#weekendcooking: Condensed Milk Bread

My family wasn’t big on condensed milk like some families in Singapore were and are – a lot of condensed milk is used by drink stalls, for instance, sweetening Singapore-style milk teas and coffees and Milo. For a long time, my in-laws would add condensed milk into their coffee so I would buy that for them when they visited.

But condensed milk makes me think of when I used to go camping in Singapore, as part of the Outdoor Activities Club at my junior college. We’d slather condensed milk over bread and that was breakfast. Some years ago, in a little dingy Shanghainese-style eatery in the Bay Area, we discovered mantou (or a deep-fried bun) served with condensed milk as a dip. So sinful. So delicious! Sadly the eatery closed down after a few years. I’ve yet to see that dish in another eatery here.

Recently, I spotted this recipe from Bake for Happy Kids –  Condensed Milk Bread

And I knew I had to try it.

Of course I didn’t have condensed milk – and had run out of bread flour – so a supermarket trip was needed. But anything for a good bake, right?

You can find the recipe for Condensed Milk Bread here. I followed it to the T but decided to make two loaves.

This is actually a 排包 paibao – 排 meaning line and 包 meaning bread or bun – and if you look at the original bloggers’ photos, you can definitely see the lines clearly. Mine was a bit over proofed so it lost definition.

The lines of bread are made from dividing the dough into 15 little balls, rolling them out into strips that fit into your loaf tin. It’s quite a bit of work, especially if you’re making two loaves like I was!

But it does make for some extra soft and lovely bread. It isn’t overly sweet and tastes a little bit milky from the condensed milk and the milk powder. Quite a delightful loaf of bread!

I’ve been wondering though about the 15 balls. Perhaps I will experiment the next time, and instead of 15 I’d do the usual 4 balls when I make tangzhong bread  and see if that makes any difference.


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Weekend Cooking: Treats from Singapore

My mum flew in from Singapore yesterday morning. And she brought some lovely and yummy things with her.

 

These canned poppadoms are really quite good. Of course freshly fried ones can’t be beat but really, am I going to fry poppadoms? No, the answer is no.

Also, peanuts. Singapore-style peanuts taste quite different from whatever I’ve seen here. The husband and I have grown up eating them at Chinese restaurants, which lay out plates of peanuts to snack on while waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

We are fortunately living in a city where Asian supermarkets are common enough, and some of these Asian supermarkets do sell ready-made pastes for chicken rice and some other Singapore or Malaysia-style dishes. But I don’t think I’ve seen this brand here. Asam Pedas Ikan is a sour-spicy fish dish – the sourness comes from the tamarind or Asam Jawa.

Laksa may be more familiar to some of you, it’s a spicy coconutty noodle gravy, eaten with fish cakes, prawns, bean sprouts. It’s just so much easier to make with a paste!

 

 

 

On the left is Ang Ku Kueh, literally translated as Red Tortoise Cake. It’s a sticky glutinous rice flour skin wrapped around a filling, in this case, yellow mung bean paste. It’s steamed on a piece of banana leaf to prevent it from sticking. The pink cake on the left is kueh lapis, tapioca and rice flours, coconut and pandan, then brightly colored and steamed. Sometimes it comes in rainbow colours.

 

Pineapple tarts and kueh bangkit. Pineapple tarts are my husband’s favourite and we have tried several store-bought brands over the years and none of them have been as good as this one. The pineapple paste is good, not too sweet, the biscuit base is buttery and crumbly and so delicious! The kueh bangkit is a light biscuit made with tapioca flour and coconut milk. It has a melt-in-your-mouth texture.

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Weekend Cooking: Black Forest Cake

My husband’s birthday is on Halloween so it’s always a tricky thing to celebrate. The day itself is difficult as there’s so much going on – school parade, class parties and of course trick or treating! And this year with Halloween falling on a Wednesday, it seemed too early to celebrate on the weekend before (and too late the weekend after). So we made do with the day before.

The husband’s favourite cake is Black Forest and I’ve been making it for the past few years. When I started out it was a bit of a disaster but I think this year I’ve gotten it almost right – well except for my cake decorating skills. I really had a tough time putting those chocolate shavings on nicely!

Black Forest Cake

Last year I used the recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen but felt that the sponge cake wasn’t chocolatey enough and a bit too finicky for my liking – it uses a lot of eggs and has to be baked immediately or it starts to deflate.

When I made my son’s birthday cake earlier this year, a chocolate raspberry cake, I used this great chocolate cake recipe from King Arthur Flour which has a great chocolatey taste and texture – it uses yogurt/buttermilk and boiling water and somehow that seems to make for a great moist cake.

Black forest cake in the making

So I used that same great chocolate cake recipe for the Black Forest cake and it turned out to be the right choice.

I use the jar of sour cherries from Trader Joe’s, cutting each cherry in half and saving the juice, to which I added some sugar and boiled down a bit to make a syrup. The syrup is then brushed onto each layer of cake to add to the flavour and moisture of the cake.

Then it’s topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream – I used 3 1/2 cups of heavy cream to 1/3 cup of powdered sugar and you could add a splash of kirsch if you want.

And place some of the halved cherries on top of the cream, making sure to spread them out but not to put too many pieces. Keep going with the layers until you reach the top layer which should just have a layer of whipped cream.

I then did a quick crumb coat of a thin layer of whipped cream on the sides, stuck it in the freezer for 20-30 minutes and then finished off piling on the rest of the cream on the top and the side.

For the chocolate shavings, I just used a vegetable peeler on a bar of dark chocolate. And somehow try to pat them onto the side of the cake and sprinkle some on the top.

And that was my Black Forest Cake of 2018!

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Weekend Cooking: How to hotpot

Hotpot has become a family favourite. We don’t really do hotpot that much in Singapore where it is far too hot for hotpot but the cool winters of California are great for it.

So it has become our own little tradition to do hotpot for Chinese New Year Eve (known as reunion dinner or tuanyuanfan 团圆饭) and we do hotpot on Thanksgiving too.

Hotpot is an easy meal for a crowd, provided you have enough utensils and hotpots!

And you preferably need to have access to an Asian supermarket. But if there’s none nearby, you can make do with some other ingredients.

Equipment

We use a portable gas stove and this fun dual hotpot. Those ladles with little holes in them are great for picking out just your ingredients. And we set out regular soup ladles too. Extra long chopsticks are for cooking the meat with.

But here are my typical hotpot ingredients.

Broth

I make two broths in our dual hotpot. One is a vegetable stock made with carrots, celery and whatever else I might have like corn if it’s fresh. And the other is an instant one with dashi powder (or you could make a dashi stock with bonito flakes and konbu) and miso.

Vegetables

I usually buy Napa cabbage and chop that up. Bokchoy would be great too. A more traditional leafy vegetable is tongho but it’s slightly bitter. This year I also added baby spinach that I had in my fridge.

We love the little bunashimeiji (beech mushrooms). There’s also shiitake and king trumpet mushrooms, which are all found at my local Asian supermarket.

Meat

While I do most of the hotpot shopping at the Chinese or Vietnamese supermarkets, we prefer the meat from Japanese supermarket Mitsuwa. It’s a bit of a drive but it’s definitely so much more flavourful and tender. Asian supermarkets usually have thinly sliced meat (beef or pork) for hotpot. But you could always buy a nice piece of meat, freeze it for a bit to firm it up, then slice it really thin yourself.

Seafood

Our favourites are fish tofu, fishballs and cuttlefish balls. They’re springy and fun to eat and cook really quickly. My husband and kids like imitation crabsticks which need just like 30 seconds to warm up in the broth.

Other ingredients may include dumplings, tofu puffs, vermicelli or udon, konyaku, quail eggs and more.

Don’t forget your dipping sauces like peanut sauce, chili sauce or sesame sauce. We also like the Taiwanese shacha sauce which is made from garlic, shallots, chilis, dried shrimp.

Get that gas stove going, the broth boiling, then pick your favourite foods and dunk them in! Happy hotpot-ing.

 

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#WeekendCooking Eating Singapore: Whitegrass at Chijmes

This is the beautifully preserved Chijmes in Singapore. It was formerly the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) and used as a Catholic convent and convent quarters for 132 years and later a school for girls. Today it holds many restaurants, cafes and bars, and Whitegrass is one of them.

Whitegrass is a modern Australian restaurant that received its first Michelin Star in 2017. It is chef-owner Sam Aisbett’s first venture. Aisbett formerly worked for

We were seated in this lovely round room, most of the other tables were two-tops, and there was a bigger round table that had five diners.

We began with some light snacks. The little crab was crunchy and so good. A pea tart was refreshing. And those little crackers were topped with this amazingly light shavings of cheese.

Interestingly, it was Chef Aisbett who brought out the dish and explained it to us. He would do that for the first few courses of our meal.

The bread was presented with some lardo (melts in your mouth), unsalted butter and some sea salt flakes

A very tomato-y dish! The teapot is filled with some ‘tomato tea’ which you get to pour over.

And we begin with the first course. And it is such a gorgeous one. The flower on top is made of alternating circles of roasted white beetroot (which are soft) and pickled white beetroot (which are a little crunchy), then in the middle, slices of hamachi. There is more hamachi at the bottom. It was beautiful and bursting with flavour and texture.

Another one not on the menu was this “egg fried rice”. It was the most luxurious ‘fried rice’ ever with such beautiful flavours and that fun texture from the egg white “bubbles” on top.

 

 

I could never imagine that octopus would be like this. I’ve had grilled octopus as well as sashimi octopus and the texture of those tend to be a bit chewy. Here the octopus was poached and it was so soft and gentle. The milk-soaked almonds on top added that much needed crunch as did the few suckers (is that what they’re called?) that seem to have been grilled. A delicate and yet crunchy dish that was really surprising.

My main course was described as Japanese sweetfish. There were three pieces of the fish itself. Very tender but with a great char on the skin. And a whole baby fish deep fried on top. Lovely fresh peas and pea shoots and a gorgeous umami-filled broth. Couldn’t get enough of it!

The husband’s steak came with a chocolate and buah keluak puree. Buah keluak is a strange fruit found in Southeast Asia and found mostly in Peranakan-style cooking. The fruit and seeds itself are poisonous unless prepared properly – it has to be boiled and fermented in ash, usually for more than a month!

There was a choice of two desserts, so naturally we got one each. I volunteered to take the jackfruit and coconut one, although I have never liked jackfruit – the other choice was a chocolate one and I’ve learnt that during a fine dining meal like this one, the chocolate choice tends to be the less exciting one. So this chocoholic a little reluctantly gave up the chocolate choice!

I was surprised by my dessert. It was a coconut meringue under those shards of jackfruit and sugar, and under the meringue was a jackfruit ice cream and a ginger cake. The jackfruit didn’t overwhelm the dish as I was expecting it to be. If all jackfruit were presented like this, I would eat far more of the fruit! Ultimately though, I felt that the dessert was a bit too sweet for me, especially with those sugar coated almonds on top.

 

This was the husband’s dessert, topped with a sherry ice-cream. It was a combination of chocolate, cherries, nougat and hazelnuts. Nice flavour but it felt, well, a safe choice.

 

 

And of course we weren’t done yet! There were still some petit fours. The chocolate-covered things were like Tunnock’s teacakes, except that there was a bit of raspberry inside. But I especially liked the soursop balls. I wasn’t quite sure what they were. They were so light and a little like sorbet, yet not icy at all.

 

 

A fun way to the end the meal. I loved that the fortune cookies were spiced.

What I loved most about this meal was both the very Asian influenced flavors as well as the way the chef was very careful about balancing textures throughout the meal. This was definitely one of the highlights of my visit back to Singapore – and I would have to say, perhaps the best meal I have ever eaten in Singapore. The chef and his team definitely deserved the one Michelin star. The service was excellent – friendly, not stuffy at all. The food was brilliant and so refreshing, and I really was very full at the end. A true delight.

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Weekend Cooking: Chocolate Strawberry Cake

My older boy turned six on Friday and he had asked for a chocolate strawberry cake.


And the number of recipes online I pored over, trying to find the right recipe. There was this one from Two Peas and their Pod that looked good but didn’t sound quite so right. It was more chocolate than strawberry, I thought. Nothing wrong there but I was looking for a cake with more strawberry frosting. Also the cake layers sounded a bit heavy. I was looking for something far lighter, kind of like a Japanese style or Asian bakery style cake, which usually has sponge-like cake layers.

After quite a few days lost in that Internet search blackhole, I had a sudden thought – last year I had made a pretty good Black Forest cake for the husband’s birthday and the cake layers were easy enough and also nice and light.

 

I returned to the original recipe which was from the blog Natasha’s Kitchen.

Chocolate cake

9 large eggs, room temp
1 cup granulated sugar (I used slightly less than a cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used cake flour, weighing out 120g which is what 1 cup of flour is equivalent to)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder)
4 Tbsp (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temp
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I used 1 tsp)

Preheat oven to 350F /180C

Beat the eggs with the whisk attachment for 1 min on high. With the mixer on, gradually add the sugar and continue beating on high speed for 8 min. It will be thick and fluffy.
Whisk together 1 cup flour and ½ cup cocoa powder and sift into batter, one-third at a time, folding with a spatula between each addition. Once all flour is in, continue to fold just until no streaks of flour remain, scraping the bottom of the bowl to get any pockets of flour; do not over-mix.
Gently fold in the vanilla essence and butter, folding as you add butter in a steady stream and scraping from the bottom. Fold just until incorporated.

Divide batter equally between two prepared 9 inch cake pans and bake in preheated 350F oven 20-25 minutes. It’s important to put it in the oven as soon as possible as the batter may deflate
Let cool in pans for 10 min then run a thin edged spatula around edges to loosen cake. Transfer to a wire rack and remove parchment backing.

When completely cooled, use a serrated knife to slice the cake into layers.

Strawberry frosting (adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)


I loved this frosting – it uses freeze-dried strawberries (Trader Joe’s always has them, sometimes places like Sprouts do too) and so you don’t have to fuss with fresh strawberries. I had read some comments on other frosting that use fresh strawberries that it can be too watery. So this solves that problem by using freeze-dried strawberries. And yes, they still taste like strawberries. However, I found that the frosting was just too sweet (as a lot of things in the US are for me), so I may reduce the sugar more next time. 

1 cup (10-12g) freeze-dried strawberries

1 cup (235g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

4 cups (480g) confectioners’ sugar (when making this again, I will cut down the sugar further. I had reduced it to 400g but I think I may try another 25g-50g less)

3 Tablespoons (45ml) heavy cream (I used about 4 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

salt, to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp salt but I would add more, about 1 to 1 1/2 tsp)

Using a blender or food processor, process the freeze-dried strawberries into a powdery crumb. You should have around 1/2 cup. Set aside. No blender or food processor? Then do what I did and place the strawberries in a ziplock and give them plenty of good whacks with a rolling pin. 

In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, strawberry powder, cream, and vanilla. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Taste. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. (I would recommend more than a pinch – consider at least 1 tsp of salt)

To decorate

This cake was to have four layers. And essentially it was a cake – frosting – sliced fresh strawberries (repeat) kind of cake. Ending with whole strawberries on the top of the cake!

The birthday boy had the biggest smile on his face when he saw the cake. And that made all the hard work worth it!

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Weekend eating: Din Tai Fung in San Jose

Din Tai Fung opened a branch in the Bay Area last year and after ridiculous lines, they decided to make it reservation-only except for counter seating. And even today, when it’s been open for more than six months, a weekend seating still requires booking a month in advance. Luckily it’s easy to do on Yelp. It does require a credit card number but they won’t charge you unless you don’t turn up.

In case you’ve not heard of Din Tai Fung, they originated in Taiwan. The founder Yang Bingyi was born in China and moved to Taiwan where he worked at a cooking oil shop. Business slowed when tinned cooking oil became more common so he and his wife started selling xiaolongbao and it became so popular that they eventually turned it into a xiaolongbao restaurant. The first Singapore branch (franchised by BreadTalk Group) opened in 2003. And there are now 19 locations in Singapore! In comparison, there are 4 in LA, 1 in Orange County, 1 in the SF Bay Area, 2 in Seattle. 

And at the restaurants, you get to see the dumpling making in action. It is not easy – they make about 20 a minute!
We lucked out on a great time slot on Saturday at 11.15, were promptly seated and made sure to order our favourites like the xiaolongbao, pork chop fried rice, soy noodles and taro xiaolongbao. Also ordered some sliced chicken noodles for the 3yo who declared he  wanted rice and noodles. There are plenty of Din Tai Fungs all around Singapore but I think there may be different items on the menu here in California like the stirfried rice cakes. Before this one in Bay Area opened, we had previously been to the ones in Glendale and Orange County down in Southern California. Both require lots of patience. I always remember that we had arrived at the Glendale outlet around 2 or 3 something on a weekend and still had to wait 45 minutes for a table.

So I kind of like the reservation system in the Santa Clara branch. One just has to remember to go online a month in advance, that’s all! 😛

The tofu noodles – I didn’t like this as much as I usually do at other places. Most of the tofu noodles I’ve eaten are sliced thin, but these seem to have been extruded, probably to look more like noodles, but I feel like its too soft this way.


The xiaolongbao were light and flavorful. We sometimes order xlb at another Shanghainese restaurant we eat at, and their version is quite good too but definitely not as thin as this one.


Pork chop fried rice. The fried rice at DTF is always good and I love the high egg to rice ratio. We ended up bringing half of it home and the 3yo requested it for his dinner.

The steamer basket behind is of the pork and shrimp siu mai. I had always wondered about their siu mai which is also available in Singapore but now that I’ve tried it, I don’t think I’ll order it again. It’s like a xlb at the bottom and the skin stretched up to crown the shrimp. But the skin in the middle is thicker, possibly to give it more support to the dumpling, so it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.

We really enjoyed the sliced chicken noodle soup, which was simple but really delicious, well-cooked noodles and nice and soft chicken and lots of vegetables like carrots, bok choy and sliced bamboo shoots. Wish I had remembered to take a photo of it!

The three-year-old’s favourite part of the meal was probably the lychee slush.

And the five-year-old’s was the taro xiaolongbao. The taro is sweetened and mashed and wrapped in the dumpling dough and steamed. So it’s a sweet purpley and slightly sticky xiaolongbao. He probably ate five of them!

As we were nearly done with the meal, the husband wondered, should we just make another reservation now for next month? But of course when I checked the Yelp reservations, the only time slots for Saturday – FOUR weeks from now – was 1015 and 245. And similar odd times for the Sunday! I’ve made a note on my phone’s calendar to remind myself to check next week!

 

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs