Bakery/Pastry

The amazing paradox of scallion popover s’more

” Nothing about this makes any sense… Yet it’s going to change the s’more world as you know it. “

Mark my words.  None of this makes any sense.  Nothing about it suggests that it should work.  Scallions and marshmallows?!  If you now shelve this idea in the lightless skepticism inside your head, it will forever be just a reminder that I – the Asian chick who has been left unchecked for far too long in the internet wilderness – have finally gone mad.

But if you could just push aside your good senses (the little voice inside your head telling you that the third powdered donut won’t help you, yes that one, scrap it), this recipe will turn the s’more world as you know it, upside down.

Yes, scallions, possibly one of the least likely substances to be associated with s’more next to pickled herrings and petroleum, against all odds, has somehow proven to be a miraculously effective liaison between our taste buds and the buttery, slightly chewy sweetness of charred marshmallows.  Yes!  That is what I’m saying!  But how could this be?  Have I lost my mind?  Well, I wish I could take the credit for this insanity but in cold hard reality, I did not, sadly, invent this.  In fact, I have utterly stolen this idea from a Taiwanese cracker that is sold in all major Taiwanese airports, the scallion cracker nougat sandwich.

Yes, that’s a real thing, scallion soda cracker sandwich with a nougat filling.  Not that the case for savory-sweet hasn’t been established elsewhere, but none has ever been so curiously bizarre, absurd to a point.  Even the attempt to imagine the two flavors conjoining triggers a repulsion reflex put in place by millions of years of human evolution.  So what kind of a sick person came up with this twisted though in their evil lair, I didn’t bother to look up in my bitter jealousy, but what’s for sure is that it has turned every skeptics, Taiwanese or not, into a believer that the age for scallions to join the company of confectionary has finally arrived.

So why don’t I just do a recipe for a scallion crack nougat sandwich, you ask?  Well, if you have ever intended to make soda crackers at home you’d know that it is an unnecessary labor with negative returns.  And homemade nougat, even more so.  Try to stuff a little dollop of the latter inside the former and repeat 40 times?  Yeah I didn’t think so either.  Especially when there is an alternative for both that are not only easy and rewarding to make at home, but in my opinion, far more superior in textures, tastes, and last but not least, fun.

A foolproof scallion popover recipe that is pop-guaranteed with gorgeously crispy crust and a warm and spongy center, salty and buttery where just the right amount of scallion aroma permeates through its pores.  Then its naturally hallow cavity gently holds together the liquified state of the caramelized marshmallows, unstable stringy and promising, until you take your first faithful bite to collapse its integrity, as the crispy and spongy savoriness of the popover clashes against the burnt and buttery candy-ness of the marshmallows.  How unlikely so yet incredibly right.

And you too, from this point on, will forever wonder and marvel at the paradox that is the new s’more.

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Japanese melty iceboox cheesecake

I’m sitting here, struggling with how best to explain to you all why this Japanese version of the burnt basque cheesecake is superior than the original in every single way possible, mentally auditioning all the angles I could cut into this subject that I think is going to change the way you think about cheesecakes in general.  How it’s possibly the easiest cheesecake your kitchen-incompetence will ever behold… how it has complexities in its flavors that reminds me of a caramel flan… how its play between temperature and texture is brilliant… how the outer layer is rich yet airy while the center remains creamy and gooey, melting almost instantly around the heat of my tongue…  A R-rated story on how cheesecake and  ice cream had a baby?  I considered that, too.

But it dawned on me that these are all just supporting facts, facts that you will witness, I’ve no doubt, as soon as you make one yourself in your kitchen.  What really stands in between you and making this cake is not the certainties, no.  It is the doubt, one single doubt really, the only elephant that needs to be removed first and swiftly before everything else could just fall into place.  Because I know what you’re all thinking.  Here, I’ll say it with you.

Isn’t this just an undercooked mistake?  

No, no it is not.  It is fucking not.

Is soft-boiled egg a mistake?

There.  I don’t know how much simpler I could put it.

Now, welcome to the only cheesecake you’ll ever bake for the rest of your life.

if cheesecake and ice cream had a baby.

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Moroccan Baghrir – Thousand holes pancake

Long been a destination on my bucket list – and one that had taken us way too long to fulfill – we finally visited Marrakech in December 2018.  I sort of did and didn’t know what to expect.  A dancing mirage somewhere in between the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, the face of Marrakech carried mysterious, exotic and imaginative beauty in my mind, like a place only in story books, almost unreal.

But of course, in reality, Marrakech is anything but unexposed.  We arrived to find an ancient city, like all the others of her kind left only with the pillars of tourism industry, whose beauty, flaws and dignity are laid bare for the world to entertain with.  Her plastered skin glowing in pink and orange, her sometimes unequivocal display of chaos and neurosis, and her remedial serenity and reflective pools inside the earthen walls of her beautiful courtyard houses, all of which was once for herself, now all is but a reluctant theme park for foreign passers.  This could be a difficult dilemma for any city, especially a poor one like Marrakesh, where her livelihood brings out both the best and worst she has to offer.  Within the walls of Medina, it could feel like a pressure cooker of transactions.  A request for directions, a photograph, a helpful hand, all of which seemed to need to become an exchange for euros, or worse, extortions.  And there she stood in the backdrop, her face blushing in that beautiful gradation of earthy red hues, I wondered, if in sadness or apathy.

That sounded negative.  For that I apologize, for who am I to lay judgment in my brief and shallow crossing with a city that is obviously complicated, and made our trip sound unenjoyable which it definitely wasn’t.  

If you wish to enjoy Marrakech, in my experience, you have to choose a great riad to stay in.  Riad is traditional Moroccan courtyard houses, but nowadays, mainly known as a synonym for Bed & Breakfast.  Your riad is where you retreat from the outer disorientation and intensity, where you find conversations beyond bargainings, where it could feel like a temporary family even just for a few days.  And most importantly for us, where the foods were great.  When it comes to street foods, to be utterly honest with you, I wasn’t too impressed, at least inside the walls of Medina.  We tried our best to avoid obvious tourist traps and focused on old establishments favored by mostly locals, but nothing stood up to the promise.  On the third day, out of search-fatigue and the promising aroma lurking out of the kitchen every late afternoon that we could no longer ignore, we decided to stay in our riad for dinner at a more than reasonable pricing of 20 euros per person.  What was served to us that night, had single-handedly reversed our perception of what Moroccan cuisine could and should be.

The dinner started with a few small bites of cold appetizers, each nicely balanced in texture and flavors that eased our skepticism.  Then came a lightly spiced pumpkin soup that held so much more nuances of comfort than its creamed orange appearance suggested.  “Is this typical in Moroccan meals?” I asked the manager.  “Yes.”  He smiled in amusement.  “Pumpkin soup.”  Of course.  At this point we were sufficiently assured to not be surprised by any excellence that was not expected.  But the main course, a bubbling tagine of fork-tender beef stewed in gentle spices and dried fruits with the occasional crunch of heart-shaped almonds, blew us away.  It isn’t easy, I feel the need to point out, to cook foods that are unmistakably motherly and soft-spoken while standing up to all the required sophistication and depths one would expect from a paid dinning experience.  Whoever cooked this meal, has a rare gift, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I decided to find out who she was.

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Super rich coconut, orange and mango panettone

see you next year, my friend

In a few days, we are going to pack our bags and head to Paris then Marrakech for our holiday vacation.  I probably won’t see you much on this blog during that time, which is why I’m throwing you a fat-bomb now to sustain your optimal winter-time figure all the way untill a new year comes. What a new year if one can’t make a diet resolution to fail utterly at?

This is what I call, the Crazy Rich Asian Panettone, lubed up with 12 egg yolks, coconut milk, and an ungodly amount unsalted butter and unrefined coconut oil.  This indecent level of fat not only keeps the crumbs sinfully moist, but also provides a backdrop of coconuty aroma where it pairs beautifully with speckles of dried mango and persimmons tinged with orange zests.  It could serve as an awesome “self-enrichment” during the holiday seasons but also, as we all secretly desire, as an ill-intended gift for our frenemies whom we would like to see de-shaped on that first depressing day back to the office.  Either way, we win.

So see you next year, my friend.  You’ve been lovely.

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MOLTEN SPICED BROWN SUGAR DONUTS

IT COLLAPSES AND MELTES TOGETHER INTO A VISCOUS DEEP BROWN GOO WHEN IT SURRENDERS TO THE WILLFUL STEAM INSIDE AN EXPANDING, FRYING BUN

As previously confessed on my Instagram (read for context), these days, I’ve been physically and mentally occupied with being a responsible dog mom.  This recipe was developed to be brought to Sesame and SRB’s playgroup – as one is required to do when one’s children are the least well-behaved amongst their peers – to maintain an illusion of their waning popularity and postpone the likely inevitable timing when they get officially kicked out.  When the stake is this high, mom goes to town.

So I’m proposing these fluffy yet chewy donuts stuffed with dark brown sugar that is formerly massaged with honey, vanilla extract, sea salt and spices until all parties clumped into a lustful wet sand, which then fatefully collapses and melts together into a viscous deep brown goo when it surrenders to the willful steam inside an expanding, frying bun.  It’s needless to describe to you how the molasses-y sweetness that’s brought into focus by a hint of cardamon, cinnamon and sea salt, oozes slowly out of a warm pillow, and how narrow of a window they will remain in their best possible state shortly after they came warm out of the fryer.  And so as my respect for these donuts demands, I seized and honored the moment and as a result, none of them had made it to fulfill their original intended purpose.  I’m not explaining anything but just saying.

Well, empty handed but still gotta go.  I’ll see you around.

 
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SIMPLE YET SURPRISING AMSTERDAM PANCAKE

 

I KNOW IT DOESN’T LOOK MUCH.  I PROBABLY WOULD’VE BYPASSED IT IF I WASN’T STUCK IN AMSTERDAM.  BUT I’M GLAD I WAS.  AND I KNOW YOU WILL, TOO

I’ve been to Amsterdam.  For a total of 18 hours.  I don’t know what people do during an overnight layover in a city they know nothing about, and I knew nearly nothing about Amsterdam.

However, pancake, seems to be a thing.

What did I know about “Amsterdam pancake”, or as I later found out, pannenkoeken?  Not much, really, aside from that it’s starkly different from the verticality of common stacked pancakes, in fact, it’s one of the flattest stand-alone foods I’ve came across.  And in my long years of hunting for culinary clues, when something spreads so unseemly, so 2D, so unornamented to a point of bleakness, yet is still adored as “a thing”, further investigation is warranted.  And rest assured, I was not disappointed.  To clarify upfront, during the only few hours of daytime we had, we only tried Amsterdam pancake once, from an unresearched, random cafe close to our Airbnb apartment, and had only a single pancake with cheese which we shared.  All in all, what I’m trying to say is, I am no expert.  But from the moment since the waitress placed something that looked exactly like this in front of us, as unflatteringly as it came, and I tore a small corner from the edge and put it faithfully in my mouth,  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Chewy.  Chewy was the first word that came to mind.  But soft though, really soft.  A combination of textures that, from the start, was already far more interesting than any of the spiritless associations of common pancakes, say, pfff, fluffy.  Flavor-wise, it wasn’t exceedingly eggy like Dutch baby or french crepe, nesting comfortably in the natural and mild sweetness of wheat flours and milk.  I also couldn’t stop thinking about how daringly minimal it presented itself on the table, a bare blanket of confidence with nothing else but a few slices of melted Dutch gouda on top, almost making a statement, declaring its independence from BS, secure with assurance.  It felt playful to eat, interacting, but comfortable, like having a conversation with a soft-spoken but funny stranger who underdressed with ease, while the whole time I wondered if it was too weird to ask if we could be friends for life.

And that’s exactly what I did.  All eight times of trials and errors.  It felt funny going after something, with this much effort, when I wasn’t even sure if it’s a classic representation in its category.  Is this the pannenkoeken?  I have no idea.  But I don’t really care.  I just want to find my way to back to that particular one that I really liked.  It was expectedly tricky to replicate that softly chewy texture which I hold as a key to its charm, leading to a combined conclusion of both wheat flour and potato starch in the batter.

I know it doesn’t look like much.  And I probably would’ve bypassed it if I wasn’t stuck in a city full of it.  But I’m glad I was.  And I know you will, too.

 
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CHI SPACCA’S FOCACCIA DI RECCO, OR THE CLOSEST YOU’LL GET TO IT AT HOME

DOLLOPS OF FRESH COW’S MILK CHEESE COCOONING IN BETWEEN TWO PAPER-THIN FILMS OF UNYEASTED DOUGH, AND BAKED INTO A BALLOONED AND BLISTERED PIE WITH CHEESE-FILLED UNDERGROUND CHAMBERS.

What is obsession?  When is it helpful and when does it get silly?

Ever since that episode of Chef’s Table on Nancy Silverton, I’ve been dwelling, not upon, but inside this subject.

The episode, of course, celebrates a chef’s willingness to spend an inexhaustible amount of effort to close that last short climb between what is already a great dish to a conceivably perfect one.  A distance too short and steep no doubt, for most to commit.  But to Silverton, especially when it comes to breads, being obsessed is not a question of should or shouldn’t, but do you have what it takes?  I am, however, at least not today, talking about the theoretical aspect of obsessions.  Instead, I’d like to bring forth the physical one that I was sent into after watching her episode.

During that show, there was about a 30-seconds scene showcasing a flatbread-looking pie, a glowing golden-brown mirage.  Captivated by that glimpse, nothing but a glimpse, without even knowing what “it” actually was, I plunged into a months-long pursuit from grasping what I saw to realizing it in my own kitchen.   First, it took me a considerable amount of Googling to find out what I initially thought was a “thin double-sided pizza stuffed with mozzarella?”, to be something actually called focaccia di recco from her restaurant Chi Spacca, an extremely crispy-edged, flatbread-like creature that has nothing to do with either pizza nor mozzarella, or the typical focaccia for that matter.  The dish is essentially dollops of fresh cow’s milk cheese cocooning in between two stretched, unyeasted, paper-thin films of dough, and baked into a ballooned and blistered pie with cheese-filled underground chambers.  Mostly cracker-like crispy, partially soft and stretchy, all in all and bona fide gastronomic wonder unlike anything I have ever seen.

It, allegedly, took her two whole years to perfect.

Since then, I bled over bringing it into my reality.  I don’t have anything else to elaborate other than the every words already written in the instructions, each summarizing hours and hours of theorizing, testings, failings, staring, and re-testings, presented to you, as shortly and concisely as I think what a normal human being has patience for.  The result rewarded and justified every last drop of sweat and tears spent, and whatever difference there may be from the real deal, I confide in my belief to be a result of hardware issues (commercial oven VS. home electric oven).  Except, maybe, whatever experience I cannot transcribe through words.  And if so, then that my friend, is where only your obsession can take you.  But it’s worth it, let me tell you.  It’s all worth it.

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