Fiction Corner

This is hard

School is hard. My teacher is nice. My friend Kameron is nice too, most of the time. She is a very big girl and she goes to school with me. Sometimes she doesn’t let me do what I want and won’t back down. Not even if I cry and scream and push her. But most of the time we have fun. She plays with me. My other friends don’t play with me as much, I don’t know why. I have lots of fun. 

Big people talking is boring. I get lost in the words. I talk to myself because I know what I’m saying. Kameron nudges me all the time when I should be listening, sometimes I do. She tries to make it easier for me to understand what I should be doing. School is a strange place, so many rules. Why do I have to hold my hand up to say something? Why do I have to sit quietly? Why do I have to do what the teacher says all the time? Why do I have to read? Reading is hard. I like playing, why can’t I play?

Sometimes I run away when things are hard. Kameron runs after me, sometimes it’s very funny.

There are always big people talking about me. Kameron talks about me to Mummy. Mummy talks about me to other big people. A lot of big people come to school and play with me. Or watch me. One asked me questions I didn’t know how to answer. I hate questions. Questions are hard.

 

I get so tired sometimes. Why is it so hard for people to understand me?

Honduras

Pan de coco revisited

It’s been so warm and sunny these last few days it feels almost like being back in Honduras. Growing up I learned to associate bright, sunny days with ceviche and lots of seafood. No wonder, then, that as soon as the sun came out a craving for ceviche and pan de coco broke out like a thief in the night. Having the day off, I woke bright and early (thanks, body) and prepped the fish for the ceviche and made some pan de coco.

Now, my first attempt at pan de coco wasn’t really successful; the texture was really close and dense. They weren’t the nice soft rolls I remembered. It could have been the old yeast’s fault. I followed the same recipe as last time, but used fast action yeast which doesn’t require being soaked in water, so I omitted that step. I did have to add a bit of extra moisture since the dough was a tad dry (obviously missing that bit of water for the yeast).

Also, last time I didn’t let the rolls prove properly before baking (never bake while in a rush!), which I took care to do this time (tip: bread is ready to bake if it springs back quickly when pressed lightly with a finger).

And this time I wasn’t let down. Lovely, soft, rolls with a hint of coconut flavour. The next step? Pan de coco cinnamon rolls!

Taiwan

恭喜發糕 Gongxi fagao

I remember the first time I celebrated Chinese New Year in Taiwan. I spent it with my Taiwanese friend’s (he was actually my boyfriend, but shh!) family in their hometown. I remember there was loads of food; the number 8 is a lucky number because it’s pronounced very similarly to the word for prosperity (ba八 vs. fa發)

Of the food, one thing stands out in my memory even now: a small, light brown, fluffy cake with four points. While looking for a recipe, for the life of me I thought this had been a niangao (粘糕). Which is nothing like what I was looking for. Only with the help of a friend and fellow baker did I realise that I was actually looking for fagao(發糕)!

My friend sent me a recipe, bless her. I also browsed through Youtube because, why not? All the recipes I came across were simple; this should be easy, right? Wrong! It seems that I need to do things three times before they come out right; it happened with my profiteroles and it happened again this time.

 

The testing begins…

Fagao are cooked in a steamer, which I don’t have and didn’t want to buy. I tried making a steamer in my oven, but that was a big fail. The oven space was too big, the steam didn’t do anything for my first batch of cakes. They came out like dense cupcakes, but tasted fine.

First batch vs. third batch

For my second batch I decided to use the stovetop. If I placed ramekins upside down all around the bottom of a pot, filled it with just enough water and put the lid on, I had a steamer of sorts. Since I was testing a different method as well as a different recipe (with rice flour in it), I just made enough batter to make one cake. I put a couple of ramekins (I should have put all of them) in the pot, poured some water and made sure there was enough steam before putting in my lonesome little cake.

Oh, how it rose and fluffed up! It was really a fist-pumping moment.

Until it fell in the water.

That’s the thing about boiling water… It moves violently, and without the support the extra ramekins could have provided my cake plopped straight into the water with about 5 minutes’ cooking time to go. I fished it out with some tongs and placed it back on the ramekin. For the last 5 minutes I watched it like a hawk, nudging it back to the center of the ramekin if it came to close to the edge. About a quarter of that cake got soaked in water, but I still managed to taste the rest. It was very pale compared to the first ones, and due to the amount of rice flour it left a floury aftertaste. Not my favourite so far.

Having tried those, I then went back to YouTube. There are loads of fagao recipes, using different flavours and colours, as well as varying ingredients. The recipe my friend sent me had no rice flour, but I imagined that if it did contain rice flour, the cake would be ultimately lighter. The second recipe had a higher proportion of rice flour to plain flour, so I decided to find and try one recipe with the opposite proportion (more plain flour than rice flour).

Out of all the videos that I watched, this one by SiuKitchen appealed to me the most. Even though the video is in Cantonese, the English recipe is in the description box. Also, considering the process is pretty straightforward, this was not an issue.

 

Actual Recipe 發糕

Ingredients

(The amount of ingredients they used was enough for 6-8 portions, so I halved them)

85g Water

40g Brown sugar

75g Cake flour/ Low protein flour (I used plain flour)

15g Rice flour

2g Baking powder

I also added some vanilla essence and salt, to give it more flavour

 

Method

(It’s all the same basic method, but I’ve added bits from the other recipes, such as heating the water prior to adding the sugar)

Boil the water, remove from heat and pour sugar in, stir until it has dissolved. Let cool. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a separate bowl and slowly add sugar water. Using a whisk, mix until there are no lumps of flour. Pour batter into molds to about 90% full. Steam the cakes for about 10-15 minutes.

My makeshift steamer

So I made my third batch just before one of my friends arrived to cook Chinese New Year dinner (no worries, we didn’t make 8 dishes). I was so nervous about them falling into the water, that I placed silicone cupcake molds in the crevices between the ramekins, to stabilize the whole thing. Miraculously, my weird setup worked!

It works!

After 15 grueling minutes, with much hovering and staring, I was rewarded with 3 of the cutest and fluffiest cakes. That, plus Taiwanese popcorn chicken and full-moon prawn pancakes.

Prosperous little cakes
Uncategorized

Batter, batter, batter

The first time I saw a Japanese cheesecake was on one of those short videos talking about this bakery in Japan that sells them like hotcakes (excuse the pun). I then saw a Tasty Japan video on how to make it. I had never tried it before, not even when I lived in Taiwan where there are loads of bakeries, specialising in French, German and of course, Japanese baked goods.

Finally, this month I made it. It took two tries, 12 eggs, 2 packs of cream cheese and a whole lot of waiting to get it right. I studied loads of recipes on the Internet, trying to find the perfect one, yielding consistent results. I finally settled on Craft Passion’s recipe; it was simple, had clear notes at the bottom and lots of positive feedback.

A week ago, my first cheesecake flopped, mostly due to my lack of foresight. The cake is baked in a water bath and my roasting tray was too shallow; the insufficient water evaporated quickly. I decided to pop some more in but in opening the oven door, my cake shrank in shame. Horrified, I kept going, hoping the end result wouldn’t be too bad.

It was.

I didn’t take a picture, but suffice to say it looked like a regular cheesecake (albeit a wrinkled one) and nothing like the tall, fluffy Japanese one. I still ate it all (in a week, not all at once), since I hate food wastage.

Since I still had lots of milk leftover (I only buy it for baking) I decided to give it another go this weekend. Sunday was the day: no work and no pressing plans until later.

This time I followed the recipe to the letter and used a different roasting tray that was much bigger. I also made sure the final batter was as evenly mixed as it could possibly be, because something that happened with the first one, due to the cheese batter and the meringue not being fully incorporated, was that it had a very dense bottom and fluffy top. The heavier bits of batter had sunk to the bottom.

Once in the oven, the only thing left to do was wait and pray to the cake gods.

And they didn’t disappoint; she was a beaut!

The joy was shortlived.

Once I cut into it however, I discovered another dense bottom. The only thing that I can think of for this is that water seeped in through the tin foil wrapped around the bottom of my springform cake tin. Sigh, I’ll let this bake go for now. I’ll probably buy a more suitable cake tin to try later but for now that’s enough cheesecake.

It’s the outside that counts, right?
Diary · Honduras

Egg-mageddon Profiteroles 

Home for the holidays, big dinner party tonight, let’s bake a dessert, shall we? What could go wrong?

Everything, apparently. I decided to make profiteroles since they’re simple, don’t require any weird ingredients and are not so fancy that people won’t like them.

 Simple they may be, but easy they’re not. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. It took 3 trials, 2 sticks of butter and 7 eggs to get the perfect profiterole shells. I could hear Chef Moss in my head: “overcooked panada”, “paste too runny”, “needs longer to dry out”.

Sure, baking with a different oven with different measurements (having no digital scale here, I had to settle for using imperial measurements) and different ingredients will make a difference. You definitely need to know your oven and hob, my mom’s hob definitely heats up faster than mine back in London. I think even the medium temperatures are hotter. So definitely a learning curve.

Fail #1 Overcooked panada

Stage 1 of profiterole making is called the panada, adding the flour to water and melted butter that’s been brought to the boil and then cooking for a bit. Basically, I realized the hob was too hot, too late. The dough didn’t look too overcooked, just a tad too shiny (meaning the butter was starting to leak from the dough). However, once in the oven smoke began to come out as the shells baked. Took them out and discovered dark bottoms. Definitely a butter leak. I was reminded of a Creme de la Creme episode where they had to bake croissants and one team of pastry chefs screwed up their lamination and ended up setting the oven on fire due to the butter leaking. At least that didn’t happen!  
Fail #2 Too much egg/liquid

The first time I tried, I had doubled the recipe, for round two I just did half just in case I screwed up again. This time I also did it all by hand instead of using my mom’s stand mixer. I’m not really sure what went wrong this time, maybe the panada wasn’t cooked enough on the hob, so there was still a lot of water in it. I didn’t add all the egg in but still ended up with a very runny mixture that half-assedly puffed up. 

Third time’s the charm, right? 

Last trial, if I screwed up this one, I was officially done with profiteroles. This time, no issues after stage 1. I incorporated the leftover runny dough before adding the eggs. This time the paste was stiff, but pipeable. Probably had like 1 1/2 eggs in there but I didn’t want to use up all of the eggs in the house. Plus I figured it was good enough. 

And it was. Hallelujah! 

 

Now that was just getting the pastry shells right… I also had to make the filling and chocolate sauce! 

Suffice to say, cream is a foreign notion here. There’s sour cream and cream with added salt. We bought some so called cream and it tasted like soap (Honduras, how??). Thankfully you can buy a chantilly cream mix to which you only add milk or water. 

Since I went through the trouble of getting a certificate in patisserie, of course I had to make my own sauce, especially since I was already cheating with the chantilly cream (out of necessity, but still). Too bad I couldn’t make the one I learned at the college, but no way was I using that soap-cream. I just used James Martin’s recipe on BBC Food, converting the measurements from metric to imperial (metric is the way to go people, please catch up). After scrounging up enough chocolate for it, it turned out well. 

So without further mishap, dessert was finally ready. Haha, I wish.

It turned out that the chantilly mix yielded less than a cup, enough to fill maybe half of my shells. In a bold move, I mixed the chocolate sauce together with the meager amount of chantilly. The end result was like a chocolate mousse, decent enough to be piped into the shells. 

Finally done!

UK

A very Potter Halloween 

After being sorted into both Houses, I am now calling myself a Huffleclaw.

Today I slaved away in the kitchen, much like a Hogwarts house elf. It’s been 20 years since Philosopher’s Stone was first published and almost 16 since I first fell in love with it. Halloween is such a big date in the wizarding world, it seemed appropriate to do something Potter-related. So Halloween the Hogwarts way it was. I got some inspiration from this Buzzfeed post, though the recipes I used were found elsewhere.

 

The Main: Roast beef

Not an ad for Lidl.

I didn’t spend too much time on this, to be honest. I just put everything on a tray and chucked it in the oven (the other stuff took up most of my time). What’s more, I picked up an already seasoned roasting joint from Lidl that had some kind of horseradish melty thing on top (the shame!). Considering I made everything else from scratch, I wasn’t feeling that fussed about the roast. It tasted good though.

 

Drink: Pumpkin juice

Thanks Pumpkin Potter for the juice.

Originally I had wanted to make butterbeer, but fearing a sugar overload decided against it. Best to leave it for the cold of winter. Today I made pumpkin juice from scratch. I used this recipe as inspiration; I used an actual pumpkin rather than butternut squash since it was smaller and could be juice raw (I wanted to carve the pumpkin). I also couldn’t find apricot nectar. In the end this is what I used:

  • 1 small pumpkin (yielded about 1/2 cup flesh)
  • about 1 cup of water
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 60g light brown sugar (less than the 1/2 cup sugar in the original)

It was a pain to scrape out all the flesh from the inside of the pumpkin (not sure how I forgot about this; I went through the exact same thing a year ago making pumpkin pasties). That done, I blended the flesh with the water and popped it in a pan on the stove. From this point, I followed In Literature’s directions, simmering the juice together with all the other ingredients. It tasted really good chilled! So much so I tried to make it a cocktail, using some fancy Irish whiskey I got in Belfast. It was okay at first but it won’t become a thing. Both things definitely taste better on their own.

 

Dessert: Treacle tart

I think Harry would approve.

All these years after reading the books, I never bothered to find out what treacle was exactly. I just assumed it would be good. Behold my surprise on finding Mary Berry’s recipe and discovering it is basically…sugar. Golden syrup (sugar) mixed with lemon juice, zest, and breadcrumbs. The most complicated part was the lattice design I chose to do on the top. I spent more time on the top than on the pastry and filling altogether. But it was worth it, I am very happy with the result. As for the flavour, it’s alright, actually. Sweet like caramel almost, but citrusy, the pastry almost flaky (at least the baking course has paid off…gone are the days of bad shortcrust!). I think something rich, like lightly whipped cream would go really well with it (creme fraiche was also suggested in some recipes).

Overall a successful (though puny) Hogwarts feast. I don’t know how those Hogwarts kids can eat so much.

 

 

 

Taiwan

Game of puddings

 

230962_9566910329_871_n
10 years ago I landed in Taiwan

When I first moved to Taiwan 10 years ago one of the first things I ever tried was egg pudding, courtesy of my Korean roommate. Packaged in a plastic cup, it was silky, smooth and sweet with a dark layer at the bottom (caramel? Not really sure). It was the best thing I had had so far in Taiwan (I had a very big sweet tooth when I was younger).

I was never allowed to be a picky eater, but one thing that helped me take to Taiwanese food with enthusiasm was having people around me that ate it and loved it. One of my first friends in Taiwan was a girl from Chile who had lived in China previously; she was familiar with the style of dishes, so I just followed her lead. I know of a few people who struggled in the first weeks, not knowing what to buy, what to try so they just stuck to McDonald’s or KFC. So in a way, first my Korean roommate and then my Chilean friend opened the doors to food heaven.  Now, had this same roommate not told her classmates (of which one was my Chilean friend) that I was messy (seriously? At least I didn’t leave a banana in the fridge until it was solid black, nor did I tell everybody about it), we might have become friends. As it was, it was downhill after that pudding.

Taiwan’s National Day is quite soon, which made me eager to try a Taiwanese recipe to get this blog back on track. I found a simple recipe on Taiwan Xifu’s blog, which has been a good source of information in the past. The only thing I would change about this recipe is the jelly layer. I don’t have access to Taiwanese dark sugar (黑糖), which gives it a much darker color. I used plain brown sugar, but I wasn’t really happy with the result. Not enough jelly to make a substantial layer and it was quite hard to scrape from the bottom. Maybe I’ll stick with caramel. The custard, once set, was spot on: silky, smooth, sweet enough.

 

Can you handle this?

The custard itself was easy to make, having done creme caramels before. Almost the exact same process, except the Taiwanese ones have gelatine mixed in and are set in the fridge instead of being baked in a bain marie like creme caramels are.

Throwback to my exam creme caramels

Considering how easy creme caramels are to overcook, the Taiwanese alternative is basically foolproof. Also, considering the Taiwanese egg pudding uses only milk and no cream, it’s a slightly healthier alternative for dessert (less rich anyway). I will say, though, that caramel goes better with custard than jelly. Since creme caramels are unmoulded, the caramel “juice” oozes down the sides, making it all come together. Whereas with the Taiwanese egg pudding (at least the ones I made), stay in their pot (so I can take some for work, yay!). Jelly wouldn’t ooze anyway, if unmoulded (or at least it shouldn’t).

I don’t think you ready for this jelly

For me, the clear winner is the Taiwanese egg pudding with a different topping, mostly because it’s a quick and easy fix for a dessert which doesn’t require keeping an eye on the oven. It’s definitely a dessert I can tweak, from using alternative milks to different flavours in the custard to different toppings. This pudding is my oyster.

Angels should be singing in the background