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.

Chinese New Year ‘cakes’

I’ve gone Chinese New Year mad on the blog recently – and just to stick to the trend, here’s one last Chinese New Year post for good measure. What can I say? It is a 15 day celebration after all, and there are just so many types of food to cover. So I thought I’d round up my Chinese New Year-ism with a post on ‘cakes’ – one sweet, and one savoury.

Nian gao (also known as “thi kuih” in Hokkien, or Chinese New Year cake) is one of the must have foods of Chinese New Year. The main reason why it is so popular during this period is because “nian gao” is a homonym for “higher year”. As Wikipedia says:

The Chinese word 粘 (nián), meaning “sticky”, is identical in sound to 年, meaning “year”, and the word 糕 (gāo), meaning “cake” is identical in sound to 高, meaning “high”. As such, eating nian gao has the symbolism of raising oneself higher in each coming year.

We Chinese are VERY superstitious you see.

Anyway, back to the nian gao. It is made from a surprisingly small list of ingredients – glutinous rice flour, sugar, water and/or coconut milk. These ingredients are then steamed until they solidify to form your “cake”. The traditional method of making these is a rather long process, and as I do not have the patience to steam something for hours on end, I use a simpler method and only steam my nian gao for about an hour. And you know what, it still tastes pretty damn similar to the more traditionally made ones.

It can be eaten as it is (in all its sticky glory goodness), or be pan fried in an egg batter. We always pan fry it with yam or sweet potato slices at home, but I usually just eat it as it is here in London. Again, this is a testament to my laziness. Do note that it becomes more solid the longer you keep them (and they keep for a good 2 weeks in the fridge), but pan-frying or heating it in the microwave (1 minute on High) restores it to its original deliciousness.

The other “cake” of Chinese New Year is the turnip cake (“luo bo gao” in Mandarin, or “loh pak gou” in Cantonese). Whilst this is primarily a dim sum dish, it is very commonly eaten during Chinese New Year as we believe it symbolizes prosperity and rising fortunes. Told you we are superstitious. 😉

I’d never actually made this before (as opposed to nian gao which I’ve made every year since I discovered how to make it in my 2nd year of med school), but I tried Charmaine’s home made version during our Chinese New Year potluck, and I tell you – I was hooked. Obsessed. Simply because it tasted much better than the ones you get in restaurants. So I made some, and it was absolutely delicious. It’s fairly similar to yam cake, and wasn’t actually too hard to make at all!

Turnip cakes are usually sliced into squares/rectangles, and pan fried prior to serving. The pan frying allows you to achieve a crunchy exterior and a soft gooey interior, which as we all know is a brilliant combination of textures. It can also be eaten as it is, ideally warm.

So yes. Nian gao. Luo bo gao. Angku kuih. Peanut cookies. Pineapple tarts. Tang yuan. Yu sheng. Mandarin oranges. So much food, so little time. But no matter, because you can rest assured I’ll be back next year with MORE on the food of Chinese New Year. Be warned. 😉

Happy Chap Goh Meh (15th day of Chinese New Year), everyone! And to those who will be taking part in the festivities of throwing Mandarin oranges into the sea – have fun! 🙂

Nian gao (Chinese New Year cake)

  • 200ml water
  • 200g Chinese brown sugar (I use Pearl River) – alternatively you can use palm sugar
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 250g glutinous rice flour

1. Heat water and Chinese brown sugar in a pot over medium heat, until all the sugar has melted.

2. Add the coconut milk, and stir until the mixture is well combined.

3. Take the pan off the heat, and leave the mixture to cool.

4. Once the mixture has cooled, slowly add the glutinous rice flour to the mixture (I do it in four additions), stirring well between each addition. You should end up with a mixture that has a consistency that is slightly thicker than double cream. If your mixture is too thick, add a little more water to it. If it is too runny, add a little glutinous rice flour.

5. Sieve the mixture – this helps to avoid any lumps that may have formed. Believe me when I say you don’t want to have a lumpy nian gao!

6. Pour the mixture into a container of your choice (either a heatproof bowl or takeaway aluminium containers – I used ramekins lined with banana leaves). Don’t forget to oil your containers well if you intend to serve them without the containers.

7. Steam over high heat for 35-45 minutes, or until the surface of the nian gao is fairly firm to touch. If in doubt, I recommend steaming it for longer (10 minutes each time) rather than risk ending up with a liquid/uncooked mixture.*

* To ensure a smooth surface, you can cover your containers with a teacloth during the steaming process. I did not do this, which is why it’s not as smooth as I would like it to be. Alternatively, you can turn the nian gao out from the container and serve it bottom up, which again will give you a smooth surface.

Radish cake (luo bo gau / loh pak gou)

Despite what its name suggests, radish cakes are made from Chinese white turnips, and not radishes.

  • 1kg Chinese white turnips/mooli/daikon (this is approximate, you can use more or less as you wish. I recommend a radish: flour ratio of at least 4:1)
  • 2 Chinese sausages (lap cheong)
  • 6 Chinese mushrooms
  • 2 dried scallops
  • 20g dried shrimps (heh bee)
  • 3 shallots
  • 150g rice flour
  • 25g wheat starch
  • 2 ½ cups water (including drained turnip water & soaking liquid for Chinese mushrooms and scallops)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon five spice powder

Prepping the ingredients:

1. Grate/shred the Chinese white turnips, either using a box grater or the shredder attachment on your food processor. Leave the turnips in a sieve to drain as much water as possible out of it. Reserve the drained liquid.

2. Soak your Chinese mushrooms and dried scallops in some water. Once they soften (this usually takes at least half an hour), cut them into 1cm pieces. Reserve the soaking liquid.

3. Soak the dried shrimps in some water for approximately 10 minutes. Discard the soaking water.

4. Dice your Chinese sausages into 1cm pieces.

5. Finely dice your shallots.

Making the cake:

6. Measure out 2 ½ cups of water. Start off with the water from the grated turnips, as well as the mushroom/scallop soaking liquid, then add water until you have the whole amount.

7. Mix the water, rice flour and wheat starch together. Stir until there are no lumps in the mixture. I suggest straining it to double check. Set aside.

8. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan (over medium high heat), and fry the shallots until they turn fragrant. This usually takes 3-5 minutes.

9. Add the dried shrimps, Chinese sausage and dried shallots to the pan, and fry for a further 2-3 minutes.

10. Add the grated turnips to the pan, and fry for 5 minutes, or until they start to soften slightly.

11. Season with the sugar, salt, pepper and five spice powder, and mix well. You may need to adjust the quantities according to personal taste.

12. Turn the heat to low, and slowly add the water/flour mixture to the pan, stirring consistently. Take care to ensure the flour doesn’t sink to the bottom of the pan and form a ‘crust’ there. Cook the mixture over the low heat for 5-10 minutes, or until it becomes a thick paste.

13. Pour the mixture into a greased bowl/container (I used a 20cm diameter Pyrex bowl, but have also used loaf tins!), and steam over high heat for 45 minutes, or until it is cooked. Its surface should be fairly firm to touch. (Sometimes the surface can be a little gooey from the steam even after steaming for 45 minutes, leading you to think it is uncooked. If this is the case, test by inserting a toothpick (or even chopstick) into the center of the cake. It should come up fairly clean, and you should feel resistance when inserting the toothpick.)

14. Slice the turnip cake into 2cm slices. (This will be easier once it has cooled slightly, as it firms up. I actually like putting in the fridge to cool, as the flavour also develops a little more.) You can choose to eat it as it is, or pan fry it in a lightly oiled pan over medium high heat. I highly recommend serving it with some chilli sauce on the side!

More Chinese New Year cookies: Pineapple “nastar” tarts

I’ve always had a thing for pineapple tarts. After my beloved peanut cookies, pineapple tarts are next on my “must overindulge in” list during Chinese New Year. My favourite pineapple tarts to date are the ones my mum buys from a Malay lady – melt in the mouth yet crumbly pastry encasing a lovely round of pineapple jam = perfection.

I must say one thing though – pineapple tarts are MUCH more time consuming compared to peanut cookies. I mean, in comparison those peanut cookies were an absolute doddle. Thankfully Catty dropped by to help me make these, and you know what – I could not have done it without her help! She initially thought that she would be “providing the chatter” and “taste testing”… little did she know how much work she would have to do… 😉

There are a few reasons why these are time consuming. 1) The pastry dough has to be “piped” out using a special mould – this is not dissimilar to cookie presses, and gives you the typical scalloped lines you see on the face of the pineapple tarts. The piping process was the hardest part of all. In the end, we decided that the best way to approach it was to have the mould filled with pastry dough at all times – and even then, it was very unpredictable. Push/pipe too slowly and you get breaks in the dough, which essentially means it then cannot be used.

2) The cookie dough is VERY fragile. Very. Even when you get a perfect strip of piped dough – you then are faced with the challenge of not destroying it. We found that the easiest way was for Catty to pipe the strip of dough directly onto my palm. I then placed a ball of pineapple jam ball on it and wrapped it up. Piping the dough onto a baking tray is also an option… but believe me when I say it is very hard to lift it off the tray without destroying it somewhat. So yes, much easier if one person does the piping, and someone else wraps. Trust me on this one.

Because I made too little pineapple jam (I saved half a pineapple to err.. eat with rojak sauce), we had some leftover pastry dough. So we made some matcha tartelettes (from some leftover white chocolate & matcha ganache that I had from baking the day before) and some mini blueberry pies. And you know what, those matcha tartelettes were amazing. If you eat them when they are warm, the filling oozes out whilst the delicate pastry melts in your mouth. Definitely a keeper.

But back to the pineapple tarts. These actually turned out pretty well. The pastry was light yet crumbly, and had that essential “melt in the mouth” texture. I did feel that the pastry lacked “fat”, and this is probably because I used a mixture of butter and oil in the recipe. I also thought the pastry could do with being slightly sweeter. The jam was also delicious – you can adjust the sugar content according to your personal tastes, and to the sweetness/tartness of your pineapples. I thought the jam was too sweet, R thought it wasn’t sweet enough, and Catty thought it was fine.

And before I get to the recipe, just a note to say that I had to add an extra 40-50ml of corn oil to the dough as it was originally too crumbly, and wasn’t forming a cohesive dough. I have incorporated this into the recipe below by increasing the amount of butter used.

Chinese New Year pineapple “nastar” tarts (Tat nenas)
For the jam:

  • 2 pineapples (my pineapples weighed approximately 600g each)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (you may need more or less depending on personal taste, and the sweetness of your pineapples)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves
  • 3 tbsp liquid glucose
  • 2 tbsp wheat starch (alternatively, use plain flour)

1. Grate the pineapples, and drain off any excess pineapple juice.
2. Place the grated pineapples, sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves in a pot, and cook over medium high heat. Stir the jam mixture every few minutes to ensure it does not burn.
3. When the mixture starts to dry out (this can take up to 1 hour), add the liquid glucose and wheat starch. This helps to make the jam more cohesive and therefore easier to roll into balls. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes until the jam is dry and sticky enough to be rolled into balls.
5. Cool the pineapple jam, then roll into 2cm diameter balls. You may prefer to do this the day before you make the actual tarts.

For the pastry:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tbsp cornflour
  • 3 tbsp custard powder
  • 2 tbsp milk powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 280g butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk

For the glaze:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp water

1. Sieve the flour, cornflour, custard powder, milk powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
2. Cream the butter and icing sugar in a bowl of a stand mixer, until it turns pale and fluffy.
3. Add the vanilla extract and egg yolk, and mix until just combined.
4. Add the sieved flour mixture into the butter/sugar/egg mixture, and mix until it forms a cohesive dough. If it is too crumbly, add some corn oil to the mixture (slowly) until it forms a nice ball of pastry dough.
5. Pipe out a 3 inch strip of pastry using the nastar mould.
6. Place a ball of pineapple jam onto the pastry strip, and roll it up. Repeat with the remaining pastry and jam.
7. Mix the egg yolk and water together, and use this to lightly glaze the tarts.
8. Bake in a 170’C oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Here’s wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous year of the Rabbit. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Chinese New Year peanut cookies

One of the bad things about being away from home is missing out on Chinese New Year festivities. Sure, I can deck my place out in decorations, but it’s just not the same. My family isn’t here, you don’t have cheesy Chinese New Year songs playing everywhere you go, and you don’t have all the food and goodies that come along with it. Plus, it’s hard to have much of a festive spirit when you have to go to work…

I was lucky enough to go home for Chinese New Year last year (after not celebrating it at home for a whole 7 years), and it was GOOD. Unfortunately I do not have such good fortune this year, and will in fact be working everyday for a 12 day stretch at the time.

Having said that, there is no way I am going to miss out on the food of Chinese New Year… so I made some peanut cookies last week. These (along with pineapple tarts and arrowroot chips) are my favourite Chinese New Year treats, and I was actually worried that the peanut cookies I made would not live up to my high expectations. I’m very picky with my peanut cookies you see.

I hate recipes that are too finicky, so loved how my grandma’s yam cake recipe used a simple “cup ratio”. So when I chanced upon Quinn’s post on peanut cookies, where she used a similar “cup ratio” recipe, I knew I had to try it out. You can use ANY cup you wish – in fact, I used a chinese rice bowl. Just be sure to use the same cup throughout, and stick to the 2:2:1:1 ratio.

These cookies turned out beautifully, and had the “melt in your mouth” quality that is essential for peanut cookies. I used corn oil for the “fat” component of the cookies as it was all I had to hand. I would have preferred to use lard (I know it’s unhealthy but it’s the secret to the best “melt in your mouth” cookies), but it was cold and wet outside and I was too lazy to go out and buy some. But no matter, as they were still yum. 🙂


Chinese New Year peanut cookies
Based on Quinn’s recipe

  • 2 cups peanuts
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup icing sugar (alternatively, use castor sugar)
  • 1 cup corn oil (alternatively, use lard or butter)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg, beaten

1. Dry fry the peanuts 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 peanuts.
2. Pulse the peanuts in a food processor, until it becomes a fine powder.
3. Heat the oven to 180’C.
4. Place the ground peanuts, flour, sugar and salt in a bowl of a stand mixer*, and mix until well combined.
5. With the stand mixer on (medium speed), slowly trickle the corn oil into the bowl containing the peanut/flour/sugar mixture. Mix until it forms a cohesive dough. You may need more or less oil depending on the weather/humidity. A good guide is to try forming a ball from the dough – it should not crumble.
6. Form the dough into 2cm balls, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Press down lightly with a chopstick (alternatively, use a straw or a clean pen cover), this forms the typical indentation you see in the cookie.
7. Glaze lightly with the beaten egg.
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until they turn a lovely shade of golden brown.

* if you have a food processor, you can use it to mix the cookie dough as it will lead to less washing up! Alternatively, you can use a wooden spoon/your hands to mix the dough together.