Monday, 29 July 2013

Citrus Griestorte

It was my birthday last Wednesday and I decided to try out this recipe that I found in a magazine - Griestorte, a flourless semolina and ground almond cake. 

So, a year older and hopefully a year wiser. Birthdays. Normally, people would think birthdays are for celebrating us turning one year older, commemorating the day of our birth. It's a day where we 'should' receive presents and be pampered. It's a day where everyone 'should' be nice to us, treat us as kings or queens. 

I used to think that too. Of course, we've conquered another year, isn't that something to celebrate about? Yes. But I think it should actually be the other way round. It should be a day where we especially thank our parents. After all, even though it is a day of our birth, for many of us, it is also a day when our parents, especially mother went through immense pain (child labour). We should thank our parents for all the sacrifices they've made for us, to bring us up to who we are. Because of us, they have probably gone through a lot of suffering - countless sleepless nights when we were babies, worrying about making good money so we could have a good upbringing, getting disappointed when we upset them, being the stubborn kids we are, worrying about our future, etc. etc. 

And in actual fact, in Buddhist teaching, birthdays especially should be a day where we practice good deeds for others. Be compassionate towards other sentient beings, including animals, such as going vegetarian for the day (if you normally eat meat) is especially good. In Buddhism, there are many chants and mantras. One particular one, The Great Compassion Mantra, is one of the most important mantras. When we recite this mantra, we are actually 'hailing' the thousand buddhas, as the mantra is in actual fact, comprised of names of buddhas. Hailing these buddhas to our sides will help protect us. 

Many people are afraid of death. The reasons for most are uncertainty, fear and regret. Uncertain of what the next step is. Uncertain of where we will be going. Fear of pain. And regret of what we have or have not done in our lives. The core of buddhist teaching actually addresses these issues. Buddhists believe in reincarnation in the 6 realms. The 6 realms are heaven, human, demons, animals, ghosts and hell. Reincarnation in the realms will depend on our karma, which is all the good and bad deeds we have committed in our countless past lives and this life. The ultimate goal, is to escape this cycle of reincarnation and to be enlightened or in other words, to attain buddhahood. So, how do we do that? We have to let go of attachments. Attachments lead to greed. These worldly things are not important as we can't take them with us when we die. Most people don't realise this until it is too late. What we can take with us however, is our karma. We have to be compassionate. If we understand the 6 realms of reincarnation, we will understand that every sentient being is equal. We will be kind to others naturally. We will understand that we may one day reincarnate as an animal, or an insect, if our karma determines it so. Understanding that will provoke us to let go of eating meat or harming others. We will do what are the really important things in life, and stop wasting our time doing unimportant things - live life without regrets. Chanting will help us attain buddhahood, and escape this cycle of reincarnation. Chanting will also prepare us for our death. If we chant everyday, it becomes ingrained in us and at the moment of our death, we will also be chanting, hailing the buddhas and hopefully when we go, we will go with the buddhas to the Pure Land. 

So, on our birthdays (if not every day), we should really reflect on our lives and ask ourselves, have we really lived how we wanted to live? If we die tomorrow, will we have any regrets? And it really is possible that we die tomorrow. Nobody knows how long we have to live in this life. So, having death in mind, it will encourage us to live efficiently, use our time well, treat others well. And, through that, it will prepare us for our death, and eliminate uncertainty, fear and regrets, which will also encourage a more peaceful and 'controlled' passage. 

This cake, I would like to dedicate it to my parents, for sacrificing all your time and effort so I could live the privilege life I lead, for teaching me all that you have learned to fuel my wisdom, for your unconditional love and care. I would also like to dedicate it to my other family members and my friends, who've cared for me and been there for me, and made me who I am today. 

[Citrus Griestorte]
6 eggs, separated
1 cup raw sugar (finely ground)
Pinch of cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2/3 cup of fine semolina
1/2 cup of ground almonds

250g cream cheese
150ml cream
1/4 cup raw sugar (finely ground)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 orange

1. Preheat oven to 170C. 
2. Grease a 20cm round cake tin. Line the bottom of the pan. Dust the sides lightly with sugar and semolina. Tap the tin and tip out excess. 
3. Cream egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar until light, pale and fluffy. Add vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice. Continue beating until thick. 
4. Fold in semolina and ground almond gently. Leave to sit to soften semolina.
5. Meanwhile, in a clean bowl, whisk egg whites until it starts to foam up. Add cream of tartar. Continue whisking until soft peaks starts to form. Gradually add in sugar. Whisk until firm peak stage. 
6. Add a third of the egg whites into the semolina mixture and fold until more or less well mixed. Add the second third and fold, add the last third and fold until well mixed. Take care not to over mix. 
7. Pour into the lined tin and bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, or golden. The cake should spring back lightly when pressed with your finger. 
8. Remove from oven, cool, then split into thirds. 

1. Soften cream cheese by beating it in an electric mixer at medium speed, then gradually increase to high speed, until cream cheese is light and fluffy. 
2. Add cream and beat until mixed.
3. Add sugar, vanilla and lemon and beat until mixture is light and fluffy. 
4. Spread 1/4 onto the base layer of the cake. Place the second layer of the cake on top, then spread the second 1/4 of cream cheese on, then place the last layer of cake on top. Spread the remaining 1/2 of the cream cheese onto the top and sides of the cake. Using an off-set spatula, smooth out the icing.  
5. For decoration, slice the orange into thin slices. Place onto the sides of the cake. Place a few pieces of rind on top. 
6. Refrigerate before eating. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Fruit and nut rusks

Rusks are South African biscuits. I first had rusks at my South African friend's house. Her mum's made a box full of them. I'd never seen anything like it before. It looks like a cake but is crunchy and hard. We had our rusks with tea, dunking those little bikkies in to soften so you could bite into them. It is indeed delicious rustic treat and can be addictive too! I could even snack on these as they are, crunching them rock hard goodies. 

I had always wanted to ask for the recipe but never got around to it and as things go, I'd forgotten about it completely. Until I came across several rusks recipes in a book that my dad borrowed from the library. 

These are different from the plain, unadorned ones I had. The fruits add an extra dimension of sweetness. Especially the grated apple! What a surprise. You wouldn't know there was apple in the rusks if you weren't told. It gives such a fruity, slightly tart essence to the rusks. The nuts also give an additional facet of texture which is really nice. 

These are really great for breakfast or tea. You could even break them up into crumbs to sprinkle over your fruit and yoghurt and it's sort of an instant crumble top. Yum!   

[Fruit and nut rusks]
2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup lightly toasted walnuts, chopped
1 cup rolled oats 
1/2 cup raisins or any dried fruits
1 cup raw sugar, finely ground 
1 small apple, grated
160g butter, melted (or oil)
160ml buttermilk 
1 egg 

1. Preheat over to 180C. Line a 18cm x 18cm square pan.
2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. 
3. Add the grated apple and mix. 
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, melted butter and buttermilk. 
5. Pour into dry ingredients. 
6. Mix well to form a dough.
7. Press dough gently into the line pan. 
8. Bake in oven for 50-60 minutes, until golden. 
9. Take out from oven, cool slightly and turn onto a cooling rack to cool. Cut into fingers. 
10. Arrange rusks on a baking sheet and place in 80C oven for approximately 4 hours, until rusks dry out and hardens. Test to see if rusks are dried by breaking a piece in half to check the middle. 
11. Store in airtight container. 

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Chinese Walnut Cookies

The Chinese emphasize a lot on auspicious things. What I mean is it is really important to eat auspicious food (normally food with auspicious sounding names), wear auspicious clothing (red or bright colours) especially on important days such as the Chinese New Year, or pick auspicious dates for certain events such as wedding. Even naming a new born child, the parents would pick auspicious words with significant meanings, or even go as far as consulting a fortune-teller to calculate the elements and signs to advise what name best suits the child and would bring good fortune and luck. 

The Chinese word for walnut is 核桃 (he tao - 'he' pronounced like 'her' without the 'r'). The word '核 he' has similar pronunciation to the words 和 'togetherness' and 贺 'celebration'. Since it was the one year anniversary for the cafe I work at, I thought walnut cookies would be an auspicious gift for my boss, congratulating them on their feat and wishing them good luck for the future. And because everyone that works there is like a family, I also wish that this family will stay together through thick and thin and work together towards making the cafe better.  

This was my first time attempting these little morsels. Although they didn't turn out as 'short' as I'd like them to be, they are still delicious. And what more, it is the intention and the meaning behind these cookies that count. And also, my boss likes them :P. 

[Walnut Cookies 核桃酥]
40g lightly toasted walnuts, finely chopped
250g all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1tsp baking soda
120g shortening or butter 
90g finely ground raw sugar
1/2 tsp salt
30g egg (half a beaten egg)

1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside. 
2. Beat together shortening, sugar and salt until pale, light and fluffy. 
3. Add the egg and mix until well combined. 
4. Add in the flour mixture and mix gently until just combined. 
5. Add in the toasted chopped walnuts and mix until combine, forming a dough. 
6. Cover with cling film and let sit for approximately 20 minutes. 
7. Divide into little portions and gently roll into smooth balls. Flatten slightly, pressing down in the middle of the dough with your thumb. 
8. Place on pre-lined baking tray and bake in preheated to 170C oven for approximately 20 minutes or until golden. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Ondeh ondeh

Ondeh ondeh is a Malaysian Nyonya kuih (dessert/snack) that originates in the state of Melaka. As we know, Malaysia is comprised of three main racial groups - Chinese, Malay and Indians. Baba-nyonya refers to the Chinese-Malay population which has inter-assimilated each other's cultures and traditions due to marriage links. Thus born a whole host of delicious treats, beautifully intricate and colourful clothing, furniture, table-ware and many more. 

Nyonya desserts are extremely popular in Malaysia. I remember you could find them everywhere. There are little pop up stalls by the road-side where the Makcik (auntie) or kakak (older sister) sells these snacks. Or convenient stores that sell almost everything ranging from fresh veg and fruits, all sorts of bread loafs, to packet noodles and canned foods, and freshly made nyonya kuihs. 

It's been more than 10 years since my family and I moved to Auckland. The older I get, the more urge I have to learn how to make my traditional cultural foods, to preserve and share my heritage. Malaysian kuihs are delicate, colourful, packed with flavours but are not overly sweet. They really are perfect for morning tea or afternoon snacks. Most ingredients can be found in Asian stores or if not, be creative with substituting ones that you can't find! 

Ondeh ondeh are extremely soft and chewy little balls filled with Gula Melaka (palm sugar) and coated with fresh coconut. When you pop them in your mouth and bite down on the pillowy jewels, the liquified Gula Melaka bursts out in an explosion of maple-ly sweetness. Ondeh ondeh rolled in fresh coconut is simply delicious. However, here in NZ it is terribly expensive to buy fresh coconut, so I made do with dessicated coconut. To add more flavour and texture I toasted the coconut slightly so the crunch of the coconut contrasts with the chewiness of the sweet potato dough. 

Gula melaka is made from the sap from the flower bud of a coconut tree. The sap is collected through making several slits into the bud and tying a pot below for the sap to drip in. The sap is boiled until it is thickened and poured into bamboo tubes to harden - hence it's shape! Pure gula melaka should be soft and easy to cut into. Those that are hard have other added sugar in it. 

[Ondeh ondeh]
300g glutinous rice flour
120g mashed sweet potatoes
100ml coconut milk
110ml water
1/2 tsp pandan extract or 10 pcs of pounded pandan leaf
1 heap tbsp tapioca flour
85ml hot water 
150g grated palm sugar + 1 tbsp raw sugar + pinch of salt
A bowl full of fresh coconut (or lightly toasted desiccated coconut)

1. Mix together glutinous rice flour and sweet potatoes.
2. Mix together coconut milk, water and pandan extract. 
   Alternatively, bring to boil water and pounded pandan leaf,      strain, and mix with coconut milk.  
3. Over low heat, stir together tapioca flour and hot water and continue stirring (quite vigorously) until mixture becomes almost transparent. The mixture will have a glue-like texture.
4. Pour tapioca mixture immediately into glutinous rice flour and mashed sweet potatoes and stir until well-mixed. 
5. Gradually add the coconut milk mixture to form a uniform dough. It is easier to use your hands to mix.  
6. Divide the dough into desired portions (for me, it was around 2 teaspoons big). 
7. Roll the dough into little balls and flatten to form a disk. 
8. Fill each disk with about 1 tsp of gula melaka mix. Wrap up like a dumpling and roll around in your palms to make a smooth ball. 
9. Once you've made the balls, cook them in a pot of boiling water until the ondeh ondeh floats up and turn slightly transparent. 
10. Strain and roll them in coconut.
11. Serve!

Tip: When rolling out the dough into disks, don't roll them too thin or else when you boil the ondeh ondeh, it will burst and the gula melaka will escape. 

These are best eaten the day they are made as they will harden. I'm keen on experimenting with other recipes, such as ones without sweet potatoes! Keep an eye out for them in the future :)

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Anzac biscuits

25th of April 1915, troops from New Zealand and Australia known as the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) arrived on the Gallipoli peninsula with the aim of capturing the Dardenelles. New Zealand, a small country was initially belittled. But our soldiers fought brave and hard and our number 8 wire D.I.Y. attitude and strong mentality proved that even a small country can accomplish big things and this changed the gaze of others upon us into a positive one. 

I, like many, have always thought that ANZAC biscuits were served to the soldiers and packed as a healthy and filling snack. But a little digging revealed that this was only a myth! The only biscuits that were eaten by the soldiers were rock hard 'ship's biscuits'. Rather, these rolled oat goodies were sold at home at galas, parades and public events to raise funds for the war. These popular biscuits were named ANZAC biscuits only after the war and the biscuits were apparently first mentioned in a cookbook in 1921. 

Regardless of what the true story behind these oaty biscuits was, the fact is, these biscuits remain popular even now. These crunchy babies are permeated with the sweet flavour of golden syrup which complements so well the wholesome yet subtle oaty aroma. And sprinkle in some desiccated coconut and bam there you have it - a biscuit that is truly packed full of flavours and nutrients. With all these superfoods like coconut and oats, you really are getting loads of good oils, fibre and vitamins. 

And if you aren't like me, who takes photos every two seconds while making food, you can get the biscuits done in no time at all. They really are so simple to make. But remember to keep an eye out on them while they're baking as you don't want them to go too black as that will not only add an undesirable bitter taste, more importantly, the burnt bits can be carcinogenic! And also, hold back your temptations to eat them straight out of the oven as they can be 'heaty'. In Chinese, we call this re qi (yit hey in Cantonese) as food straight out of the oven or grill or deep fryer contains a lot of 'heat' which can increase 'heatiness' of your body and cause sickness such as sore throat, coughs, headaches and so on. 

Anyway, here's the recipe. Enjoy baking! :)

Anzac Biscuits
165g rolled oats
220g all purpose flour (or you can sub it with other flour such as wholemeal)
100g desiccated coconut
100g raw sugar (ground to finer particles)
pinch of salt
180g unsalted butter (or any vegetable oil)
60g golden syrup
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
60ml water 

1. Preheat oven to 170C. 
2. Put oats, flour, coconut, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix well to combine. 
3. Put butter and golden syrup in a saucepan over low heat and stir until butter has melted. Remove from heat. 
4. Combine bicarbonate of soda and water and stir into pan. Take care as the mixture will start to foam up vigorously. 
5. Immediately pour the golden syrup mixture into the dry ingredients while it is still foaming. Mix together with a large spatula. You can use your hands to gently mix it into a doughy mass if that is easier.  
6. Roll into even sized balls. The original recipe called for balls approximately 2 tablespoon big, but you can make them of any size but just remember that smaller cookies will cook faster. 
7. Place the balls on lined baking trays and flatten slightly. 
8. Bake for approximately 15 minutes (depending on your oven) or until slightly golden. 
9. Cool before serving.