Diary

Say goodbye, goodbye

The time to say goodbye to my job at school is here and it’s one of the hardest things I think I’ll ever have to do. It’s not just about leaving the job, though I think it’s a darn good one. It’s about leaving children who are amazing in their own ways, whose smiles just light up the corridors, who will flourish beyond society’s expectations for them and whose cheeky personalities will keep every tutor on their toes.

Standing in front of everyone and acknowledge my leaving was something I did not look forward to. It hadn’t really sunk in until then. It was hard to sit through the after-school meeting without breaking down, listening to everyone else’s favourite memories about their time in the school…and then it was time to sing the goodbye song we sing at every Leavers’ assembly. It was like opening a pair of floodgates. 

This last week has been surreal. There have been small successes, other little things that made me smile, and a big performance at the end…what a way to go.

I’ve never been what you’d consider ‘outgoing’. My way of letting people know I appreciate them is to do stuff for them. So I decided to make some special cookies from my childhood for my colleagues. The recipe is from my mom’s recipe drawer, written on an old card titled simply ‘Hungarian cookies’. I now realize they’re a kind of shortbread. Making these cookies for my class reminded me how much I like making things for people to enjoy and why I’m going off to do a patisserie course.

So I know I have to leave and why, but it’s still hard. After all, how do you say goodbye to someone you care about who can’t say goodbye back? It’s that last moment that I’m dreading.

Taiwan

Pineapple pen…I mean, cake

img_0352_lznWhen people ask me what I miss about Taiwan, I say many things: the 7-Elevens, the bubble tea shops, all the different kinds of dumplings and buns, the mantou sandwiches that a friend and I would have for lunch but were actually meant for breakfast…you get the idea. I miss the food a lot.  I should note that this is because over the years a lot of the people I met in Taiwan have left the island and not because I’m super obsessed with food.

When you get thrown into a different culture with a completely different view on cuisine (sweet beans, I’m looking at you), it’s very easy to stop yourself from trying new things. In my case, and just like my decision to go to Taiwan, I just didn’t think about it. It also helped that one of my first friends in Taiwan was from a similar cultural background (Chile) and already knew her way around the food. By trying food blindly I discovered my favorite soup of all time, 酸辣湯 (hot and sour soup) when I ordered every item on the menu (not all at once though) of this one shop back when I still couldn’t read Chinese that well.

If you Google Taiwanese food, you get tons of suggestions of stuff and places you should try, tons of videos and lists ranking the best foods, and best of all, you get something for everyone. Sweet, savory, spicy, stinky, non-stinky, hot, cold, you name it.

As far as sweet things go, pineapple cakes are very approachable. Even when I was at my most adventurous, I hardly ever tried red bean flavored stuff. Pineapple though…it was familiar (Honduras actually has its own version of pineapple cakes). Pineapple cakes are extremely popular, as gifts and as treats. There are so many famous shops, each with their own take on these pastries. Article after article claims that it is Taiwan’s most famous souvenir. I can definitely see why. Who wouldn’t appreciate a sweet yet tangy jam encased in golden, crumbly pastry? As much as I like them, though, I can’t really buy them as often as I’d like to. London’s Chinatown covers quite a bit of ground when it comes to all kinds of Asian products; Taiwanese stuff can be found if you look for it.  However, considering how inexpensive they are to make I would rather save my pounds.

The recipe I chose to try was simple and quick, from Angel Wong’s Kitchen. The video tutorial was quite useful to get the pastry right, but that should have been the least of my worries. I spent more time fashioning my own molds out of cardboard and aluminum foil than mixing AND baking the actual cakes. Next time, I’m shaping them by hand.

The filling is pineapple and sugar with a bit of lemon juice, cooked to a jam consistency, which I almost let burn trying to multitask (those molds took time). It was smoking quite a bit, but it looked and tasted just fine.

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Once done, I let the jam filling chill in the fridge while I mixed the pastry in the food processor. A bit like shortcrust pastry, but more forgiving. Must be the extra ingredients, like the egg and milk powder. Unlike shortcrust pastry though, it was quite sticky and needed some gentle kneading.

Shaping the cakes was straightforward, just rolling up small pieces of dough into balls to be flattened and then wrapped around spoonfuls of filling. Rolled up again and into my makeshift molds.

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About halfway through the baking time, the cakes needed to be flipped, revealing a nice golden bottom.

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Once fully baked, I removed them from the molds and, although the shapes were not perfect, they all had that nice golden tone.

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The cakes were tasty and crumbly, fortunately. The final consistency of the filling was a bit too stringy for my liking and the flavor was slightly different to what I remembered, but that’s probably due to using only pineapple. In Taiwan pineapple cakes are sometimes made with winter melon together with pineapple, to keep costs down. The combination makes the filling more like a jam and obviously affects the taste. 

I’m glad that now I know how to make these babies to satisfy any future cravings and remind me of Taiwan. I’ve been meaning to go back ever since I left 4 years ago. Hopefully a trip is in the cards, if only to do some field research.

 

the Netherlands

Poffertjes = lekker

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Poffertjes without the poffertjespan

The one word you need to have in your Dutch vocabulary is lekker; it means tasty or yummy…or hot, if you’re referring to a girl. It was one word I heard a lot in Maastricht (referring to food, not girls), along with leuk (nice), mooi (pretty), and gezellig (cozy). This weekend I was in need of something with all these qualities, given the miserable cold (winter is coming…). Also, it was Gilmore Girls weekend and what better companion to watch the revival with than some tasty Dutch mini-pancakes?

The first time I had poffertjes was actually in Germany, at a Christmas market in Hamburg when I visited my sister for the first time. I was living in Maastricht back then but I still hadn’t had poffertjes. Liege/leukse waffles, yes (which are actually Belgian, but Maastricht is right next to the Belgian border, and these waffles are part of the Maastricht experience). Bitterballen, yes. Frikandel, yes. But not poffertjes. The stand in Hamburg had the proper equipment to make them though, and I’m pretty sure the girl making them was Dutch, so they were as authentic as they could’ve possibly been. They were so light and spongy, quite different from regular pancakes. Definitely a sweet treat for a cold day.

So I settled down in my kitchen to make poffertjes on a gray Saturday afternoon. There always seems to be a mishap or another whenever I put my green apron on (except for last time, with the brioche). I’ve made loads of pancakes in my time, from plain to banana to Oreo-flavored; from American to Dutch (which are like crepes), and so on. I was confident these mini versions would turn out fine. And they did, but not without some casualties.

The recipe was easy and simple enough. Poffertjes are essentially pancakes but with yeast and, as such, a rising period. I followed the Oh My Dish recipe, since the ingredient amounts seemed more reasonable to my specific needs (I’m just feeding two mouths here).

I made the batter, let it rest for an hour, then got to work making my version of poffertjes. I don’t own a poffertjespan, that special pan with small, shallow indentations on the bottom. I used my large frying pan, butter, and a squeeze bottle to pipe the batter. 

Getting the batter into the bottle was mess number one. I don’t have a funnel (yet another thing I don’t have…I need to go shopping); the best I could do was spoon it or pour it in. That was messy enough, though at least I didn’t waste a lot of batter.

Next came piping nice little circles all around the pan. The poffertjes weren’t as puffed up as if they had been made in a proper poffertjespan, but they looked good enough to me.

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At least I got good at piping circles!

One thing about the piping process, though. It started out smoothly enough. Then, bits of dough started to clog the bottle’s tip. They’d come out eventually if I squeezed a bit harder, so I kept going. At one point, after the tip had gotten clogged again, I squeezed the bottle so hard, the tip popped right off, batter oozing all over the poffertjes I had just piped. I let that cook into a massive, deformed pancake, since there was nothing else for me to do. No use crying over spilled batter.

Determined, I refilled the bottle and tried to unclog the tip, this time over the bowl with the leftover batter. That was one stubborn piece of dough; it refused to budge. The cap came off once again and that was it. I switched the caps and started over. And although there were still tiny doughy bits that got stuck in the tip, at least now I was more cautious with the squeezing. The last poffertjes cooked without further accidents and I got to eat most of them with a nice cup of tea watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

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Lekker!

Now, I enjoyed the poffertjes, but I am still deciding how I feel about this new Gilmore Girls…not enough Jess, in my opinion. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I’ll just say the original series dug itself into a nice, gezellig spot in people’s hearts that would be hard to share even with its revival. It’s great to see how the story developed and where those familiar people ended up, even if you might not agree with some of their decisions. There’s only one thing left to do to help me process: watch it again.

 

 


This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge, connecting bloggers and sharing new foodie experiences. This month’s host is Alicia our-growing-edge-badgefrom Alicia’s Bits n Bobs.

Switzerland

Brioche (and Gilmore Girls)

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My second attempt at brioche

The first time I made brioche a few months ago I mixed all the ingredients by hand, following every step of The Bread Kitchen’s video. It was the worst decision I could’ve made at that time…if you see that video you’ll know I had my hands completely covered in soft, squishy butter, as I tried to knead it into the dough. I was so close to giving up, I only made it to the end thanks to Titli Nihaan’s encouraging commentary on the video. I took out all my frustration on the dough, slapping it as hard as I could on my wooden board (which kept shifting around in the most unhelpful manner). And what do you know, after 15-20 minutes of amateur kneading, I had a nice brioche dough, just like the video’s. Shame I had to rush that first batch of brioche rolls, though. They were underproofed as a result. They tasted fine,  they were just small and dense. But at least movie night went as planned (Star Trek Beyond…the boyfriend’s choice).   

As a result, this time I cleared my Saturday schedule; nothing would be getting in the way of making a good brioche. I wasn’t looking forward to the buttery mess, so I tried mixing it all up in the food processor using the dough/creamer attachment. It worked, to some extent. The poor appliance was  shaking so violently, it felt like it was about to take off, but at least the butter was incorporated evenly without the goopy mess.

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Sticky mess

I had to finish kneading it by hand, since the dough was getting stuck around the middle bit. It was a pain to get it all out. Nevertheless, I cut down the kneading time by a sizeable amount (woop, woop!).

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After quite a bit of pounding

Then came the boring part: letting it rise. At least I got to watch some Gilmore Girls on my sister’s Netflix (shout-out to the best sister ever). I’m currently re-watching season 7 while waiting for the revival. Will Lorelai ever learn? She’s the one who let her relationship with Luke go bust. Also, I dislike Logan so much, no matter how many cheesy gestures he pulls. I got so engrossed in the show, it didn’t occur to me that the kitchen was too cold to let the dough rise properly. After about an hour I turned on the heating and placed the bowl in my room, close enough to the heater. And, like magic, that made all the difference.

Shaping-wise, I wanted to try out the classic brioche à tête shape (just like the ones I used to get at the Coop in Morges). I realized that using chilled dough would have been better for shaping out the rolls, as it would have been firmer. But, oh well! You live, you learn.

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Wonky brioche

After letting them prove for almost an hour, I brushed on (with my finger due to lack of professional equipment) some yolk and sugar glaze. Then straight into the oven, as my flatmate needed the kitchen.

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Not the dramatic rise I was expecting 😦

I used regular muffin tins since I don’t have brioche tins (yet), but I think that just gave them personality. The heads came out a bit crooked but inside they were light and fluffy. Nothing small or dense about these! I just wish the brioche I used to buy in Switzerland had been as big as these; for almost CHF 2 (about £1.60) those buns were tiny. More delicate and elegant, sure, but so tiny. I’d rather have one of these bad boys… No wonder I’m Team Jess. 

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Wow, where did these come from?!
UK

Double double, pasty toil and trouble

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Shortcrust pastry was one of those things I learned to make without knowing what it was. I remember making chicken empanadas with my sister or making apple pie with my mom when I was around 12. So I thought, pasties…easy-peasy, right?

Wrong, oh, so wrong. It started smoothly enough. I decided to make leek and potato pasties as well as pumpkin pasties, since it’s Halloween (and no one does Halloween like Harry Potter). I gathered my ingredients (including a mad dash to the local farmer’s market for a pumpkin), cooked my filling, and did my pastry. It should have been smooth sailing from there. So what went wrong? I’m guessing I didn’t add enough water while mixing the dough; I was bit paranoid of overdoing it.That or I didn’t let the pastry rest enough time in the fridge. I did two batches of pastry, one for each kind of filling, following the basic recipe:

250g of flour (I used plain)

125g of chilled butter

pinch of salt

Enough iced water to bring the mixture together (no more than 100ml, according to Gordon Ramsay)

Mix the salt with the flour.

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Rub butter into the flour using fingertips until it gets to a coarse breadcrumb texture.

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Then, add the water a little bit at a time. Mix until it just comes together. Chill until ready to use.

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Which is what I did but, for some reason, the first batch kept cracking while I tried to roll it out and once I cut a circle out it wasn’t what I remembered it ought to be. So I added a teeny bit more water and worked it into the dough. It seemed to help a bit, but I was still having issues rolling it out. So, in despair, I just packed it into a baking tray, stretched it out and baked it for a few minutes to make an open-top pie. The end result? Well, despite my fears of overworking the pastry, it was alright. A bit dry, but not tough.

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I also added water to the second batch of pastry and it was left to rest in the fridge. Meanwhile, I prepared the pumpkin for the filling. This is my first time handling a pumpkin and it was tedious, to say the least. Scooping out all the seeds and the membranes took a good ten minutes. Cooking it in the oven took another 45 minutes. I scooped out all the flesh and pureed it in the food processor. I then followed the recipe on Geeky Chef’s website.

The end result were these ultimately pale-looking-but-not-bad-tasting pasties. An egg wash would have made all the difference. That said, I do need to work on my pastry more than I thought.
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This post is part of the monthly blogging event Our Growing Edge. The aim is to connect our-growing-edge-badge
bloggers and inspire them to try new food-related things. This month’s host is Annika from We Must Be Dreamers with the theme: Halloween.

Diary

An escape to Budapest

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Photo credit: J. Khokhar

The great thing about working in education is having holidays strewn throughout the year, giving lots of opportunities to get a change of scene. Sometimes I get the travel bug, which can’t be helped when friends post amazing photos all over the place.

Budapest was a city I had missed visiting due to a lack of planning; while I was in Vienna a couple of years ago and I could have gone to Budapest if I had made a thorough plan for the whole trip. The what-if stayed on my mind, which is why Budapest was among the top choices for this half-term.

Just as many others had described, Budapest was amazing; a beautiful city boasting gorgeous bridges, classy architecture and lush parks (the parks in autumn are a true gift). No matter which side of the Danube you’re on, there’s always a breathtaking view. Same goes for daylight vs nighttime. Budapest is just all-around beautiful; were she a person she’d be like Natalie Portman.

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View from the Citadella

Food-wise, it was great; I just love trying new things. I got to try a kind of strudel different to what I’ve eaten before. Hungarian strudel (or rétes) uses pastry very similar to filo pastry (as opposed to puff pastry) and fillings of choice include sweet cottage cheese and sour cherry. There are also savory strudels, with fillings like cabbage. The bakery we went to was called Rétesvár and it was the tiniest place dedicated to strudel located within the walls of a medieval archway in the Castle district. I tried the classic sweet cheese strudel, while my boyfriend tried the sour cherry with poppy seeds. Both were served with powdered sugar on top. Humble-looking but great flavor.

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Sour cherry and poppy seed strudel. Photo credit: J. Khokhar

Then, while on a walking tour of Pest, we stopped  to get lángos (fried dough stretched like a pizza) from a Fritú stall in a market hall near the Soviet War Memorial. The great thing about traveling with someone is you can always eat more stuff simply by sharing everything. The lángos is definitely something you might want to share, unless you’re starving. The one I got was massive and loaded with cheese. It was listed under the more traditional ones which can have garlic, sour cream or a combination of these. There are lots of other choices when it comes to toppings, however, so there’s definitely room to experiment.

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Lángos in the market hall. Photo credit:J. Khokhar

For something sweeter, we tried the funnel cake (kürtőskalács), which originated in the Hungarian-speaking regions in Romania as a festive treat. It was very cool to see the way they are baked wrapped around a spit over charcoal. The end result is a hollow cake, fluffy on the inside with a shiny, caramelized crust.It is further coated in sugar.

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Funnel cake/chimney cake. Photo credit: J. Khokhar

Not all food experiences were that great though. The one major let-down was dinner one day while we walked around the shopping street near Deák Ferenc metro station. There were lots of stalls selling food so we figured we’d just try them. My boyfriend chose first since he was hungrier. And good thing he did. We ended up sharing a monstrous plate consisting of overpriced fried potato pancake topped with a chicken sauce and bowl of goulash soup. It was gross on every level: oily, bland potato which was too hard around the edges, the soup was watered down and needed seasoning. The chicken saved it to some extent.  All this blandness for the whopping price of HUF 8,800 (£25), which is outrageous for a meal in Budapest (even in London, £25 from one food stall alone is a bit much). We asked about the price and apparently they sell everything according to weight. But still, 8,800? I definitely feel like we were scammed, especially since none of the prices were listed anywhere. We didn’t take any photos of this dismal meal, it was just too depressing. The offending stall’s name was Fashion Street Food. Just stay away. Also, lesson learned: always ask for a price first if it’s not listed.

At least the trip ended on a positive note. We traveled to Szentendre, a small town north of Budapest where we found the National Wine Museum. There we were offered a wine tasting for HUF 3000 each (£8.70!). Our wine master, Peter, led us through the tasting of six wines from five of the 22 different wine regions in the country (grape varieties are listed first, then the region in Hungary):

  1. A dry white wine (Irsai Olivér, from Ászár-Neszmély)
  2. A mild red wine (Kékfrankos, from Sopron)
  3. A collector’s full-bodied red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, from Hajós-Baja)
  4. A fresh rosé (Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Kadarka blend, from Villány)
  5. An eiswein-type of Tokaji (Furmint, from Tokaj)
  6. A special selection Tokaji Aszu 3 puttonyos (Furmint, from Tokaj)
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The wine squad. Photo credit: J. Khokhar

I definitely learned a lot from this wine-tasting, especially about Tokaji wine, which was my favorite one of the lot. The number of puttonyos simply refers to the degree of sweetness of the wine, so 6 puttonyos would be the sweetest you can go. I found out, however, that recent legislation has made 5 puttonyos the minimum for a Tokaji wine, so anything lower than that is hard to find (and may be very expensive if it was a good harvest year, like 1999…about 100 euros for one bottle!). What’s special about Tokaji wine is that no two wines taste exactly the same, given the varying weather conditions for a harvest year and the different technologies for making it. The one I tasted had very distinct honey tones, which I’ve never had in a wine. And to be honest, I usually can’t really tell when a wine has such and such undertones of fruit or florals or whatever. But this time, I actually could recognize the honey flavor (haha, I’m so proud of myself). Needless to say, I didn’t need any convincing at all to get a bottle (or two) from the airport.

All in all, it was a great trip. I wouldn’t hesitate going back for seconds (especially for more Tokaji). I’ll just stay away from the sketchy street food.

 

 

Diary

The plan…and some puffs

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So after all the excitement of starting my blog and uploading my very first post, the next day I actually sat down to think about the mechanics of what I’ve set myself to do. Being home sick has its benefits, I guess. I also baked some choux puffs…talk about being productive! Though the puffs could’ve been better. The first time I made them a few months ago they turned out much puffier and rounder. I’m definitely investing in some piping bags for next time!

Anyway, I’ve devised a plan for the first round of bakes. I’m not sure when I will be able to start officially (these puffs don’t count, they’re just a warm-up), but when I do, I’ll begin with the UK and work my way backwards.

The first taste I ever had of British fare, was a pasty from one of those kiosks in Victoria Station. A steak and ale pasty, I believe (at the time, I just chose the most foreign-sounding filling). I know it’s savoury, but I love anything tasty and it doesn’t have to be sweet to be baked! I probably won’t recreate it exactly, but an English-style pasty is a good start. And if I play around with flavors I could hit two birds with one shot since back home in Honduras we have empanadas, which are basically pasties.

Following the UK, will be the land of fondue and watches, Switzerland. When I lived in Morges, the tiniest town next to the lake, I used to get brioche buns from the fancy supermarket’s bakery section as a complement to my lunch. I know brioche is French; it’s one of those things like when flatmates share the same fridge. There’s bound to be some food-sharing at some point. Anyway, I discovered brioche in Switzerland and fell in love with it there,so brioche for round one from Switzerland.

Next, will be the Netherlands with poffertjes. Mini pancakes! Trust the Dutch to come up with a great way to have your pancakes: in tiny morsels you can devour with almost no mess (unless you send icing sugar flying everywhere while you eat them). I don’t own a poffertjepan and I don’t think many people outside the Netherlands own one. But by this time I should have my own piping bags to make life easier and, hopefully, the end result will resemble poffertjes.

I’m leaving Honduras for the very end of round one since I’m really looking forward to trying my favorite Taiwanese treats. First of will be pineapple cake (鳳梨酥), considered by many to be the national pastry. I really hope I don’t mess this one up; I’d love to go back to Taiwan without feeling embarrassed. .

And finally, from my home country, where people just need a sweet bread to dunk in their coffee, semitas, a popular choice for coffee-dunking. They’re very sweet and tasty, definitely not something to have while on a diet (they’re made with both butter AND lard…oops).

I’m quite stoked about this project; there are so many things I want to learn and I just can’t wait until March for the course to begin. Trial and error are good teachers. And if in doubt, there’s always Youtube.