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!

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.

Chee cheong fun (steamed rice rolls)

Anyone who enjoys dim sum usually knows what chee cheong fun is. Chee cheong fun is essentially steamed rice rolls (either filled or unfilled), served with a sweet/savoury sauce. The ‘Cantonese’ version of chee cheong fun is usually filled, be it with prawns, char siu (Chinese BBQ pork), fish, or yu tiao (fried dough sticks). It is usually served with a simple soy sauce. On the other hand, the ‘Malaysian’ version is usually unfilled, and is served with sesame seeds and a slightly sweet sauce that is made from hae kor (prawn paste).

When I was growing up, I always preferred the ‘Cantonese’ prawn filled chee cheong fun, simply because they were harder to find where I lived. Do bear in mind that this was in the 1990s/early 2000’s, and things might well have changed now. But since coming to England, I now prefer the unfilled chee cheong fun – partly because it is now the more ‘elusive’ version. I really do seem to enjoy making life difficult for myself, don’t I?

I’d seen a number of recipes for chee cheong fun on other blogs, and bookmarked them knowing that I’d have to try to making them at home, because I was curious about how they’d turn out. I’d heard that it was notoriously difficult to get thin sheets of the rice mixture, but as they say, you don’t know till you’ve tried it.

And now, having attempted making homemade chee cheong fun, I can concur and say that yes, it is really difficult to get thin rice sheets. I steamed my rice mixture on a plate, and although I thought that I was using a very minute amount of mixture… I was wrong. My chee cheong fun turned out at least double (if not triple) the normal thickness of chee cheong fun! Having said that, it was still delicious. Just a little on the thick side though, which as any dim sum loving person will tell you, just doesn’t cut it.

Restaurants normally steam their chee cheong fun on large pieces of muslin cloth placed on a special tray with holes, which helps to achieve the ‘barely there’ paper thin rice rolls. I presume that one should be able to replicate this by using a muslin cloth placed on a pizza tray (which has holes in it), but unfortunately my pan isn’t large enough to accomodate my pizza tray, so I guess I’ll never know!

I made my chee cheong fun sauce from a very ‘estimated’/’agak-agak’ recipe. This essentially means I added in ingredients as I tasted the mixture, trying to get the sauce as close as possible to the version I grew up eating. The recipe below is a rough estimate of ingredient quantities, I suggest that you taste the sauce as you go along to adapt it to your preference.

Chee cheong fun
Based on this recipe on Baking Mum

For the chee cheong fun (rice rolls):

  • 150g rice flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp wheat starch
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 tbsp corn oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the sauce:

  • 1 tbsp light soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp kicap manis (alternatively you may use dark soya sauce + a pinch of sugar)
  • 2 tbsp hae kor (prawn paste)
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tbsp sesame oil

For garnishing:

  • Sesame seeds

1. Sift the rice flour, wheat starch, and cornflour into a large bowl.
2. Slowly add the water to the flour mixture, whilst stirring the mixture with a spatula.
3. Add the oil and salt, and mix until it forms a smooth mixture. I sieved my mixture to ensure there were no lumps. Leave batter to rest for an hour.
4. Make the sauce for your chee cheong fun whilst the batter is resting. To make the sauce, mix the soy sauce, kicap manis, hae kor, water and sesame oil together, till it forms a smooth paste.
5. Prepare your steamer.
6. Grease a pan/tray/plate with oil, and pour approximately 1/4 cup of batter into the pan/tray/plate. (I used a 20cm plate – you may need more or less batter depending on the size of your pan/tray/plate.) You are aiming for a very thin layer of batter, and you should be able to see the surface of the pan/tray/plate through the batter. Steam for 3-4 minutes.
7. Remove the steamed rice roll sheet from the pan/tray/plate, and roll it up to form a ‘swiss roll’. Repeat with the remaining batter.
8. Serve your chee cheong fun with its accompanying sauce, topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

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.

‘Nduja puffs

‘Nduja. What is it? Well, up till about a week ago I had no idea, but now I know… and I’m hooked.

‘Nduja (pronounced n-du-ya) is basically a ready to eat spreadable spicy sausage, made with pork. It is unique to the Calabria region of Italy, and is said to be the Calabrian version of salami. The name ‘nduja originates from the French word “andouille”, which means “sausage”.

Photo courtesy of Unearthed

‘Nduja is made with various parts of pork (including the shoulder, belly, tripe and jowl) and hot red peppers. The abundance of red peppers make the ‘nduja rather spicy, but thankfully it doesn’t make your mouth feel like it’s on fire… on the contrary, it has a rather pleasant aftertaste of pepper heat.

There are many ways to eat this spicy sausage – as it is spreadable, it can be used as a spread for bread or crackers (or you can eat it with a spoon, like I did). However, it is much more than a spicy sausage spread – it can be used to season a range of foods, and I’ve even seen it used as a crust for baked fish!

Unearthed kindly sent me a sample of ‘nduja, and invited me to take part in a ‘nduja recipe challenge. Along with four other (very talented) bloggers, I had to come up with an innovative way to cook ‘nduja…. and I definitely had fun trying to figure out what to do with it (apart from snacking on it, that is)!

I was inspired by one of my favourite Malaysian snacks when trying to figure out how to use the ‘nduja – the humble curry puff. Curry puffs are small ‘pies’/puffs filled with a spicy curry chicken and potato mix. They are traditionally deep dried, and are not all that dissimilar to empanadas. I think most Malaysian kids grew up snacking on these, and it’s definitely something that reminds me of home. I do seem to be more sentimental about home lately – and as a result always try to cook things that remind me of home.

But I digress. Back to the ‘nduja. Instead of using curry powder and chillies to flavour my puff fillings, I used ‘nduja… and I must say that it turned out really well! I also happened to have some leftover roast chicken in my fridge, so I added it to the potato and ‘nduja mixture.

I must admit to sneaking quite a lot of the puff fillings in the process of making these ‘nduja puffs – it was ridiculously addictive and I kept on dipping my spoon into the bowl to eat more mouthfuls of the spicy potato mixture. Thankfully I’d intentionally made more filing that I would need, maybe I foresaw my snacking! 😉

But yes, ‘nduja and me, we have become fast friends. If you haven’t tried it, do look out for it the next time you’re grocery shopping (I believe the Unearthed ‘nduja is currently available in Waitrose, you may also find ‘nduja in specialty Italian delis) – I suspect you’ll like it as much as I do. 🙂

And of course, if you do like my recipe, please vote for it on the Unearthed Facebook page here. Thank you! The prize is a selection of Unearthed goodies and a KitchenAid blender – something I’ve been yearning for for a long time now!

‘Nduja puffs
Makes approximately 30 puffs

For the filling:

  • 2 potatoes, peeled and diced into 5mm cubes
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 60g ‘nduja (I used Unearthed ‘nduja)
  • 30g cooked chicken, shredded (optional)
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp corn oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the pastry:

  • 500g puff pastry (storebought)
  • 1 egg, beaten (for glazing)

To make the filling:
1. Heat oil in a pan over medium high heat. Fry the diced onion until they start to brown and become fragrant.
2. Add the diced potatoes and smoked paprika. Fry for 10-15 minutes, until they start to soften.
3. Add the ‘nduja and chicken (if using) to the pan. Use your spatula to break up the ‘nduja into smaller pieces to ensure they are distributed throughout the potato mixture. Cook for a further 5 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through.
4. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Set aside. The filling will need to cool before the puffs can be assembled.

To assemble the ‘nduja puffs:
6. Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of 5mm. Cut 3 inch circles from the pastry until all the puff pastry has been used up.
7. Hold a pastry round in one hand, and place 1 tablespoon of the ‘nduja/potato filling in the centre of the circle of pastry. Fold into a half moon shape, and press the edges together to form a tight seal.
8. Crimp the edges of the pastry.
9. Repeat until all the puff pastry is used up. If you do not wish to eat all the puffs in one go, you can refrigerate or freeze them for future use.

To cook the ‘nduja puffs:
10. Heat the oven to 190’C.
11. Lightly beat an egg in a bowl, and glaze the puffs lightly with egg.
12. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the pastry puffs up and turns golden brown. Eat warm.