Almond London cookies (Biskut almond London)

One of the worst things about being away from home is missing out on the various celebrations we have in Malaysia. Chinese New Year, Hari Raya (Eid), Deepavali… sigh. I even miss the cheesy music!

Unsurprisingly, food is one of the highlights of any celebration in Malaysia (we love our food!) – which meant that the only way I could feel a little festive was to bake/cook something Raya-related. But of course! 🙂

I decided on these “Almond London cookies” for several reasons: 1) I’d never made them before; 2) I like eating them; 2) I liked how it had the word “London” in it. I have no idea how the name came about, because I am fairly certain it did not originate in London – if anyone knows the origins behind the name of this cookie, please do share as I’d love to know.

The biscuit is made up of 3 main parts – a whole toasted almond, covered in a crispy biscuit, and coated with chocolate. They’re usually topped with chopped almonds, but other toppings that are commonly use include sprinkles (any type!) or white chocolate.

The recipe is actually very simple, with minimal ingredients needed. I did slightly underestimate how tedious it was going to be though – individually wrapping the dough around each almond took a lot longer than I’d imagined! I always say that you never truly appreciate how much work goes into Malaysian celebration cookies, and I think these are a good example. Having said that, these were easier to make than pinapple nastar tarts!

Nevertheless, I still enjoyed making these, and now I have a small stash in my fridge for times of need/greed. 🙂 Plus it feels a little like home!

Almond London cookies / Biskut Almond London
Adapted from this recipe by Amy Beh
Makes approximately 80 cookies

  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 200g plain flour
  • 25g rice flour
  • 300 toasted whole almonds (toasting is optional!)
  • 100g chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts as I had some to hand. You may also use sprinkles or melted white chocolate to decorate the biscuits if you prefer.)
  • 400g dark/milk chocolate

1. Sift the plain flour and rice flour into a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
2. Place butter and icing sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer (or use a hand-held mixer). Cream the butter/sugar mixture at medium speed (I use the K beater) until it turns pale and fluffy.
3. Add the egg yolk, and mix until just combined.
4. Add the sifted flour mixture in two parts, mixing well after each addition. You should now have a cohesive dough.
5. Take a small piece of dough (approximately the size of a marble (~1.5cm diameter)) and flatten it slightly. Wrap the dough around the almond, then form it into a cylinder. Alternatively, you may prefer to form it into a round ball.
6. Place the wrapped almond on a baking tray lined with baking paper/a Silpat.
7. Repeat with the remaining dough and almonds, until all the dough is used up. You may end up with some extra almonds, you can either snack on these or chop them up to use as a topping.
8. Bake in a 175’C preheated oven for 20 minutes, until slightly golden. I would advise only preheating your oven when you’re halfway through wrapping the almonds in the dough, to save on electricity. Cool the baked cookies on a wire rack.
9. Once cooled, place each cookie in a small paper case.
10. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (I use a Pyrex bowl over a pot of simmering water). Take care to ensure that the chocolate does not come into contact with any water, as this will cause the chocolate to seize.
11. Using a teaspoon, spoon the melted chocolate over each cookie. Try to ensure the chocolate goes up to the edges of the paper cases, as it makes for a prettier cookie.
12. Sprinkle the tops of each cookie with chopped nuts/sprinkles/melted white chocolate.
13. Once the chocolate has set – eat! You may prefer to place the cookies in the refrigerator to speed up the setting process if you’re impatient like me/if you live in hot climates.

Happy Eid/Selamat Hari Raya everyone!

My grandma’s bak chang / zong zi (glutinous rice dumpling)

There’s something to be said about recipes that are passed down in families. Somehow, your fondest memories of food are always what you ate growing up, and everything else that you eat later on in life is compared to those memories.

I grew up eating my grandma’s (I call her ‘Nai Nai’ 奶奶) bak chang, and this to me, has always been the best kind I can get anywhere. I’m sure everyone else will claim that their family’s version is the best though! 😉

For those of you who are not familiar with bak chang (肉粽): These babies are glutinous rice dumplings, wrapped in bamboo leaves. They’re also known as zong zi (粽子). There are many versions, including a sweet version made with alkaline water, and eaten with a sweet sauce. I haven’t had the sweet version for a good few years now, I must really learn how to make them (my grandma only makes the savoury pork ones).

They’re traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival (Duan Wu Jie 端午节), which usually falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar – which falls on the June 23rd this year.  They are eaten to commemorate the poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Miluo river after his country’s capital (Chu state) was captured by the Qin state. The villagers then threw rice dumplings into the river, to keep the fish and evil spirits away from his body. And now, these rice dumplings are eaten every year as a way of remembering Qu Yuan. (Thank you Wiki and Wai Yee Hong for educating me.)

Anyway, I convinced my grandma to teach me how to make these bak chang during a recent trip home (is November of last year still recent?). Because I figure, I might as well start now – the wrapping takes years to perfect, and I’m not getting any younger!

I made these whilst R was at work, so unfortunately did not manage to take any step-by-step photos of the wrapping process. Next time. 🙂 I did find a fairly good video on youtube though, which you can view here. Watch from 0.50 secs onwards for the wrapping process.

Although it took me 2.5 hours to make (excluding the cooking time) to make these, they were definitely worth it. 🙂 Plus I now have a stash in the freezer for ‘times of need’.

A few notes:

  • All amounts are approximate. Please taste as you go along, and adjust as necessary!
  • Ingredients for the fillings (e.g. lap cheong, heh bee etc) can always be omitted if you wish to do so. There are no compulsory items when it comes to cooking this – well, except the glutinous rice that is.
  • Please place each ingredient in a separate bowl. This is because we want to place approximately equal amounts of each ingredient into each bak chang.
  • I highly recommend watching this video to get an idea of how to wrap the bak chang. Watch from 0.50 secs onwards.
Nai Nai’s bak chang
Makes approximately 19-20 
  • 500g pork belly, chopped into ~ 2cm chunks
  • 1 kg glutinous rice
  • 20 dried chestnuts
  • 1 chinese rice bowl of dried shrimps (heh bee)
  • 1 chinese rice bowl of dried Chinese mushrooms – I used approximately 40 tiny ones
  • 1 Chinese sausage (lap cheong)
  • 6 salted duck eggs (we will only be using the yolks)
  • 20 shallots
For the pork belly marinade:
  • 3 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 2 tbsp five spice powder
  • 1 tsp white pepper
For the rice marinade: (approximate amounts – you may need to adjust according to taste)
  • 5 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 5 tbsp dark soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp white pepper
For wrapping:
  • at least 60 bamboo leaves (you need 2 per bak chang, with some spares in case of tears/holes in leaves)
  • cooking string/hemp leaves

The night before :

1. Soak the bamboo leaves in a large pot of cold water (I used my 28cm Le Creuset pot). Try to submerge as much of the leaves in the water as you possibly can.

2. Soak the glutinous rice in cold water.

3. Soak the chestnuts in cold water.

4. Mix all the ingredients for the pork marinade together. Pour it over the pork belly pieces, and leave to marinade overnight in the fridge.

Preparing the ingredients:

5. Cook the duck eggs in a pot of boiling water, for 10 minutes. Leave to cool sightly, peel, separating the yolk from the whites. We will only be using the yolks, so store the whites in the fridge for another use – I use them for steamed eggs, and as a condiment for porridge. Cut the yolks into quarters.

6. Soak dried shrimps in a bowl, using hot water.

7. Soak the Chinese mushrooms in a bowl, using hot water. If your mushrooms are very large you may want to slice them in half.

8. Slice the Chinese sausage into 1 cm slices.

9. Peel and finely dice the shallots. I cheat and use my mini food processor, which does the dicing in 5 seconds flat.

Cooking the ingredients:

10. Heat 1 tbsp corn oil in a large pan/wok. Using high heat, fry the Chinese sausage until they brown slightly and become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

11. In the same pan, fry the dried shrimps until they become fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

11. In the same pan, fry the Chinese mushrooms until they become fragrant, and brown slightly. I usually season with a pinch of salt (old habits die hard). Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

12. In the same pan, fry the pre-soaked chestnuts until they brown slightly. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

13. In the same pan, fry the pork belly chunks until they turn lightly browned. We’re not aiming to fully cook the pork belly here – the aim is to sear it briefly. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

14. Add 1 tbsp corn oil to the same pan. Fry the shallots until they become fragrant. Add the glutinous rice, and stir for 1 minute. Add all the ingredients for the rice marinade, and any leftover pork marinade you have. Taste, and add extra oyster sauce/dark soya sauce etc as necessary. Switch off the flame, and leave rice in the pan. You can always transfer the rice to a bowl, but why wash an extra bowl?

Wrapping the bak chang:

15. Drain the water from the bamboo leaves. Pat the leaves dry with a cloth – it doesn’t matter if they are still slightly wet.

16. 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.

17. Form leaves into a cone.

18. Fill the cone about 1/3 of the way with the glutinous rice.

19. Then, place each of the following atop the rice: one chunk of pork belly, one chestnut, one/two Chinese mushrooms (use two if mushrooms are small), two slices of Chinese sausage, 1/2 tsp dried shrimps, and a piece of duck egg yolk.

20. Top with more glutinous rice, till you reach the brim of the cone.

21. Fold the leaves around the pouch, and secure with cooking string/hemp leaves.

22. Repeat with remaining leaves and ingredients, until everything is used up.

Cooking the bak chang:

23. Boil water in a large pot. When the water comes to a boil, gently lower the bak chang’s into the water. Make sure the entire bak chang is submerged in water. Cover the pot with a lid, and cook over medium heat for 2-3 hours. You may find that you need two pots if yours isn’t large enough.. I had to use two!

24. To test if they are cooked through – you’ll have to unwrap one and check. And taste. (The perks of cooking.)

25. Once the bak changs are cooked, remove from the pan and place in a colander – I use a colander as it allows any extra water to drain away. Alternatively you can hang them up, but I didn’t want water to drip all over my stove!

26. Once they have cooled slightly, unwrap and eat! I strongly recommend pairing it with Maggi’s garlic chilli sauce.

Note: Uneaten bak changs can be stored in the fridge for 3-5 days, and in the freezer for 2 months.

In photos: Taste of London 2011

Yes. You read that right. This is a post about Taste of London 2011, twelve whole months ago. This is the problem with eating too much, and not blogging enough..

But anyway, since Taste is coming up again in a matter of days (21st-24th June 2012), I thought it’d be best to post the photos from last year. You know, because technically it’s still ‘current’, as this years event hasn’t taken place yet. (Who am I kidding?) But better late than never, right?

For those of you who don’t know what Taste is all about, you can read more about it in my previous blog post here. Or you can visit their website here.

Warm smoked Loch Var Salmon, lemon verbena jelly, pickled cucumber and sweet rye from Skylon. This came second in the ‘Best of Taste’ awards.

Iberico pork & foie gras burger from Opera Tavern. This was my favourite dish of the day. I’ve since tried it in the restaurant itself, and I still love it. In fact, it’s one of my top ten dishes in London!

Jamon carving at the Opera Tavern stand

Spicy duck popcorn from Club Gascon

Now, I have no recollection of what this dish is (besides the fact that it’s a terrine), nor any inkling of which restaurant it was from. I only remember liking the pistachios in it… I’d look it up in the Menu Card but I can’t find it. Highly annoying, especially when I have the menus for 2009 and 2010 (and I thought, for 2011) safely on my bookshelf. I bet I’ll find the menu after I publish this post… Sod’s Law.

Foie gras burger & summer truffle from Club Gascon. This won the ‘Best in Taste’ Award – but I must say I personally preferred Opera Tavern’s burger.

Summer truffle risotto from Gauthier Soho. This was so good that we booked a table at Gauthier for the following month.

Lamb cutlets (I think) from somewhere.. another dish I can’t recall. Apologies!

Mexican doughnuts with mojito sorbet from Asia de Cuba. I really liked these, and they were a great sweet to end the day with.

I never fail to stop by the JINGTea stall…

… because who can resist good tea? 😉

The Laverstoke Park Farm stall, with lots of little nibbles.

Buffalo milk ice cream – very good indeed!

Whole Foods ‘spin the wheel’ challenge. I LOVE Whole Foods. I’m a little obsessive when it comes to arranging stuff perfectly, and the way they arrange the produce in Whole Foods in perfect pyramids… *swoon*.

Malaysian food stall, with some VERY important pantry staples most Malaysians have in their pantries (minus the ‘kacang botol‘, which is perishable – we tend to eat this with ‘nasi ulam‘). Milo is probably my favourite of the lot (I even made a Milo ice cream!), but Nestum comes a close second. And for those of you chilli lovers, you MUST try Maggi’s sos cili bawang putih (garlic chilli sauce). It’s quite different from Siracha as it has a different kick. I always have both Maggi and Siracha to hand. 🙂

Waitrose Cooking School session – I think they were making pavlovas with strawberries…

Blue skies (this was when it wasn’t pouring with rain – the weather was very erratic!).

They didn’t have these tables set up previously, it was good to have these as it gets quite hard to eat and balance your plate at the same time!

Try to pretend you don’t see the copious amounts of mud on the ground…

And that, dear readers, is my take on Taste 2011. It wasn’t easy to remember everything from a year ago – certainly a good reason to be a little less tardy with the blogging!

* If this post has made you curious, do check out my more comprehensive post on Taste 2010 here (which in comparison, I blogged about very promptly).

Chinese New Year: Kuih bangkit (coconut biscuits)

One of the integral things about Chinese New Year are the cookies that come along with it. Ask any Chinese person, and they’ll have their favourite Chinese New Year cookies/snacks. My top 3 are: groundnut/peanut cookiesarrowroot chips, and pineapple tarts.

Kuih bangkit is a Nyonya/Malaysian Chinese New Year cookie made from coconut milk, tapoica flour, sugar and eggs. It has a very characteristic texture: crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside – in fact they should melt in your mouth once you get past the crispy exterior. (And yes, ‘melt in the mouth’ seems to be a must for most Chinese New Year cookies!) Mum & dad aren’t huge fans of kuih bangkit, so I never ate much of it growing up. Not compared to groundnut cookies anyway! 😉

The other characteristic of kuih bangkit is the lovely designs you get when you use traditional kuih bangkit molds. The original molds are made from wood (and all hand-carved), whereas you can get plastic ones nowadays.

I’d heard from countless people that kuih bangkit are tricky little morsels to make, as whilst they look fairly simple, it’s not easy to get the right texture of crispy outsides/melty insides. I always like a challenge, so I thought – why not? Plus I would get a chance to use freshly squeezed coconut milk (“santan”), which is nigh impossible to find in London.

The most time consuming bit of making these is the cooking of the flour… the aim is (I believe) to get rid of the ‘raw’ taste of flour. Cooking the flour takes anything from 60-90 minutes. But it’s not the cooking/stirring that is the problem, it’s the fact that tapoica flour sends minute particles of flour all over your kitchen each time you stir it. I kid you not when I say there was a thin layer of flour over all the kitchen counters! (For those of you who haven’t worked with tapoica flour before, it’s similar to corn flour, i.e. lets out puffs of ‘flour dust’.)

Whilst the taste of these little babies were great, I wasn’t altogether happy with their texture, as they weren’t crispy enough on the outside. Plus they cracked a little, meaning the lovely intricate designs on the kuih became less pronounced. I’m hearing conflicting things when it comes to kuih bangkit – are they supposed to crack, or not? If any of you know, please do let me know, as it would be good to know err.. what to aim for. 😛

I won’t be sharing the recipe for these kuih bangkit, as I don’t want to post a recipe I’m not happy with. Rest assured though that I will be making this again to try perfecting the recipe for next year!

Till then, Happy Chinese New Year to all of you! May the Year of the Dragon bring you happiness, good health, and good food. 😀

Almond cookies for Chinese New Year

I’ve always believed that it’s not really Chinese New Year without the following things: 1) family + the people you love (and who love you!), 2) cookies, and 3) cheesy Chinese ‘tong tong chiang’ type music.

I made my first ever batch of Chinese New Year peanut cookies and pineapple tarts last year, and really enjoyed the whole process. I’m not sure why it took me so long to do it, but I suspect that it was something to do with the fact that I usually have a supply of cookies from home…

But anyhow, back to the cookies. I wanted to try making something different this year, primarily because I’ll be back home for Chinese New Year this time around (yay!) and therefore have no immediate need to bake my favourite peanut cookies. 🙂 So I decided on almond cookies, which are one of the more popular cookies during the festive period.

I modified the peanut cookie recipe I used last year as it was rather simple and non-finicky, and replaced the peanuts with almonds. I also decided to use lard in the cookies instead of oil – I’ve always been told that lard is the secret to perfect ‘melt in your mouth’ cookies, and I wanted to see if this was true.

So what did I think? Well, first of all I was a little alarmed when the cookies were in the oven, as they smelt EXACTLY like pork crackling. Though truth be told, little bites of pork crackling isn’t the worst thing in the world.. in fact it would be an excellent snack! 😉 They didn’t smell of pork once they’d cooled though – thankfully. On the ‘melt in the mouth’ scale, I felt that they were a little ‘meltier’ compared to the cookies I made last year. However (I don’t believe I’m saying this), I feel that that extra little bit of ‘melt in your mouth-ness’ doesn’t justify the unhealthiness of lard… so I think I’ll stick with oil in the future. This must be a sign of ageing.

Almond cookies typically have a piece of silvered almond on their tops – I had run out of these so decided to stick to the tried and true method of making an indentation instead. I used a chopstick to do this, some people like to use a (clean) pen cover or straw.

Am planning to make a few more types of cookies, and I promise to blog about them promptly if I do!

Chinese New Year almond cookies
Makes approximately 50-60 cookies, depending on size

  • 2 cups ground almonds
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar (alternatively, use castor sugar)
  • 220g lard (alternatively, use 1 cup corn oil)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg, beaten

1. Dry fry the ground almonds in a wide non-stick pan (over medium heat), until they start to become fragrant and lightly browned. Take care to make sure you do not burn the almonds, as it will impart an unpleasant burnt taste to your cookies.
If you don’t have ground almonds, you can use whole almonds (without skins), and pulse them into a fine powder after dry frying.
2. Place the ground almonds, flour, sugar and salt in a bowl, and mix with a spatula until well combined.
3. Using a pastry blender, incorporate the lard into the almond/flour mix, until you form a cohesive dough. A good guide is to try forming a ball from the dough – it should not crumble. You may need more or less oil/lard depending on the weather.
Alternatively, you can use a food processor for this step: place the almond/flour mix in the food processor bowl, add chopped cubes of lard, and pulse until it forms a cohesive dough. If using oil, trickle the oil in slowly whilst pulsing.
4. Heat the oven to 180′C.
5. Form the dough into 2cm balls, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Press down lightly with a chopstick (or a straw or a clean pen cover), this forms the indentation you see in the cookie.
Alternatively, place a piece of slivered almond on the top of the cookie (after eggwashing though!).
7. Glaze lightly with the beaten egg.
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until they turn a lovely shade of golden brown.