Sunday, September 26, 2010

From Scratch: Chai Tow Kway

I love fried carrot cake, but I seldom eat it due to the high fat and sodium content. Whenever my friends and I go to Blk 85 market for junk food dinner, I will definitely look forward to this dish. Last week, my mum and I decided to replicate this popular hawker fare at home. Since we were trying out for the first time, we decided to buy read-made radish cake from NTUC. The outcome was ok, but we think the cake could be better as the ready-made ones are mainly flour and water with meager amounts of radish. This week, we challenge ourselves to making the cake from scratch.

I doubled up the recipe and had to grate 3 radish, which totaled up to about 1.4 kg. It was a great workout for my flabby arms! It sure was tiring to grate those. After that was steaming the radish for about 40 mins for it to be cooked.

I went for my guitar lesson while the radish was cooling. After I prepared the rice flour mixture, the radish was still warm, but I had no time to wait for it to cool further, so I just dumped everything together. The amount of radish is really quite generous. The mixture looks like a watery coleslaw and the smell of radish was overwhelming. To my sister, it smells like fart. The mixture was steamed for almost 1 hour 20 minutes. I wasn't sure when it was cooked because the mixture looks wet and sticky. But I gave up after 1 hour 20 mins and decided to let it cool. The cake starts to harden as it cools. After 5 hours of cooling, the cake is still warm and sticky. I decided to put it into the fridge to cool further.

The next morning, the cake hardened more, but was still sticky. I wonder if this is normal for a cake with so much radish. But we still managed to cut to small pieces.

Out first try was not very sucessful. Too bland, cake pieces too large, chai poh too little. For our second try we chopped the cake to smaller pieces, increased the chai poh and added salt while frying the cake, and added seafood for extra flavour. This was much better!

Perhaps I should add more salt while preparing the cake batter. Overall the texture of the cake is pretty good, softer and more fragrant than read-made ones. There is stil more than half of the cake left in the fridge. Another round of chai tow kway next week, perhaps.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kitchen Experiments

The main lead today is neither of these. It's supposed to be carrot cake made from scratch. But there is no verdict yet as the cake needs to be chilled overnight and fried into our favourite chai tow kway. But as the steaming of the cake takes a long time, I have plenty of time to try out some recipes, albeit with careful time planning.

Upon my mum's request, I made another batch of Huat Kueh, a whole batch this time round. I made a few variations this time round to try means and ways to make the cakes "huat".

MY told me that during her job stint at a bakery, she used egg white to make the cakes huat. I tried her method: use a spatula dipped in egg white and draw a cross on the cake. Well, it didn't work for me. I used different sized cups and it turns out that the small souffle cups work better. I've read that the cups used must be deep enough. Perhaps my large souffle cups are too shallow. I tried a different recipe as well, where all the flour in the cake is rice flour. The recipe is more troublesome because the batter needs to be left to rest for some time for the baking powder to do its job. All the cakes huat, regardless of cup size, but the taste is horrid.

I managed to squeeze in one batch of apple muffins while the cakes were steaming. I had always wanted to try these, as I wanted a change from the usual chocolate muffins. These are soft and much better than the corn muffin mix I used last week.

After all the steaming and baking, I decided to try out a simple recipe: 蔥油餅. Last week, I requested my mum to make a 蔥油餅 look-alike using frozen prata and egg. This week, I decided to make the dough from scratch as it is healthier. The dough is easy to make, but its almost tasteless, because I did not add in enough salt. And, since there is no fat in the dough, there is a lack of fragrance. Nevertheless, I feel acomplished because I finallt fried sometime edible on my own. Lol.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Everything Chinese: Huat Kueh

This week saw the arrival of the Chinese 8th month. And in comes the brochures and advertisements for mooncakes as the Mid-autumn festival is just round the corner. I am never a fan of mooncakes because they are utterly sweet and calorie bursting. But I cannot resist the temptation of making them. I had in mind durian mooncakes as that is the only type of mooncake I will eat, but looks like durians are out of season now. I resort to cooking my own red bean paste, with less sugar and less oil.

While waiting for the red bean paste to cook, I made a batch of Huat Kueh or Fatt Ko. This was upon my mum's request as she likes Huat Kueh. I used to like it when I was young, but for some reason, I haven't eaten it for many years. Huat Kueh to most people is just a food offering during prayers, but my mum and grandma actually like to eat it.
There are many variations n the recipes and some tricks to make it "huat" or "smile". I just took the most simple recipe as I don't want to go through the trouble and end up with failed kueh.

The recipe only requires sugar, water, cake flour, rice flour and baking powder. I used black sugar to add flavour to the cake. I steamed the first batch in paper souffle cups and the cakes did huat, albeit not very well. I used aluminium foil cups for the second batch and the cakes did not huat at all. I wonder if it was because of the material of the cups or due to me filling the cups with too much batter. Either way, the cakes were very sweet and dense. Although it tastes like normal Huat Kueh, the texture needs to be improved.

Finally after 3 hours, the red bean paste was ready. I boiled the beans for 2 hours and spent 1 hour trying to separate the paste from the skin and cooking the paste. It sure was tiring. Now I know why many people would rather buy ready-made ones. I intended to make 2 types of mooncakes: the snow-skin type and the teochew styled flaky type. The flaky type is surprisingly easy to make. Unlike puff pastry, this Chinese styled flaky pastry uses shortening to make a water dough and a oil dough. The oil dough is then wrapped in the water dough and the dough repeatedly folded. Since both are dough, and shortening doen't melt, there is no problem of butter melting or breaking away into chunks like in puff pastry.

This is the first time I am wrapping mooncakes. I had some difficulty here, with the dough tearing. But I still managed to wrap it successfully. I expected the layers to be more prominent after baking, but nevertheless, the pastry is still flaky. The filling is a tad too dry as the amount of oil added into the paste is quite little.

Next up is the snow skin mooncakes. Making the skin dough is simple but wrapping up is a problem. And the bigger problem is molding the cakes: the cakes keep sticking to the mold. I have no choice but to dust the cakes with flour. But the flour makes the cakes look grainy and rough.
And after all these, the biggest problem is: how do I get rid of the mooncakes now?

Update (18/9/10): I tried the same stuff again. This time round, I added much more oil to the red bean paste. Although the paste is able to hold it's shape after refrigeration (i.e. it did not crumble after slicing the mooncake), it is still too dry. I cannot imagine the amount of oil added into the fillings in commercial mooncakes.

I tried Huat Kueh again using another recipe. This time round, it is not as dense and not as sweet. My mum gave this a thumbs up!

Ingredients (makes 3 small kuehs):
200 ml water
100 ml dark brown sugar
150 g cake flour
30 g rice flour
2 tsp baking powder

  1. Boil water and sugar until sugar dissolves.
  2. Prepare steamer.
  3. Sift cake flour, rice flour and baking powder together.
  4. Combine sugar syrup with dry ingredients.
  5. Spoon into paper cups and steam on high heat for 20 mins.
Adapted from Cheat Eat's Huat Kueh.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Most Ambitious Session: Flaky Egg Tarts

I must be crazy to try these 2 challenging bakes on the same day. Puff pastry and macarons: the must-try for all avid bakers, among other baking techniques. I've always wanted to try making puff pastry as I've always like freshly baked chicken puffs and thick creamy soup with puff pastry on top. But researching online on puff pastry puts me off with trying it out due to the amount of butter used and the difficult technique in making it. Feeling adventurous, I decided to try it out this week.
For puff pastry, it is very time-consuming as the dough needs to be relaxed and chilled for 30 minutes in between folding. Since there is lots of waiting time in between, I've decided to try out another recipe. Feeling even more adventurous, I decided on macarons: every baker's dream. Even though I'm pretty sure I will definitely fail in my maiden attempt, I went ahead to try it.

I used the recipe from my favourite Chinese blog. From the pictures, I realised that his macarons are pretty flat. I'm no maracon expert but from his recipe, I thought the ratio of dry ingredients to egg white is lower than other recipes, and the whites needs to be beaten to stiff, which was quite surprising to me. Nevertheless, I tried out his recipe as the instructions were very detailed with pictures attached, which were very helpful to me, and most important, the recipe only uses one egg white!

I used my mum's blender to grind the ground almond and icing sugar to fine powder. It took me quite a while as the blender is not very efficient, and I had problems sieving the ground mixture. I beat the whites manually since it only uses one egg white. I've never had good experience with beating egg whites till stiff as folding stiff whites is a nightmare, with stubborn lumps refusing to blend into the mixture. I decided not to follow the recipe to a T and beat it to soft peaks, but still able to hold its shape when the bowl is inverted. This was probably a bad choice, as the mixture was quite runny after folding in the dry ingredients. Somehow it doesn't look like the "lava flow" batter I saw online.

I piped onto the parchment paper using a small tip. As the batter was runny, the circles spread quickly and were flatter than I expected. Perhaps the recipe was meant to make flatter shells? Anyway, after airing for 30 minutes I baked it at 180 deg C, as indicated in the recipe. The feet formed quickly but the shells cracked! The only one which didn't crack was the one at the corner of my baking pan. My guess was: the temperature was too high. Perhaps I should have lowered to 140 deg C immediately when the feet forms. To make matters worse, I underbaked the batch and the shells were stuck to the parchment paper with a wet center.

For the second batch, I baked it initially at 160 deg C and immediately lowered to 140 deg C when I saw the feet forming. I baked for a longer time and removed them when the shells started to turn brown. But still, it feels a little underdone. Most of the shells turn out well,l except one, which cracked in the oven. But unmoulding the shells was a disaster. I cracked 2 while trying to peel them off. I suspect because it was not baked properly. Even though I used dark bitter chocolate as the fiilling, the macarons were extremely sweet. In the end, all of them went into the bin.

Ingredients (makes 14 3cm shells):
35 g ground almond
65 icing sugar
35 g egg white (1 large egg white)
15 g caster sugar

  1. Grind almond with icing sugar until fine. Sift mixture.
  2. Beat egg whites until frothy. Add in caster sugar and beat till stiff peaks form (I beat to soft peaks stage).
  3. Add in almond and icing sugar mixture and fold till well incorporated.
  4. Pipe mixture into 3 cm circles.
  5. Let circles air dry for 30 mins. If the batter does not stick to your finger when touched, it is ready to be baked.
  6. Bake in preheated oven at 180 deg C for about 6-8 mins until feet forms. Lower temperature to 140 deg C and bake for further 25 mins. (I baked mine at 160 deg C until feet forms, then lower to 140 deg C.)
  7. Peel off shells from parchment paper when fully cooled.
Adapted and translated from Junzhi's 马卡龙(杏仁蛋白糖饼).

Inspired by KFC's portugese egg tarts, I decided to try out a flaky egg tart from the same blog. The technique used here is similar to the puff pastry techique where butter is folded into the dough and the dough is folded over and over to form alternating layers of butter and dough.
I have read of the horrors of making puff pastry: dough tearing, butter oozing out, butter melting into the dough. Unfortunately, I struggled with all of the above. I didn't have the mood to take pictures of the procedure and the process of me making it can only be described with the Chinese idiom "慘不忍睹". The dough was so difficult to handle, I only managed to make 3 tarts even though the recipe was for 6 tarts.

Surprisingly, the pastry still manages to puff up nicely. But seeing the butter oozing out in the oven, I told myself I won't be making this anytime soon, unless I want to gain 20 kg and get a heart artery blocked.

Ingredients (makes 5-6):
110 g plain flour
25 g egg (1/2 an egg)
55 ml water (or less, depends on consistency of dough)
7 g butter, softened
7 g caster sugar
63 g butter (for wrapping)

25 g egg (I used about 20 g egg + 1 egg yolk)
33 ml milk (I used 60 ml)
20 g sugar

  1. For crust, mix all ingredients (except the butter for wrapping) and gather into a dough. Place in fridge for 30 mins.
  2. Place 63 g of butter for wrapping into a plastic bag and roll into a rectangle. (I mixed butter with 2 tsp bread flour to absorb moisture). Place in fridge until harden.
  3. Roll dough from step 1 into a rectangle twice the length and slightly longer breadth than the rectangle butter.
  4. Place rectangle butter on one side of the dough. Fold the other side of the dough over the butter. Seal seams to prevent butter from leaking.
  5. Tap on the dough gently with a rolling pin to lengthen the dough. Roll lightly to form a rectangle.
  6. Fold both sides of the dough toward the centre. Fold the dough into half. This makes the first 4-fold. Place dough into the fridge for 30 mins.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 to make the second 4-fold. Place in fridge for 30 mins.
  8. Repeat step 5, and this time round, fold the dough into thirds. Place in fridge for 30 mins.
  9. Roll dough to 0.3 cm thickness. Cut into circles. Place in the fridge to relax for 20 mins.
  10. To prepare filling: heat sugar with milk until sugar dissolves. Add egg and strain mixture.
  11. Mold circles into tart pan, making sure the dough is taller than the pan.
  12. Pour filling in until 70% full.
  13. Bake in preheated oven at 220 deg C for 20 mins.
Recipe adapted and translated from Junzhi's 酥皮蛋挞.