Sunday, June 9, 2013

Putu Piring - Malaysian Steamed Palm Sugar Rice Cake

I heart putu piring. Seriously, that is like the best Malay dessert out there among the millions of desserts they have come up with. A note, however, this is not one of the easiest dessert to make. For a start, getting the right texture of the flour is extremely important before you start steaming the kueh. If the flour is too dry, you will get a ton of birds feed, get what I mean. If the flour turns out too wet, you will get a clump of really hard mass of rice flour with palm sugar. Definitely not good eats.

If you happen to chance upon one of the vendors selling this type of dessert in Malaysia, they make it look really easy. Don't be fooled by them. Making this dessert is a lot harder than what they make it looks like. However, with patience and practice, you will get there.

Why must you attempt to make this dessert at home? Well, if you live in an area where there is an expert selling it, I'd say forget about making this dessert. You will be better off buying it from them. If you don't have one close to where you live, well, there is nothing left to do but to try your darndest to make this kueh then.

Putu Piring
(Makes about 15 pieces)

250g rice flour (I prefer the Thai's Erawan brand)
4 pieces of pandan leaves, cut into 4-inch section
160ml - 180ml hot water
1/4 tsp salt

For the Filling
150g of grated palm sugar

For the Topping
100g of grated coconut
2 pandan leaves, cut into 4-inch section
A pinch of salt

15 (3x3) banana leaves squares


1. In a pan, toast the flour with pandan leaves over medium heat. Stir flour around the pan to avoid burning. The flour is ready when the pandan leaves in the mix becomes dry. Set aside to cool.

2. Prepare the topping. Have a steamer ready with boiling water. Add salt and pandan leaves to the grated coconut. Stir to combine. Steam for 5 mins. Set aside to cool.

3. Grate the palm sugar. Set aside to be used later.

4. Once the flour has cooled off, sieve the flour into a clean bowl.

5. Combine hot water with salt. If you have a spray bottle, put it to good use here. Carefully, add water into the flour mixture. If you are using a spray bottle, mist the flour while tossing it around to moisten. Continue to add water into the flour until you can no longer find dry flour at the bottom of the mix. (Note: You will see clumps of flour forming. This is a good sign.)

6. Next, you will need to sieve the flour again. Using a spatula, press the clumps of flour through a fine sieve. The resulting flour should come out looking like coarse breadcrumbs or very fine pearls of uncooked sago.
7. In a steamer, bring a large amount of water to a boil.

8. In a putu piring mold or a homemade converted mold, put about a tablespoon of flour onto the mold. Resist the temptation to press the flour into the mold.

9. Top with palm sugar.

10. Pile on enough flour to cover the sugar and gently push away excess.
11. Wrap a cheesecloth over the flour mix, and gently invert the cloth onto a steamer tray.
12. Steam for about 3 mins.
13. Remove the kueh from the steamer. Top with grated coconut and a piece of banana leaf.

14. Gently, invert the kueh onto a plate. Carefully, peel the cheesecloth off the kueh.
15. Putu piring all ready to serve.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Buttery, Flaky Croissants

Time to expand my baking horizon, and by expanding I am referring to pushing my baking ability to uncharted territory, i.e. making flaky butter pastry. Case in point, making croissants at home. Sure, you have made over a hundred loaves of breads of all kind, bake tons of cookies by now, a mountain of cakes of all sizes, medley of pies, but croissants?

Sure, if you google for croissants recipe, and I mean the type that you make from scratch and not open up a can of dough and roll up, it seems easy enough. The biggest hurdle will probably be patience. Yes, time and patience, you will need lots of those.

I have given making croissants at home some thoughts before, a lot of thoughts, really. In the beginning, I wasn't quite sure if I will be able to do it. Well, I was new to baking. Just yesterday, a family friend asked if it was possible for me to make Danish pastry for her. Yeah, I know, you might be saying by now that they are two different doughs, but are they really?

I remember some time ago, having had a taste of the best flaky danish pastry I have ever had in my life at some part in Europe. And yes, the pastry reminded me of a really good croissants, only it was adorned with half a peach and pastry cream on it. A good pastry is still a good pastry and I betcha, if I use the croissant dough to make a danish pastry, it will be one of the better version from what you can find out here in MA.

After reading countless recipes on a variety of croissant dough, I have decided to stick with America's Test Kitchen version. Well, they tested the recipe many times after all, and if they published one, that ought to be foolproof, right? Fingers crossed. In this case, I'd be crossing my prehensile toes too.

Note: This is a 2 day process. If you are planning to serve the croissants for a gathering, party, or office meeting, please plan for at least 48 hours ahead. Yeah, did I mention that a lot of patience is required? True, you can expedite the process by letting your dough rest for 2 hours instead of overnight after the two folding process, but really, you have come this far. Why not put in a lot more patience for this croissants to elevate from good to great!

Note: Cold! The dough and butter have to remain cold to give your final product that nice, flaky texture. If you are unsure, place dough in the freezer for 30 minutes before working with it. If the butter in the dough melts, you will not get the light flaky croissants you were hoping for.

Ingredients (Adapted from America's Test Kitchen)

For Dough
3 Tbsp butter
1 3/4 cup of whole milk
4 tsp of rapid rise yeast
4 1/2 cup of flour (I used King Arthur's all purpose. It has higher protein content)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp Kosher salt

For Butter Block 
12 oz European-style butter, very cold (I took mine out from the freezer)

Egg Wash
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp cold water
A pinch of salt


For the Dough:
1. Melt butter in a small sauce pan over medium low heat.
2. Once butter has melted, remove it from the stove. Immediately add in cold milk.
3. Add the butter-milk mixture into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add in all the yeast.
4. Next, you will add in all the flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer. Attach dough hook to your mixer and put it on low for 2-3 minutes till a cohesive dough is formed.
5. Once dough has come together, turn speed up to medium low (Speed 4, if you are using KitchenAid Professional 600 model) and knead for 1 minute.

Note: If kneading by hand, add all ingredients to a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula till a cohesive dough has formed. Knead with hand on a lightly floured work surface till you get a smooth satiny dough, about 10-15 minutes)

6. Remove bowl from stand mixer and dough hook. Wrap with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 30 minutes.
7. Once dough has rested, remove dough onto parchment paper on work table.
8. Using your finger tips, shape dough into a 10" x 7" rectangle. Wrap dough tightly with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
9. Transfer dough into freezer for 30 minutes prior to combining the dough with the butter block.

Note: Reserve the parchment paper to help work with the butter block in the next step.

For the Butter Block
1. Fold a 24" parchment paper to half. Then fold in the three open side to get a 8" parchment square.
2. Place 12oz of very cold butter onto the used parchment paper, reserved earlier from the dough making process above.
3. Using a rolling pin, beat the butter into a rough square, smaller than 8". (Seriously, beat the daylight out of the cold butter till they are pliable but still cold.)
4. Transfer butter onto the 8" parchment square and wrap tightly.
5. Using your rolling pin, roll the butter through the parchment square till it is even. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or longer.

Building the Layers
1. Once dough and butter have chilled for the requisite time, we can begin to build the layers of our final product.
2. Sprinkle flour lightly on a clean work surface.
3. Remove dough from the fridge, unwrap dough onto the flour surface.
4. Using your rolling pin, roll dough lengthwise to form a 17" x 8" rectangle. Measure to ensure you get the correct length and width. Use a bench scraper to help you tighten the dough up to the measurements.
5. Once that is achieved, remove the butter block from the refrigerator. Unwrap the parchment and placed the butter block at the center of the dough.
6. Fold both sides of dough till they meet at the center. Pinch to seal with your fingers.
7. Using your rolling pin, press the two sides at the edges firmly to seal.
8. Roll out lengthwise to 24" x 8" rectangle.
9. Fold in thirds, like a business letter.
10. Place dough onto parchment paper and wrap tightly with plastic wrap.
11. Place dough in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Second Folding
1. After the 30 minutes freezer time, unwrap dough onto a lightly floured work surface.
2. Roll dough out lengthwise into a 24" x 8" rectangle.
3. Fold dough in thirds again. Place on parchment paper and wrap tightly with plastic.
4. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours, preferably overnight.

You must be thinking, finally, I get to shape my croissants. Not so fast! After the refrigerator time, you have to now transfer the dough from the refrigerator to the freezer and let it freeze for 30 minutes. Remember, the dough has to be really cold when you are working with it. If the butter melts into the dough at anytime during the folding and shaping process, you can kiss the flaky layers goodbye.

1. After the 30 minutes freezer time, you can now play with the dough.
2. On a lightly floured work surface, unwrap your dough and roll it into a 18" x 16" rectangle, with the long side parallel to the edge of the counter. Fold dough into half, from upper edge to lower edge.
3. Using your bench scraper, mark dough at 3-inch intervals along bottom edge with bench scraper.
4. Moving to the top edge, mark dough at 1 1/2-inch intervals from left. Using this at your reference point, measure out 3-inch intervals and mark it with your bench scraper.
5. Using a pizza cutter, start from the lower left corner and cut dough from point-to-point.
6. You will get 12 triangles, and 5 diamonds. Don't throw away the scraps, something good is going to come out of it, I promise. Place the scrap dough aside, wrap in plastic individually and place it back in the refrigerator.
7. Using your pizza cutter, slice the diamond shape dough into half. That will give you 10 more triangles. All in all, you will end up with 22 triangular dough ready to be shaped into croissants.
8. Working with one triangle shaped dough at a time, pick the dough up with both hands, one at the short length of the dough and another at the tip. Stretch the dough out gently.
9. Using your pizza cutter, make a 1-inch slit at the base of the triangle (the short length). Holding the two edges you have just created by slicing the base of the triangle, roll it towards the tips.
10. The croissant roll is taking shape now. Gently, tucked the tip of the dough underneath the rolled croissant dough.
11. Place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat process with the remaining dough.
12. You should place about 10 croissants on a full sheet baking pan, allowing room between croissants to rise.
13. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Yeah, more waiting. I know your patience is running out at this point, but really, you should wait.

1. Preheat oven to 425F. If you are baking two sheets of croissants at once, adjust one rack to the upper third of oven and one to lower third of oven. If baking one pan at a time, just leave rack in the middle of oven.
2. Once oven has come to temperature, combine beaten egg with salt, and cold water. Lightly brush dough with egg wash.
3. Place dough in oven and reduce temperature to 400F immediately. Bake croissants for 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway.
4. Cool on wire rack before serving, haha, or just bring out a stick of butter and enjoy!

Yup, more butter. Hey, I worked really hard into making these.

Char Kueh Kak - Malaysian Fried Rice Cake

Comfort food is a funny thing. It can be something that you don't find easily these days or just plain accessible at the grocery store. Whatever it is, there is something about this comfort food which brings us back to childhood. Ah....those happy times where you have no worries in the world, where the only crisis in your life is whether mom and dad did get you what you want for birthday or Christmas.

Having moved from Malaysia to the States some years back, my definition of comfort food is definitely something which I cannot find at any grocery store here. Every now and then, a candy from yesteryear will pop up at some Asian grocery stores near my house. But that just won't do cos unlike many children my age at the time, I have never develop a sweet tooth. My kinda comfort food have always been savory in nature, call me weird.

One of them is Char Kueh Kak. If you are from Malaysia, and have either live in Kuala Lumpur or Penang, you will know exactly what I mean. No, not the stir fried radish cake you can get a dim sum place cos those are radish cake. A true blue char kueh kak you can find in a roadside eatery is made out of nothing more than plain rice cake stir fried with preserved cabbage, beansprouts, chives/scallions, and an egg. They probably use a ton of dark soy sauce to give it that glistening dark color, and yes, they use pork lard to stir fry that tasty concoction.

Should you have anything against pork fat, stop reading right now. I mean, now.

To make a true blue KL/Penang hawker style Char Kueh Kak, you will need to make your homemade rendered pork fat with the crispy bits. No, your primary care physician and cardiologist should not know about this. Heck, my primary care physician will probably fire an array of reasons on why I should not eat this. Whatever he doesn't know, won't hurt him, right?

Truly, he can't say a thing about my minuscule consumption of pork lard to make this dish when he himself is a deep fried chicken fanatic?

To make the authentic Char Kueh Kak I so love as a child, there are some works involved. Rest assure, all your hard work shall be duly rewarded if you follow this recipe. I promise!

Malaysian Homemade Char Kueh Kak
(Adapted from Minty's Kitchen)

For the Kueh
110g Rice Flour
2 Tbsp Tapioca Starch
1 Tbsp Wheat Starch
1/2 cup of cold water
1 1/2 cup of boiling water
1 Tbsp oil
1/2 tsp salt

For the Char Kueh Kak
3 Tbsp Rendered Pork Fats
3-4 Tbsp Dark Soy Sauce
1/2 - 1 tsp Garlic Chilli Sauce
2 Cups Beansprouts
2 Stalks Scallions
A handful of chives
1 Tbsp Preserved cabbage (Chai poh)
2 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Make the kueh. Preheat a steamer filled with water half way. Let the water come up to a rolling boil and turn the heat down to medium low.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine all the kueh ingredients except for the boiling water. Whisk tills get a smooth thick batter. Then, slowly stir in the boiling water while whisking vigorously. 
3. Place a 9-inch oiled pan I the steamer and let it heat up for about a min. Slowly, pour in the batter mix.
4. Steam the kueh for 25-30 mins till a toothpick inserted into the center of the kueh comes out clean. Remove and let cool completely.
5. Once cooled, cut the kueh into bite size pieces. Store in a large ziplock bag and refrigerate overnight.
6. The next day, cut up the pork fat into small pieces and render the fat out till u get about 2-3 tablespoon of liquid fat. You can do this by placing the fat in a non-stick pan over low heat for 10-15mins.
7.Prepare all the other ingredients. 
8. Using the same non- stick pan, add a tablespoon of the pork fat and pan fried the kueh till they turn lightly golden brown and a hard skin is formed. This step is important in order to avoid mushy char kueh kak.
9. Pan fried the kueh in batches. Set aside.
10. Next, in the same pan, add in the remainder of the pork fat and crunchy bits. Turn heat up to medium.
11. Saute the chai poh, chinese sausage (if using), and garlic till it is lightly browned.
12. Add in the garlic chilli sauce and stir fried till you get a nice spicy aroma.
13. Add in all the kueh and dark soy sauce. Stir till all the kueh has a nice dark color to it.
14. Next goes the bean sprouts, scallions, and chives. Continue to stir fry till the bean sprouts wilted slightly. Bout a minute.
15. Using your spatula, make a space in the center of the pan. Crank up the heat all the way to high. Stir in the lightly beaten eggs. Count to 20.
16. Immediately, cover the eggs with the kueh and vegetables. Stir fry all the contents till you can see specks of eggs assimilated with the rest of the ingredients.
17. Dish out and serve whilst hot.