A SERIOUSLY FLAKEY PIE
WITH BLUEBERRIES SCENTED WITH FLORAL SICHUAN PEPPERCORNS, MYSTERIOUS AND SUBTLE, AND CREAMY OATMEAL ON THE BOTTOM TO SOAK IT ALL UP
Easy as pie. I’m sorry. Was that supposed to be funny?
Pies are anything but easy. In fact, it took me two years of really, really, humiliatingly sucking at it; and another three years of total denials and nightmarish phobias; and then another year to pick up the pieces of my self-esteem to try again; and then, finally then, last week, before landing on something that I feel happy enough to share with behind closed door. And today, six years plus a couple tweaks later, to talk about it openly on the internet. This recipe is my collected wisdoms on pie-making from years of failures and heartbreaks (think those pies as a house presented with a giant sink hole, sewage flooding and electrical fire, all at the same time).
What it is, is a seriously flakey pie, like no-kiddingly flakey, with blueberries scented with a mysterious, floral tone from sichuan peppercorns that is subtle but distinct, and a bed of creamy oatmeals to soak it all up. The sichuan peppercorns are not gonna make you go “Chinese food!“, ok?, it won’t. It just perfumes the pie. And the oatmeals not only prevents the whole “sewage flooding” issue, but is also texturally more superior than gloppy, cornstarch-thickened mess. In fact, from now on whenever you bake a fruit pie, I suggest you blanket a layer of this on the bottom. It is thirsty for the collapse of your fruits.
Now, as a general rule of thumb… For those people who were born with mutated abilities to make perfect pies since birth, this may not be a big deal. But I gather that there are also those out there like me with this specific genetic defect, that they might appreciate some tips. And my tips on How To Not Fuck Up A Pie is – Go Gollum. A certain conversation amongst “ourselves” should take place inside our head, to remind us every step of the way that, forget one, it all goes to shit. And my conversation goes like this:
Taken that these kind of schizophrenic talks are not always the most well-composed, I’ve detailed every single steps in the recipe-instructions to help you out a bit. I hope it serves you well.
Happy go pie.
The sweetness level of this pie lands on the mild side, as how I like it. If you want sweeter pie, add more sugar to the blueberries in Step 4.
Ever since I came back from Lisbon, the question haunts me.
What is a perfect pastel de nata?
Well for me, now more than ever, that depends on who you’re asking.
If you were from the Asian parts of the world as I am, growing up, this wildly popular pastry since the 90’s actually came from, and have always been, more as a Macao thing. Sure it’s known as the Portuguese-style egg tarts from Macao, the former Portugal colony famed for its many Portugal-influenced hybrid foods, but notice that it is NOT called pastel de nada, not even Portuguese egg tart, but ambiguously, “Portugese-STYLE” egg tart. Style? The name itself oozes deniability, suggesting that on one level or another, these tarts can’t be expected as a 100% identical replica of the originals, but a mere adaptation of some sort. Therefore with time, as the popularity of these tarts swept through every bakeries in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even KFC (yes, they sell these at KFC here…), the Portuguese association sort of fell irrelevant, and the gold standard on what is a great pastel de nata, in Asia at least, is set on however it is made in Macao. And really, most people don’t have a clue on what the real thing is like.
But I’ve always wondered about this. I mean is “Portuguese-style egg tart” even a thing in Portugal? Do people even actually eat this stuff there or is it another freaky fortune cookie-phenomenon? And if they do, the question isn’t if it was the same from Macao, because I know there was no chance in hell that they’re the same. But the question is, how different?
So a couple months ago when I finally visited Lisbon for the first time, I was on a quest for truth. I didn’t know what to expect, but almost as immediately as we landed at the airport, truth no 1 revealed itself. Pastel de nada is definitely a thing in Portugal. I mean, they were everywhere, as common as bagels in NY or surfers in L.A. Well great, fantastic, because it allowed me to conduct an in-depth and thoroughly tasted investigation on truth no 2, which is, how different are the real things from Macao’s? Well, this was where the troubles began. They are, as expected, quite different on many textural levels, and now…
I’m completely torn.
I ASSURE YOU THAT THIS CONCLUSION, WHETHER YOU AGREE WITH IT OR NOT, CAME AFTER MUCH TORMENTS, SELF-REFLECTIONS AND EVEN SOME SOUL-SEARCHING ON WHO I AM AS A SENTIENT PASTRY EATER… (BUT THE ANSWER TO) WHAT IS ULTIMATELY A PERFECT PASTEL DE NATA?
WELL, A HYBRID
I didn’t intend to sneak a cake recipe in between my travel-inspired posts, but this is the easiest-yet-delicious cake recipe I have yet to encounter, and I think you should do it.
Look, I’m not exactly a practician of 30-minute meals. I don’t mind getting down and dirty with a recipe for the better part of my day and get disgustingly anal with
minor details. But for those who knows me, knows that when it comes to dessert-baking, specifically cakes and such, I then become what Nat Geo would call, a cake-sloth. If the recipe, even at a glance, contains any mentioning of words like “softened/room-temperature butter (subtext: have my cake and eat it tomorrow)”, or “creaming (scrape till my ass split)”, or “sift (is Santa coming or I’m covered in blow!)”, or “beat eggs one at a time (zzzz… I’m sorry wah?)”…, I just turn around and start another 10-hours operation on my next ramen project. The double standard is weird, I know, even to myself. But for the entire lifespan of this blog, I’ve been maximizing all efforts on savoury recipes while, in contrast, cheating my way through various pastries such as this skillet cookie, this dumpling wrapper cannoli, and even a no-churn mascarpone soft-serve (and even the more complicated stuff involved cheating). Then, just a few days ago, this sloth has found a new tree.
Following the Monday-blue oatmeal cookie, here’s the Wednesday’s Throw-it-together Texas chocolate sheet cake.
How is it that this cake-sloth hadn’t heard of this fabulous food-source until now? Because as far as the internet is concerned, the typical recipe for a Texas chocolate sheet cake, as I later found out, is no news. There’s quite a lot of’em out there. But when I saw it for the first time on Martha Stewart’s Living last week, it felt as if a whole new natural habitat was uncovered. Since I have reasonable doubts that there are fellow cake-sloths out there being left out of the party, I thought, it can’t hurt to mention it again.
First of all, not only that there was no
screaming creaming, sifting, waiting or any electricity-powered mixer involved, but better yet, the process was so crude and rough that it practically felt mannerless. Sloth-like.
Basically, you boil everything in one big pot then you stir in the rest and bake. Done.
The entire recipe was so easy that I, even I, felt the insecure urge to add a little something more like, for example, browning the butter instead of melting, and replacing water with strong brewed coffee, and substituting cocoa icing with ganache (which is just a fancy word for stirring chocolates in hot cream) for extra richness. And as I stood there as a naturally suspicious species, wondering how on earth could a “pre-cooked” batter ever turn into an edible cake, a mere 22 mins of baking later, I was blown away again.
The cake rose beautifully, and was moist… soft… and dense with rich crumbs. The entire project, including the chocolate ganache that lubricated through the already-moist crumbs, could be done in under 1 hour from start to finish. You can literally bake this cake from the time your friend calls to say he/she’s putting on a pair of pants to head over your way, and have it ready before the door bell rings (ok, if you didn’t include the time it takes for the cake to cool but really, who does that?).
So yes, if you were like me, who needs something sweet to munch on in between the hours she spend on beating a roast duck into a pot of milky broth… this delicious cake is gonna save you some time.
ONCE THESE PIPING HOT, LIGHT AND AIRY DONUTS HIT WHAT I CALL THE “CHRISTMAS SAND”, THE HOUSE WILL INSTANTLY SMELL LIKE SWEET, BUTTERY AND EGGY HOLIDAY SPIRIT.
Quickly leaving you today with something awesome I discovered in Hong Kong. And it comes with a funny name, too, called Sandy Old Man!
I found it at a traditional Catonese-style pastry shop and thought to myself that it was just donuts, but as I bit into the sugar coated fried dough, this little fella instantly sank into an airy sponge with soft and almost custardy interiors. After some much needed research, turned out that this thing which they call “Sandy Old Man”, are essentially pâte à choux donuts! By frying this classic cream puff-dough, you get a slight crispier exterior with almost hallow interior, permeating a salivating aroma of eggs and butter.
Traditionally Sandy Old Man are only coated in granulated sugar, but come on, it’s Christmas. Granulated sugar turns into light brown sugar, then festivity turns into a pinch of ground cinnamon, cloves and a slight sprinkle of salt. Once the piping hot, light and airy donuts hit what I call the “Christmas sand”, the house will instantly smell like sweet, buttery and eggy holiday spirit.
I’ll take this sandy old man over Santa any day.
UPDTAE 2015/12/14: The original measurement of 1/2 cup of flour worked for me, but because many had commented that their batter was too thin, I adjusted the recipe to 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp.
UPDATE 2016/01/11: About comments that mentioned the batter was too thin – I tested the recipe again (added some weight measurements in the recipe, too) and it worked great with me. Please note the “dough” should actually resemble a very thick batter. By the way, I also just found out from my trip to Lisbon that these actually came from Portugal originally, and are called “sonhos” there which sounds a lot like “sandy old man” in Chinese! All makes sense now… :)
I LIKE TO HIDE MY VEGETABLES IN ICE CREAMS
Starting this Sunday, we’ll leave Bejing for more than a month, traveling to Hong Kong (for work), then Taiwan, then maybe Lisbon… Madrid… St Sebastian… or who knows. Traveling used to be a big part of who we are, but we haven’t done this kind of “long distance/large scale” travelling for 2 years now, you know, for personal reasons, and I’m finding that it’s taking a bit of practice to get our grooves back.
So today, I’m quickly leaving you a recipe that I made from some leftover pumpkins. As you know, I like to hide my vegetables in ice creams. And do you know that pumpkin and coconut milk are great pals? We got that from Thailand. And do you know that ice creams are so much better on a pancake-cone instead of a regular one? Learnt that from Seoul.
And I can’t wait to find out more, out there, on this new journey.
The crochet side-pate is from Dishes Only.
THEY ARE THE COOKIE-VERSION OF A FEEL-GOOD MOVIE, EMOTIONALLY EQUIVALENT TO A BOX OF GOLDEN TWIN-PUPPIES EACH HUGGING A HAPPY GIGGLE.
This is what I’ve been busy with for the past 7 days, recreating Mark & Spencer’s Viennese raspberry sandwich creams. What does that say about me, spending 84 hours scrutinizing a processed junk-food from a super chainstore, I don’t know. But I had to make it.
If you ever had childhood experience of reaching into a tin-box, and sneaking one of those buttery nuggets of vanilla cookies into your mouth as your first memory of pure foodgasm, then I guess, you can sort of understand. But this, this is better, upgraded. You can either go to your nearest M&S to see for yourself, or you can stay here and do it at home. But how I got here, however unexpectedly long it took, was no vanilla road. Checking out all the trusted recipes that were already out there, which, affirmingly, were all very similar to one another, let’s just say that I thought it was gonna be easy. If they all agreed on it, it must work fine, right? Humppphhh…
I made my first batch last weekend. Well, it did work fine… how do I put it… wonderfully just okay I guess. Wonderful in the sense that, flavor-wise, it was exactly what Viennese cookies are supposed to taste like, fireworks of buttery crumbs exploding in a vanilla sky. No doubt about that. But just okay because, and maybe I was being obsessively anal about it but still, I had a major textural issue with them. It was one thing to have cookies with so much butter that they “melt in my mouth”, but it was something else entirely when they could barely hold themselves together even under the slightest pressure of a finger. Like, I was scared to touch them… like literally, they eroded on my fingers. I mean, if that sounds like a “dat a problem?” to you, then great, but I might add that they also had a paste-like and almost glue-ish texture in the mouth that… I just couldn’t quite get over.
A BUBBLY SYMPHONY OF BUTTER AND CREAM, SUGAR AND HONEY, A PINCH OF SEA SALT AND BRANDY HERE AND THERE, AND THAT LAST TOUCH OF VANILLA
I’m quickly leaving you the last post before we take a short trip to Hong Kong and Seoul next week. It’s been… well… 2 years since the last time me and Jason traveled together. What used to be frequent occurrences and a huge part of of our lives, now feels a bit unfamiliar and exciting again, well, tinted with a bit of sadness at the same time.
So with all the packing, cleaning out the fridge, packing again and feeling a bit empty now that we have minus-two dogs to say good-bye to, I’m gonna leave you alone with these pancakes that I’ve lately, grown quite fond with. As I previously declared, I’m not a pancake person. Still not actually. But what I like about these pancakes, aside from the fact that they taste, preferably, like the lighter version of the often-times unbearably sweet sticky toffee puddings, is their relatively loftier heights that bring more tasty contrast to the fluffy interiors and the crispy edges. The pancakes use, more or less, the chiffon cake-technique by folding beaten egg white into the the batter to pump up its airiness. Then I cook them with a lid on, which speeds up the cooking time, and from what I felt, retains the height of the pancakes better. You could add chopped dates to the party as the tradition, but I kept them lazy, only mimicking the flavours by adding molasses, grated ginger, ground cinnamon and allspice. After all, the highlight of sweetness should only come from the thick and glistening syrup, a bubbly symphony of butter and cream, dark brown sugar and honey, a pinch of sea salt and brandy here and there, and that last touch of vanilla.
So here we go, to mark to the end, and the beginning, and then the repeating of it all that is change and life. I’ll see you again, on the other side.