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. 

Diary

A month of changes 

I never really subscribed to the whole “new year, new me” idea, but for me 2017 has certainly brought many changes (and it’s only been a month!). Not only have I started the patisserie course, but I’ve also moved to a different flat (there’s only so much you can take from an agency which doesn’t really give a crap about the residents it gives service to). On top of that I’ve also changed jobs, giving me more flexibility with my time. Except for one or two bumps in the road, it’s been great. 

At the very beginning of the course, I felt like I couldn’t catch up; everybody else seemed to be much more experienced in baking. I could hear people kneading and pounding their doughs while I was still mixing my ingredients. I was the first to cut my finger while slicing our sweet buns (who knew professional knives were that sharp). I also cracked my sweet shorcrust pastry shell while transferring it to a cooling rack (only a bit, but still…in pastry-making the quest is for perfection). Not to mention almost grating my finger with the cheese the other day. 

Cracked pastry shell hidden under pastry cream and apricots

With each day, however, I learn to focus on the things I’m doing well  and just make a mental note of what I need to practice more. I could use more practice shaping bread and piping in general, but my choux pastry is not bad. Same for my rolling: rolling out sweet dough to cover with cinnamon sugar and raisins and then roll up into a roll to make Chelsea buns was fun and not as hard as I thought. 

Chelsea/sticky buns, a step away from cinnamon rolls

I think my favourite lesson so far has been making profiteroles, eclairs and one Paris-Brest; all simple enough but with different components each. Choux pastry is so versatile; I wish we had a deep fryer to make churros. 

Heaven in a puff

Besides the pastry, we also learned to make creme patissiere for the eclairs, chantilly cream and chocolate sauce for the profiteroles, and a praline cream for the Paris-Brest. Very handy things to keep in my arsenal of recipes. 

A lone Paris-Brest 

A useful tip I learned for filling eclairs: make two small holes on the bottom of each eclair, one on either end. Pipe the pastry cream in one hole and check when it peeps through the other hole; there’s nothing sadder than a half-full eclair. 

During the last class we made rough puff pastry and to be honest, mine looked really bad by comparison. In the end though, it became gloriously flaky and crispy around some sausage meat and twisted around lots of cheese. 

Cheese straws

Each week brings something new and exciting, keeping me on my toes. I still want to continue my project now that I’m more settled in my schedule. I still need to make something Honduran, probably semitas or rosquillas,  if I find a cheese that resembles the original. It’s something to look forward to, especially since half-term is coming up. Plenty of time to mess around in the kitchen… 

Taiwan

Winter solstice, a time for 軟Q湯圓

During my years in Taiwan I somehow found myself getting involved in all sorts of random things. I joined Dao lessons, karate club, and different student meetups revolving around international friendships. I even participated in a home stay program; I ended up staying at a Taiwanese girl’s house in Taoyuan for a weekend (after I met her once…talk about awkward). While being thrown into all these situations, I got to experience a side of Taiwan that is not immediately perceived by an outsider. I learned some Buddhist stories and Daoist rituals (I even went to a summer camp for young people, involving waking up at dawn for prayers), tried amazing vegetarian food, hot pot, all kinds of street food that locals love (including stinky tofu).  I learned how to make dumplings, including tang yuan for the winter solstice.
I learned how tang yuan are made during my first “winter” (I discovered the true meaning of winter here in Europe) in Taiwan. In a small room somewhere in Fu Jen Catholic University, I joined a group of students to make traditional tang yuan to celebrate the Dong Zhi Festival (winter solstice).  We made lots of dough balls using sticky rice flour and water, which we then boiled in a sweet soup. Visually, they were very appealing: bright pink balls contrasting with the white ones. Inside they were very chewy. The ones we made were plain, but since then I’ve seen tang yuan filled with sesame, peanut or red bean paste. I had them a couple of times in Taiwan, but since that one time I never made them again.

Fast forward to last week when I realized the Winter Solstice Festival would fall just before Christmas. It would be the perfect opportunity to indulge in more Taiwanese food (the pineapple cakes were just not enough). Best of all, that would leave Christmas dinner to be claimed by Honduras with a menu that pretty much planned itself. I take the holidays very seriously.

To celebrate the winter solstice, I spent a total of four hours in the kitchen and by the end I had a ton of food to show for it: the biggest plate of prawn pancakes (月亮蝦餅) you will ever see and a mountain of popcorn chicken(鹽酥雞), washed down with a jug of Thai iced tea (just because). To finish a small serving of tang yuan in a sweet ginger broth. So actually only the tang yuan are traditionally Dong Zhi Festival food, but I had a hankering for some of my favorite discoveries from Taiwan.

For years, I had been searching for crispy prawn pancakes in restaurants, but I never found them outside Taiwan. I was so excited when I accidentally came across this video by Taiwan Cooking showing how to make them. The recipe on the video had a very large yield, so I used half the amount of prawns and guesstimated the amounts for the seasonings. They turned out quite tasty (just a teeny bit too much fish seasoning, a little bit goes a long way) and even though I halved the recipe, I still got about 8 pancakes.

Add to that the popcorn chicken and there’s a food baby on the way. Ever since I discovered Bigbe Chicken in London’s Chinatown, I’ve been wanting to do popcorn chicken myself. It is a hassle reserved for special occasions. Seeing the success I had with the pineapple cakes, I went with another video by Angel Wong’s Kitchen, this time to make popcorn chicken. I chose it because it had a simplified method compared to other videos and the results looked great. I discovered the secret to popcorn chicken lies in the final dusting of white pepper and salt (years I spent wondering what made Taiwanese fried chicken so addictive).
To end this Taiwanese food extravaganza, the tang yuan. Although Taiwan Cooking has a video on tang yuan I actually followed Rasa Malaysia’s recipe, since it had accurate measurements for a set number of portions. I wouldn’t know what to do with all the extra dough, especially since I have a boyfriend who sometimes is a bit skeptical about what I cook.

Making tang yuan is exactly as I remembered: simple dough, boiled in water and served with the steaming, sweet broth. I did follow Taiwan Cooking’s tip on soaking the tang yuan in ice water right after being cooked. They were definitely more Q (Taiwanese expression for chewy).

The best part was eating it all and Boyfriend actually liking it (even the spiced ice tea and he doesn’t like tea). Not to mention the fairy lights and unwanted Christmas tree branches Boyfriend secured to decorate the room, Love Actually playing on TV. He made his own first winter wonderland while watching Colin Firth fumble with Portuguese and Hugh Grant traipsing through Wandsworth, an area we know so well. The eating and drinking, the lights and the movie made it the perfect prelude to Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

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.