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 (碹水粽) / 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 (娘惚粽) – 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

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.

Roasted banana sorbet

The weather in London has been very good indeed over the weekend. Sun, blue skies, and proper heat. Now for a little confession: whilst I love the sun and the blue skies, I’m not so much a fan of the heat that comes along with it. I flap at the thought of humidity/heat, and cannot bear the thought of life without the fan/airconditioning.

My British friends always find it odd that I can’t take the heat (I did grow up in a tropical ‘always summer’ country after all).. to which I respond: ‘We move from air conditioned house, to air conditioned car, to air conditioned building’. Though come to think of it we had no air conditioning in school, and we sometimes even wore baju kurung. Thinking back, I have no idea how on earth I managed that.

One of the ways I deal with the heat is by eating copious amounts of frozen desserts – ice cream, sorbet, gelato, granita… I’ll take them all, thank you very much. I used to stock my freezer with many tubs of store bought ice cream, but ever since I got my ice cream maker I prefer to make my own. Because let’s face it, I can’t walk into Waitrose and get Milo ice cream now can I?

I saw this recipe for roasted banana sorbet in the Eleven Madison Park cookbook, and was quite intrigued. For those of you who don’t know, Eleven Madison Park is a 3 Michelin star restaurant in New York, and is currently No 10 on the Worlds Top 50 restaurants. It is also one of my favourite restaurants, ever. I’d cooked a couple of pork dishes from the book prior to this which turned out well, so thought I’d give their sorbet recipe a try.

This turned out rather well, but because there wasn’t any cream/milk/butter/egg yolks in it the sorbet wasn’t super creamy like how ice cream/gelato is. I actually liked this, because it made it very light and refreshing. The flavour of banana is also intensified from the roasting.. in fact it reminded me of goreng pisang (deep fried battered bananas, a Malaysian snack).

What I might experiment with next time is to use milk in place of the water – I suspect this would make it slightly creamier, without needing to use cream or egg yolks. And maybe add a dash of condensed milk. Hmmmmm.

Photo taken with instagram

I topped the ice cream with some crushed peanut & sesame brittle – because I always need a little crunch to go with everything I eat. I’m obsessed with texture!

Do try this recipe out if you’re feeling a little hot and bothered, and feel like you need to cool down. It works, really! 🙂

Ah, the difficulties of photographing frozen desserts in warm weather…

Roasted banana sorbet
Adapted from the Eleven Madison Park cookbook
Makes 2 cups

  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup sugar (you may need more or less, depending on how sweet your bananas are)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1. Preheat the oven to 180’C. Place the unpeeled bananas on a parchment lined baking tray, and roast until the skins turn brown and the juices have run out. This should take approximately 20-30minutes.
2. Peel the bananas. Place bananas in a large bowl, and add the water, sugar and salt.
3. Puree the banana mixture using a hand held blender, or food processor. If you wish, you can strain the mixture to ensure it is smooth. I choose not to do this as I like small banana chunks in my sorbet.
4. Add the lemon juice to the banana mixture. You may add less lemon juice if you prefer a sweeter sorbet.
5. Chill the banana mixture in the fridge for 3-4 hours, until it is thoroughly chilled.
6. Churn the mixture in an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturers instructions.

Matcha & vanilla mini doughnuts (with a chocolate glaze!)

When looking through my previous posts, I realised that I’ve never blogged anything Valentine’s Day themed before… so I am here now to rectify this. Most Valentine’s themed desserts nowadays usually have one (if not both) of chocolate, or red velvet. I did toy with the idea of making something like a chocolate fondant (I made these for Valentine’s a few years ago and loved them), but decided to make something I’d never done before instead.

So… I decided to make mini doughnuts, partly because I had a 6 month old mini doughnut tin which had yet to be used. Tin, you say? Why yes. These are baked doughnuts, you see. I doubt I would ever make ‘proper’ deep fried doughnuts, because the amount of oil needed and the subsequent oily kitchen floor really is not something I want to deal with. But baked ones – yes please! [P.S. I LOVE fried doughnuts, I just don’t love making them myself.]

There were a number of different recipes around, some with ‘cake like’ ingredients (i.e. without yeast), and some with ‘bread like’ ingredients (i.e. with yeast). Because I haven’t made these before, I decided to go with a recipe from Heather of Sprinkle Bakes – I’ve tried a few of her recipes before and they’ve turned out well, so I knew I could trust her recipe.

I initially planned on making vanilla doughnuts, but changed my mind at the last minute and went for vanilla and matcha instead. What can I say, I’m fickle. I’m really glad I added in the matcha though, as it added a lovely flavour to the teeny little doughnuts. Plus, if there is matcha in these, they qualify as health food… right? 😛


Doughnut tic-tac-toe, anyone? 😉

These doughnuts turned out really well, and I had a lot of fun decorating them with sprinkles! The decorating actually took longer than the actual baking of the doughnuts, believe it or not. It’s a testament to my pure OCD-esque-ism. They taste best on the day of baking, but become slightly hard the next day. I discovered a little trick to re-soften the doughnuts though: zing the doughnut(s) on HIGH for 10 seconds in the microwave… and voila! Slightly warm, soft doughnut with a melty chocolate glaze. Total win/win situation. In fact, this is what I always do with my beloved Krispy Kreme doughnuts – they just taste so much better warm!

Whilst these aren’t your typical Valentine’s dessert, I can assure you they are the perfect sweet treat for a “pick me up”. And even if you don’t really celebrate it – who needs a reason to eat mini doughnuts?

Matcha & vanilla mini doughnuts
Adapted from this recipe on Sprinkle Bakes
Makes approximately 36 mini doughnuts

For the doughnuts:

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar (use 1/3 cup if you prefer a sweeter doughnut)
  • 2 tbsp matcha powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (optional)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

For the chocolate glaze:

  • 100g milk or dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
  • sprinkles of your choice

1. Preheat oven to 210°C. Oil your doughnut tin with oil or melted butter (or cooking spray, if you have it).
2. In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a mixing bowl), sift together the flour, sugar, matcha powder, baking powder and salt.
3. Add the buttermilk, egg, vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste (if using) and butter to the mixing bowl. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium high speed, until the ingredients are just combined.
4. Fill doughnut batter into a piping bag, and pipe the dough into the doughnut tin cavities. Don’t overfill the tin, as the doughnuts will puff up and look more like muffins than doughnuts – aim to fill to just under 3/4 its capacity. Alternatively, you can try spooning in the batter, but piping it is much easier (and neater!).
5. Bake for 5-8 minutes, until the top of the doughnuts spring back when touched with your finger. Let cool in pan for 2-3 minutes before removing to a wire rack.
6. Whilst the doughnuts are cooling, melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or in the microwave.
7. Dip the cooled doughnuts into the melted chocolate, and top with sprinkles. Repeat. Then eat! (If you find that your chocolate is too thick, add 1-2 tbsp of milk to the chocolate which will help to make it a little more liquid and dip-able.)

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! And regardless of whether or not you plan to celebrate it, remember that there is ALWAYS a reason to eat some chocolate. Or cake. Or mini doughnuts.

Pierre Herme chocolate raspberry mini tarts

Over the years, I’ve come to realise that I’ve got a slight raspberry obsession. I’m not sure what it is that makes me love it so… but truth be told, there is very little to not like about its vibrant red hue and ease of being eaten (they’re bitesize!). Or maybe it’s just because I never ate much of it growing up – my childhood was predominantly filled with more ‘tropical’ fruits like rambutans, dukungs, mangoesteens and durians (all of which I miss terribly).

At any rate, I always find it hard to resist any desserts that features raspberries. In fact, I actually add raspberries to most of the things I make, even when the recipe does not call for it. It’s all about evolution. 😉

So when I saw these chocolate raspberry tarts on Ju’s blog, I was instantly hooked. Chocolate? Tick. Raspberries? Tick. Pierre Herme? Double tick! I made these tarts almost a year ago, but I still remember what they taste like, as if I was eating it yesterday. Which doesn’t often happen, let me tell you!

The tart base was excellent, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best recipes I’ve encountered (so far) for a sweet pastry base. It was a perfect balance of crumbly and crunchy, and to be honest I think I could eat the pastry cases on its own and be one very happy person. Like Ju, I also made tartelettes (the original recipe makes for one large tart) – because in my world, mini tarts are always better. Not only do they look more dainty, but it also gives you the illusion that you are allowed to eat more of it in one sitting. Total win win situation, no?

One extra thing I did was to pour some melted chocolate on the tops of the tarts after they’d been baked. This was because I wanted the raspberries to be stuck on firmly onto each tart, as I was planning to bring some to work the next day and didn’t want rapsberries to be flying around in my container! And I’m glad I did, because the melted chocolate gave the tarts an extra texture, as well as adding a nice sheen to the top of the tarts. I’m all about shiny things, evidently.

I also made some custard tarts with the extra tart dough, but found that the tart shells browned a little too much in my attempt to get the characteristic ‘burned spots’ on the custard. Thankfully it didn’t alter the taste of the tart shells too much, but I think I might have to adjust my cooking times/oven temperature if I was to use this pastry dough for custard tarts again.

But yes – try this recipe out if you’re in the mood for some tarts. Whilst the recipe for the filling was good (but nothing outstanding), the recipe for the tart dough is fantastic, and is most definitely worth a try!

Chocolate raspberry tartelettes
From Chocolate Desserts by Pierre HermĂŠ, first seen on The Little Teochew

For the sweet tart dough
* Make this at least 1 day in advance because you need to chill and rest the dough for a minimum 4 hours or up to 2 days, before rolling and baking

  • 285g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 490g all-purpose flour

1. Place the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed setting, until it turns creamy.
2. Add the sugar, ground almonds, salt, vanilla and eggs, beating it (on low speed) until it is combined. The dough may look curdled, but it’s alright – so don’t panic!
3. Add the flour in three or four additions, and mix (still on low speed) until the mixture just comes together to form a soft, moist dough. Take care to not overmix.
4. Gather the dough into a ball, and divide it into 3 or 4 pieces: 3 pieces for 10-inch (26cm) tarts, 4 for 9-inch (24cm) tarts. Gently press each piece into a disk and wrap each disk in clingfilm. (As I was making mini tarts, I divided my dough into 6 portions. This meant that my dough would stay cold for as long as possible.)
5. Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or for up to 2 days, before rolling and baking. *At this point, the dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to a month.
6. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough to a thickness of between 2-4mm, lifting the dough often and making certain that the work surface and dough are amply floured at all times. One trick I’ve picked up from all those hours watching the food channel: it’s easier (and less messy) to roll out the dough between two pieces of clingfilm. Just remember to lift up the top sheet of clingfilm from time to time, to ensure the clingfilm doesn’t crease and cause tiny crease indentations in your dough.
7.  Roll the dough up around your rolling pin and unroll it onto the tart ring. Fit the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the ring, and cut off the excess. Prick the dough all over with a fork, and chill it for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. (If you’re making mini tarts, you can easily pick up rounds of dough without needing to use a rolling pin to help you.)
8. To bake the crusts, preheat the oven to 180°C. Fit a circle of parchment or foil into the crust and fill with dried beans/rice/baking beans, and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until it is very lightly coloured. Transfer the crust to a rack to cool. (I baked my mini tart shells for approximately 15 minutes. My advice is to constantly check to ensure you don’t overbake them.)

For the filling:

  • 55g (1/2 cup) raspberries
  • 145g bittersweet chocolate
  • 115g unsalted butter, cut into 2cm chunks
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature, stirred with a fork
  • 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature, stirred with a fork
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
2. Fill the tart crust with the raspberries. (I used 2 raspberries for my mini tarts, how much you put into each case depends on the size of your tins.)
3. Break the chocolate up into small pieces, and melt it over a bain marie (i..e in a bowl, over simmering water). Do the same for the butter, but in a seperate bowl. Allow both the butter and chocolate to cool until they are just warm to touch (approximately 60°C).
4. Using a small whisk or rubber spatula, stir the egg into the chocolate, stirring gently in ever-widening circles. Take care to not agitate the mixture – you don’t want to beat air into the ganache.
5. Little by little, stir in the egg yolks, then the sugar.
6. Finally, still working gently, stir in the warm melted butter.
7. Pour the ganache over the raspberries in the prebaked tart shell(s).
8. Bake the batter for 11 minutes (5-8 minutes for mini tarts), until the top of the tart turns dull, like the top of a cake. The center of the tart should be wobbly if jiggled (it will firm up, don’t worry!). Remove the tart from the oven, slide it onto a rack, and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before serving. (If you wish, you can drizzle more melted chocolate on the tart(s), and top with even more raspberries.)

An apology, and some onde onde.

I’ve been an AWFUL blogger lately. I’ve almost completely ignored the blog, and I’m honestly surprised that people even still visit (thank you for visiting!). Apologies to everyone, but because I’m now a student again, I suspect my blog posts this year will be more sporadic than usual… there was a reason why I only started my blog after I graduated after all! Having said that, I’ll be making some changes to the way I blog to maximise the number of posts I’m able to produce.

It all sounds rather lame, but I’ve been rather preoccupied lately, and not just with my attempts to study (which are supplemented by large quantities of coffee, tea and snacks). I’ve been pondering what we should do after this year, and it’s all boiled down to ‘should we leave, or should we stay?’. As most of you know, I grew up in Malaysia and moved to England some years ago for educational reasons. But now, 9 years later, I must admit the time has come where I’m thinking it might just be time to move back closer to home… Age does funny things to you, eh? 😉

But of course, admist all this pondering, a girl still has to eat. And a girl will still have random cravings for food.

My latest food cravings have mainly been centered on food from home. I think it’s because I’m missing home, and the closest thing to “transport” me home (apart from a 15 hour flight) is the food I grew up eating.

Onde-onde is a Malaysian snack which most Malaysians know and love. It’s made from a few key “Malaysian” ingredients – aromatic pandan (screwpine) leaves, grated fresh coconut, and palm sugar. It’s not all too dissimilar to glutinous rice balls (tang yuan), as it’s also made from glutinous rice flour. The only difference is that instead of using water to make the dough, you use “pandan juice”, which is extracted by whizzing the pandan leaves with water.

The pandan juice makes the onde-onde appear a vibrant “kermit” style green colour, and no there’s no food colouring used here! It’s all natural, and because the pandan leaves are so fragrant, you get the most wonderul aroma from these little morsels of deliciousness.

Onde-onde are filled with palm sugar which melts during the cooking process. The sugar bursts out in an explosion of flavour when you bite into them, and you must be careful to not eat them when they’re too hot as you might very well scald your tongue! This sweet liquid, combined with the chewy glutinous covering and flaky grated coconus truly provides an excellent combination of textures that is typical of onde-onde. My only gripe about making onde-onde is the grating/chopping of the palm sugar which can be tiresome, as I buy them in large blocks. I always fear for my fingertips when I am chipping away at the palm sugar blocks!

If you’re a fan of mochi or tang yuan – do try this, and provided you like coconut I am certain you will love onde-onde.

Onde-onde
Makes approximately 20-24 balls, depending on size

  • 250 glutinous rice flour
  • 10 pandan (screwpine) leaves
  • 190 ml water – use 200ml water if you are not using the coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp coconut milk (optional)
  • 70g palm sugar (chopped or grated into fine pieces)
  • 150g dessicated coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1. Using a food processor, whizz the pandan leaves with the water. Strain the mixture, squeezing as much liquid out of the leaves as you can. This is the pandan “juice” that you will use to form your onde-onde dough.
2. In a large bowl, mix the pandan juice (and the coconut milk, if using) with the glutinous rice flour. Knead the mixture until it forms a smooth dough. Although it may initially seem like you don’t have enough liquid in the dough, resist the temptation to add in too much extra water, as it will make your dough too soft (which later leads to difficulties in wrapping the palm sugar).
3. Pinch off a round of dough, and flatten it in your palm. Place a teaspoon of chopped palm sugar in the centre of the dough, wrap it up carefully, then roll it lightly to form a round. Do be delicate when doing this as it doesn’t take much to break the skin of the onde-onde. Be sure to seal the dough tightly, or it may burst during the cooking process and cause the sugar to leak out.
4. Repeat until all the onde-onde dough has been used up.
5. Boil water in a medium sized pan. Cook the onde-onde in the boiling water. They are ready when they float to the surface of the water.
6. Whilst the onde-onde are cooking, mix the dessicated coconut with the salt in a shallow bowl. Set aside.
7. Remove the onde-onde from the water, and roll it in the dessicated coconut mixture.
8. Leave to cool slightly (the melted palm sugar is hot!), then eat.

Akelare, San Sebastian

It has been a while since I last blogged, hasn’t it? I’ve been so caught up with lectures (I’m a student again for this year) and doing various bits of work that all the typing I’ve really been doing is the typing of my study notes! But a girl has to take a break once in a while, so I thought I’d blog about the epic meal we had at Akelare in San Sebastian. I can’t believe it’s been two months since I was there – how time flies.

Akelare is one of the many Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian (this region has the greatest number of Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the world), and holds three stars. The kitchen is led by Pedro Subjiana, who along with Juan Mari Arzak are known as the “founding fathers” of Basque cuisine.

Akelare is situated atop a hill – giving you stunning views of the Bay of Biscay underneath. I truly believe that the whole experience starts during the drive up to the restaurant, where you start to get glimpses of the magnificent view that awaits you. I mean, just check out the endless blue seas and skies! We left it a little late to book, so unfortunately did not get a window table, but got a table in the little ‘gazebo’ area of the restaurant.

We were there for lunch at 1pm (when the restaurant opens), and were the first people there… which was good as I could wander around taking photos! Whilst I was doing this, one of the lovely waiters came up to me, and offered to bring me on a tour of the kitchen.

The kitchen staff were having a coffee before the lunch service began –  I thought it was quite nice that they took the time to have a coffee together before the madness enfolds.

They also have a test kitchen in the restaurant – which I absolutely fell in love with. It would be hard to not be inspired to create delicious dishes when you had the amazing views of the Bay of Biscay right on your doorstep. There was also so much light in the kitchen, which I always think is important. I would love to have a kitchen like this in my own home, preferably with the views as well. 😛 One day, one day.

What I liked about Akelare’s tasting menus was that they offered 2 different ones: Menu A (Aranori), and Menu B (Bekarki). They allow each person at the table to choose their preferred menu, which I thought was a nice touch. Naturally, we each chose one menu – meaning we got to try a wider variety of dishes. Akelare also offers an a’la carte menu, which looked equally enticing.

To start off, we were served a set of ‘amenities’: On the back row from left to right – Tomato and basil gel, Idiabazal cheese moisturiser, Mouthwash cocktail. On the front row, from left to right – Onion sponge, Sea bath salts.

This was such an innovative appetizer, and I absolutely loved it. We were asked to squeeze the tomato and basil gel onto the onion sponge, and then to pop into our mouths. And oh man it was SO good. The onion ‘sponge’ bread was fantastic, and actually tasted like a sponge – it was crispy and was very flavoursome. I would do anything to learn how to make it (this turned out to be a recurring theme throughout the meal). The tomato and basil gel was also delicious, and I found myself squeezing it onto my spoon just so I could have more! If only actual handwash gel was edible, and tasted THIS good.

I also enjoyed the sea bath salts, which was essentially dried prawns in an edible plastic container. The mouthwash cocktail was made from sparkling cava – definitely the most tasty mouthwash I’ve ever had! 😛

The second appetizer: Oyster in an edible shell – the ‘shell’ melted away when you put it into your mouth, revealing a juicy fresh oyster within.

We snacked on some warm bread and olive oil whilst waiting for our first courses. Whilst the bread was good (we had a selection of traditional white, ciabatta, and multiseeded breads), the olive oil was fantastic – it was definitely THE best olive oil I have ever tasted. I mean, I would choose this olive oil over butter, and I love my butter. Upon questioning our waiter, we were told that this was an arbequina extra virgin olive oil, and some post-meal googling enlightened me to the fact the arbequina is a type of olive that highly aromatic, and is grown in large amounts in Catalonia region of Spain.

Aranori: Prawns and french beans cooked in “Orujo” fireplace. The prawns were cooked/flamed with wine, in a Le Creuset pot filled with volcanic rocks. They were then served with green beans, cream of green beans, and a powder made from prawn shells. The prawns were just slightly undercooked, were very fresh, and was delicious paired with the prawn shell powder.

Bekarki: Xangurro in essence, its coral blini and “gurullos”. This was a piece of crab claw meat cooked in crab juices, served with a crab roe blini and pasta which was shaped like rice grains (gurullos). The gurullos was a revelation – it was cooked al dente, and was lighter than normal rice. In a way, it was similar to orzo, just with a slightly different shape.

Aranori: Molluscs in fisherman’s net. This was a very flavoursome dish which tasted like the sea – a selection of shellfish (clams, squid, scallops and mussels) served underneath a ‘net’ made from rice flour.

Bekarki: Razor shell with veal shank. I never would have thought that razor clams could go so well with veal – but you know what, it did. It was served with a cauliflower mushroom which had a similar texture to chinese fungus. Overall, this dish was a great contrast of textures and flavours.

Aranori: Pasta carpaccio, piquillo and iberico, with parmesan shavings, truffles, and mushrooms. Whilst this might sound rather boring, it was actually one of my favourite dishes of the meal. The pasta was infused with the flavours of piquillo peppers and Iberico ham. I would happily buy this pasta and eat it plain, as it was so delicious.

Bekarki: Sauteed fresh foie gras with ‘salt’ flakes and grain ‘pepper’. The people of San Sebastian are huge fans of foie, and it appears in the menus of most restaurants, and of course Akelare was not to be an exception. The waiter poured over ‘salt’ and ‘pepper’ onto this dish, whilst saying “don’t worry, it will taste good”… it turns out that the ‘salt’ was actually flakes of sugar, whilst the ‘pepper’ was black rice grains. Absolute genius.

Aranori: Cod tripe. This was a piece of perfectly cooked bacalao, with a crispy and smoky skin. It was served with ‘tripe’ made from cod and veal, and finished off with a white tomato juice.

Bekarki: ‘Fried egg’ with green peas, and little farm vegetables. The fried egg was actually a poached egg, which was then tempura fried. I was amazed at the skill involved in cooking this, as the yolk was still perfectly runny. There was also a tempura-ed spring onion, and a mix of peas and broad beans. This was a nice refreshing dish, which was very welcome after the richness of the foie gras.

Aranori: Whole grain red mullet with sauce ‘fusili’. As with all the seafood dishes we ate, the red mullet was cooked perfectly. It was served with ‘fusili’ which were filled with a variety of flavours – parsley, soy, and garlic. This dish was called ‘whole grain’ red mullet because all parts of the fish was used: the head, bones and liver were used to form the red paste you see on either end of the plate. It tasted a bit like a very flavoursome and fishy tomato puree!

Bekarki: Turbot with its ‘kokotxa’.  This dish was made from various parts of the turbot, and it was served in 3 preparations: the fillet, a crispy “chip” made from turbot skin, and the ‘kokotxa’ (“cheek”) – turbot don’t actually have a ‘kokotxa’, so this was made from something else.. I just can’t remember what it was!

Aranori: Charcoal grilled lamb with the wine lees. A piece of charcoal grilled lamb loin, served with red wine sediments (the powdery red bits), a plum sauce (maple coloured), and a red wine reduction (dark red coloured). There was also a green tea and red fruit sugar “netting” that was served with this – I didn’t feel that this added all that much to the dish, and don’t think I would have missed it if it wasn’t there. Everything else was excellent though.

Bekarki: Roasted suckling pig, with tomato “bolao” and Iberian emulsion. The pieces of sucking pig (belly and loin) was first cooked in an Iberian ham broth, then finished in the oven. Whilst the pork tasted fantastic, it did lack a perfectly crispy crackling (it was slightly chewy in some parts) which was a shame. The tomato “bolao” was a sugary tomato “ball” which had a crumbly texture. This actually worked well with the rest of the dish, rather surprisngly!

Aranori: “Xaxu” and coconut iced mousse. The “xaxu” is a specialty of the Gorrotxategi patisserie in Tolosa, and is a creamy almond tart with a runny ‘egg yolk’ filling which was recreated specially with their permission. It was flanked by two blocked of coconut iced mousse, which was essentially a foamed coconut ice cream – I kid you not when I say it tasted like air. So. Damn. Good.

Berkarki: Milk and grape, cheese and wine in parallel evolution. This was one of the most innovative cheese courses I have ever seen, where we were instructed to start eating from one end of the plate where the cheese was lighter in flavour – the flavour and intensity of the cheese then increased as you progress throughout the plate, thus the “evolution”.

From the bottom of the plate:
– Grapevine, curded sheeps milk & walnut (this was very light, and went well with the powdered walnuts)
– Powdered fresh cream with chives & grapes (this was one of my favourites, as I felt the powdered cream just had the right hint of “dairy” to it, and paired well with the sweet grapes.
– Quark cheese with nutmeg and pink pepper aroma, must of tapoica & tomato
– Idiabazal semi-matured cheese with quince jelly & wine dust (this was my other favourite of the lot, as the nutty Idiabazal complemented the sweet quince jelly very well)
– Torta of Casar’s grape with soaked raisins in Pedro Ximenez
– Brandy sirpo with Gorgonzola cheese ice cream (I normally am not a fan of blue cheese, but this ice cream wasn’t as overbearing as the cheese itself, so I did actually enjoy it. Couldn’t eat too much of it though!)

Aranori: A different apple tart. This was a similar to a millefeuille – where two sheets of puff pastry were sandwiched with some apple cream. This was then covered with some specially made edible apple paper. I LOVED the edible paper, and wished that I could steal some from the kitchen and bring it home with me. I mean, that could be like my perfect “so-called healthy” snack!

Berkarki: Citrus shell and chocolate shaving. This was a sugar seashell filled with citrus cream, chocolate “cotton candy”, cocoa ice cream, and the crispiest chocolate curls I’ve ever tasted. Although flavoursome, it was surprisingly very light for a chocolate dessert, and didn’t fill me with a “jilak” (overwhelming) sensation you get sometimes when you eat a chocolate dessert. The sugar seashell was a little too sweet for me though.

We finished off our meal with some tea, and “bon bons”. The bon bons was served in a bowl covered with an edible paper, which the waitress slashed with great style before opening it up to reveal the goodies within (truffles with a liquid cherry/chocolate mousse centres, berry marshmallows and passionfruit pate de fruit). Oh and of course, the paper was edible – you can’t see much of it in the photo because errr… I ate most of it before I remembered to take a photo.

So yes, that was our meal at Akelare, and I enjoyed every single moment of it. The service was absolutely impeccable, and the food was both beautiful to look at whilst being delicious. In fact, I actually ate MORE than R, because he was too full by the time we finished our mains (i.e. I ate most of the FOUR desserts) – so yes, I do have a humongous appetite, thankyouverymuch.

Akelare also does an a la carte menu, and we fully intend on revisiting this fantastic restaurant to try this out if we’re ever in San Sebastian again – that’s how much we loved this place. Definitely a perfect place for a special meal, and definitely more affordable than Michelin starred food in London.

Akelare
Paseo Padre Orcolaga 56,
20008 San Sebastian
(+34) 943 31 12 09
akelarre.net