Kee chang / Alkaline rice dumplings

The Dragon Boat Festival is something I look forward to every year, for two reasons. One – it means summer has ‘officially’ begun. And more importantly – it means it is chang/zong zi (粽子) season.

I previously made bak chang (肉粽), and in that post I said I would have to learn how to make the sweet version: kee chang / jianshui zong (碱水粽) / alkaline dumplings… and I have! For those of you who have not heard about these little morsels, they are eaten as a sweet snack or dessert. They get their name because the glutinous rice is pre-treated with alkaline/lye water, which gives the rice its distinctive yellow colour. They often do not contain any fillings, and are eaten with a sugar syrup or kaya (Malaysian coconut jam).

kee chang 2

kee chang 3

I genuinely did not know how this was going to go, as I did not have a proper recipe to follow. Thankfully, they turned out reasonably well. I would do a few things differently next time though:
– Boil for 1.5-2 hours (I only boiled them for 1 hour and the rice was a not ‘mushy’ enough for my liking)
– Leave the rice for 60 mins at most (I left them for 3 hours and they had a very slight bitter aftertaste)
I’ve tweaked the recipe accordingly to reflect these changes.

The next ‘chang’ I’ll have to make will be the Nonya bak chang / Nonya zong (娘惹粽) – which is filled with pork, candied winter melon and peanuts. Watch this space!

kee chang 1

Kee chang / Alkaline dumplings
Makes 10-12 dumplings

For the kee chang:
– 200g glutinous rice
– 1/2 tbsp alkaline water
– 20 fresh, young bamboo leaves
– Cooking string/hemp leaves

The day before:
1. Wash glutinous rice until the water runs clear. Place rice in a tub, cover with water, and leave to soak overnight.
2. Wash the bamboo leaves, and leave to soak overnight.

On the day:
3. Drain the glutinous rice.
4. Add the alkaline water, and stir this through the rice. Leave aside for 30 min.
5. Whilst waiting for the alkaline water to permeate the rice, drain the water from the bamboo leaves. Pat the leaves dry with a cloth – it doesn’t matter if they are still slightly wet.
6. Select two leaves, and place them in opposite directions (i.e. the tail end of one lining up with the top end of the other). Do not use any leaves which already have holes in them, as they will cause water to seep into the bak chang during the cooking process.
7. Form leaves into a cone.
8. Fill the cone with the glutinous rice, until you reach the brim of the cone.
9. Fold the leaves around the pouch, and secure with cooking string/hemp leaves.
10. Boil water in a heavy based pot. When the water comes to a boil, gently lower the kee changs into the water. Make sure all the changs are completely submerged in water. Cover the pot with a lid, and cook over medium heat for 1.5-2 hours hours. (* I only boiled them for 1 hour, and think they would benefit from a longer cooking time to make the rice softer).
11. Leave to cool, and serve with palm sugar syrup.

For the palm sugar syrup:
– 200g gula melaka (palm sugar)
– 200ml water
– 2 pandan leaves

1. Place the palm sugar, water and pandan leaves in a pan.
2. Bring the ingredients to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes until the syrup thickens.
3. Strain and leave to cool.
4. Serve with kee changs, and enjoy! (This syrup also works well with ice cream and yogurt)

kee chang 4

Revisited: Chinese New Year Pineapple ‘nastar’ tarts

Ah, it’s that time of year again. The time of year where the baking madness begins.

Pineapple tarts are, to me, synonymous with Chinese New Year. It simply is not Chinese New Year without them. Having said that, they are one of the more time consuming treats to bake, when compared to something like almond or peanut cookies. Cooking the pineapple jam took almost 3.5 hours! (It’s worth taking the time to cook out the jam though, as there was one year where I had a lazy moment – leading to wet jam, and thus a perfect environment for mould…)

chinese new year pineapple cookies 5

I thought I’d try a new recipe this year, and found a recipe from Sonia of Nasi Lemak Lover. It had rave reviews, so I tweaked it marginally, and went with it. They turned out well, and I love the fact that it utilises one of my favourite ingredients: condensed milk! They do not end up milky or too sweet, so fear not.

I’ve learnt a lot since my first attempt at making these, and my tips for making pineapple nastar tarts are as follows:
– Roll out your jam into rolls beforehand.
– Pipe out rolls of pastry beforehand.
– Have your pastry at room temperature as it is easier to pipe/push room temperature dough through the nastar mould. (This may be different in a humid environment, but in a cold country/during winter I definitely recommend room temperature pastry.)
– Do not let your nastar mould get oily. You will totally lose your grip if this happens, and things will rapidly become more difficult.
– Be gentle with your pastry, as you do not want to destroy the beautiful zigzag nastar design on the pastry.

chinese new year pineapple tarts 1

chinese new year pineapple cookies 6

Chinese New Year Pineapple nastar tarts
Based on a recipe from Nasi Lemak Lover
Makes 80 large tarts (you may get more if you make smaller ones)
 
For the pastry:
  • 350g salted butter, at room temperature\
  • 100g condensed milk
  • 470g plain flour
  • 40g cornflour
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 700-750g pineapple jam (I used 2 1/2 large pineapples)
    • roll into individual balls/logs, approx 3/4 tsp each
For egg wash:
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp milk (gently beaten)
Method:
1. Place the butter and condensed milk in the bowl of your stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Alternatively, you can use a spatula or a hand held mixer.
2. Add the egg yolks, and mix until just combined.
3. Add the plain flour and corn flour to the butter/condensed milk mixture in 2 additions, mix until just combined. The mixture should just come together to form a dough, and should not crumble when you roll it into a ball. If it crumbles, it is too dry – add some liquid. If it seems too sticky, add a little flour. This will change depending on climate( but not by very much).
4. Pipe out the pastry dough using your nastar mould, into 3 inch strips. If you do not have a nastar mould, you can wrap the dough up into the ‘enclosed’ version of pineapple tarts.
5. Place a ball of pineapple jam onto the pastry strip, and roll it up. Place on a silpat/parchment lined tray.
6. Repeat with all the remaining pastry and jam.
7. Brush the tarts lightly with the egg wash.
8. Bake in a 165’C oven (fan) for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

chinese new year pineapple cookies 3

chinese new year pineapple cookies 4

Are these time consuming? Yes. But are they worth the effort? Definitely.

Happy baking!

Straight Up yogurt beetroot cupcakes

Yogurt is a great thing. You can eat it plain, you can use it in baking, savoury dishes, smoothies… the possibilities are endless. I’ve always loved yogurts from The Collective (as evidenced by my large collection of their yogurt tubs – which, by the way, make for excellent storage containers). So it’s not a surprise that I was excited to hear about their newest product Straight Up a natural, unsweetened yogurt with no added sugar, sweeteners, artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. Straight Up Produced using the best West Country milk, it is uniquely luxurious, thick and creamy with a velvety smooth texture, making it a live yoghurt like no other. Because it is packed full with probiotics, it has a very clean, tangy taste – I personally found it a little too sharp, but it’s nothing that a squeeze of brown rice syrup can’t fix! I wish I could have taken proper photos of the yogurt and my baking experiments, but my dSLR camera recently broke (to be more specific, the mirror broke) when we were on holiday, and I need to figure out if it is worth getting it replaced – or it might be time for an upgrade. I am just very grateful for camera phones. They will never replace a proper camera, but at least it’s better than nothing. So, what did I make? I decided to bake some beetroot cupcakes. Yes, I know. It’s a vegetable. But do not scoff, as it is actually a wonderful ingredient and works beautifully well in baked treats. beetroot yogurt cupcake 1 I was a little nervous to find out if Straight Up would work in this recipe, but I shouldn’t have. It worked beautifully, resulting in a moist cupcake with a tender crumb. The only downside of Straight Up is you have to finish the whole tub within a few days, as  the yogurt does not contain any preservatives. I had a small amount of yogurt left over, and it sadly went a little off. So my advice to you is to eat it all, and not practise the ‘let’s just leave some for later’ policy. Beetroot & yogurt cupcakes Makes 24 small-ish cupcakes, or 15 medium cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup beetroot puree *
  • 1 cup Straight Up yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cup brown rice flour (you may use normal all-purpose flour if you wish)
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoons fine salt
  • 1/4 cup poppy seeds (optional)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn oil (or any other flavourless oil)

1. Preheat your oven to 180’C.
2. Sieve the brown rice flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium sized bowl. Add the ground almonds and poppy seeds to the same bowl. I usually don’t sieve my ground almonds, because they usually aren’t ground finely enough to easily pass through the sieve.
3. Add the beetroot puree, egg, sugar, yogurt and corn oil into the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix with the paddle attachment, until it forms a nice smooth paste (this should take only 1-2 minutes). You can also do this with a handheld whisk or a spatula if you don’t want to use/don’t have a stand mixer.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet beetroot mix. Mix until the batter is just combined.
6. Scoop the batter into cupcake tins.
7. Bake the cupcakes for 15-18 minutes until cooked. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes should come out clean.
8. Leave to cool slightly on wire racks, then eat!

* I usually use pre-cooked beetroot, and whizz this to form a puree. You can always cook it from scratch, but it is often difficult to find fresh beetroot. Remember to buy plain unflavoured cooked beetroot, and not those which are pre-seasoned with vinegar.

Disclosure: I was sent samples of Straight Up for review purposes, but all opinions expressed above are my own.

Chocolate and matcha sable cookies

This is something I’ve made a few times now, but I have never gotten around to posting the recipe. The photos are also a few years old… Better late than never though!

These sable cookies do require some refrigeration time to allow for easy shaping/slicing, but I promise that they are not too fiddly, and are completely worth it. I loved the extra crunch from the granulated sugar, but R isn’t a fan and prefers it without (he says it is too sweet with the extra sugar).

Chocolate & Matcha sable cookies
Makes 40 cookies
Recipe from Okashi (Sweet treats made with love)

  • 40g silvered almonds
  • 130g plain flour
  • 20g corn flour
  • 20g cocoa powder (or matcha powder)
  • 120g unsalted butter, softened
  • 70g icing sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Granulated white sugar, for dusting (I use Demerara sugar) – optional
  1.  Sieve plain flour, corn flour, and cocoa powder (or matcha powder) into a bowl.
  2. Beat butter, icing sugar and salt in a mixing bowl on medium speed, until well combined.
  3. Add egg yolk, and mix until just combined.
  4. In two additions, fold the dry flour mixture into the butter mixture, till the dough is homogenous and well combined.
  5. Add the silvered almonds, and mix through.
  6. Roll the dough into two logs, wrap with clingfilm, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  7. Preheat your oven to 160’C (fan assisted).
  8. Slice the cookie dough log into 8mm slices. Roll the cookie sides in granulated sugar, if you wish to do this.
  9. Place the cookies on parchment/Silpat lined baking trays.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes, till just firm to touch.
  11. Leave to cool on a wire rack, and eat when cooled. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 10-14 days.

 

A steam patisserie, Rachel Khoo & brioche buns!

I love new toys. Kitchen toys, that is. One of my friends once described me as ‘would choose to buy a fancy kitchen gadget over a designer handbag’ – and I have to admit that she was (and still is) absolutely right.

It was thus unsurprising that I was excited to hear bout the Miele range of combination steam appliances. Whilst I have vaguely heard about steam ovens, I have never properly understood how they work, and why someone would want one. So I decided to go along to the Miele ‘Steam Patisserie’, which hoped to showcase the diversity and adaptability of baking with steam – and also featured a few Rachel Khoo creations, which she created specially for this event. We also got to meet her, which was a definite plus!

So yes. Steam combination ovens.

The ‘steam’ component comes from the humidity setting, which can range from 0-100%. There are 3 ways you can use it:

  • Keep the humidity at 0% = conventional oven.
  • Switch off the ‘oven’ function and only use the ‘steam’ function = steamer
  • Use both the humidity and oven functions = combination steam oven

I was particularly interested in the combination steam mode, as I often bake with a water bath, or throw chilled water into the oven to create steam. We were also told that the oven can also be used to reheat food (a la microwave), but this would take double the time needed in a microwave. The advantage would obviously be the ability to heat more than one plate of food at a time!

Whilst I loved the concept, I felt that the oven was a little small. In an ideal world, I would want to only have one oven. Miele are however already on the case, and are currently developing larger (64L capacity) steam combination oven. The oven is also naturally more costly than the conventional oven.

miele steam patisserie 3 miele steam patisserie 4 miele steam patisserie 5 miele steam patisserie 6
miele steam patisserie 8 miele steam patisserie 10

Most importantly, the treats served at the Steam Patisserie were delicious. It obviously helped that everything was served in beautiful mismatched vintage china (which seems to be the new ‘in’ thing). I must admit that I would love to own such a collection… I doubt R will agree though, bearing in mind my already vast collection of mismatched plates/bowls. Ha.

But going back to the food – my favourite was the brioche bun, which was delightfully light, yet had a nice crust. I naturally had to recreate this at home (in a conventional oven with ‘water throwing’), and I am glad to say it turned out very well indeed. I made a few small substitutions as always, but I have kept the recipe below very similar to the original.

Many thanks to Miele for inviting me along to this event, and to Cesar & Dominic, who took the time to chat and explain their steam combination range to us.

Brioche buns
Makes 12-14 buns
Recipe from Rachel Khoo/Miele Patisserie of Steam

For the buns:

  • 240g strong white flour
  • 25g castor sugar
  • 5g salt
  • 2 tsp dried instant yeast
  • 70ml milk (I usually use cold milk)
  • 2 medium eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 125g unsalted butter, softened + cubed
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 30g Parmesan (or any other hard cheese), coarsely grated
  • 50g French saucisson (or any other ham), sliced into thin matchsticks

For the glaze:

  • 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp milk

Method:

  • Place flour, salt, sugar and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer (fitted with the dough hook).
  • Add the milk and eggs, and mix on low speed for 2 minutes until a very rough dough forms. Increase the speed to medium, and mix for 5 minutes until a smooth dough forms.
  • Turn the mixer down to low speed. Gradually add in the cubed butter, and mix until the butter is fully incorporated. You may need to use a dough scraper/spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl, to ensure all the ingredients are well combined.
  • Lastly, add in the herbs, grated cheese and saucisson. Mix on low speed for 10-15 seconds, or until they are fully incorporated into the dough.
  • Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm or a teatowel, and leave to rise until doubled in size.
  • Preheat the oven to 180’C (fan).
  • Portion the dough into 12-14 equal sizes (depending on how large you want your buns!). Shape the portioned dough into smooth rounds, and place on lined baking trays. Remember to space the buns as they will rise/get bigger in the oven. Leave to rise again for 15 minutes.
  • Glaze the brioche buns with the egg yolk/milk mixture.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the buns are golden. You may place/throw
  • Leave to cool slightly, then eat!

* I attended the event as a guest of Miele, but all views expressed are my own.

Chinese braised nuts

Most Chinese restaurants always serve a little ‘snack’ the moment you sit down at the table. These Chinese braised nuts (groundnuts) are a common feature, and I personally think they are a fabulous appetiser. Being in London means I don’t get to eat this as often as I’d like – which means there was only one solution: make it myself.

chinese braised peanuts

I’ve tweaked the recipe over my last few attempts, and I am finally happy enough to post the recipe. It is a very simple recipe, but does need a prolonged cooking time to ensure the flavours absorb into the nuts.

chinese braised peanuts

Chinese braised nuts
  • 500g raw peanuts/groundnuts (I prefer skinless ones)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp five spice powder
  • 5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 5 tbsp kicap manis (alternatively, use dark soy sauce + 1 tsp sugar)
  • 3 star anise
  • 60g rock sugar (any other white sugar is fine)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • orange peel from one orange (optional)
  • 5 cups water (you may need a few extra cups of water, see below)
  1. Wash the peanuts, drain, and place in a slow cooker/heavy bottomed pot.
  2. Add all the other ingredients to the pot.
  3. Cook on low heat (covered) for 2-3 hours, until the nuts are cooked through. Gently stir the mixture every 30 minutes. You may need to add in extra water as you go along – do not let the liquid dry out, as this will cause the peanuts to burn.
  4. Eat warm, or leave to cool and eat at room temperature.
On another note, here’s wishing all my Chinese readers a very Happy Chinese New Year! 恭喜发财, 万事如意! 
I leave you with a photo of us tossing ‘yee sang/yu sheng’ (Chinese New Year salad). Essentially, the higher you toss, the more luck you get!
yee sang
May the year of the Horse bring much joy, good health, prosperity, and good food!

A Harrods Christmas hamper, and a champagne chiffon cake

Christmas hampers are one of those things that are synonymous with the holiday season. Each departmental store has it’s own twist on the Christmas hamper – but there is one thing they all have in common: they are all beautifully packaged. Because good things come in beautifully wrapped packages, no?

Harrods is, of course, one of the stores that has some gorgeous hampers on offer – they range from affordable (under £50) to ‘blow the budget’ (over £2000!). Don’t get me wrong through, the more affordable hampers certainly shouldn’t be scoffed at, and make an equally impressive gift.

I recently received a Harrods ‘Pamper Hamper’, which contained pink champagne truffles, Marc de champagne milk chocolate truffles, Laduree candles, a Laduree room spray, and a bottle of rose champagne. A perfect girly present really. Just look at all the lovely pastel colours… (sorry, boys.)

A special mention is needed for the gorgeous rattan basket/box housing the gifts within. It was so pretty that I could not bear to put it away – and this is how it has earned its place as my Christmas tree ‘stand’. Looks much better than my makeshift stand from last year, might I add.

harrods hamper 1

We’re not huge drinkers (we drink the occasional glass of wine/bubbly), so I thought I would use the leftover champagne in a chiffon cake. I know it hasn’t made it on to the blog, but I’ve been on a chiffon cake kick recently – I’m enjoying experimenting with various flavours and combinations of recipes, and am still in search of my perfect, ‘even bubbled’ chiffon. As you can see from my photos, I am not quite there yet. But practice makes perfect, and I’m certainly not complaining about the sampling I get to do along the way!

There’s just something about the lightness of chiffon cakes that make them so addictive. I can honestly eat half a cake in one sitting, and be under the impression that I have not consumed any calories whatsoever. Ha. Delusional much?

A few notes on chiffon cakes – 1) Never ever grease the tube pan. You need the batter to ‘grip’ onto the sides, so it can rise up high. This is why tube pans all have a smooth flat edge (as opposed to bundt tins which have intricate designs), as you have to run an offset spatula/knife around the tin to release the cake at the end of the baking/cooking process. 2) Patience is key! The cake needs to be left to cool (upside down) before you cut into it. Yes, this is unfortunately one of those cakes that you can’t dive into straight out of the oven – if you do so, the cake will end up dense and we can’t have that now can we? 3) Try not to overmix the batter. Treat the batter gently when folding in the whipped eggwhites. I find that mixing in 1/3 of the eggwhites in the first instance loosens up the batter, and makes the subsequent folds much easier. You can also be a little less gentle with the first ‘fold’.

Champagne chiffon cake
Makes one 20cm chiffon cake

  • 190g cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 130g champagne
  • 50g corn oil
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 egg whites
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 165’C (fan forced).
2. Sieve the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium sized mixing bowl. Set aside.
3. Whisk the egg yolks and 50g sugar in a large mixing bowl, until the yolks turn thick and pale. Add the champagne, corn oil and vanilla extract, and whisk until just combined.
4. Slowly add in the sieved dry ingredients to the egg yolk mixture, whisking whilst you add. Ensure there are no lumpy bits in your mix.
5. In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites on high speed until they become foamy. Add in the 50g caster sugar and cream of tartar (if using) gradually, and continue whisking until you reach stiff peaks.
6. Add 1/3 of the beaten egg whites to your cake mixture – this helps to loosen the cake mix.
7. In 2 additions, fold in the remaining egg whites into the cake mixture, until just combined. You should ideally not see any lumps of whites. Take care to not overmix though!
8. Pour the cake batter into an ungreased, 20cm chiffon cake tin (tube pan).
9. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. A skewer inserted in the center of the cake should come out clean.
10. Remove tin from oven, invert, and leave to cool upside down (either by sticking the tin on a bottle top, or placing it on a wire rack if your tin has ‘feet’). Leave the cake to cool completely.
11. Once cooled, run a knife along the edges of the tin, and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Cut, serve, and enjoy!
Disclaimer: I received a Harrods Pamper Hamper as a gift, but all opinions expressed are my own.