Bakery/Pastry

ZERO-FOLDING PASTEL DE NATA, A HYBRID

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

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London, barely, plus Yorkshire pudding and my Sunday roast

Some of you may have noticed, that this series of travel-diary/recipe-exploration on the three fabulous European cities I visited last month, is actually going in reversed orders. Reasonable doubts would suggest that I’m saving London for last, but truth is… it’s because I’m struggling to remember any of it.

Before Lisbon, before Madrid, going backwards in sequence, we actually arrived in London first, this posh and thrilling British gentleman that I’ve always had a crush on from afar. But turned out, we didn’t arrive alone. Came with us, was a persistent, cunning and serpent-like seasonal flu which already found us to be very amiable hosts back in Hong Kong, then apparently, took an even deeper liking in the unpredictable and drizzling British weather and decided to extend its stay for our next several miserable days. Although, in the flu’s defence, it did embody a certain level of traveller’s enthusiasm and took us for a joyride to all the most notable drugstores that London had to offer (Boots, you’re a doll). However, beyond which, it showed lacking interests in just about anything else. Museums? Charming little street? No, flu wanted to stay home and suck fingers.

(poetry, British profanity is poetry)

So I’m sorry, London (and the ones who fell ill on the tube going from West Kensington to London Bridge on Dec 22nd around 1 pm… It was me). Because I could only sort of remember you as a beautifully wetted city of yellow bricks and steels under an eternal overcast, or as least so you were every chance I looked, mostly up from a pile of tissue-ruins through my watery and bacteria-infested eyes. Were you a bit blurry or was it me? All jokes aside though, I would definitely make a return visit to London. In fact, I have already been looking at some mayfair hotels online for inspiration for our next trip. Watch this space.

THIS THING THEY CALL, YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS… THE AIR BALOON-EQUIVALENT OF PASTRY… ONLY THAT IT IS EGGY, CRISPY, FLUFFY AND SO MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED

I did see though, a couple of the important stuffs. The Borough MarketDuke of York Square MarketSt. John Bread & Wine… made the pilgrimage. And the more I scratched over the surface of all the excitements, wonderful smells of cheeses and seared meats, captivatingly unique architectures, and the deeply profound culture underneath it all that London has to offer, the angrier I was that I didn’t have the energy to explore further. So much to see, so little life. This isn’t an excuse, London! You weren’t the best mate to help sort out a flu and you bloody well know it!

And here I am, one month later, flu-free and apologetic, I figure the least I could do is not to insult London by pretending that I have anything insightful to say. In fact, the only tribute I could pay is to say this… Regardless of the experience I had, immobile or even if it was well explored, I feel London is the kind of city that will always leave me feeling hungry for more. More to eat, more to see, more to pry out of the maze of bricks and steels, and just when you thought you had it figured out, there it is, another discovery.

I hope I see you again, London. I know, I will see you again. But next time, summer perhaps.

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WEDNESDAY’S THROW-IT-TOGETHER TEXAS SHEET CAKE

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.

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SANDY OLD MAN ON X’MAS

  

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.

  
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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… :)

SANDY OLD MAN ON X’MAS

Ingredients

    BATTER:
  • 1/2 cup (118 grams) water
  • 3 tbsp (42 grams) unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (87 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Canola oil for frying
  • X'MAS SAND:
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. In a small pot over medium-low heat, add water, unsalted butter, sugar and salt, then cook until the water is hot enough to melt the butter (it should not boil). Turn off the heat and add the flour all at once, and stir with a fork until it comes into a smooth and even dough. Transfer the dough to a stand-mixer or into a large bowl, and stir for another min to cool it slightly. Add 1 egg and beat it into the dough until completely lump-free and smooth, then add the second egg and beat until the batter is shiny and smooth.
  2. Add enough canola oil to a small frying pot over medium heat. The oil's ready when it bubbles up gently around an inserted wooden chopstick. Scoop up around 1 tbsp of batter with one spoon, then scrape it gently into the oil with another spoon. Turning constantly and fry until the batter has puffed up (ALMOST DOUBLED in size, and will probably form a crack on the surface) and golden browned on all sides. This should take about 6 min to happen. If the donut browns too quickly before it puffs up, then the oil is too hot, and you should adjust the heat accordingly. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
  3. Drain the donuts thoroughly and set aside on a paper-towel to cool for 1 min, then coat it all over inside evenly mixed X'mas sand. Serve immediately.
https://ladyandpups.com/2015/12/12/sandy-old-man-on-xmas/

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PUMPKIN SPICE COCNUT ICE CREAM IN A BLANKET

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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.

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CRANBERRY VIENNESE SANDWICH CREAMS

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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.

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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.

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STICKY TOFFEE PANCAKES

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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.

Gold brass spoon made by the amazing Ann Ladson.  Yellow mixing bowl from Dishes Only.

  
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