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!

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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.

New York Times chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies. A classic cookie that comes in many forms: crispy, chewy, crispy and chewy… and everyone has their favourite type. I daresay that most people grew up eating chocolate chip cookies, and I certainly did. My earliest memories of chocolate chip cookies are of:

  • My mum’s chocolate chip cookies – homemade, with a recipe tweaked from Australian Womens Weekly’s Beautiful Biscuits. In fact I had such strong memories of my mum baking from this cookbook that I bought a copy for myself when I came to the UK, and I even managed to get the same cover my mum had, which is now out of print (ah the joys of Amazon Marketplace). It is a fantastic cookbook with lots of brilliant recipes, so it’s definitely a keeper.

Photo courtesy of http://www.famousamos.com.my

  • Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies – there never used to be many stalls back home (a totally different picture now though, and you can find Famous Amos stores everywhere), so it was always a treat to get to eat these. They did two versions of their chocolate chip cookies: small crunchy ones, and bigger chewy ones. I always went for the small crunchy ones, and the chocolate chip and pecan cookies were my absolute favourite. I still don’t know how they make their cookies SO darn crispy – if anyone knows their secret please do let me know and I will be forever grateful! 😉

Photo courtesy of http://www.toprace.com.my

  • Chipsmore chocolate chip cookies – most Malaysians will know this one and their tagline “now you see it, now you don’t!”. I can’t say that these were particularly exemplary chocolate chip cookies, but it was what was easily available, and you know what – I remember really liking them when I was growing up!

So naturally, chocolate chip cookies were one of the first things I made when I started baking. I’ve tried various recipes over the years, and two of my favourites were the ‘Urban Legend Chocolate Chip Cookies‘ and of course, the chocolate chip cookies from AWW Beautiful Biscuits. But then, everyone started to talk about the New York Times chocolate cookie recipe – person after person raved about the recipe, and how good they were. So naturally, I had to try out the recipe. Confession time – it took me a good few years before I tried out this recipe (I know I know, I’m lagging behind time. No one cares about chocolate chip cookies very much nowadays…). And then it took me errrrr a fair amount of time before this day, when I’m blogging about them.

There are several things that the New York Times recipe does differently:
1) The dough is chilled for 24-36 hours. I believe the thinking behind this is that it allows the ingredients have more time to ‘meld’ together in one happy sugar party, thus giving you a more flavoursome and delicious cookie.
2) The recipe uses a mix of bread and cake flour. Not really sure what this mix of flours accomplishes, it definitely didn’t cause any harm!
3) You sprinkle sea salt on the tops of the cookies. This I understand – salt somehow complements chocolate very well, and in my opinion heightens the flavour of chocolate. Word of caution though – not everyone likes salt in desserts.

I made a few tweaks to the recipe – I reduced the sugar (like I always do). I also used a mixture of chocolate chips and chocolate chunks. The original recipe calls for chocolate disks, but I didn’t know where to get them! And lastly, I made the cookies smaller than what the recipe called for – simply because I prefer smaller cookies. I suspect it’s because I can experience the pleasure of eating “two” instead of “just one” cookie…

So… did I like this recipe? I can safely say that YES, I did. I thought the chilling of the dough definitely made for a more flavoursome cookie. It would be interesting to do a comparison of 24 hour chilling vs 36 hour chilling, to see if it makes a significant difference in flavour. I also loved the textures of the cookies: crispy around the edges, and soft in the middles (ala Ben’s Cookies – which are sinfully delicious). They did lose some of their ‘crispy/chewy’ quality the next day though, so I’d suggest eating these freshly baked!

I really liked certain aspects of this recipe, and I can happily declare that it is most definitely a keeper! 😀

The next one I’m going to try is Alton Brown’s ‘The Chewy’. I’ve not baked chocolate chip cookies in a while, so I might just have to make some this weekend…

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from this recipe

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 285g unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 550g chocolate chips (I used a mix of chocolate chips and chunks)
  • Sea salt, for sprinkling

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).
3. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
4. Stir in the vanilla.
5. Reduce mixer speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined (5 to 10 seconds).
6. Stir in chocolate chips/chunks/discs.
7. Wrap cookie dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

When you’re ready to bake the cookies:
8. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 175’C.
9. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
10. Scoop mounds of dough onto baking sheet (the recipe suggests golf ball sized cookies, I made them much smaller). Take care to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie.
11. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes.
12. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more.
13. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day.
14. Eat warm – and enjoy!

San Sebastian – pintxos galore!

I have to admit, I’d never really thought of San Sebastian as a holiday destination.. As I’d not really been aware of its existence. I know, it’s shocking. But no matter, because I now know that it exists – and more importantly, I know what an absolutely great holiday venue it is.

San Sebastian is famous for their take on tapas, which they call pintxos (pronounced pin-chos). Pintxos are essentially small plates of food that are eaten at bars, usually accompanied by a drink or two. In a way, it is the ultimate bar food: small, delicious. Some bars have a selection of pintxos laid out on the counters, which you pick and choose from, some do a “cooked to order” menu, and some do a mixture of both.

Ordering pintxos is an art in itself. Most pintxo bars are completely rammed with customers, and one must be brave and make your way into the sea of people to shout your order to the people behind the counter. Most bars have the menu written on a chalkboard behind the counter, usually in Spanish. The servers usually don’t speak very much English, and you should have seen me fumbling and trying to order food with my almost nonexistent grasp of Spanish…

But you know what, you don’t need to know very much Spanish to feast on pintxos. You just need to know some key words… (I might have mistranslated some of these words, so please correct me if I’ve made a mistake as I’m not known for my language abilities!)

Gambas = prawn
Vieira = scallop
Txipiron (“chi-pi-ron”)= squid
Bacalao = salted cod
Txangurro (“chang-gu-ro”) = crab
Antxoas (“an-chos”) = anchovy
Cochinillo = suckling pig
Costilla = ribs (I think)
Carrilera = beef/veal cheek
Jamon = ham
Pulpo = octopus
Foie = foie gras
Queso = cheese
Hongos = mushroom
Morcilla = black pudding
Txakoli (“cha-ko-li’) = sparkling white wine, the signature wine of the Basque country

We visited a number of pintxo bars, and literally bar hopped for much of our time there. On one of the days we actually had a three hour lunch! Then attempted to climb Mount Urgull – which is not a good idea after a heavy lunch, let me tell you.

LA CUCHARA DE SAN TELMO
One of the my favourite bars. This teeny little pintxo bar was always filled with tourists (mainly British ones, interestingly), but this was definitely not one of tourist trap places you worry about going to when on holiday… because the food was absolutely delicious. All the pintxos here were made to order, and were all excellent. In fact, the food was so excellent that we ate here three times, and tried at least two thirds of their menu!

Bacalao faroe contitado con patata y breza – Salted cod with potatoes and a herb sauce. Crisp skin, tender cod flesh that flaked away with the touch of a fork, finished off with some smashed potatoes. Incredibly good, and I can happily declare a newfound love for bacalao. Despite it’s name, it’s not actually very salty at all – so don’t get too worried!

Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto – Beef cheeks braised in red wine. I don’t think I’ve actually eaten beef cheeks prior to this, but you can sign me right up to the beef cheek fan club. It’s a great cut of meat which becomes incredibly tender when cooked this way.

Cotxinillo (cochinillo) letxal asado x 6hs – slow roasted suckling pig (I assume for 6 hours). The crackling was much better than I ever expected in a small humble pintxos bar – it was amazingly crispy, and I was very impressed. I did think they’d gone slightly overboard with the sprinkling of sea salt flakes though, as it was a little on the salty side.

Foie cuchara con compota de manzana – Foie gras with an apple compote. I tell you something, the people in San Sebastian really like their foie. It was featured on the menu of most of the places we went to! I suspect it’s because they are very close to France.. I just wonder how often the locals eat foie, as it’s not really the healthiest thing in the world! This was good, but just a little too rich for me. You’d love this if you’re a foie lover though.

Manitas de ministro con tximi txurri – Pork trotter with chimi churri sauce. I can’t believe they eat trotters in Spain, I thought it was a Chinese thing!

Pulpo roca con hojas de berza asada – Octopus with a side of cabbage (or at least what tasted and looked like cabbage). This had a great sauce, which had a hint of citrus.

Queso de cabra relleno de verduras asadas – goats cheese wrapped in ham. This was ridiculously good, and even R who normally finds goats cheese too overwhelming loved this.

Risotto (forgot to take down the actual name of this dish) – this was made with orzo, which is a rice shaped pasta sometimes called risoni. This totally blew me away, and I have since recreated a risotto dish made with orzo in my own kitchen. I preferred the texture of the orzo to the more ‘claggy’ texture of arborio rice – the orzo just makes the risotto taste lighter, if that makes sense.

Viera – pan seared scallop. Now, La Cuchara normally has a ham/bacon wrapped scallop dish on their menu. Unfortunately, we never got to taste it as we didn’t know what scallops were called in Spanish on our first visit, and it wasn’t on the menu the next two times. However, the server at the counter recognised me and and must have sensed my desperation to try this (haha)… He took one look at me and went like “Oh, viera!”. In any case, he offered me an alternative of a grilled scallop, but with no ham. Which I obviously said yes to – and I’m so glad I did, because check out the SIZE of that monster scallop. It was absolutely scrumptious, and perfectly seared.

This is the madness you’ll be face with in La Cuchara during dinner service… absolutely bonkers, but so worth it. Despite it being extremely crowded, it is very civilised and you actually have friendly chats to the people around you whilst waiting for your order to be taken. This system would never work in Malaysia, as everyone would just push forwards and be kiasu ‘afraid to lose’ (reminiscent of the horrendousness of the Malaysia Night at Tralfagar Square).

Much less madness at 12pm on a Sunday afternoon… you can actually see the counter. 😛

La Cuchara de San Telmo
Calle 31 de Agosto, 28
http://www.lacucharadesantelmo.com/
Closed Mondays

CASA GANDARIAS
This place was part pintxo bar, part restaurant. I only took notice of the bar though, and we visited twice, primarily for one pintxo which I absolutely fell in love with…

… this one: bacalao and pimento pepper served on a slice of crusty white baguette. This was SO GOOD! I suspect the reason why I enjoyed it so was because the entire pintxo was deep fried – how would it be possible to not like this? This is one of the pintxos that are displayed on the counter, and they even ‘heat it up’ for you when you order it. Be warned that ‘heating it up’ means popping it in the deep fryer again though. 😉

Solo Mio – seared beef fillet with a slice of pepper. This was good stuff, the beef is a bit on the rare side though, so best to steer clear if you’re queasy this. This was made to order.

Brochetta gambas – grilled prawn bruschetta. Good, but just not as good as the brochetta gambas from Bar Goiz Argi…

Txangurro – crab and pepper mix, served atop some bread. Very flavoursome, and bursting with crab. A little oily, but when who cares when you’re on holiday? Hehe.

Hongos – mushrooms. This was a fairly popular pintxo, and was something which was being served in a number of bars. Casa Gandarias adds their own twist to it by adding some ham, because who can say no to ham?

Bar Casa Gandarias
Calle 31 de Agosto, 23
http://www.restaurantegandarias.com/

A FUEGO NEGRO
This bar prides themselves on their modern and creative take on pintxos, and offered some very interesting dishes which I enjoyed.

Makobe with txips – Mini kobe beef burger with banana chips. Best bar snack ever! It was just the right size for it to be chomped down in two easy bites.

Oreja skabetxada con mole hezado – pickled pork ear with frozen mole. I don’t know about you, but I’d never eaten pig ears before and was quite curious as to what this would taste like. The best way I can think of describing this would be to call it a more cartilagenous (is that a word?) version of pork belly. I enjoyed this.

Txitxarro-gerezia-menta-ardia – mackerel, sheeps cheese, mint and cherry. Basically a mackerel tartare with cubes of sheeps cheese, served atop a cherry meringue base. Refreshingly different.

Txangurro-aguakatea-regaliza – crab, avocado and liquorice. A very modern take on the traditional Basque txangurro (brown crab) tart. And SO good! I absolutely adored the liquorice ice cream, and I’m normally not a liquorice fan. Great combination of tastes, textures and temperatures.

Paloma, tiro, PUM! – Wild dove breast with beetroot sauce (or beetroot blood in this case). This was such a fun dish, where it was plated to look like blood was splattering from the dove that had just been shot. They even had a little edible sign with the word PUM on it, which I thought was really cute. The dove was perfectly cooked as well.

Y un huevo – con hongo y jamon – egg with mushrooms and ham. This was no ordinary eggs and ham, and the liquid yolk like liquid had hints of mushroom in it. The paprika like powder on the top was actually ham bits, I only wish there was more of this.

Bakailu (bacalao) enkarbonao con pepitas de pimiento – “coaled” cod with pepper pips. Yes, yes. More bacalao. What can I say, I am obsessed.

A Fuego Negro
Calle 31 de Agosto, 31
http://www.afuegonegro.com/
Closed Mondays

BORDA BERRI
This place was similar to La Cuchara, and had some very good dishes.

Arroz bomba de txipiron – Paella rice with squid. Flavoursome, with just the right amount of bite in the rice grains.

Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto – Beef cheeks braised in red wine. This was very similar to the one at La Cuchara, and it was hard to pick a favourite between the two. The meat was more tender at Borda Berri, but the sauce was more flavoursome at La Cuchara. A tie then perhaps?

Risotto de hongos – risotto with mushrooms. One of my top 3 pintxos of the trip. The meatiness of the mushrooms was extremely evident in every mouthful, and it was so good that we went back to have another plate as a post-dinner ‘snack’. Like the risotto in La Cuchara, this was made with orzo. Such a revelation!

Queso de kabra tostado – grilled goats cheese. Goats cheese tastes so much better when cooked this way, I don’t know why we don’t do this more often here in England.

Viera asada con pure coliflor – Scallops with cauliflower puree. Nothing like fresh and well cooked scallops to make for a wonderful dish.

Kallos de bacalao – cod guts/tripe. I found this a little too slimy for my liking, but R liked this.

Borda Berri
Fermin Calbeton 12
Closed Mondays

BAR GOIZ ARGI

Brocheta de gambas – prawn bruschetta. This is what Bar Goiz Argi is famous for, and I can see why. Perfectly grilled prawns topped with the best salsa I have tasted in a long time. Excellent.

Chipiron a la plancha – grilled squid. This couldn’t have been more simple – grilled squid topped with olive oil and chopped parsley. Yet it was so delicious, and a perfect example of how you don’t have to do very much to good ingredients.

Hongos – this was one of the things I picked from the counter. By this time I’d already copped on to the fact that I was a huge fan of their mushrooms, so this was a no brainer really. 😉

Ma Juli – salmon and anchovies on bread. Good, but nothing mindblowing. I’d rather have another brocheta gambas over this I would think.

Bar Goiz Argi
Calle Fermin Calbeton 4
Closed Mondays

BAR TXEPETXA
This place is famous for their anchovies, and they offer a selection of 14 different variations of anchovy pintxos.

We tried four types – from front to back: foie y compota, papaya, jadinera (salsa) and huevas de erizo mar (urchin roe). My favourite was the papaya version, it was refreshingly different and not something I’d ever thought would work together.

Bar Txepetxa
Calle de Pescadería 5
Closed Mondays

MUNTO

Txipiron relleno y jamon iberico – squid stuffed with ham. The stuffing was nice and creamy, but I must say I didn’t taste too much ham in the filling though.

Txipiron a la plancha – grilled squid with caramelised onions. This was good, and the caramelised onions added a nice sweet touch to the squid.

Tarteleta txangurro – brown crab tart. The creamy crab filling was delicious, but the pastry could have been a little bit more crumbly and buttery. I like my pastries to ooze calories. 😛

Munto also served this massive plate of fried stuff, which I think was cheese. I saw a group of people next to us eating it, and was extremely intrigued by it. Shame I was already bursting with food, so didn’t get a chance to try it! Next time, perhaps…

Munto
Calle de Fermin Calbeton 17
Closed Mondays

LA CEPA

Platter of jamon jabugo – I almost squealed in delight when this was brought to the counter, as it was meat galore! Pricey, but oh so worth it.

Tortilla bacalao – cod omelette. I had seconds of this, as it was so good. They were very generous with the bacalao in this, and there was an abundance of cod flakes in the tortilla. I can only imagine how good it would have been if it was piping hot. Mmmm.

Hongos a la plancha – grilled mushrooms, served with an egg yolk. Now, this plate of mushroom goodness did not come cheap (it cost about 18 euros, much more than all the other pintxos in San Sebastian), but it was mindblowingly good. You know the meatiness of Portebello mushrooms? Well these ones were twice as meaty as Portebellos. Absolute heaven. I don’t think it even needed the egg yolk, as it was already amazing on its own. If I could I would not eat any other type of mushrooms, ever.

Ham sandwiches. We actually packed a few of this away on our last day in San Sebastian, as we (correctly) suspected we would have difficulty finding dinner in the airport at 9pm.

La Cepa
Calle 31 de Agosto, 7
http://www.barlacepa.com/

HIDALGO 56 – Gros
The only bar in the Gros district that we managed to get to… there was too much food, and too little time!

Antxoas… a humada – smoked anchovies. I was very impressed with the presentation of this, with smoke and all. The lady was obviously proud of this dish, and even pre-warned me when she was about to lift the cover, so I could take a photo. The anchovies themselves were plump, juicy and perfectly cooked.

Volcan de morcilla, yema, pasas, y manzana – black pudding with egg yolk, raisins and apple. Now I never tend to order black pudding as I’m not a huge fan of it’s texture, but had to try this because it sounded intriguing. Am very glad I did, because it was really, really good. The raisins and apples added balance to the salty black pudding, and the egg yolk brought everything together.

Lasana de hongos crema de foie gras – mushroom risotto with cream of foie gras. This was only so-so, and I couldn’t taste much foie gras, I suspect the balsamic glaze completely killed any hint of foie gras there might have been in the dish.

Hidalgo 56

Paseo colon 15
Gros

Also worth a mention is BAR ZERUKO – I was really looking forward to eating here, but they were CLOSED! They were on a month long break, and we were there right in the middle of their holiday. All the more reason for me to go back….

* A special word of thanks to Rachel of The Pleasure Monger, Guan of The Boy Who Ate The World, Ann & Jeff of Pig Pig’s Corner and the site Todopintxos for all the pintxo recommendations.