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Halloween spiral pastry stuffed with pumpkin and cheddar

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It’s always hard to entice someone to try, let alone spend time to cook something which they share utterly zero cultural or emotional connections with.  We are after all, creatures of habits and comforts, and both were properly brought up to not speak to strangers.  For this particular reason, one might even call it an excuse, I have been hiding from you one of my all-time favorite pastries.

I’m obsessed with this stuff.  But what is it exactly?  Even nowadays when Asian is the new Italian culinarily speaking, It’s still so foreign and… “unintroduced” to the western repertoire that there’s no appropriate English-ish vocabulary to name it.  What I’m talking about is a Taiwanese pastry called Yutou Su.

Yutou, is taro, simple enough, thank god.  But Su, is sort of an umbrella term for a huge varieties of pastries, and in this case, referring to the laminated pastry dough that is stuffed with mashed taro. .  The word basically says “crumbly” and “flakey”.  And boy, is it a word of its word.  I wish I could ask you to think of croissants or pie crusts as a way of culturally bridging you to my side of the gap.  But it resembles neither.  Its uniqueness lies in its waffer-thin layers, fantastically delicate, almost like the wings of a bee or a single-ply tissue paper, tightly and intimately leaning on one another to form a beautifully spiralling crust that is flakey yet soft, gentle, feminine even.  The mildly sweet, smooth-as-butter mashed taro inside only adds to this pastry’s, how do I say, motherly embrace.

But after saying all that, today, I’m not making Youtou Su.  I knew that with its unfamiliarity, plus an elusive root vegetable as a main ingredient no less, my wish to bring it into your home kitchen and hopefully to stay would walk into wall of polite rejections.  I knew I’ll need another way in, a gateway drug, perhaps a trojan horse wrapped in the costume of one of America’s most highly participated holiday.  Yes, the Halloween.

What used to be a swirl of pastel purple is now a raging tornado of spooky black and dark orange.  Where used to be taro is replaced by a smooth pumpkin paste with a centre of gooey melted cheese thrown in for good measure.  It works.  Sweet pumpkin seemed to have long desired the company of the sharpness of cheddar, and the loud costume didn’t talk over the delicate nature of the pastry.

It’s different from the original, to say the least, but no less delicious.   And dare I say, a lot more fun.

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Halloween spiral pastry stuffed with pumpkin and cheese

Yield: 12 pastries

Technique adapted from Qiong Cooking

Ingredients

  • 1 Japanese/Korean Kent pumpkin or 2 cans of pumpkin puree (see note*)
  • 12 bite-size cubes of American cheddar cheese
  • WATER DOUGH: strongly recommend measuring by weight
  • 1 1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp (150 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp (55 grams) lard (yield better result) or unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) water
  • FAT/OIL DOUGH: strongly recommend measuring by weight
  • 3/4 cup (96 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp (55 grams) lard (yield better result) or unsalted butter
  • Black and orange food dye (see note**)

Instructions

  1. START THE DAY BEFORE: We want to prepare the pumpkin filling and the water dough the day ahead or up to 3 days before serving. To make the filling, you can either start from fresh pumpkins or canned pumpkin puree. Make sure you choose a low-moisture pumpkin such as Japanese/Korean Kent pumpkin (the video demo shows what it looks like). Peel and remove the seeds, then cut into 1/2-inch small pieces. Scatter on a baking rack and bake in a 270 F/130 C FAN-ON or 300 F/150 C NO-FAN oven for about 1 to 1:30 hour, until the pieces have lost about 1/2 of their original volume and look shrivelled up. Blend with an immersion blender or food-processor until smooth and sweeten with light brown sugar to your liking. The puree should be very thick, more paste-like than puree. To use canned pumpkin, evenly spread the puree on a baking sheet, then bake under the same temperature for about 1 hour, until it has lost 1/2 of its volume. Blend again to make it smooth and sweeten with light brown sugar as needed. Store in the fridge until needed.
  2. MAKE THE WATER-DOUGH: At least one day ahead of time, knead all the ingredients for water dough for about 5 minutes, until supple, soft and smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge at least overnight or up to 3 days to allow gluten to further develop. It can be used straight from the fridge when needed.
  3. ON THE DAY OF SERVING: With an ice-cream scoop about 3 tbsp in total volume, make a scoop of pumpkin paste and press a bite-size piece of cheese in the middle. Level out the top and release it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until you have 12 scoops. Transfer into the freezer to let it harden slightly before use, but do not let them completely freeze (cheese doesn't freeze well).
  4. MAKE FAT/OIL DOUGH: In a bowl, knead together AP flour and lard or unsalted butter until smooth. Divide the dough in 2 equal portions, then color 1 portion with black food dye, and the other with orange food dye. How much to use will depend on the dye you're using, so add a little bit as you go until you reach the desired shade. Then roll each colored dough into a log and divide into 12 equal portions each, and shape into little tubular nubs (like in the video). You'll have 12 nubs of black, and 12 nubs of orange. Set aside.
  5. SHAPE THE PASTRY: Take the water-dough out of the fridge and divide into 6 equal portions. Shape into a ball, and set aside each in the CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER they are handled. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Go back to the first water-dough ball, roll it out into a 3"x4" (8x10 cm) oval shape, then place 1 black tube, then 1 orange, then 1 black then another orange side by side in the center of the oval. Bring the water-dough together to wrap the colored-dough inside and pinch the seams to tightly close it. Gently flatten it down slightly, then place it back to its chronological order. Repeat with the 2nd water-dough, so on so forth until all 6 are done.
  6. Now go back to the first dough you worked with, turn it so the alignment of the colored dough is perpendicular to you. Roll it out, with even pressure on both hands, into a long oval that is 1 feet/30 cm long, not longer (or you risk losing the layers). If there are excess white dough at each ends of the oval, trim it off. Then roll it from one end to the other into a little cigar. Place it back to its chronological order. Repeat with the 2nd dough, so on so forth until all 6 are done.
  7. Now go back to the first cigar, place it perpendicular to you, then roll it out again into a 1 feet/30 cm oval. Fold it onto itself length wise (now you'll have a really skinny strip), then gently roll it again just to enclose the fold. If the strip gets slightly longer then 1feet/30 cm, it's ok, but no more than by 1 inch/3 cm. If there are excess white dough on each ends, trim it off. Roll it from one end to the other into a tight snail, then put it back where it belongs, and repeat until all 6 are done.
  8. Go back to the first snail. With a sharp knife, slice the snail right down the middle into equal 2 disks. Place the cut-side down, then roll it out into 4 inch/10 cm wide circle, keeping the centre of the spiral in the middle. Place a filling (straight from the freezer is fine) in the middle, with the round side facing down, then bring the dough together and pinch to enclose. Set aside on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and repeat until you're done with all 12.
  9. Preheat the oven on 340 F/170 C (meanwhile keep the pastries in the fridge), then bake *on the lowest rack (to prevent top browning) for 25 minutes. Let cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.

Notes

* If you want to start with fresh pumpkins, it's important that you use a low-moisture variety like Japanese/Korean, aka Kent pumpkin. They are small in size with a very sweet, flavorful flesh. But if you don't care about the filling being orange, you could also use chestnut puree, taro puree, lentil puree as fillings.

** You can use both natural or artificial, powder or liquid food colorings. It's totally up to you.

https://ladyandpups.com/2021/10/15/halloween-spiral-pastry-stuffed-with-pumpkin-and-cheddar/
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Paper thin soft chewy, Sonoran-style flour tortilla

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For a couple years now, I’ve been taking jabs at creating the perfect flour tortillas.

Now, any conversation evoking the word “perfect” ought to be subject to a clearer definition, doesn’t it?  So here is mine.  The perfect flour tortilla, in my view, should be unleavened (otherwise it’s just a thin pita), translucent, thin but elastic, flavorful enough to be a standalone enjoyment, and above all else, embodying a soft chewiness that you could feel in between bites.

It’s safe to say that the recipes I used over the years didn’t stray far from the typical ones floating around the internet, more or less, kneading flour, warm water (often ambiguous on the exact temperature), some sort of animal fat all together which is rolled out and toasted on a skillet.  Simple, yes, and those aren’t horrible either.  Anything containing that amount of lard just can’t be.  But in the end… lifeless, doughy, and without flare.

Well that ends today.

You see, there is a place in Mexico called Sonora.  Legend has it, that as far as flour tortilla goes, they’ve got the best.  Large in diameter, tailored for burritos, their flour tortilla is stretched paper thin by hands and toasted only for a few moments on an inverted hot iron wok, resulting in delicate, see-through tortillas that had famed this region.  People swear by it.  And if there were a better flour tortilla in Mexico, it hasn’t been discovered.  Perfect?  As close as it’s gonna get.

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So, It gave me ideas.

I took a couple weeks to really sift through the steps of what makes an optimal flour tortilla dough, with enough gluten in strength to be so thin yet chewy, carrying enough flavors that it runs the risk of being snacked away before anything can be wrapped with.  Then for those of us who has not mastered the art of stretching a dough out to the extent of paper-thinness by hands, I have an ingenious solution – a classic technique of making Peking duck crepes.

Instead of rolling a single dough out as thinly as humanly capable, I stacked two on top of each other, separated by fat/oil, then roll them out as thinly as humanly capable.  What happens is that when they cook, they puff and separate from each other, and what you get is two tortillas that are only 1/2 the thickness of what you normally could pull off!

Can you blame me for feeling clever?  As you are peeling these translucently thin and elastic tortillas away from each other and marveling at their supple chewiness and savory aroma, and go on to ecstatically wrap them with everything in sight, well, you’d thank me.

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Chewy marshmallow nougat w/ cheese crackers and pistachio

”  It has just the right resistance, just the right gives, and just the right amount of crunches, dense and chewy yet airy and textural.  “

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In case you’re wondering why there’s again a video instead of process photos, I’m actually thinking about experimenting with this new format from now on.  Based on feedbacks, videos seem to demonstrate the makings of the recipes much better than photos, and hence removing more fear and unfamiliarity from people who are trying to make them.  So I will keep doing it this way and see how it all goes.  

So putting that aside, what we have here today is what I would like to call a marshmallow nougat, or marshmallow crisp, as some also call it, a snow crisp.  It is a very popular, well circulated, essentially a nougat-like candy bar of sort that’s been making buzzes in Taiwan and Hong Kong’s food-fad circles.  For someone who’s not in the slightest bit into candy bars, even less so with nougats specifically, I too fell for its satisfyingly chewy texture with airy crunches from the crackers that are generously dispersed throughout.  But if you know what a snow crisp is and are wondering, “but wait, this looks nothing like it!”  Well, I can explain.

Look, here are my issues with the typical recipes of snow crisps…

Let’s start with the “snow” part of things, which one could safely presume is the white coloring of the bars because of the marshmallows.  In order to make the marshmallow denser and chewier like nougats, and not soft and stringy like say rice krispies, a significant amount of dry milk powder is mixed in with the melted marshmallow to absorb the excess moisture.  Not only that dry milk powder is not exactly a common grocery store or household item – even if you were armed with a baby, because it is NOT baby formulas – but I’m also not an avid fan of its dull and weighing flavors that easily cloy.  Then to move onto the “crisp” part which refers to the crackers, I am again puzzled with the common choice of plain crackers that appears in most available recipes out there.  Shouldn’t one seize this as a perfect opportunity to introduce more interesting flavors, particularly one that would nicely tango with the sweetness?

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Enter, a two-birds-with-one-stone solution.  Salty cheesy crackers.

One part ground up finely, and another simply broken up, the cheese crackers fit into this nougat puzzle so snugly, almost fated, like a long lost soulmate.  The cracker powder absorbs the excess moisture from the marshmallow just as efficiently, turning it orange in hue, whereas the broken ones prevent the whole thing from becoming too dense by inserting airy crunches in between every bites.  Keen yet gentle, the cheesiness willingly recedes into the background, leaving an overall complex but well-balanced, savory-sweet profile that tingles with some mild tartness from dried prunes and the occasional nutty bonuses of roasted pistachio.

It has just the right resistance, just the right gives, and just the right amount of crunches, dense and chewy yet airy and textural.  One after another, me and my candy-averse husband, probably you too, literally could not stop eating these.

Sure there is definitively nothing “snow” about this.  But consider it a Jon Snow.  A bastard with true substance that you can’t get enough of.

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Layered scallion pancraffles

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”  SOMETIMES THE RIGHT THINGS DON’T MAKE SENSE. “

This is not a croissant.  I know better not to call it such without the distinct lamination equally spaced across in laser-precision, if only to avoid sudden eruptive rage from the sentimental hearts of any avid croissantologists.  But this is not a scallion pancake either.  Not only that its yeasted, bread-like dough stands apart from the standard model.  But the ungodly amount of butter in between its much thinner circular layers, stained green from bled out scallions could surely, I speculate again, rattle the graves of many conservative Chinese grandmothers.  Not that dead people have feelings.  But I wouldn’t underestimate their much-alive grandchildren with multiple Twitter accounts.  I guess what I could safely refer to it as, is probably that it’s a waffle.  For nowadays, anything and everything cooked in a waffle machine, let it be raw fish sushi or spaghetti bolognese, is unmistakably, a waffle.  No progressive movement there.

Or, I could just call it something else entirely.  A pancraffle.

And if you are one who doesn’t spend too much time on correct name-calling, but instead, on actions, then you’d be rewarded with these crispy and flakey outside, soft oniony and buttery on the inside, all in all, a beautiful hybrid with the best qualities of all parties.

But if you really want to get out there, then instead of the very reasonable topping of grated cheddar cheese, try a big dollop of burnt marshmallow meringue.  Sometimes the right things don’t make sense.

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Long string beans stewed in Thai curry tomato sauce

”  the devil lies in the impromptu dollop of Thai red curry paste, which I consider a tragically unrealized soulmate to tomato sauces  “

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This may not look much.  It was an accident really, the kind that perhaps only landed so simple and good because of.

Yes I said “good“, to a vegetable.  What is happening to me?  In a household where most end up rolled out of the fridge only for postmortems and the rest consumed only in repentance instead of joy, this dish received an unexpected broad spectrum of endorsement.  Even though it may be deemed as a mundane green beans stewed in tomatoes – and you’re not wrong – the devil lies in the impromptu dollop of Thai red curry paste, which I consider a tragically unrealized soulmate to tomato sauces.  Its magic locked within the pulverized lemongrass and galangal was freed by sizzling olive oil, casting this old red sauce in a spell of lemony gingery fragrance and warm heat.  Of course such motherly sauce would’ve gladly taken any displaced vegetables under her wings, but I took a particular liking on her behalf to long string beans because of – other than the make-believe resemblance to spaghetti – their willingness to walk down a long simmering road together without throwing a mushy tantrum.

There’s a quiet elegant comfort about the careless ways those curly strings spread out on the plate.  With or without the substantialness of poached eggs, it’s a special but not too special anytime-meal that I think you would too, enjoy in repeat.

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Brûlée Coconut, Palm Sugar, Pork floss sticky buns

”  It’s savoury-sweet kinda thing, you know, obviously, but also smokey around where a mixed aroma of coconut, butterscotch and bacon meet and greet.  “

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What in the world is pork floss?!

And where the hell do you get palm sugar?!  Or both, for that matter?!

Ok fine, so I knew this is gonna be a hard pitch.  And I’m probably not helping my case when I tell you that pork floss, invented by an anonymous Chinese likely on a night of massive insomnia, is a brownish cotton ball made of predominantly pork, which is cooked, shredded, then painstakingly dehydrated while being tumble-fried inside a wok until what used to be muscle tissues have then transformed into super fine, fiber-like fluffs.  Whaaat?!  And as if that’s not mind-bending enough, its flavor profile wonders in between savoury and sweet with a maple bacon or jerky-like porkiness oozing into your sensory space as your mouth grapple to understand this textural anomaly.

It’s really just like any other culinary ingenuities that took form initially as a means to tackle food preservation before refrigeration, but ended up being cherished by its culture even till this day.  Stretching from southern China down to Southeast Asia, hey, pork floss matters.  For every skeptics, there also stands a loyalists who would cradle and defend this “porky cotton” if you will, against the world’s cynical suspicion.  I too, love this shit.

Having said that, pork floss is not a stand-alone item.  It needs companies.  And as it has been increasingly branching out from its traditionally more savoury roles towards making collaborative debuts in, of all things, sweet pastries all across Asia, I feel it’s time for this surprisingly multi-faceted talent to be introduced to a more internationally recognized platform.

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Crushed sago pearls is the next crust you need

” relentlessly speckled with pale, large-sized granules that crunch much more enthusiastically than its homogenous peers “

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You’ve been doing it all wrong.

Ok, sorry, I’m being rude.  Let me be specific.  If you live outside of Taiwan and have been trying to mimic any number of Taiwanese-style fried street foods like crispy chicken poppers, cutlets, or pork chops, chances are, you’ve been doing it all wrong.  But, it’s not your fault.

Truth is, you’ve been misled.  And in fact, among others, I’ve been one of the guilties who have mislead you.  So please, today, let me correct my wrongs.

To explain, one must start with what exactly is so specific about “Taiwanese-style” fried… well, everything.  Aside from seasonings which is not of today’s focus, what sets these crispy morsels apart from others is a very, very distinct crust.  One that predominantly shares the same laced textural surface of a fried crust that is made of tapioca or potato starch, but in a closer look, is relentlessly speckled with pale, large-sized granules that crunch much more enthusiastically than its homogenous peers.  It is these “white sparkles” that gives Taiwanese-style fried dishes their unique edge.  And it is also, where things go wrong for you.

You see, in order to achieve such meticulously defined texture, one must use an ingredient that I have only seen being used in Taiwan, called sweet potato starch.  It is the only starch that I know of that come in this kind of grainy texture instead of a fine powder.  But what complicates things is that sweet potato starch is rarely seen in supermarkets or even Asian groceries, except maybe in stores that specializes in Taiwanese exports.  Which is why, regretfully, it is often times replaced with tapioca starch or cornstarch that completely lack this unique characteristics.  I too have been guilty of doing it that way.

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But, not until I’ve found a solution.

You see, again, sweet potato starch behaves the same way almost in any other ways (as a thickener or in batters and etc) as a much more common ingredient, tapioca starch (made from cassava instead of sweet potato), except that tapioca starch comes in fine powder form without granules.  But, ah-ha, there is something made of tapioca starch that does comes in “granules”, if you will, and equally important, is much much easier to get your hands on.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

Yes that, my friends, is sago pearls.

How could I not have thought about this in my twenty years of hunting for sweet potato starch to no avail?  How could I not have known that, duh, when sago pearls are put through the pulsing magic of a spice grinder, it resembles almost perfectly the exact same niche texture as the elusive sweet potato starch?  And how could I, after having unearthed this revelation for months, took my sweet-ass time to finally bring it to your attention just now?  Bad blogger… bad.

But well, now you know.  Whether you’re thinking about making Taiwanese crispy salty chicken poppers, or something more like this, a classic Taiwanese spiced pork chop that is often served with rice, or whatever deep-fried fantasies your hungry mind is taking you where a crust with starry speckles of salty and crunchy pops glimmers above the horizon, now you know.

It’s better late than never.

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