2012 Projects

Another Tick on My Kitchen To Dos

For our wedding in Portugal, my mom-in-law arranged for croquembouche as our wedding cake. Croquembouche simply is profiteroles strung with caramel spun sugar, mounted into a structural center piece of a cone shape, typically served in important celebrations in French culture, such as weddings or baptism. I’m sure many of you know what profiterole is, even if you’re not familiar with its french name. It’s also known as cream puff or in Indonesia, kue sus. These days, you can easily find a croquembouche done with macaroons, instead of profiteroles.

My success rate in making profiteroles are 1 out of 3. Not so bad: two grand failures out of three attempts. But at least I think I know where my pain points are now. I think I have figured it all out. And I think four might be my lucky number.

I learned that if my batter, when piped into little mounds, can stand on its own means they are at the right denseness. I learned that the water/butter mixture needs to be really boiling. I learned that profiteroles and pronto are like oxymorons. This is not a recipe for when you are in a rush. But if you have a mixer and the due diligence to follow the recipe, this is extremely easy to do.

Profiteroles and eclairs are done with the same dough, pâte à choux. The difference, according to H, is that eclairs are long, dipped/ covered with chocolate, while profiteroles are typically round and doused with caramel. Both are traditionally filled with cream custard, though it is becoming more common to have profiteroles stuffed with vanilla ice cream in the middle of snowing winter.

If H can conjure up his version of profiterole, this would be it. Thick custard cream and caramel sauce.

Forenote: The dough can be done and baked a day in advance. Kept in a ziplock, it will stay crisp for a day. The custard cream can be done in advance and can stay in fridge up to 3 days. The caramel has to be done on the day. It is said that once filled, the profiteroles stay crisp for up to 4 hours on room temperature, before they turn soggy.

yield 20 profiteroles

(a) The dough: Choux Pastry (pâte à choux)
(source: Joy of Baking)

1/2 C (65 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 C (57 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 C (120 ml) water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • Preheat oven to 205 C (400 F) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a bowl sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Set aside.
  • Place the butter and water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and, with a wooden spoon or spatula, quickly add the flour mixture. Return to heat and stir constantly until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a thick smooth ball (about a minute or two).
  • Transfer the dough to your electric mixer, and beat on low speed a minute or two to release the steam from the dough.
  • Once the dough is lukewarm start adding the lightly beaten eggs and continue to mix until you have a smooth thick sticky paste.
  • Spoon or pipe to 20 mounds (or 12 mounds for a larger version). Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 177 C (350 F). Bake for a further 30 to 40 minutes or until the shells are a nice amber color and when split, are dry inside.
  • Turn the oven off and, with the oven door slightly ajar, let the shells dry out for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Cool before filling.

(b) The Custard Cream
(source: Casa Veneracion)

1/2 C white sugar
2 tbsp corn starch + enough all-purpose flour to make 1/3 C.
a generous pinch of salt
2 C milk
4 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  • In a pan, mix together the first four ingredients. Stir until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, reaching all edges and bottom until thickened.
  • In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Once the milk liquid has thickened, ladle some liquid into the egg yolk to temper it.
  • Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the pan, mix, and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom constantly, until the mixture is thick and coats the back of a spoon.
  • Let it cool down and press a cling wrap onto the surface and keep in the fridge up to 3 days.
  • Pipe or scoop onto the cooled choux pastry.

(c) The (Dry) Caramel

120 gr white sugar

  • In a heavy bottom pan, spread out the white sugar to cover all surface and heat it over low heat.
  • Once the edges starts to turn liquid, using spatula to draw a line from the melting edge towards center.
  • Once it turns amber and the sugar has all melted, transfer to a bowl to stop the heating. The caramel is ready to be used.

Note: It took only a split second from ready-to-be used caramel to burnt caramel. You’ll know because they taste and smell burnt. They are darker than normal caramel should be. Making caramel isn’t difficult, but it does take practice and lots of patience. The good news is sugar is cheap!!

I think I’m ready to make coffee eclairs for my dad-in-law 😉


One Step Bread and Rolls

“I would like to correct a misconception about bread baking right up front: you do not need to beat up your dough. Rather, the gentle mixing method used here assures maximum flavor, because flavour-bearing pigments in the flour don’t dissipate as they do with prolonged mixing.

Another misconception about bread baking is that it requires a big time commitment. This is only half right: you do need to be around in order to take care of the various steps, but none of the individual steps is actually time-consuming. Because I’ve designed these recipes using the one-step process, these are breads to bake and eat in one day, unlike their artisan cousins, which can take four or five days to create.” – Nick Malgieri

This is me when I’m making bread. No, scrap that, this is me in the kitchen every single day. Wait till you see my face and my hair.

Anyway, one of my kitchen project for 2012 is to improve my bread making skill (sans bread making machine, nor a mixer like KitchenAid). There are good and cheap bread and rolls here in Luanda, so I’ve been slacking a lot on this front. But last spring, I went to a bread making course in Franschhoek and so I want to get back on the wagon. Afterall, H’s little Tia (little aunt) is a famous bread maker in the whole kampong!

I’ve tried numerously made bread in the past, but unless I stuff it with loads of cheese and ham, H has no interest. It’s too hard, too tough, too dry, not having enough bubbles. In another words, my breads suck big time. The kind of bread that turns into rock after a day. So last weekend, I tried on Nick Malgieri’s one step bread dough. The best part is no kneading!

I have to say it was a great sucess! They were chewy but not too much. A little smell from the supermarket yeast, but when I froze the extras over night (they can be easily heated up right before eating, see more below), the smell disappeared! Even H said my bread was better than his mom’s. Woot woot!!! You just gotta try making one.

from Bake! Essential techniques for perfect baking by Nick Malgieri
makes 800 g dough

475 g bread flour
1.5 tsp non iodized salt or fine sea salt
7g active dried yeast
315 ml warm tap water, about 38 C –
see note below
1 tbsp Olive oil plus 1/2 tsp for oiling the bowl

  • Mix the flour and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.
  • in a large bowl, whisk the yeast into water. Wait 30 secs then whisk again to make sure all the yeast is dissolved. Whisk in the oil.
  • Use a large rubber spatula to mix in half the flour to make a paste. Add the half of flour in the bowl and mixing it in by repeatedly digging down to the bottom of the bowl and folding upward, towards the center. Add the remaining flour and repeat the folding motion until all the flour is absorbed and there are no dry bits stuck to the side of the bowl.
  • Cover the bowl with clean tea towel (not terry cloth!) or clingfilm and let the dough rest for 10-15 mins.
  • Repeat the digging and folding motion using a clean rubber spatula for the second time. Cover and let it rest for another 10-15 mins.
  • Lightly oil a bowl large enough to hold twice the quantity of the dough you now have and set aside. I used a big pot to boil my pasta.
  • Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Flour your hands and pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold one of the narrow ends of the dough over the middle, then fold the other end over to make 3 layers. Turn the dough 90 degrees so that the folded side is facing you and repeat the folding. Invert the dough into the oiled bowl and cover it with tea towel or clingfilm. Let the dough rest for 15 mins, then repeat the folding.
  • Lightly oil the bowl again if necessary and put the dough back into the bowl. Turn the dough so that the top is oiled. Cover with clingfilm and let it rise until it has doubled in size, 45 mins to 1 hour.
  • The dough is ready to be used or baked.

Note: I always got my water too hot and I didn’t know that it could kill the yeast. So during my bread making course, I finally dipped my finger to get a sense of how warm the water should be. But Meesh passed me a great tip which I tried with this bread. The water should be on a temperature where you can dip your finger for few seconds without shrieking in pain.

I use 1 recipe of one-step bread dough to make 1 loaf of Seeded Twist and 6 Tiger Rolls.


Variation 1: SEEDED TWIST
Yield 2 loaves

1 recipe of One-step bread dough
handful of white sesame seeds (or black)
water to brush the bread

  • Preheat oven to 190 C.
  • Divide the risen dough in half and round each piece separately. Cover and let rest for 10 mins.
  • Take one ball of a dough and roll each piece to about 50 cm. Stop and cover the dough and let it rest for 10 mins if needed – but I skip this one. I’m impatient that way.
  • Position the dough parallel to edge of work surface and twist the opposite ends 2 or 3 times in opposite direction at the same time.
  • Transfer to a baking tray already lined with parchment paper. Brush/ paint the loaf with water. Sprinkle with white sesame seeds (or black ones). Let the extra sesame seeds to fall onto the paper.
  • Bake for 30 mins.

Note: The seeded twist is a bit too pale to my brown eyes. So if the colour also offends you, brush the top with some egg wash, instead of water.


Variation 2: TIGER ROLLS (aka Dutch Crunch Rolls), popular in the Netherlands & UK
Yield 12 rolls

1 recipe of One-step bread dough
7 g active dried yeast
75 ml warm water, about 38 C
2.5 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp olive or vegetable oil
65 g rice flour

  • Turn the risen dough onto a floured work surface without folding it over on itself or deflating it too much. Pull into a rough rectangles. Cut into 12 equal pieces.
  • Round each piece under the cupped palm of your hand on a clean flour-free work surface. Arrange the rolls on the prepared tin, cover with clean tea towel and set aside.
  • For the topping, whisk the yeast into the warm water and then whisk in the remaining ingredients one at a time. Cover the bowl and set aside for 15 mins.
  • After 15 mins, stir it down and even it spread with the back of a spoon or a small palette knife. Don’t overload with topping or it will puddle underneath.
  • Let the rolls continue to rise, uncovered, until they doubled in size about 45 mins to 1 hour.
  • About 20 mins before the loaf is risen, preheat oven to 190 C.
  • Bake for 25-30 mins.


Now, when you make all these wonderful bread, you know you’re not going to finish in one sitting. I come from a country where we just don’t freeze bread. Who does that anyway? Up till I met a young (at that time) English guy who literally lives on frozen sliced bread. He fed me several slices when I was sleeping over on his sofa.

For these bread and rolls, I put them in a ziplock and froze them on the same day they were baked. When I want to serve them in the morning, I just pop them into an oven set on 180 C and bake for about 5-10 mins. The loaf took longer time than the rolls. But they will taste as good as new, I promised.

That on the photo was H, eating my beloved bread with the yogurt cheese I was road testing for the first time. I’m going to buy more yogurt and share with you the secret of making an affordable, light cheese.

Have a good weekend everyone. I love it that today is a public holiday and a well rested man means a man singing while scrubbing the toilet (while I’m blogging) 😉

Spring Roll Wrapper Take 2

This is still the original batter as the earlier one, but I decided to use a silicon pastry brush instead of pouring and swirling method. For me this works better. I have better grip on how thick/ thin I would like the skin to be. And it is also an excellent way to test whether the pan is hot enough. The moment you brush the batter into the pan, if it sizzles and turns cooked immediately, it means the pan is at the correct temperature. What’s more I can “patch” if I see any holes. Just brush and brush and brush.

Because of the thinness that I can now achieve, the look and feel of texture really convinces me this is what the french calls feuilletes de bricks. Quick google on french recipe confirms it. The difference is that this version oozes egg whiff (because the recipe calls for an egg). I want to try one without an egg and see if there’s any difference. Why waste an egg if it’s not really needed, right?

This time round, I also drain the filling to reduce the water and oil splatter in case the skin breaks. Great idea. The skin is still not as smooth as I want to, but something I can live without. It is crispy while it’s hot, and turns soft as it gets cooler. That’s okay if you’re serving as appetizer for 4 people, but when you’re serving for 10, I don’t think it will hold. I’m beginning to suspect the crunchiness and the firmness of the store-bought spring roll wrappers is caused by different type of flour (not all purpose flour).

Right, till next time then.

The Quest for The Perfect Spring Roll Wrapper

I know I’m an Asian through and through when making french crepes is pesky to-dos, while making spring roll wrapper is a giddy giddy joy joy. When in fact those two aren’t very different. It takes a lot of failures to get one correct crepe. It took me 5 awful crepes until I get the right heat, 7 crepes before I could finally make one that doesn’t break. And 11 until H said well done and 13 until I can air-flip. But for spring roll wrapper, I managed to get perfect round circle without breaking on my second wrapper.

Anyway, if you browse the net, you’ll find a number of variations on spring roll wrapper recipe. Very similar to each other. So since I’m a big fan of spring roll and I’ve eaten my weight in spring rolls, I wanna see if I can find the one recipe that I really really like and suits for Angola life.

Before I start, let’s get this clear: my benchmark is spring roll wrappers that I usually find in Chinese Groceries. I love them. They stay crispy longer than feuilletes de bricks. They absorb less oil than feuilletes de brick or Vietnamese Rice Papers. They are sturdier when come in contact with the filling (they don’t break as easily). Unlike Vietnamese rice paper they don’t need to be soaked in water and hence unlikely to bite me in oil splatter. They are, in my opion, my perfect spring roll wrappers. Except that they aren’t available in Luanda and whatever quantity I flew in with me, I seem to always run out of wrappers and I never have enough for parties. Hence this project.

Here’s take 1: Recipe from Feast Asia. Looks easy and straight forward.

I was skeptical on the water quantity in the recipe. So, as usual, I made the executive decision to reduce the water quantity. I further thinned the mixture as I went along. I made 5 as a pilot with what I thought to be the perfect thickness. Anything thinner, I thought this would end up being feuillete de bricks (bricks pastry) or warqa (the North African version). Then I cook them the way one would prepare the french crepe. One hand on the soup ladle and another on the non stick pan, pouring from the top and swirl.

On the texture alone, obvious differences can be spot from the typical store-bought spring roll wrapper. The homemade ones are softer but also in my opinion, a little bit more fragile. The texture and the smell reminds me of unfried risoles. It lacks the stretch that I can find in the store-bought wrapper. I also need to use egg yolk to close the seam. It won’t close off with a dab of water, unlike the store-bought wrappers. When fried, the skin isn’t as smooth and bubbles-free.

All in all, I think the problem lies with me and my executive decisions. Isn’t it always? 🙂
I want to give it another shot by further diluting the mixture. I also want to try brushing the mixture onto the pan (instead of pour and swirl). I want to try straining the filling for few hours to see if I can reduce the bubbles. Hmm, so many ways to improve. But that’s for tomorrow.

Today, I had my fill of these rolls.


I Made Codette

One of my 2012 Culinary Projects is to make homemade pasta in the four walls of my kitchen. Preferably one that doesn’t involve a pasta machine or chitarra. I have been aiming at gnocchi but well, to make it interesting and funny, I made codette from Domenica Marchetti’s Glorious Pasta of Italy.

It’s basically boiled spinach, pureed then mixed into flour, kneaded into a dough, before you start shaping them into a 10-12 cm length. It was very simple but it does take a lot of time shaping it. Best to do this on the day that you have a lot of things on your mind to sort through.

“I wanted to laugh when I saw ur pasta, I thought that u invented new green bean 😉 but then I ate, and its very gd for me. I’m not sure they need more cooking. So now I’m happy and thinking abt dessert 😉 I love u my super ratatouille chef 🙂 one day I have to make a movie w u 🙂 kisses :* :* “

Now you understand when I say I have a big boy at home.

(adapted from The Glorious Pasta of Italy by Domenica Marchetti)
serve 1 large portion

100 gr minced beef (or italian sausage, removed from its casing)
1 clove garlic, minced
3-4 tbsp tomato sauce – I used canned tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen peas
freshly grounded black pepper
a quarter recipe of fresh spinach pasta – see note below

  • Make the pasta dough and let it rest as directed. Spread a clean tablecloth on a large work surface and dust with the semolina (or all purpose flour). This is where you will put the pasta once it is shaped.
  • Pinch off a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball and rewrap the remaining dough. Place the piece of dough on a work surface lightly dusted with semolina, and roll it into a rope about the thickness of a finger or fat breadstick.
  • Cut the rope crosswise into marble-sized pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll each piece into a thin strand 10 to 12 cm long and about the thickness of a skinny green bean. As you shape each strand, transfer it to the semolina-dusted cloth. Continue to shape the codette until you have used up all the dough. (If you are serving the codette the same day, you can leave them out on the cloth for up to a couple of hours.)
  • Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add salt & OO.
  • While the water is heating, heat up the pan and (without oil) spread over the minced beef. Use the back of your spatula to break it into smaller balls. Once they are half cooked and the meat fats has turned liquid, add in the garlic and toss. If it’s too dry, add some OO. Otherwise, if the meat is rich with fats, you won’t need any additional oil.
  • Saute the meat until it’s cooked through. Lower the heat to medium, add peas and tomato sauce, and stir occasionally. Season with salt & pepper. Once it’s ready, remove from heat and cover.
  • Carefully drop the codette into the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook the noodles up till al dente, about 15 mins (see note).
  • Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.
  • Transfer the pasta to the frying pan and gently toss the pasta and sauce to combine thoroughly, adding a splash or two of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce.
  • Transfer the dressed pasta to a serving bowl and serve immediately.

(source The Glorious Pasta of Italy by Domenica Marchetti)
makes about 455 gr

255 gr fresh baby spinach
2 extra large eggs
2 – 2 1/4 C all purpose flour (preferably unbleached)
2 tbsp semolina flour and more for dusting – see note below
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

  • Pour 1 to 2 tbsp of water into a pot over medium-high heat. Add the spinach, cover, and cook for 3 – 5 minutes, or until wilted and tender. Drain the spinach in a colander set in the sink. When it is cool enough to handle, use your hands to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  • Put the spinach and 1 egg in a food processor. Process to a smooth puree. Scoop the spinach mixture into a bowl. Wash and dry the work bowl and blade of the food processor and reassemble the processor.
  • Put 2 cups all purp. flour, the 2 tbsp semolina flour, salt, and nutmeg in the food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add the spinach mixture and the remaining egg and pulse until the mixture forms crumbs that look like small curds. Pinch together a bit of the mixture and roll it around. It should form a soft ball. If the mixture seems dry, drizzle in a few droplets of water and pulse briefly. If the mixture seems too wet and sticky, add additional flour, 1 tbsp at a time, and pulse briefly.
  • Turn the mixture out onto a clean work surface sprinkled lightly with semolina flour and press it together with your hands to form a rough ball. Knead the dough: Using the palm of your hand, push the dough gently but firmly away from you, and then fold it over toward you. Rotate the dough a quarter turn, and repeat the pushing and folding motion. Continue kneading for several minutes until the dough is smooth and silky. Form it into a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.

~ DM’s spinach pasta dough recipe makes for 4-6 serving of codette. For H and I, I halved the dough recipe.
~ To make one large serving of codette, I used only half of the dough, essentially making it only a quarter of DM’s dough recipe. I still have the other half in my fridge.
~ I didn’t have semolina flour, so I forwent* this and worked only with all purpose flour. T55 is the name here, I have no clue if it’s blanched or not.
~ I shaped the codette a day before, dusted them with lots of flour (so they won’t stick) and froze them. On the day of cooking, I dump the frozen codette immediately into boiling water.
~ DM said to boil it for 20-25 mins, I boiled it only about 15 mins maximum. I think. I was following the news on tsunami warnings in Aceh, Singapore etc – so pardon me.  But both H and I think it’s well cooked. It’s chewy with a bite.

Yes, this takes a lot of time making, but in the end, it worths every second. I love it and H loves it. I’m happy and he’s happy. What more can you ask for?

* forwent is the past tense of forgo. I actually had to google for it!


Hey peeps, how have you been? I hope you had a good Easter Sunday. We had a really long weekend. H had 5-day weekend, including saturday and sunday, so we had some really great time together. A, F, H and I went outside Luanda for a day trip to visit a cheese and yogurt farm. We went further than we’re supposed to, but the greeneries were so inviting that we couldn’t help it.

One thing not so good, I had been out of internet for a week. In fact, most of guest houses were without internet (some without TV). Probably someone didn’t make the payment. But what was going to be a bleak long weekend turned out to be a busy one. We had an impromptu BBQ over at E’s place. For the first time in my life, I tried a lavender marinated meat. It was so fragrant when the meat was roasting over fire that I didn’t mind being chef-on-duty. This lavender spice mix is going to be on my buy-list.

Anyway, back to cooking and stuff, I decided to try making ghee myself. I refused to pay 25 USD for a tub (1kg) of Ghee imported from India. I suppose if you cook a lot with ghee, that’s fine. But I don’t and I actually look forward to the challenge. If you don’t know yet, ghee is clarified butter that’s commonly used in Indian cooking. It is claimed to have a subtle nutty flavor and enticing aroma. I said “claim” because I couldn’t taste the difference, however the aroma is really great. It smells like melted butter. Well, it is!  It is said that the best ghee is made of cultured butter that has been fermented. Ghee also has higher burning point, so it is appropriate for deep frying.

It was surprisingly easy to make. It involved butter and some good time standing by the stove skimming off the froth and milk solids. Try having a ghee and if it is worth your time, make it. I followed the tips from Flavor Fiesta.

(source: Flavor Fiesta)

250 gr unsalted butter, cut in cubes

  • Using a nonstick sauce pan or pot, melt the butter over low-medium heat. When foam starts to appear, skim off the foam & the milk solids using slotted spoon or normal spoon.
  • Continue to skim off until what is left is clarified oil.

~ Instead of low heat, I made mine over low-medium fire to make the foam appears just a tad faster. My electric stove has heat option from 0 to 9, I used heat #4.
~ I worked with slotted spoon and paper towel. I wiped the spoon after I throw away the froth each time. Higher efficiency, I suppose.
~ Once I have removed most of the foam, I lowered the heat to #1, to prevent burning smell.
~ All in all, I spent close to 40 mins fishing out the milk solids & froth before I finally switch off the heat completely.
~ 250 gr butter makes 200 ml ghee.

Milk Maid

If there’s ever a race “World’s most impatient person of the year” I will be within the top 10. Heck, that’s an understatement. I will be within the top 3! Have always been.

So if waiting for Saturday to come before I can buy the necessary ingredient is Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly, waiting for hours for the ricotta to pass through the coffee filters is Eminem’s Till I Collapse. I was on the edge, irritable, couldn’t concentrate on any single things and refusing to be cuddled and coddled. Why he married me, well, that’s a good question.

Before the first hour ended, I have transferred the ricotta cheese twice. From coffee filters to paper towel to finally cotton cloth to strain the liquid. Nothing is fast enough. David said 15 mins, mine even after 1 hour is still very watery.

This is me cleaning the pot with baguette. Half a baguette, standing by the stove, 2 mins top. Lick ’em dry.

This is me trying to be a little smarter.

This is four hours later. Yeah 4 hours, and still pretty runny. Sigh. I should really get those cheese cloth next time. Overall, it wasn’t disastrous, but it wasn’t a ricotta cheese that would fly with flying colours too. But I guess, it’s not too bad.

I changed the recipe a little because the cream sold here comes in a little box of 200ml.

(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

3 1/4 cups whole milk
200 ml cream
1/2 tsp coarse salt
3 tbsp lemon juice

  • Mix all ingredients in a pot and let it slowly boil. Once it boils, remove from heat. Let it sit for 5 mins before pouring over cheese cloth (I used coffee filters, the paper kind).
  • Let the whey sift through for 1-2 hours (depending how firm you want it to be). It is said that the cheese will firm up as it cools, so do not judge by what you have on your cheese cloth.

Last word, do NOT throw away the whey (the liquid coming out of your ricotta). Use it to make chicken soup (to replace chicken stock), to replace water when making bread or cooking rice. You can also use it for sports recovery drink from what I read.

Read Simply Recipe/ David Lebovitz here for different permutation to make ricotta cheese.

Update: Despite the ricotta looking watery, after transferred to a box and stored in the fridge, the ricotta is just perfect: it turns much denser after couple hours.