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Saturday, 27 June 2009

How to tell if a tart Bakes Well

Please switch off your handphones as you enter the theatre. The show will commence shortly but first, a word from our sponsors...

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Bakewell tarts…er…puddings combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.

Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling.

The version we’re daring you to make is a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.

With that done, please settle back in your seats and enjoy the movie...

Bond was aging. His ankle hurt whenever he stood for too long – a result of all the wild escapades of his younger days. He looked at the latest Dossier that M had given him. The global economic crisis had seen a stockpile of almonds and butter but HRH Queen E wanted a Bakewell Tart and it was up to him, Bond, James – Agent 007 of MI6, the finest Britain had to offer, to go and make this tart. Bond grimaced slightly as he realised he was more involved these days with baking goodies to satisfy the Royal Family rather than with espionage.

Bond smiled quietly to himself as he perused the recipe for the Bakewell Tart. He so loved tarts – especially the long legged kind in a short skirt and a skimpy top. He almost laughed aloud when he saw that the recipe called for jam. He remembered Tiffany, the Tart from Trafalgar, and how she would smear jam all over her face and upper body just before showering. She claimed it was good for her skin tone but James had always found better uses for the jam. Uses that were a lot more fun and that would always delay her shower…

“Ahhh, such sweet mammaries.” James laughed to himself, chuckling at his pun. He put the recipe away, making a mental note to make it on a Saturday, the day he reserved for these kind of activities.

Saturday came way to fast and James groaned as he looked over at the alarm clock, realising it was time to get up. He looked over (as he usually did) at the sexy woman lying beside him( which was also usually the case). He watched her soft breasts rising and falling as she slept. Bond ran his hand slowly up her thigh but his hand was quickly smacked away.

“I've got my school reunion this morning darling.” The sultry beauty announced as she climbed out of bed, her curves teasing Bond. “Lynn has asked me to be there early and I’ll only be back around 3 so you need to organise lunch for the kids.”

Bond made a mental note to stop cavorting and sleeping with women that had children. It just wasn't good for his reputation and neither was it good for his image that he was expected to look after the children every time the gorgeous woman had something on. It didn’t matter that the children were his…

James stared, almost leeringly, at the women as he watched her swaying hips walk out the door. Briefly he contemplated making his way to the reunion for a surprise visit. No doubt there would be plenty of sashaying hips at the reunion but he dismissed that thought.

“The things I give up for Queen and Country.” James muttered to himself.

Bond opened the freezer and took out the unsalted butter. Butter prices had escalated of late and unsalted butter was even more expensive than normal butter. Bond used the special laser butter knife that Q had designed for him to cut the exact weight required. He used his titanium blade grater to grate the butter and that worked out just great. Next came the part about working the butter into the flour with his fingers.

Bond grimaced at this thought as his fingers were meant for greater things like pulling triggers, breaking necks and of course teasing thighs and other parts of sexy women. Nonetheless, Bond plunged his fingers into the butter and flour and began to rub it in. Surprisingly, his fingers started to hurt after a while and Bond realised he really was getting on in age.
The buttery flour began to resemble breadcrumbs after a while and he quickly mixed in the eggs and water before wrapping the dough in plastic wrap and letting it rest in the fridge.

Glancing at the clock, he realised that he would need to plan his time carefully as not only did he have to sequence the tasks for the tart, he needed to make lunch too!

Bond made some mental notes. “tart dough resting in fridge. Need to warm the jam. Make the creamy tomato chicken pasta sauce. Line the tart pan and put it in freezer for a while. Make the Frangipane. Sounds like a plan!”

James did just that, following that sequence. He warmed the jam, pleased to see how it thinned out a little. Next he spent some time making his creamy tomato chicken pasta and as it simmered, he lined the tart pan and place it in the freezer. As he did so, he marvelled to himself.

“Who says men can’t multi-task huh?”

Then came the Frangipane. Now Bond had never heard of a frangipane before, unless of course you count the Frangipani flower which is certainly not the same thing nor even remotely related in any way.
James dove straight into it, noting that the recipe said that the mixture would curdle. Bond thought back to his Engineering days and figured that this would be right. With only 125 grams of butter, and three eggs, there wouldn’t be enough fat to form an emulsion with the eggs – no matter how hard you whipped the damn thing. It did settle a little with more beating but really looked fine once the flour and almond meal was added in.

Bond did the following in quick succession, he removed the tart from the freezer, spread the jam over it and then covered the whole thing with the Frangipane before deftly slipping it into the oven.

30 minutes later, and Bond surveyed the tart, cooling on the counter. He sprinkled some almonds on it, just like he used to do with Tiffany the Tart from Trafalgar. He had to admit that it wasn't as sultry looking nor as sensous as the two legged tarts he was used to but he had to admit that the feeling of Making a tart instead of Bedding a tart was immensely pleasurable. Very, very satisfying indeed!

There was some dough left over from the tart pan and I made mini tarts shells, planning to also make mini bakewells. Unfortunately, there wasnt enough jam nor frangipane to go around so what I did was to make shortcrust tart shells. The kids had these shells for dessert and although they were empty, they polished off two shells apiece - in one sitting!

It was really difficult not to cut into the tart as I decided to take it for dessert the next day to my parents house for Fathers Day - that explains why I wasn't able to plate the tart as nicely as I wanted to. Nonetheless, the tart was a huge success where everyone really enjoyed it!

I originally wanted to use apricot jam but my little princess thought that blackcurrant was a better idea. I kind of think she was right coz the contrasting colours made the tart look really nice. I also liked the stronger taste of the blackcurrant that complemented the frangipane really nicely.

My two official taste testers simply loved this dessert! My little princess kept asking when she could try the "Tart with filling, not the empty ones we had yesterday." She really enjoyed the tart and as she polished of one slice, she looked up at me and asked "Can I have another piece - bigger this time!"

My son really enjoyed this tart too and you can tell how busy be was stuffing his face. Later, after we had returned home, he asked if he could have another slice. Unfortunately, there was none left...

Now when you have a tart that everyone really enjoys, when your official taste testers declare that they love it and want seconds - THAT is how you tell if a tart Bakes Well. And you know it really Bakes Well when it's a Bakewell Tart! Pardon all my puns!

A Huge Thanks to Jasmine and Anne-Marie for this fabulous challenge. I think this will be something that I will certainly make again - if not in whole, at least some of the components!

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet shortcrust pastry
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract

Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Creamy Tomato Chicken Pasta

Last weekend, The Lovely Wife went for her old school reunion. One of her close friends organised the brunch meeting so she left early in the morning to help out. The kids and I started off our 'Mummy free day' by going to the supermarket to get some ingredients for their choice of lunch. No surprises that they wanted a pasta. I sometimes wonder why the kids love their pasta so much!

I had decided I was going to make a creamy tomato based pasta and there was some chicken in the fridge as well as some capsicum. So all we really needed to get was some mushrooms and a few other groceries.

I was also busy doing the Daring Baker's challenge for this month - but of course I cant tell you what it is yet! So in between doing this and that for the challenge, I made this pasta sauce.

4 cloves garlic
1 large onion
2 bay leaves
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
500g Chicken breast - cut into strips
200 g portobello mushrooms - cut into strips
3 yellow capsicum - cut into strips
1 can stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup cream
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Set aside. Sautee garlic, onion, bay leaves and oregano till fragrant. Add in chicken and cook well. Add in mushrooms and mix well. continue cooking until juices are released. Add in can of tomatoes and allow to simmer. Add in capsicum, mixing well. Pour in the cream and mix well. Allow to simmer. Add a little corn flour mixed with water if needed to thicken the mixture.

I served this with Spaghetti although I contemplated using Penne. I think I made the right choice as the Spaghetti went really well with this sauce.

The dish turned out better than I expected and the kids really loved it. They said this was one of the best pasta's they had ever eaten but I take that with a pinch of salt simply because they were really hungry. We all know that food tastes better when you are really hungry!

The Lovely Wife came home later in the afternoon and she admitted she was a tad hungry as she had eaten brunch rather early and then had only had coffee after that. She proceeded to eat the pasta sauce with some bread and she too declared it a winner in her books.

Well, if everyone in my family loved it, that means it has got to be pretty darn good right?!

It's been a while since I contributed to Presto Pasta Nights the brainchild of my friend Ruth and hosted this week by Kait of Pots and Plots so this is my contribution this time around.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Pseudo Tau Foo Fah

In Malaysia, there is a dessert made out of soy beans called Tau Foo Fah. The best way to describe it would be a pudding made out of soy beans served with a sugar syrup. Both my kids love this and most weekends, when we go to the market, they will each buy a bowl of this pudding and take it home in plastic containers. You can choose whether to have normal sugar syrup or gula melaka and both the kids prefer the Gula Melaka variant. The pudding is sold hot but sometimes, it's nicer when you keep it in the fridge for a while. Hot or cold, it's a favourite - any time of the day.

Making a 'real' Tau Foo Fah is extremely difficult or so I am told. However, making a pseudo Tau Foo Fah is a piece of cake!

This recipe was given to me by one of my friends at work and I tried it out. She said that it wasn't as nice as the one you get from the food stalls but it was a pretty good version nonetheless. She also said it was lovely served with cold lychees in syrup rather than making your own sugar syrup.

This is the recipe.

1 litre soy milk
1 tbsp + 1 tsp Agar-agar powder
600 ml water
1 tin lychees or longan in syrup

Combine agar-agar powder with water and stir well till dissolved. Add the water to the milk and bring to the boil. Pour into a large serving bowl and cover with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool before placing in the fridge. Serve with chilled lychees.

The soya bean 'jelly' doesn't really solidify but is firm enough to scoop out. When serving, I used a flat spoon to skim a layer of the soy bean jelly - just like the real Tau Foo Fah is served.

The kids loved this version although they prefer the original one. Still, this is a really easy dessert to make. It kind of resembles the Almond Jelly with Lychee desserts you sometimes find in restuarants but I think I prefer this to the almond jelly. This is a great dessert to make quickly, something that tastes great and a dessert that most people will be surprised was home made!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Dumpling my way to be a Daring Cook!

For those of you not in the know, The Daring Bakers have formed another group known as the Daring Cooks and there is a whole new website called The Daring Kitchen. Now how cool is that?!!

The Daring Cooks had their first challenge last month which I sadly missed. I almost missed the challenge this month too but managed to sneak in in - just under the wire. So I guess that makes me a Daring Cook - and only one challenge late!!

Now the beauty about being a Daring Cook is that it gives you the opportunity to make something that you wouldn't normally do. Take this month's challenge for example. I'd happily make dumplings. In fact The Lovely Wife has made them before BUT, and this is the important point, I would always use ready made wrappers or wanton wrappers. NEVER would I have ever dreamt of attempting my own dumpling wrappers!

So I need to thank my friend Jen from use real butter for picking this great challenge.

I have to admit that when I saw the challenge posted, I was really excited. As I mentioned before, never would I have thought of making my own dumpling dough. As excited as I was though, I couldn't find the time to fit this in. It didn't help that I was a little unwell for a while nor that we went on a short vacation during the school holidays. Before I knew it, it was the 13th of June only ONE DAY before the posting date! Aaaarrrggghhhh!!

I actually, seriously contemplated just throwing in the towel and waiting for next months challenge. But that wouldn't be very Daring would it...

So I stuck in, and just after lunch, I made the dough. For the filling, I decided to mince some chicken, toss in some soy sauce and sesame oil and some chopped spring onions. Pretty basic I know, but I just wanted to test these little babies out.

The dough came together fairly easily and I used method 2 - Jen's mother's method - of adding 1/4 cup water to the flour and then slowly adding in more water. I ended up with slightly more than 1/2 a cup of water and the dough seemed fairly dry although after resting, it became a bit more supple.

Rolling it out was fairly easy and I didn't have too much trouble with folding the dumplings. I actually contemplated making potstickers as well as steamed dumplings but I was feeling a little lazy - not to mention an itchy throat and nose with flu symptons!

I also used lettuce to line my steamer rather than the napa cabbage called for in the recipe.

After placing the dumplings in the steamer, I was feeling rather proud of myself and waltzed out into the living room where the kids and The Lovely Wife were watching tele.

The Cocky Rooster in me puffed out its chest and jiggled a jig as I proudly raised my arms and crowed "I can make dumplings now, I can make dumplings now!"

Tghe Lovely Wife looked up at me strutting and puffing and brought me down to earth. "You dont know how it will turn out . Remember Pride comes before the Fall" she said. The Lovely Wife is always keeping me in check.

My son however, had other ideas. He quickly retorted. "Mummy, Daddy said he CAN make dumplings. It doesnt matter if it is nice or not. He didn't say he can make nice dumplings." That's my son, Michael, ever the genius!

My Princess Sarah though had the most faith in Daddy.

"Mummy, if Daddy makes it, then it WILL be nice." she stated with a smile. Ahhh, my ever trusting Daughter!

6 minutes later, I took the dumplings out and plated them.

The kids were very eager to try them out...

They both proclaimed that the dumplings were indeed nice! Only problem though was that some of the plated bits were a bit tough and rubbery. Still tasty though as we all polished them off very quickly! We ate them with Chilli & Garlic sauce and it was very, very tasty.

Lessons learnt would be to roll out the dough a little more thinly the next time. My pleating would need some improvement too as although it looked fine the pleated area was a little tough and rubbery, as mentioned earlier. All in all though a very succesful and tasty effort. Still tasty though!

Once again, thanks to Jen for this great challenge!

2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (113g) warm water
flour for worksurface

meat filling:
200 g mince chicken
3 stalks green onions, chopped
1 inch ginger - pounded
1 - 1.5 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp (28g) sesame oil


Combine all the ingredients together and set aside.

Make the dough, Method 1: Place the flour in the work bowl of a food processor with the dough blade. Run the processor and pour the warm water in until incorporated. Pour the contents into a sturdy bowl or onto a work surface and knead until uniform and smooth. The dough should be firm and silky to the touch and not sticky.[Note: it’s better to have a moist dough and have to incorporate more flour than to have a dry and pilling dough and have to incorporate more water).

Make the dough, Method 2 (Jen's mom’s instructions): In a large bowl mix flour with 1/4 cup of water and stir until water is absorbed. Continue adding water one teaspoon at a time and mixing thoroughly until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. We want a firm dough that is barely sticky to the touch.

Both dough methods: Knead the dough about twenty strokes then cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes. Take the dough and form a flattened dome. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Shape the strips into rounded long cylinders. On a floured surface, cut the strips into 3/4 inch pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle (you can shape the corners in with your fingers). With a rolling pin, roll out a circular wrapper from each flat disc. Take care not to roll out too thin or the dumplings will break during cooking - about 1/16th inch. Leave the centers slightly thicker than the edges.

Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side Keep all unused dough under damp cloth.

To boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add dumplings to pot. Boil the dumplings until they float.

To steam: Place dumplings on a single layer of napa cabbage leaves or on a well-greased surface in a steamer basket with lid. Steam covered for about 6 minutes.

To pan fry (potstickers): Place dumplings in a frying pan with 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Rum Chocolate Biscuit Pudding - and the cooking influences in my life

It is my Mother, who really was the first person to introduce me to how much fun I could have in the kitchen, who built the foundation for a lot of my recipes. As a working mother - she was a teacher, she still found time to delight us with all manners of curries, pasta, meatloaf, casseroles, stews, cakes and desserts. Meals were never a boring affair at our house and it was Mom that taught us all how to always try new foods.

The Lovely Wife, of course, is the one that has spurred me on to greater heights. She is the one that has made me expand my repertoire. The kids too have played their part in expanding my culinary skills and just like I have fond memories of my mother experimenting with new flavours in the kitchen and exposing us to different cuisines, I too hope that my own children will have similar memories of me.

Jamie Oliver always goes on about his wife Jules - but not many people know that I have my own Jules - my Aunty Julie. Aunty Jules is my father's third sister. He is the only boy in a family of four girls. Aunty Julie was always the sweet, demure Aunt. Full of smiles and cuddles with a little mischief thrown in. She was also the Dessert Queen. Oh my! The desserts Aunty Jules would throw together were nothing short of magnificent. We kids all thouhgt she was nothing short of brilliant with the desserts she would come up with.

One of her all time favourites - and ours - was this Rum Chocolate Biscuit Pudding. When I started to make desserts of my own, I asked her for this recipe and she happily passed it on to me.

I have to admit that I was surprised at how simple this was and I made some further experimentation on it. One of the things I did differently was to increase the amount of chocolate as well as add in some cocoa. I use almonds rather than cashew nuts and I melt the chocolate with all the cream rather than the original recipe that calls for half the cream to be melted with the chocolate. The most important change I have made, I think, is to mix the egg yolks together with the warm chocalate - so that the egg at least cooks a little.

So...after sufficient modification, I have claimed it as my own recipe!

This is what I do.

1/2 Cup Butter (125g)
3/4 Cup Castor Sugar
350ml Unsweetened Cream
2 Eggs (separated)
150gm Dark Chocolate
2 Tablespoons Cocoa
1/2 - 1 cup Chopped Cashews (or Almonds)
1 packet Marie Biscuits
1 cup milk
Brandy or Rum (Optional - I use liberal amounts - 4 to 6 tablespoons!!)

Separate eggs, ensuring that egg whites have no yolk.
Melt chocolate with the cream over a slow fire. Ensure cream does not boil. Beat in egg yolks quickly. Leave to cool. Once cool, whip till slightly thick but not stiff.
Cream butter and 1/2 the sugar. Add in chocolate mixture and sifted cocoa. Add Rum (dependent on your alcoholic tendencies!)
Whisk egg whites till they peak and then add remaining sugar, whisking till nice and thick. Fold in egg whites to chocolate mixture. Stir in 75% of nuts.
Dip Marie Biscuits into milk (to soften slightly) and line a tray with one layer of biscuits. Cover biscuits with layer of mixture. Alternate with layers of biscuits and mixture (with final layer being mixture)
Sprinkle remaining nuts on top (this just makes it look good)
Chill for at least 3 hours but preferably overnight.

This is a very rich and decadent dessert that will be a definite crowd pleaser. I loved it as a child and I love it even more now - all thanks to my wonderful Aunty Jules!


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