases look pink, that is the dough from attempt no. 2 - found half a batch leftover in the freezer. I added some food colouring to the dough just for fun)

This lot were filled with ricotta sweetened with honey and topped with toasted pine nuts and basil flowers from the garden.

Would I make my own puff pastry again? In a heartbeat!
Vol-au-vents – hmmm…ask me in a few months ☺

Thank you so much Steph for choosing a very Daring challenge. Check out what the other Daring Bakers have done and you can get the recipe for the pastry and vol-au-vent over at the Daring Bakers or from Steph's blog.

Here are a few issues I ran into along the way, and some possible causes:

1) While baking the first attempt, I found that the butter leaked out of the pastry and my baking tray was awash with oil. This possibly happened because the initial oven temperature wasn't hot enough.

2) Attempt number two fell over – the pastry was not weighted down enough. Audax suggested using a baking tray but I wasn’t sure because my baking tray was quite heavy. Out of sheer frustration, I did use a tray for attempt number three and it worked!

3) Attempt number one was made using generic butter – this probably affected the “rise”. As a famous blogger exhorts – “Use Real Butter!”. Interestingly enough, when I went butter shopping for the next attempts, I realised that all the “branded” butters show an 80% minimum fat content but the generic butter did not have any minimum content labelling.

Other things to remember when working with puff pastry? Chill, chill, chill – both in the fridge and in spirit. Rushing the pastry just ain’t gonna work. Also, don't overwork the pastry and use sharp cutters.

Thanks for visiting, see you real soon!

Don’t go down to the woods today…

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hello Friday! Almost the weekend, and weekends are the perfect time for a picnic. Perhaps a Teddy Bear’s Picnic?

When we went campinglast weekend, one of our little friends celebrated his first birthday and I was very lucky because I got to make him a cake.

As we had to transport the cake a long way, I kept it fairly simple. Which turned out to be a good idea because once we’d packed the tent and assorted paraphernalia that comes with two kids, I ended up travelling with the cake on my lap! (Also because I’d misjudged the height of the cake and couldn’t fit the container lid back on – and had to rig a makeshift cover).

Here’s a step by step of how I made the Teddy Bears Picnic Cake.

The cake base was made up of three square cakes stacked on top of each other. There were two vanilla and one chocolate pound cake sandwiched with dark chocolate ganache. I then covered the entire cake with ganache to try and get a smooth surface for the icing to go over. This technique was one I’d picked up from the book Planet Cake by Paris Cutler. The cake layers were “supported” by plastic drinking straws inserted in each corner and the middle – a technique recommended in The Cake Bible.

Once the ganache was dry, I covered the cake with a thin layer of pale green “ready-to-roll” icing. At this stage, I wasn’t too worried if the icing was cracked or wasn’t even as I knew that I was going to add more icing. Think of this layer as the “crumb coat” if you will.

Next came the “picnic blanket”. I also started adding some “grass” to the base to cover up uneven patches or cracks.

On with the bear’s body and some polka dots. The bear’s body is a cupcake wrapped in icing, while the arms, legs and head were made with more icing. I made the polka dots by cutting them out with the back of an icing tip.

Finally all the picnic goodies were added on. I made the plates from modelling paste so that they would dry “stiff”. The other bits and bobs were made from ready to roll icing. For the sandwiches, I literally sandwiched a pink piece of icing between two pieces of white, rolled it flat then cut into triangles.

I think the birthday boy liked it – he smiled a lot ☺

Hope you get the chance to have a picnic this weekend! And here's a pic of one of the creatures we met while camping.

Red skies and a public service announcement

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

(read on, it will be slightly food related, I promise)

Woke up this morning and thought I was still dreaming – of a fantasy world straight out of Asimov or Clarke. A weird orange light was seeping in under the curtains….aaahhhhhh!!!! Maybe the apartments next door were on fire!

Luckily, they were not. It was just a freaky morning dust storm. Everything was blanketed by fine red dust thanks to some strong winds over inland NSW. Living in Sydney, I often forget just how wild and untamed Australia can be.

Dust everywhere! 

I sit here typing and sweating it out because all the doors and windows are tightly closed to prevent the dust from invading my living space. Luckily, the winds are still going strong and hopefully dispersing the rest of this dust.

Enough about dust, on to the rest of today’s post.

I’m trying to use my blog for good today, and I’d like to introduce you to the Fregie Sack. Mini-critic junior’s kindy teacher (Sue) has these sacks for sale as part of a fundraiser. Sue is helping out her son Paul who is a volunteer at the ARCAS animal rescue and rehabilitation centre in Guatemala. In Paul’s own words:

“The place has a lot of love in it but it is in pretty dire needs. They are desperate for funding, new cages, etc. They have an education centre but there hasn’t been funding in it for years and so it isn’t up and running. I would love to build new cages for some of the bigger animals and the ones that can’t be released but they don’t have any materials to build anything or the money to buy it with. They are at capacity with 530 animals and have to turn away anymore, as there is simply no place to put anything else.

The centre has found it is short of donations due to the financial crisis and the volunteer fees are 70% of what the centre gets in funding but they have also been down in numbers due to the swine flu scare in neighbouring Mexico. I have a dedicated team of volunteers ready to help fix up the education centre and build cages, but we just need the funding”.

Enter Sue and the Fregie Sack. These sacks are a fantastic replacement for plastic bags when shopping for fruit and vegetables. Even though I take my own bags to the markets/shops, I still need to occasionally use a plastic bag or paper sack for the small things like beans or peas. As it is, I get dirty looks at the checkout (but not at the markets) when I rock up with “loose” potatoes and fruit that proceed to roll all around the counter.


These are the small fregie sacks - but they're large enough even for carrots! 

The sacks are made of a lightweight, see through material and have a drawstring to keep the produce in. They can be washed and repaired as needed.

These sacks are available from the Fregie Sack website, but if you’d like to help Sue and Paul out, you can order them by emailing (edit: I've removed the email address as the fundraiser is now over). They are available in two sets : Regular bags (30x40cm) come in a set of 5 for $13, or mini bags (20x25cm) which come in a set of 4 for $10. They come in a range of colours : Classic (dark blue, indigo, white, red, dark green, burgundy, black, aqua), Rainbow (bright orange, gold, royal blue, indigo, red, dark green, magenta or aqua), and Pastel (lemon, rose, lilac, aqua, green, pale pink, pale blue or white). You will get a random selection of the colours from the range you select. For example, I ordered the Pastel range and received two pink and two blues.

If you live in Sydney, Sue is also organising a fundraising dance to be held on October 16th at the Seaforth Bowling Club, from 7.30pm – 12pm. Drinks are available at club prices and there will be coffee, tea and a light supper free of charge. There will also be a Lucky Door prize, Raffle, Charity Auction and fundraising events through the night. PLUS lots of dancing – local band Backbeat will be playing favourites from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

Tickets are $20 a head and can be purchased from Sue.

Thanks for reading and have a great, hopefully dust-free, day!

EOWTTA*: C is for Cucumber

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

*(eating our way through the alphabet)

C is for cooki…. errr, sorry, too much Sesame Street. Let’s try again - C is for Cucumber (Cucumis sativus).

This elongated fruit is no stranger to most folks. I wouldn’t say I’m in love with them but then I realised I buy at least a couple of cucumbers a week and even tried to grow some (unfortunately the seedling were massacred by slugs).

Lebanese cucumber (L), Telegraph cucumber (R), Apple cucumber (above). These are what they are called in the shops here in OZ so please don't email me to say I've named them wrong. They're probably called something different elsewhere. 

What’s the appeal of this vegetable/fruit? The flavour isn’t very strong although the taste is quite distinctive. However, cucumber does add a welcome melon-like texture to salads and of course it’s ultra-refreshing. The mild taste makes this vegetable a big favourite with the kids.

My late grandma used to call it coocoomber which still brings a smile to my face. She also wouldn’t use a cucumber without first rubbing a small cut-off end portion vigorously on the fruit surface to “draw out the bitterness”. This action would produce a freaky looking froth that impressed us kids. Unfortunately, this rubbing method is just an urban myth (1) and doesn’t really do anything for the cucumber taste.

Sorry folks - just an urban myth. Cool froth though. 

While trawling the net for cucumber info, I found out that the cucumber we actually eat is the unripe green form. It seems that the ripe yellow fruit becomes too bitter to be palatable (2) . Cucumbers meant for the table are called slicers and those destined for the jar are called picklers, but they are essentially the same fruit (2).

In Australia, cucumber is sold by type, not variety. Apparently the flavour of cucumber is most pronounced in the seeds and medium sized cucumbers with small seeds taste better (5).

Cucumber contains Lutein and
which may help to improve eyesight(3). The skin of the cucumber contains cucurbitacins which could be the cause of the bitter taste(4) sometimes associated with cucumbers. Cucumber may also be beneficial in reducing cholestrol according to this study, but I can’t read the full article so I don’t know what the actual findings are.

Apart from culinary uses, many women have used cucumber slices to tame puffy eyes – why and whether this actually works is debatable, but it sure feels good. And according to this tidbit on Wikipedia, the Ancient Romans used cucumbers to scare away mice! Urm? Don’t the mice just eat the cucumbers?

Most of us have heard the term “cool as a cucumber” but it was news to me that the term “Silly Season” is known as "pickled cucumber season" (Sauregurkenzeit) in German(6).

Most of the time, I just slice and serve the cukes or throw together this very simple salad to serve with rice and dhal. The salad consists of tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, French shallots and coriander. I then make a super quick dressing using lime juice (about half a lime or more depending on the amount of salad ingredients), a pinch or salt and sugar and some ground, toasted cumin seeds. I think the inspiration for this salad came from a Good Weekend magazine column by Matthew Evans but I can’t remember for sure.

Hope you found this as fascinating as I did and see you for the letter D.


Malaysian Monday 8: Mama Carries (Kuih Raya)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sorry for the late post, we’ve been camping.

Today’s Malaysian Monday item is a biscuit/cookie called Mama Carries. I have absolutely no clue about the origins of this name, but have been smitten by the cookie since the day I was given one. These biscuits are usually made for Hari Raya (Day of Celebration). In Malaysia, each festival is celebrated “Open House” style. The person celebrating will literally throw open the doors of his/her home to a steady stream of friends, colleagues and acquaintances who are treated to festive food and drink. Each community offers different types of food. For Hari Raya, one can usually sample rendang (a type of curry) and ketupat (rice cakes wrapped in coconut leaves), and myriad kuih raya (celebration “cakes”). These kuih raya usually take the form of cookies and there is a whole spectrum of inventive cookies to choose from.

Mama Carries is actually made up of a basic shortbread style base, covered with royal icing, then decorated very prettily by swirling some colour or cocoa through the icing.

There are many variations of the base recipe and I adapted a recipe found here (three variations are given at this site but it is in Bahasa Malaysia). Some recipes use egg, others don’t, and almost all call for milk powder as an ingredient but I sub with milk instead. I decide to add an egg yolk so that I can then use the resulting white for the icing.

The fun part of course is decorating the cookies. Although it looks tricky, the “pictures” are actually done by feathering a selection of stripes, swirls and spots.

Enjoy! And to all my friends who are celebrating today : “Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir Batin”.

Mama Carries
(A TWS version)

250g plain flour
100g cornflour
180g butter (cut into cubes and softened at room temperature)
80 g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk
¼ teaspoon baking powder
dash of vanilla extract

Sift the flours and baking powder together. Beat the butter and icing sugar until creamy (I did this by hand because I didn’t want to overwork the mixture). Whisk in the egg yolk and vanilla extract - beat well. I then switched to a rubber spatula and used this to work in the flour by “cutting” and smearing the mixture together.( I assume a pastry scraper would do a better job.) Work until the mixture comes together in a soft dough. Pat the dough into a disc and wrap in clingwrap. Refrigerate for at least half an hour.

When ready to use, take a portion of dough and roll out to desired thickness (chill the unused portions). It helps to work on a well floured surface or a pastry mat. Cut out shapes (a simple shape will let the decoration stand out better) and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

Bake in a pre-heated oven on medium heat (about 160˚C) until cooked – don’t let it brown too much. Let the biscuits cool for a little while (on a rack) before decorating.

To decorate.

225g icing sugar
1 egg white

Mix the sifted icing sugar into the egg white to obtain a just flowing icing. If icing is too runny, add a little bit more icing sugar. If too stiff, thin with a drop pf two of water. Store in an airtight container with a piece of clingwrap pressed to the surface of the icing to prevent it from drying out.

If using raw egg poses a concern, royal icing mixture can be purchased from cake decorating suppliers. Just follow the packet instructions.

Use either a few drops of food colouring mixed with a bit of the royal icing to thicken, or a small amount of cocoa powder mixed with enough water to form a paste. I have also seen recipes calling for chocolate emulco.

Place slightly cooled biscuits on a baking tray. Using a teaspoon, drop a little of the royal icing onto the biscuit and smooth out with the back of another clean teaspoon or your fingers. Then, use a toothpick to dip into the cocoa mixture and make stripes or dots on the royal icing. Drag a new, clean toothpick back and forth through these stripes/spots to create patterns. Feel free to experiment and draw your own pictures.

Royal icing dries out really quickly so keep the container of icing tightly covered and transfer a little at a time into another bowl to use. It also helps to work only on one or two biscuits at a time.

To help with the drying process, place the tray of completed biscuits in the still warm oven (make sure the oven is turned off and not too hot otherwise the egg white will bubble and cook instead of drying out)). They will also dry at room temperature.

Make sure the biscuits/cookies are completely dry before storing in an airtight container.

Makes lots.

A camping we will go...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We're off for a self-induced long weekend break. And yes, we are actually camping (but in a caravan park).

What goes hand-in-hand with camping? Mmmmm...marshmallows!

Strawberry marshmallows and chocolate swirl marshmallows (I put choc-chips in some plain mallows and they melted! )

My earliest attempt at marshmallows was thanks to a Daring Bakers challenge - also my first challenge. These fluffy morsels weren't as tricky as they looked, and I ended up making a few variations.

Here's another variation using reduced strawberry puree and dried strawberries. I used the marshmallow recipe from the chocolate covered mallow biscuits here. To make the dried strawberries, I sliced some strawberries thinly and dried them slowly in a low oven.

Enjoy the pics and have a good weekend. Malaysian Monday will be late next week, so bear with me. Who knows, it may even become Malaysian Tuesday just this once ;P

Once were strawberries

Riffing on Rhubarb

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Remember my rhubarb epiphany? Well, I’ve been making up for lost time. Brought another bunch home from the markets last week – the largest one I could find. The container of stewed rhubarb sat prominently in the fridge, getting dipped into at least once a day. (Stewed rhubarb keeps for about 4 to 5 days).
How can I not love something as beautiful as this? 

I discovered that my favourite way of eating rhubarb was to spoon a little over some greek yoghurt. This led me to think about ways of “improving” on things. Which was how my Greek Yoghurt and Rhubarb “Panna Cotta” with Ginger Syrup came about (recipe below). Technically I’m not sure if it could be called a panna cotta because there was no cream in it, but the method is similar.

Greek yoghurt panna cotta with rhubarb and ginger syrup
After the “Panna Cotta” had disappeared, I remembered the sugar cookie dough still in the freezer from our Father’s Day project. I used the dough to make little tart bases by cutting out circles using a fluted cutter, then baked them in muffin pans. I probably should have weighed the dough down because they puffed up a little. This didn’t matter too much once the tarts were filled – the bumpy pastry wasn’t as noticeable.

The tarts cases were filled with a simple mascarpone cream (I mixed together mascarpone and a bit of sugar to sweeten). Topped with the rhubarb, it made for a very tasty afternoon tea.

Perfect for when unexpected “guests” drop in. Isn’t he/she cute?

Looking for a spot of afternoon tea (get it? spot?)

Greek yoghurt panna cotta with rhubarb and ginger syrup

Ginger Syrup
½ cup sugar
1 cup water
small piece of ginger, chopped

Boil all the ingredients gently until syrup has reduced to your liking. This ratio makes for a very light syrup, but if you like it thicker, add more sugar or boil for longer.

Strain through sieve to remove ginger pieces.

Set aside to cool.

Greek yoghurt “panna cotta”
250 ml milk
250 ml Greek yoghurt (unsweetened) whisked lightly until smooth
3 heaped tablespoons sugar (adjust to taste)
Small piece of ginger (about 2 cm long) – peeled but left whole
2 gelatin leaves (or enough gelatin powder to set 500ml liquid)
Stewed rhubarb (or other soft fruit)

Lightly oil four small moulds (I used 200ml custard pots).

Carefully put spoonfuls of rhubarb into the bottom of each mould, then set aside or refrigerate until needed.

Soak gelatin leaves in cold water for five minutes or until soft, then drain.

Place the ginger, sugar and milk into a saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to just below boiling point (when small bubbles appear around the edge of the saucepan) then remove from heat. Remove the ginger and stir in the softened gelatin until dissolved.

Set aside for a minute or two, then pour the warm milk mixture into the yoghurt and stir with a whisk to make sure everything is blended well.

Pour slowly into prepared moulds, making sure not to “disturb” the rhubarb layer. Refrigerate until set. Dip briefly in hot water to unmould and serve with the ginger syrup.

Best eaten on the day that it is made. The texture of this “panna cotta” is actually a bit denser than the cream version – which is to be expected from using youghurt.

If you prefer a stronger ginger flavour, chop or crush the ginger before adding to the milk, then strain through sieve before proceeding with the other steps.

EOWTTA* : B is for Beetroot

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

(eating our way through the alphabet)

beetroot in basket
Mention beetroot and opinions are divided. I’m firmly in the “love ‘em” camp. Admittedly, the primary reason I love beetroot is for it’s deeply seductive colouring. If you’re a beetroot hater, at least stick around till the end of this post – there’s cake involved!

Apparently, the beetroot has been cultivated since the second millennia (BC). This root vegetable belongs in the Amaranth family. Other beet species include Swiss Chard or Silverbeet and the delightfully named Mangel-wurzel.

According to a recent University of Exeter study, beetroot juice may be able to boost stamina and help people to exercise up to 16% longer (the study group only involved 8 men though). Other studies indicate that beetroot juice may reduce blood pressure. And it appears that the Romans believed beetroot to be an aphrodisiac. . What is it with these vegetables – remember the avocado last week?

While beetroot is mostly sought after for its, er..root, the leaves of the plant can also be eaten. However, the leaves have a high oxalic acid content and should be avoided by people who suffer from kidney disorders.

Beetroot is not generally sold by variety, but if you’re lucky you may be able to find a yellow/golden variety and even a candy-striped vegetable.

beetroot in bowl
Beetroot is very versatile in the kitchen, we’ve had it steamed, roasted, grated raw in salads, in soup, in chip form and of course as any true-blue aussie knows - it’s the slice of canned beetroot that completes a good burger.

Beetroot chipsBeetroot Chips

And why exactly is the beetroot so gloriously coloured? It contains a pigment known as Betalain. I discover through firsthand experience that this pigment can be a bit temperamental when used in baking.

I’d been very tempted by all the red-velvet cakes popping up around blogland. Perfect timing then, to attempt a natural red-velvet cake using beetroot puree as the main colorant. After rejigging a recipe, things looked like they were going well. The cake batter was extremely pink in the pan, and I’d been left with a slew of kitchen implements covered in red goo.

But when the cake came out of the oven, it had turned brown! How disappointing! And it tasted quite strongly of beetroot – which was a tiny bit much even for a beetroot lover. That cake is now in the freezer for desperate “cake-emergency” days.

beetroot cake attempt 1Cake attempt number one: Looking promising so far

failed cake attemptCake attempt number one: Fail! It's brown!

What went wrong? After a bit of googling and reading, I discover that beetroot pigment can be
by the pH of the other ingredients and heat. A strong base (alkali) can cause the beetroot juice to turn yellow brown or tan.

So I conduct a few experiments and discover the culprit is baking soda – an alkali.

beetroot juice in shotglassesShotglasses are the perfect experimentation tool no?

more beetroot experimentsThe juice on the left has baking soda added, while the juice on the right has cream of tartar

beetroot results 1Results: While wet

beetroot results 2Results: After 48 hours dry time. Note the baking soda colour. Also the vinegar seems to have had a reaction too.

The task at hand was pretty clear, I had to keep the batter as acidic as possible. Jumping off from this recipe, I consult my favourite baking science site and devise my own formula. I start out by making a beetroot juice reduction mixed with some lemon juice to hopefully “set” the colour.

I also omit the cocoa powder because it’s probably Dutched cocoa which is alkaline. I’m not 100% sure because I cannot find any labels on my packet of cocoa powder indicating otherwise but I’m erring on the side of caution.

The end result? Not quite red but at least not brown!

Thanks for sticking around, please enjoy the Pink Velvet Cake

pink velvet cakePink Velvet Cake

I make no claims to this tasting like an original red-velvet cake as I’ve never had one before. This Pink-Velvet cake tastes slightly tangy, almost like a sour-cream pound cake. The texture is dense and moist, yet not too chewy. And surprisingly, no hint of beet flavour. Mini-critic senior liked this cake even though she’d refused to eat the other one.

Overall I’m very pleased with the experiment. Come back next week for the letter C!

Pink Velvet Cake and White Chocolate Cream
(First make a beetroot juice reduction)

1 medium beetroot (mine weighed about 230g)
water (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Peel and roughly chop the beetroot (wear gloves if you don’t want stained hands - I find that the colour fades quite quickly anyway). Whizz the beetroot pieces and enough water (about ½ cup) in a food processor until the beetroot is quite liquid.
Strain through a sieve and catch the resulting juices.
Put juice in a saucepan, add the lemon juice and mix well. Cook gently over low heat (don’t let it boil hard), stirring from time to time until reduced. I ended up with about 5 tablespoonfuls of liquid.

As for the solids left after straining, don’t waste them. Either steam or microwave until cooked and add to mashed potato for a bit of fun colour. I’m thinking of adding mine to chicken meatballs.

Cake batter
(I was working in small measures just in case the experiment failed spectacularly. This quantity makes a very shallow loaf cake. I split the cake in half and ended up with a double layered small cake about 10cm square. This quantity would probably work better to make cupcakes. If you do attempt to double the measurements, I’d love it if you could drop me a line to let me know how it goes. Thanks!)

125g flour
190g sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 egg (mine had a min mass of 67g)
125 ml buttermilk
65g butter (softened, room temperature)
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon vinegar
5 tablespoons beetroot juice reduction

Preheat oven to about 175˚C. Grease, flour and line base of loaf pan or prepare cupcake cases.

Sift the flour, cinnamon and sugar into a mixing bowl. Beat on low speed just to mix. (I use hand beaters, so all my timing estimates are based on them). In a jug, mix the buttermilk, egg and beetroot reduction until thoroughly blended.

Add softened butter and about half of the buttermilk mix to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Beat on low until the flour is incorporated, then switch to high speed and beat until the mixture lightens and looks “fluffy” (about a minute or so). Add the rest of the buttermilk mixture, scrape down sides if necessary and mix again until well combined (about half a minute).

Place the baking soda and cream of tartar in a bowl large enough to prevent it from foaming over. Add the vinegar and mix – it will fizz a bit. Immediately fold it thoroughly through the cake batter, the pour into prepared pan/cases and place straight into the oven. This batter cannot sit around before being baked otherwise the “rise” may be affected (check out the baking science website for more info if interested). Bake until golden on top and cake springs back lightly when touched or test with skewer ☺.

Leave to cool and ice with white icing of choice. I think a type of mock cream is traditional, but I prefer the following version.

White chocolate cream
(inspired by Quick and Easy Small Cakes by Kazuko Kawachi)

white chocolate cream

40g white chocolate
½ cup whipping cream

Melt the white chocolate over a bain-marie or do as I do and use the microwave. If using microwave, use a bowl large enough to whip in the cream.

Once chocolate has melted properly (runs easily), whisk in the cream in a thin stream. It’s almost like making a reverse ganache. Keep whisking, not too fast, and don’t worry if the mixture starts to look curdled or separates (I freaked out at this point). Keep lightly stirring with the whisk and it will come together again.

Makes enough to ice the small 10cm square cake above.

Because of the cream content, store iced cake in the refrigerator but bring back to room temp before eating or else the texture will be too dense.