Don't worry, be happy, bake bread

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

“I know, let’s call it Gross Thing in Jar,” MC Senior offered up.

“I know, I know, we can call it Fred!” MC Junior chimed in

“Or Frank,” MC Senior continued.

“Bob the Builder!” MC Junior shouted out.

“Hang on, why are they all boy’s names? Can’t we call it something like Roberta?”  I asked.

“It has to be a boy’s name because boys are gross,” said MC Senior firmly.

Well, hopefully she’ll change her tune one day, but she did have a point. What we were trying to name did look rather gross. It was sloppy, bubbled, smelt strange and was an unappetising light brown colour. It was also something I’d been meaning to attempt for almost two years, and would probably not have ever gotten around to it had it not been for our December Daring Bakers challenge.

 Starter at 2 days old. I fed him and used him at day 5. He now resides in the fridge until the next loaf.

What was It? Sourdough culture! I’ll let the blog-checking lines explain:

Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

As I did some research, I realised one of the most important steps in the cultivation of a sourdough starter is - the naming ;P So, after prolonged discussion, please meet our new family pet : Blobby Daring! We thought it was pretty apt. Blobby is self-explanatory, and Daring is in honour of the DB challenge :)

The steps to growing a starter, or leaven, can be found at Jessica’s blog or The Daring Kitchen. I chose to attempt the French Country bread which used a wholewheat starter. I also did further reading at Sourdough Baker. And at one point, I was curious to find out whether my culture “smelt right”. So I checked out this forum link at The Fresh Loaf. For the record, my culture smelt quite sour, but not so bad that I couldn’t stick my nose in the jar and take a huge whiff without keeling over.

Surprisingly, Blobby took off quite quickly. I started it off on a Sunday, and had bubbles by Tuesday morning. The warm conditions in my kitchen probably helped (it’s summer here). I couldn’t find wholewheat flour, so I used Atta flour instead (which is really a kind of wholewheat flour anyway).

Production leaven being spread on the bread dough

However, my first attempt at turning Blobby into a proper loaf ended up in a flat disk! I had followed the recipe exactly even though I though the dough looked a bit too wet. Our host had reassured us countless times that the dough was meant to be quite wet and sticky so I let it be. But it turns out my instincts were right. I’m quite sure that all flours are not created equal, and each would require different amounts of water.

The Flat Loaf

I should have twigged when I realised how wet the dough was

Luckily, the recipe had factored in extra production leaven so I could start a new loaf. Otherwise, I would have missed the challenge deadline altogether! Sourdough bread making is a very long slow process. For those of you not part of the challenge, or haven’t tried your hand at sourdough bread making before, here’s the lowdown. First you have to start a culture from scratch and this takes about five to seven days. Then you make a production leaven that takes at least 4 hours to rise, then this production leaven is mixed with flour and kneaded to form the bread dough. This is left for an hour, then kneaded again and left for 3 to 5 hours to rise. As you can see, timing is crucial if you don’t want to end up baking bread at 2 am in the morning! I was very disciplined, setting my alarm very early in the morning and luckily I did this because it meant I had time to attempt a second loaf at a decent hour.

Home made banneton (bread proofing basket) - using a colander, some muslin and rubber bands.

 Second time around, I added the water gradually, and in the end, used only about 250ml instead of the 300ml suggested in the recipe. Just to make sure, I added a couple of tablespoonfuls of Blobby to the mix too.

Second dough, not as wet

The extra bits of production leaven were scraped off the bowl and saved in a jar. I fed it with a little white flour and water, and we’ve named him Fred the Bread Starter. We’re hoping that he will grow too.

The next loaf did rise a little higher than the first one, but the texture was disappointing. It was very dense and a bit gluey, and I wondered if I’d underbaked it, so I put it back in the oven later to “dry out”.  It helped a little bit but the texture was still pretty heavy. (I've since read that other bakers had quite dense bread too, so I don't feel so bad!). The flavour though, was fantastic and frankly (or should that be fred-ly) surprised me. I thought the bread would be quite sour since the starter had smelt that way, but the bread tasted sweet and nutty with the mildest tang.

Yay! I made sourdough bread!

That was not the end of the challenge though. We were asked to show off our bread in a recipe. I chose my favourite way to eat sourdough - chocolate, sea salt and olive oil toast. I know it sounds strange but trust me on this one. It is fabulous.  I'd made it before, and you can read about it here

I have to say I’m pretty happy with the way this challenge turned out. Sure, our jaws got a really good workout but the bread tasted amazing and was definitely worth the hours. I’ll be trying to improve my bread making skills now that Blobby is living in the fridge. Any tips on getting a lighter loaf? I’m assuming I need a longer rising time but if you have any other trouble-shooting ideas to add, please let me know.

Thanks Jessica for the great challenge and the push to finally try sourdough. Do check out what the other Daring Bakers made with their loaves. And if I’m not back before the end of  the month, have a wonderful new year!

Sweet wishes

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Not many more sleep to go now! The MC’s are fizzing with excitement, counting down the days, willing them to go faster. They have been itching to pack their bags and begin the trip down to Nana and Pop Hand’s place for Christmas.

But I can’t leave without a Christmas greeting can I? And what better way to do so than with some sweet candy cane macarons. This month, the ladies behind Mactweets gave us a very fitting challenge. “Seasons and Holidays” - a theme we had free reign to interpret as we wished.

 Initially, I had lots of ideas, but time was against me. And since deciding to take a stand against the usual end of year franticness, I took it easy and picked a tried and true recipe (from Adriano Zumbo, found here at Gourmet Traveller). I did make a couple of changes - instead of dividing the batter and colouring one part red, I used the brush striping technique (as seen on my first Christmas macs a couple of years ago). The macarons were piped in the usual round shape instead of candy cane shapes suggested in the recipe. For the filling, I already had some chocolate ganache on hand, so I melted down a candy cane and added that to the ganache along with a drop or two of peppermint oil.

I do have to come clean though. The other reason I picked this recipe was the fact that it used the more stable Italian method. Usually, I prefer the French method, it’s quicker and yields more delicate macarons (I think). But having suffered a massive fail earlier when attempting to bake a large batch of macarons for Mr. Kitchen Hand to take to work, I needed a confidence boost! I must have calculated the ratios wrong with that batch because the trays of macs looked as if they’d been through an earthquake. for the hills!

Don’t worry, none of those failed macs went to waste. I took 250g of the macarons, blitzed them finely in the food processor, then mixed this with 1 egg, 70g plain flour, 90g butter, 90g creme fraiche and 1 tsp baking powder. Ta-dah! The “Failed Macaron Cake” was born.   To ice, I simply melted some white chocolate, let it cool a little, then beat it into butter and icing sugar. Sorry, no measurements, I was just flying blind.

The cake went down very well, and my dear friend K insists I find another name for it as she thinks “Failed Macaron Cake” doesn’t do it justice :) And speaking of friends, to all of you out there in blog land, however you are celebrating (or not celebrating) this Christmas, have a safe and happy holiday, may you be surrounded by the people you love.

See you after the break, I should be back (if all things work out) on Daring Bakers reveal day.

Gratuitous photo of the MCs. They'd decided they wanted freckles, if you look closely, they've given themselves some with the aid of a texta!

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night" 

Malaysian Monday : Who’s got the peanut?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Monday everyone. I was hoping my experiment over the weekend would provide the results I’d hoped for, but alas, third time unlucky.

But let’s start from the beginning. What was I attempting to make? A sweet peanut dessert soup we call  “Fa Sang Wu”. Every time I’ve asked for a recipe from my Mum, she’d tell me to use peanut butter. But being stubborn, I wanted to make it properly, from scratch.

So, for attempt number one, I patiently roasted peanuts, then blended them with some water, then boiled the mixture for over an hour with added sugar to taste. The result? Only passable soup. While the flavour was great, the texture was completely wrong. The soup I wanted to make should have been silky smooth, with no traces of lumps or grittiness.

Peanut butter soup on right

Texture fail

Out of sheer frustration, I made the peanut butter version. I melted 1/4 cup peanut butter in about a cup of hot water, stirred in enough sugar to taste, then simmered it on the stove to warm through, and added half a teaspoon of cornflour to thicken. This time, the texture was perfect, but the flavour was nowhere near the real thing. I’m a huge fan of peanut butter, but no way - this wasn’t going to cut it.

For the third attempt, I soaked a cupful of blanched peanuts overnight, then boiled the peanuts in about 3 cups of water for an hour and a half, then used the stick blender to blend it. I added some brown sugar and caster sugar to taste, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the texture was again a let down. Coarse and gritty.

Last attempt, not too bad but not really right either. Sigh.

As it turns out, making peanuts go all soft and silky isn’t that easy. Either chemical help in the form of alkali water (see this post at Lily’s blog), or mechanical intervention in the form of a pressure cooker (this post on Rasa Malaysia) is needed.  Ah well, I’ll stick to salted peanuts from now on then ;)

This is probably my last Malaysian Monday for the year unless I can rustle up something between now and Christmas. Thank you everyone for coming along for the ride. Remember, my friend Suresh over at 3 Hungry Tummies will be hosting the December Muhibbah Malaysian Monday round-up, so please send all entries over to sureshchong(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Keeping Cool

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ahem. So, Malaysian Monday was not just late, it was sort of non-existent. Actually, I was trialling something which didn’t quite work out but I do hope to try it again over the weekend. In the meantime, here’s a little something I prepared earlier.

I saw this layered ice-cream cake on the cover of the latest ABC Delicious magazine, and couldn’t wait to try it out. The visiting in-laws provided an excellent excuse even though the weather wouldn’t cooperate.

For something that looks so impressive, it’s actually very simple to make and requires no churning! I’m all for keeping it easy right now.  At the start of the year, there are always grand plans for getting really organised by December. Forget sugarplums, visions of perfect hand made gifts all wrapped and ready, dance in my head. A list of things I must. bake. this. year. grows and grows.

Then reality hits. Activities pile up, unexpected situations crop up (as they will), and I find myself getting really stressed.  And judging by the aggressiveness on the roads and in the shopping centre car parks, stress levels of the rest of the population are soaring too. I’ve seen too many harried, grumpy, rude people scurry around and decided - I want no part of this. What happened to “peace on earth and goodwill to all men”?

Why does everything have to be perfect anyway? It’s all a bit silly to get worked up about just one day, and lose focus on everything else. Like a bride so intent on the wedding day she forgets that she actually has the rest of her married life to work on.

So this year, I’ve adopted “Let it go, let it go, let it go” as my personal Christmas carol (sung to the tune of “Let it snow”). Didn’t get around to sending out thoughtful Christmas cards? Let it go. The people who care will definitely understand, and those who don’t, well tough. Didn’t get around to making a handmade card for the class teacher as I’ve done every other year? Let it go. A store-bought card works just as well, it’s the message inside that counts. Didn’t get around to fruit cake, or mince pies, or stollen. Let it go. At least we made gingerbread, and actually had fun doing it together.

Trees for the kindy teachers. Blinged up by MC Junior.

MC Senior had loads of fun making these. We used broken pretzels for the antlers, and pressed them into the gingerbread dough. (Idea from Bakerella). They tend to fall out during transport though, so try to keep them flat. The eyes are white chocolate and dotted with a food colouring pen, the nose is  a Jaffa stuck on with white chocolate. Word of warning though, if it is hot, use royal icing instead as the chocolate melts and the noses fall off!

That’s the upside of all that letting go. Extra time snatched to read, or sit and have a coffee, or  do craft with the kids, or catch up on much needed sleep. There’s extra time to do the really important things. Like hang out with precious friends at the beach, then stumble home in the dark way past our bedtime, and then deciding to stay up even later so we can drive around and look at Christmas lights.

It’s always the spontaneous, unplanned things we do that seem to leave the most lasting memories. And being spontaneous involves a lot of letting go. I can live with that :)

Instead of Christmas cards, MC Senior folded star-boxes for her classmates this year. Good instructions found here, and simple enough for an almost 9 year old to fold easily and quickly.

For our friends (who we hung out at the beach with), I folded these boxes with lids. Slightly too difficult for MC Senior, but quick and easy for older hands. Great info here on U-handbag.

Enjoy your weekend and keep cool. If you need some help chilling out, here’s Valli Little’s Ice-cream cake from the December 2011/Jan 2012 issue of ABC Delicious.

You’ll need:

1 small sponge cake for the base (I made mine using the recipe provided in the mag, but in the spirit of letting go, store bought should work just as well).
600ml thickened cream
395g can of sweetened condensed milk
1 vanilla bean (the recipe uses vanilla extract instead)
500g peeled, chopped mango (the recipe uses rockmelon/ cantaloupe instead)
125g raspberries (I used frozen)
1/2 cup caster sugar
Mixed fruit and mint leaves to serve. (I used a mix of dice mango, lychees, diced peaches, cherries, mint leaves and sweetened coconut chips. The recipe also includes pieces of honeycomb)

Lightly grease a terrine (I used a loaf pan), and line it with baking paper. Leave overhang to help with lifting out later. I actually double lined the pan so there were no gaps.

Whip/ beat the cream until soft peaks form, then slowly drizzle in the condensed milk and whip until incorporated and thickened (about 1 minute).

Divide the mixture into half, and stir in vanilla seed or extract into one half. I actually vagued out at this point and stirred vanilla through the whole lot, but it didn’t matter in the end.  Take the non-vanilla half of the mixture and divide evenly between two bowls, cover and stick it in the fridge until needed.

Take the vanilla mixture and carefully pour half of it into the prepared terrine or loaf pan. Place the pan in the freezer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to firm up. Cover the rest of the vanilla mixture and pop it in the fridge.

In the meantime, puree the mango and pass it through a sieve. You’re meant to only collect the juice, but I just squished the whole lot through. Fold the mango puree through one of the reserved bowls of cream in the fridge. The colour of the mango isn’t as pronounced as the rockmelon, and in restrospect, I should have added a drop of food colouring to boost the colour but I suppose au naturel is best. When the vanilla layer in the freezer has firmed up, pour the mango layer on and return the pan to the freezer for another 1-2 hours.

Puree the raspberries, sugar and quarter cup of hot water, then pass through a sieve. Let it cool then fold it through the remaining bowl of cream mixture. Pour this pink layer onto the firm mango layer and return to the freezer again for another 1-2 hours. Finally, pour the reserved vanilla mixture over the raspberry layer, and return to the freezer for about 30 minutes. Cut the sponge cake to size, and when the vanilla layer is just firm (but still a little tacky), press the sponge cake onto it, then wrap the whole lot in clingfilm and return to the freezer for at least 3-4 hours or overnight. (I left mine overnight).
To serve, soften the terrine in the refrigerator for about about 15 minutes, then carefully use the paper overhang to lift the cake out and transfer either to a serving plate or chopping board. Cut into slices, scatter the fruit artfully over the top and serve with love.

I know it sounds like a lot of time, but if you’re pottering around doing other things in between, the actual time spent on the assembling is very small. The only drawback with this cake is that it does get icy over time, but the solution is simple - eat it up faster!

Salad days are here again (if the rain lets up)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Another busy week has just flown by! Little MC Junior “graduated” from pre-school last night and I survived dry-eyed :)

As the year winds down, we should really be enjoying our warm beach days, but obviously Sydney didn’t get the memo. Where can I lodge my complaint about the horrendous weather we’ve been having? I know I’m whingeing, but last week it was so cold we had to pull on our ugg boots, and sleep in our winter pyjamas. This is supposed to be summer!

Luckily, we’ve had a couple of warm days thrown in amongst all the rain. Just the sort of day to enjoy a good salad or two. I wasn’t really going to blog about these, but they looked so pretty I couldn’t resist.

The first salad I actually made a couple of months ago, using the last few beetroot of the season. It was inspired by a salad we ate (twice) at El Amacen (one of our favourite restuarants when we visited NY). The two things I remembered most about the salad were the wonderfully tasty slivers of spiced almonds, and the dressing. It was listed on the menu as a shallot vinaigrette, which I thought would taste really “oniony” but it was lovely and mild, and tied the whole salad together. (The rest of the salad is made up of baby spinach leaves, roasted and steamed beetroot cubes and apple slivers).

I found a recipe for shallot vinaigrette over here on Epicurious. For the spiced almonds, I based it on a recipe for spiced nuts, found here, and used flaked almonds instead of whole nuts. Some spiced nut recipes used oil, but I prefer the taste of butter, it really does make a difference here. Make lots because you’ll find yourself snacking on them as you prepare the rest of the meal. I’m not sure how long they’d keep (because of the butter content) but I think they’d make a great edible Christmas gift too.

Salad number two was a more recent concoction and came about from a last minute scrabble through the vegetable crisper in the fridge. I found lamb’s ear lettuce (mâche), a cucumber, some crimson grapes, and a forgotten granny smith apple. A forage through the cupboards yielded pecans, and my salad was born. Ain’t it purty? I dressed it with a very simple dressing made from equal parts verjuice and olive oil, and a pinch of salt.

Mâche is now my new favourite salad green. I love how the texture is kind of fleshy and leafy at the same time, and of course, it just looks so gorgeous with the little rosettes. As you can tell, I’m a really visual eater (most of the time).

Enjoy the weekend and see you soon. We’re having family visit over the weekend, so Malaysian Monday will probably be late :)

Is that batgirl? No! It's MC Junior receiving her "diploma" :)

Muhibbah Malaysian Monday Round-Up 17 (November 2012)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy Monday everyone,

I do apologise for the lateness in getting this round-up together, I won’t bore you with details but it’s been pretty busy round here lately.

Luckily, all of you have been cooking up a storm and sending in your delicious entries. Here they are in no particular order.

Sudha from Malaysian Delicacies, prepared Kerutup Kambing, a dish famous in the eastern states of Kelantan and Terengganu, It is a dish usually served with Nasi Minyak (a type of rice dish).  Sounds absolutely tempting.

Diana from Kebun Malay Kadazan Girl used some produce from her garden to produce a dish known as Berlada, which means spiced. She tells us that this type of dish is popular in the state of Negeri Smebilan.

Gertrude from My Kitchen Snippets still managed three entries even though she’s been busy with so many other things. (Thank you Gert!)

There’s Kam Heong chicken. She explained that the words “kam heong” means “golden fragrant”, a very apt description, don’t you think?

Gertrude also made a sweet dish called kuih talam

And what do you do with leftover egg yolks from a macaron project? Turn it into butter prawns of course!

Say hi to Vivian from Vivian Pang Kitchen who made us gula melaka steamed buns Oh my goodness, the mere words gula melaka (palm sugar) are enough to get my tastebuds going.

Want to fancy up your curry repertoire? Cheah from No Frills Recipe cooked some chicken curry with apple. She was inspired after overhearing a conversation at the store :)

She also made a simple braised pork belly dish that looks very flavourful.

Shannon from Just as Delish joins the Malaysian Monday gang. Say a big hello to her! Shannon was looking for wheat free recipes and made sweet potato onde-onde to satisfy her sugar cravings.

Kristy from My Little Space probably requires very little introduction. She is a well known food-blogger who still takes the time to contribute to our monthly round-ups.

Here are her dishes:

A steamed, savoury taro cake which sounds very interesting with the addition of black eyed peas.

Another interesting contribution is this purple muah chee. Want to know why it’s purple? You’ll have to read the post :)

She also made a steamed savoury egg dish that I'm sure was a firm childhood favourite for many people.

And take a look at these anchovy fritters! Any wonder that they were polished off in seconds?

And of course, there would not be any Muhibbah Malaysian Monday round-up without my friend Suresh from 3 Hungry Tummies who helped start it all off. He made three delicious dishes:

Sambal Ikan bilis - a spicy accompaniment to Nasi Lemak.

Chicken cooked with torch ginger, a dish that must surely have smelt divine.

And Char Kway Teow / Fried Kway Teow with seafood, how luxurious!

Suresh is also hosting the next round-up so please send all December entries to sureshchong(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Thanks so much for  your patience and have a great start to the week!