palm sugar Tag

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.  “

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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SINGAPORE HAWKER MARATHON: CRYSTAL DUMPLING (ZONGZI) MADE WITH SAGO PEARLS

 

WHAT:  Beautiful, jewel-like, crystal dumplings called zongzi made purely with sago pearls, which I didn’t actually eat in Singapore.

WHY:  Although, as far as I know, this is technically not a “Singaporean thing”, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t.  Its glossily translucent and elegantly geometric body is made entirely with tapioca sago pearls, making it enthusiastically bouncy, springy, chewy, the most texturally cheerful dumpling out there served cold with coconut dark brown sugar syrup.

HOW:  By soaking and various natural coloring agents, we are turning plain sago pearls into colorful mushy fillings that, through baptism of boiling water, transforms into these gem-like, glassy and slick dumplings that are wonderfully chewy, cooling and simply euphoric to look at.  It’s a texture thing, very much like the addictive quality of tapioca pearls inside boba teas.  The single source of fragrance and flavor that is fused into these dumplings (except the green ones that are made with pandan leaf) depends solely on these spear-shaped leaves, often times called zongye (dumpling leaf), mostly harvested from a particular type of East Asian evergreen bamboos.  It’s hard to describe it to those who haven’t personally experienced it, as it is a truly unique fragrance.  In my best ability, but probably inadequate, I would say it’s a combination of very intense corn husks and grassy tea leaves.

If you feel wary of this unfamiliar ingredient, trust me, once I was too.  But after getting over my illogical fear – one that wasn’t even inconvenient because you can buy these leaves with only a few clicks on your computer – I am now so in love of it that I want to use the leftover, incredibly aromatic cooking water as a base for soups!  And once I’ve learnt how fun it is to shape them, I just want to sit by a sunny window and make zongzi all day long.

Staying in line with the Southeast Asian flavors of this series, I’m proposing a serving syrup made with coconut milk, dark brown sugar and sea salt, mimicking the flavor of palm sugar.  But any other sweethearts like honey, maple syrup, or date syrup will do, too.

 

IT’S A TEXTURE THING!

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As Promised – A Better Brioche

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I should’ve known.  I shouldn’t still be surprised after all these years.  OOOF COURSE!  What other secret weapons do professional bakers hold against us besides their senseless guilt towards adding a couple sticks more of butter into everything?  It turns out I too, can bake an obscenely rich, absurdly moist and stringy brioche at home if I just blindfold my conscience, steady my shaking hands, and let go of ALLLL THAT BUTTER into the mixer while shaking off the image of cellulite-on-the-beach in my head.  Steady now, Mandy.  Steady now.  The road to greatness isn’t without sacrifice…

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