Taiwan

Game of puddings

 

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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
Diary · UK

A much belated update (and pancakes)

It’s already been a month since I finished the patisserie course. I know I passed the last practical exam, but still haven’t heard about my final marks taking into account the written assignments. I guess it’s just a matter of waiting, like everything else in the UK.

My favorite exam: raspberry bavarois!

In the meantime, I’ve kept busy with my ABA home programs, which make up my full-time job. The fact that it’s so enjoyable to work with the kids makes it that much harder to dip into patisserie when the time comes to actually try it out. Change is so scary, I totally see how it can be a cause of problem behaviour. 

After months of bringing back loads of sugary treats and buttery goods, my baking time is now devoted to more practical things, like muffins or pancakes. I’ve worked out how to do a single serving of a German pancake (the first couple of times I’d just eat the whole thing…), I’m still working on my muffins, trying to find the balance between treat and healthy (my last batch was bad; protein powder made them very dry and expired baking powder didn’t help matters).

However, I’ve struck gold with pancakes. A couple of weeks ago it suddenly struck me how nice it’d be to mix yogurt into pancake mix. A Google search confirmed this with lots of different recipes for yogurt pancakes. Using the first link as a base, I now have a second foolproof pancake recipe under my belt.

Fluffy tower of pancakes

Today, for instance, I had a hankering for chocolate banana pancakes. Yogurt pancakes are so much fluffier than the original recipe I follow, so it’s a good candidate if you’re putting toppings in the pancakes. I’ve always halved the recipe on Taste of Home, which yields 6 pancakes, which I then separate into portions and freeze.

This is what I’ve used:

  • 1 cup plain flour (-2 tbsp), about 96g
  • 30g chocolate protein powder (I just used the scoop that comes with it)
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) plain yogurt (I used a mix of skyr and Alpro vanilla soy yogurt, 4oz of each one)
  • 1/4 cup water (this I kept the same because I assumed the mix would become quite stiff, I even had to add a little bit extra)

Making pancakes is pretty straightforward: mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls, then add wet to dry, mix and cook. Easy peasy.

I was going to top them with bananas, as I’ve had success with raspberries and blueberries. Alas, bananas have a mind of their own. Maybe if I had mixed them directly into the mix they would have cooperated. Since I just placed them on the top of each pancake, they stuck to the pan after I flipped the first pancake. The second one’s bananas came straight off the pancake, so the rest of the batch was banana-less. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have keep the banana as a garnish and let the pancakes do the talking.

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Breakfast sorted
Diary

A full circle

For a few days now I’ve had a hankering for a German pancake and despite the surprising wave of heat we’re having now, I decided to bake one. Together with a super iced coffee, it should make a nice afternoon treat.

The first time I ever had a German pancake was during a family visit to the USA.  My aunt and uncle were living in Albuquerque at that time with my great-aunt Irma. She was the one who, closer to the German side of the family, had a recipe which she made for us once. It was like nothing my sister and I had ever had before: gloriously puffy, golden and crispy all at the same time. Served simply with icing sugar, it was one of those things you love straight away.

Since then, I’ve only tried to make it once before.  Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what recipe great-aunt Irma used at the time and it’s too late to find out now. But the Internet is resourceful; recipes for German pancakes (or Dutch babies, as they’re called, as well) can be found easily. The one I’ve used is this one, and it produces the puffiest pancake you can imagine.

In making this pancake, newfound curiosity for my family’s background led me to ask my mother a few questions. I thought I knew the story, but actually I missed a few details. I always thought it was my great grandfather who settled in Honduras, but it was actually a generation further than that. Both my great grandfather’s parents were German while he was born in southern Honduras. And while I know my great great grandfather was a consul in Amapala, that just raises more questions than it answers.

I find it interesting how a few generations later, my family has done a full circle. Specifically, my sister in Germany and me in England; each living in a country that contributed to our existence today (funnily enough, my English great great grandfather used to live in south London).

Back to the pancake… In my anticipation, I miscalculated how hot the oven should be and probably raised it a bit higher than recommended, as the pancake got quite brown too quickly. The pancake then had a second stage of baking where the temperature was lowered and left to bake a further 13-15min. I, thinking it must be quite done, took it out a couple of minutes early (mistake number 2). So, because of my impatience, I was left with both an overdone and underdone pancake! Too brown outside and slightly doughy in the middle. Oh well. I still enjoyed it; iced coffee goes well with anything, even the sad version of a German pancake.

Diary

Practice buns

It’s been some time since my last post, quite a bit has happened since then: I finished the Level 1 course with a Distinction (super happy about it!) and got an additional tutor role to fill out my work days. From here on until August, my days are set.

 

Creme caramels from Level 1 exam

 

I also started the Level 2 Patisserie course a few weeks ago and this Friday will be the first practical assessment. We will be tested on bread and it will be much more intense than Level 1 ever was. We will need to produce and present brown plaited rolls and Belgian buns (4 of each). Both of these will be tasted and assessed as products in a proper bakery would be.

 

Brown plaited rolls from class which failed to be recreated at home

 

Since today I had the morning off, naturally I decided to practice. The Belgian buns were easy enough since I had frozen the dough leftover from class. I only had to defrost it, let it rise and shape the buns. I did have to improvise, however, due to having no sultanas or raisins in the house (also no fondant for glazing). I did without the dried fruit and decided to try a chocolate glaze since that’s what I had in the cupboard. The only thing I cared about in terms of the glaze was the actual skill (getting it as even as possible), otherwise I’d have done without it too.

 

Pre-glaze Belgian buns

 

The buns looked great straight out of the oven and brushed with bun wash (sugar syrup). The chocolate glaze was a tad thick so the buns’ spirals got a bit lost.  Hopefully I can manage a thinner, even coating of fondant on Friday’s test.

 

Chocolate glazed buns

 

I had no wholemeal at home, so decided to just make plain white dough to practice the shaping of the plaited rolls… Big fail! I still haven’t quite got the conversion of fresh to dry yeast so whenever I try to recreate the course’s bread recipes they almost never work out. And today was no different… I guess the fact that I halved the recipe didn’t help either. The end dough was too soft; I tried plaiting one roll and gave up. The dough was too soft to hold the shape (I was also running out of time as I had to leave for work), so the rest of the dough ended up as plain rolls. Not even good rolls…they were over proofed in my makeshift prover. I can only hope that Friday will see better rolls (very likely given the proper ingredients and the professional equipment). Wish me luck!

Honduras · Switzerland · Taiwan · the Netherlands · UK

A taste of five pancakes

Before moving to London, I never knew about Pancake Day. Despite growing up in a Catholic household, there never was any change in our diets before, during or after Lent. We’d go to church, maybe eat more seafood during Easter, but never try to consume all the rich foods before Lent. Also, culturally pancakes are foreign to us. We eat both American-style pancakes and crepes but pancakes themselves are not part of a typical Honduran diet.

I love pancakes: blueberry pancakes, chocolate chip pancakes, thick pancakes, thin pannekoeken or crepes, you name it. So it was only natural for me to tackle pancakes on such a special day. I’ve been making pancakes with my mum’s recipe for years, though adapted to yield one portion of pancakes. To challenge myself, I tried to make different pancakes for each country I’ve lived in. It was fun to brainstorm though I spent 2 hours making said pancakes.

For reference, this is my mum’s recipe (which she got from my grandmother and who knows where she got it from…basically it’s the Motz family pancake recipe):

1 cup flour

1 cup milk

1 egg

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp butter (which I’ve always omitted, never changed the end results)

1 tbsp sugar (again, optional, especially if adding sweet toppings)

All the ingredients are mixed into a batter. Scoop batter onto pan with the teeniest amount of butter (which has been wiped around the pan with a paper towel), unless you’re doing Dutch style pancakes (pannekoeken) which do need a healthy nob of butter to cook in. A tip to keep them fluffy: don’t press down on the pancakes with a spatula while cooking.

 

Now, here are my five-country variations:

Honduras (family recipe, served just with maple syrup)

These are my mum’s pancakes, which I’ve eaten my whole life. We would usually have them with honey or, my personal favorite, Hershey’s chocolate syrup. However, I ran out of honey and I don’t have Hershey’s syrup either, so maple syrup it is. I actually like the taste of it more than honey’s.

 
Taiwan (pineapple pancakes)

So I tried the pineapple cakes before and I thought I could adapt the recipe into pancakes. I made the pineapple jam and mixed it in with the batter, to which I also added a spoonful of milk powder to evoke more of the pastry flavor. They were tricky to shape into circles, but they tasted nice (very sweet, though).

 
the Netherlands (pannekoeken with brown sugar or hagelslag)

One of the things I miss about the Netherlands and Belgium was their style of pancakes, thin as crepes but laden with goodness. I always had pannekoeken with either cassonade (brown icing sugar) or hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles); savoury pannekoeken I’ve only had here in London at My Old Dutch Pancake House (really tasty, but enormous things!). So that’s how I had my small portion of pannekoeken (I thinned out the batter with milk to get the crepe-like pancake): with brown sugar and lemon, and hagelslag.

 
Switzerland (pancake fondue)

For this one, I cheated a bit. The pancake itself isn’t anything Swiss; I just cut up my mum’s pancakes into bite-size pieces. But I did make a chocolate sauce for dipping as you would with dessert fondue. Definitely more of a snack than a meal!

 
UK (digestive pancakes)

I know ‘digestive pancakes’ sounds hilarious but when you find out that Britain’s favorite biscuit is the digestive biscuit (essentially, a cookie with oats and brown sugar) then it all makes sense. I attempted to recreate the biscuits in pancake form. I ground a couple of tablespoons of oats and added them to the batter, along with a tablespoon of brown sugar (instead of the original tablespoon of sugar). These came out alright, though I would probably add more oatmeal in future batches or just mix ground digestive biscuits into the batter. I spread some of the chocolate sauce on top, just as digestive biscuits sometimes have a layer of chocolate.

Unsurprisingly, I had a lot of pancakes. At least I’ve got breakfast sorted for the rest of the week!

Honduras

Pan de coco

I’ve always been funny about coconut. I’m not a picky eater, but I have decisive opinions about different products derived from this fruit. Coconut milk? I love it in food. Coconut water? Only from fresh coconuts, and the big green ones at that, not the hairy brown ones. Desiccated coconut? Disgusting. It’s the texture I can’t get past.

Having said that, I love pan de coco (coconut bread), which comes from the north coast of Honduras. It is made with coconut milk as the liquid to bind the dry ingredients, together with an egg. It is soft and rich and full of flavour. I’ve been craving some ever since the Independence Day celebrations in September organised by the Honduran embassy here in London.

Having found a recipe here and seeing how simple it was, there was no way I could delay making some. I chose that recipe for its smaller yield and measurements in the metric system. Here is the English version of the recipe :

Ingredients

453g strong flour

5g dry yeast

20ml water (to dissolve the yeast in)

10g butter

15g sugar

5g salt

260ml coconut milk (you might need a bit more if mixture is too dry)

 

Method

Dissolve the yeast in the water and one tablespoon of flour, mix and let rest until foamy (about 15-20 minutes). Mix all the ingredients (except for the butter) until they come together. Add the butter and knead until the dough becomes soft and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rest until it has doubled in volume, about an hour.

Divide the dough in equal portions, shape into rolls and let rest a further 15 min. Place rolls on a baking tray, leaving some space between them.

Bake at 175 °C for 30 min (or until golden brown). Once baked place rolls on a rack to cool.

The rolls, while a bit dense and of closed texture, looked and tasted as they should. A couple got stuck to the tray (I ran out of baking paper), but no big deal. I think I might have  also overworked the dough as I shaped them into rolls, so 15 min wasn’t enough to let the dough relax before baking. Seeing how easy they were to make, I’m definitely trying again (until I get them right)!

UK

Whisk insanity workout

This week we covered sponges in the course: we made a Victoria sandwich and two Swiss rolls. Little did I know it would involve more physical effort than pushing an elephant and more determination than doing a triathlon.  

It started off innocently enough, creaming soft butter and sugar by hand (literally, the Chef used his hand as a paddle to cream the ingredients together…what technique!), then incorporating eggs bit by bit. The Victoria sponge would be ready for the oven as soon as the flour had been folded into the mixture. This was just the warm-up.

Then came the first whisk insanity challenge: a plain genoise sponge. This time we used a different method, the egg foam method. The only rising agent in this sponge is the eggs, beaten with the sugat over a bain marie until achieving a thick, creamy consistency, much like a sabayon. I thought my arm would break, the urgency of keeping the whisk moving stronger than my wish to stop. I alternated hands, making my clumsy left hand take on some of the workload,  moving at a slower pace, but moving nonetheless. 

It all paid off though when the sponge came out of the oven. So golden, so…spongy. It was love at first sight. Even more so after I rolled it up while hot to hold its shape and no cracks were to be seen. 

Soon after we did the same process, this time for a chocolate genoise. Much more cumbersome…the cocoa powder was heavier and thus much easier to knock out precious air out of the mix. The loss of volume made the mix seem sparse and it wasn’t a surprise when I couldn’t fill out the mold. I didn’t try, because spreading it too thin could leave you with a biscuit rather than a sponge. 

I wasn’t hopeful at all, so it was a nice surprise to see that my overworked mix still rose a bit and looked like cake. Rolling it up was alright, too, no cracks again. When I tried the bits I trimmed off, I thought it felt denser than the plain one, which was to be expected. 

Another part of the whisk workout included making buttercream, creaming butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy. Thank god the chocolate buttercream for the chocolate Swiss roll was prepared by the Chef beforehand. I don’t think my arm muscles would have spoken to me again if I had put them through that. 

All in all, quite a vigorous class. It’ll probably be quite some time before I attempt to make another genoise.