EXCUSE ME, YO MAMA’S BEST HOT COCOA-WHO?!
OVER the past couple days, the temperature has, all of a sudden, dropped below 0ºC.
This is the fourth… wait… fifth winter? That we’re spending
behind The Black Gate in Beijing, but I can’t complain. Because from what it sounds like, my friends in the Shire New York are now ambushed in a thick, immobilizing blanket of snow. There’s no doubt. Winter is coming has come (and that I watch too much TV).
Usually, I’m not a hot beverage-kind of person, unless it’s designed as a mere vessel for shooting up caffeines and artificial wills to carry on the days. But this year, after what seems like an unending series of unfortunate events, I feel like I may need more liquid assets to power through the next 4 months of seasonal depressants. So instead of beheading neighbour’s snowman as a general practice, I decided it’s healthier to turn my attention to a long neglected recipe that I’ve sticky-posted for too many passing winters, a Hong Kong classic – creamed walnut. Cantonese loves drinking nuts and grains. Black sesame, barley, peanuts, almonds… you name it. The less “drinkable” it sounds, the more it’s fucking drank. And before your skepticism kicks in, you should note that for a culture that’s generally regarded as a major and sophisticated branch of Chinese cuisine, they do not do such silly things for no reason ? These creamy blends of nuts and grains are, as a matter of fact, incredibly delicious as dessert “soups”, a nutritious answer to hot chocolates.
While the idea of blending deeply toasted walnuts and rice may sound strange to some, this “conscious coupling” of warm, silky and smooth body flowing with an impossibly deep and toasty nuttiness will have you scream, excuse me but, yo mama’s best hot cocoa-who?! Traditionally sweetened with rock sugar but since I’m bad, why not salted caramel, this recipe kind of taste like… a mildly sweetened drinking toffee nut. It kind of taste like… a warm hug from a teddy bear blanket. It kind of taste like… rubbing Rudolph’s ears… high-fiving Santa. It kind of taste like… shit, whatever gibberish you need to hear to try this.
Because, it really is good.
The traditional way of making creamed walnut soup is by blending walnuts, and raw rice that’s been soaking for hours as thickening agent. But for the life of me I just don’t understand why, when there’s perfectly capable cooked rice (which we all at some point have in the fridge), or ready-to-use store-bought rice flours to use. Blended cooked rice thickens just as good, as rice flour after being cooked, and in a recipe where the focus isn’t really on the rice (whereas this one is), I’d rather save some soaking time. If you are using cooked rice, choose a short-grain variety, and NOT the long-grain basmati or Thai jasmine.
This recipe requires the walnuts to be roasted a bit longer than usual, to draw out the deep/nutty flavour. The skins will become quite bitter as they brown and will probably not be palatable if they’re for snacking, but it’s ok here because I found the bitterness doesn’t really translate into the soup. Just make sure you turn them frequently to avoid burning.
This recipe will land on the lightly-sweetened side of things. Adjust with more light brown sugar at the end if you prefer.
- 3/4 cup (90 grams) raw walnuts
- 3 tbsp (38 grams) granulated sugar + 2 tsp water
- 1/4 + 1/8 tsp sea salt, plus 1 more pinch to adjust
- 2 1/2 cups (595 grams/ml) water
- 1/2 loosely packed cup (70 grams) cooked short-grain rice (NOT basmati or jasmine rice), or 2 1/2 tbsp (20 grams) white rice flour
- 2~3 tbsp evaporated milk
- Preheat the oven on 375F/190C. Scatter the walnuts on a baking-sheet then roast in the oven, turning every 5 min, for 13~15 min until browned.
- Meanwhile, combine sugar and 2 tsp of water in a pot over medium heat. Swirl occasionally and cook until the sugar starts to smoke and turns into a light amber color, then turn off the heat. NOTE that the sugar will continue to darken as it sits in the hot pot, so we want to stop before it gets to the desired shade. If it looks like your caramel is getting too dark/burnt, add a tbsp of water to halt the cooking. Add the sea salt and set aside.
- Combine the roasted walnuts, water, and cooked short-grain rice (if your rice is cold from the fridge, splash with some water and heat up in the microwave to ensure it blends smoothly) OR white rice flour in a blender. Blend on high for at least 2 min until smoothly pureed. Then transfer to the pot with salted caramel through an EXTRA fine sieve. Stir with a spoon to help all the liquid pass through, but don't press on the solids too hard. Whatever that doesn't pass through, discard.
- Return the pot on medium-low heat. Stirring constantly, scraping the hardened caramel on the bottom of the pot, and simmer for 6~7 min until the caramel has completely melted and the mixture is thickened. This simmering process is important for deepening the nutty flavour so don't skip.
- Add 2~3 tbsp of evaporated milk, and add more sugar and 1 more pinch of sea salt if needed. Serve immediately, or store in the fridge and reheat before serving.
You can also simply sweetened the creamed walnut with equivalent amount of yellow rock sugar, or light brown sugar, as how it's traditionally done.
Don't substitute with cornstarch as thickening agent. Cornstarch looses its thickening power during stirring and reheating.