Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Tale of two beans - red bean and soya bean jelly

Franchised kopitiams have been sprouting up faster than you can say lallang after a rainfall.  Apart from the usual kopi and teh in the menu, they have taken a leaf out of Starbucks and Coffee Bean and now offer ice-blended concoctions too, albeit with local flavours.  One unusual combination is the soya bean milk topped with red bean drink.  They blend the soya bean milk with ice, scoop a couple spoonfuls of red bean over it and you slurp it down with a large fat straw.

With Chinese new year celebrated over 15 days, there's a lot of celebrating with the family and friends.  It is also a cultural norm not to visit empty-handed - so it's usual to bring food or something sweet.  I think it is to symbolise a plentiful and sweet year ahead.  After a couple of days, I was racking my brain for something new and interesting to bring to the next family get-together. 

Ta-dah....soya bean milk with red bean! Not the drink, but put together into a layered jelly.  Jelly or rather agar-agar is an incredibly versatile dessert and you are only limited by your imagination and creativity. This combination of soya bean and red bean is also visually nice for CNY as it has a deep maroon from the red bean layer.  Because it is quite opaque looking, it resembles kuih more than jelly. 

This is a reasonably quick dessert to make.  Use ready-to-drink soya bean milk either the UHT variety or the freshly made one from the  "tau foo far" stall.  Personally the fresh one is nicer.  Red bean does take a long time to cook, so I cheat a little.  Once they are soft but not yet tender, I blend them first, and then continue the cooking process.  By blending them earlier, the smaller particles cook faster and if necessary I blend again at the end.  Yes, whatever it takes to reduce prep time.

Use a 2 litre volume mould

2 packets of agar-agar powder
1/2 cup uncooked red beans - washed
some pandan leaves (optional0
250gm sugar
3tbsp sugar
1litre soya bean drink - sweetened

Red bean layer
1.  In a small pot, put in enough water to cover the red beans, and pandan leaves and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 45 minutes or until tender.  Stir occasionally and add water if necessary.  Don't let it dry out as the beans  won't cook.  Once tender, blend the red bean mixture.  Keep aside.
2.  Stir 1 packet of agar-agar powder with 250gm sugar. 
3.  Measure the total volume of the blended red bean.  You will need to measure enough water to make up a total of 1 litre of liquid.
4.  Place the water in a small pot, add in the agar-agar + sugar mixture and bring to a boil.  Do not cover, keep stirring to prevent burning.
6.  Once mixture has come to a boil, remove from heat and add in the red bean mixture. 
7.  Give it a good stir and pour into the mould.  Proceed to soya bean layer.

Soya bean layer
1.  Stir 1 packet of agar-agar powder with 3 tbsp sugar.
2.  Place the soya bean drink in a small pot, add in the agar-agar + sugar mixture and bring to a boil.  Do not cover, and keep stirring to prevent burning.
3.  At this point, the red bean layer should have started to set and be slightly firm already.  Prick the red bean layer with a fork.  This is to allow the soya bean layer to stick to the red bean layer.
4.  Pour the soya bean mixture over the red bean layer.  Cool and chill in the refrigerator for about 2 hours until firm to touch.
5.  To unmould, run a palette knife or toothpick around the edges to loosen before turning it over.

Notes :
Do follow the instructions on the packet for making agar-agar. It may vary depending on the brand used.
The cook time on the red beans is approximate only as some beans take a longer time to cook.
Do prick the red bean layer to allow the soya bean layer to stick.  Otherwise you will end up with 2 disparate pieces of agar-agar. 

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Spotted Cow Cookies - for Chinese New Year

This is week 2 on the Chinese New Year cookie making activity.  Since baking out the Pistachio Butter
Cookies, I thought I'll try some more butter cookie recipes.  Surfing the net recently for inspiration, I
came across some old posts on German Butter Cookies.  Apparently, these were quite the rage amongst bloggers 2 years ago during CNY.  Yeah, so sue me for being slow.  Slowly but surely, as a colleague is fond of saying.

So 2 years on, I decided to try these marbled variation on the German Butter Cookie recipe from Ancoo Journal.  As the cookies turn out, I'm reminded of those black-white dairy cows.  So I'm calling these cookies "spotted cows" :)  Udderly cute looking, maybe I'll stick some horns on them the next time. 

This recipe uses quite a high ratio of low-protein flour, so the cookie has quite a melt-in-the mouth
texture.  If you prefer a crisper texture, I'd recommend that you use less potato flour and replace with
plain flour.  I didn't have potato flour as well, so I substituted it with corn flour which works just as

Dear readers, Kong Hei Fatt Choy and may the year of Dragon bring you roaring success.  Peace and happiness to all.

Recipe from Ancoo Journal - makes about 4 dozen
Ingredients :250g butter
80g icing sugar, sifted
250g potato starch or corn flour
160g plain flour, sifted
20g cocoa powder, sifted

Method :

1.  Beat butter and icing sugar till fluffy and lighter in color.
2.  Sift in potato starch and flour, mix to form a soft plain dough and set aside.
3.  Divide mixture in 2.  In a separate bowl, stir in the cocoa powder into one half of the mix to form the
chocolate dough.
4.  Divide plain and chocolate dough into 4 portions.
5.  Roll plain and chocolate dough separately into long strips. Using 1 tsp measuring spoon of plain and
chocolate dough, wrap them around each other with your hand and place on a lined baking tray and gently press dough with your finger.
6.  Bake at preheated oven at 170C for 13-15 minutes depending on the size of your cookies.
7.  Leave to cool completely and store in airtight container.

Wonderful with glass of cold milk. 

Notes :
It's easier to work with chilled cookie dough, so I kept the dough in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes before I rolled them out.   If like me, you have a teeny oven and making small batches at a time, keep the excess cookie dough chilled when not working on them.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Pistachio Butter Cookies

Another perennial favourite cookie for Chinese New Year is the butter cookie.  It is normally topped with a slice of almond and has is richly buttery and crumbly at the same time.  The recipe is one where you spread it into a pan, then cut into squares after baking.  Unfortunately I lost a lot of recipes when I misplaced my Home Science recipe book.  Home Science was still taught when I was in secondary school, and all recipes were painstakingly hand-written down (imagine that!).    My friends and I still have fond memories of our various kitchen antics and mis-adventures.

Anyways, I found a butter cookie recipe which I liked.  It has a wonderful butter flavour, and a light, crisp texture.  The original recipe called for it to be piped through a star-nozzle.  Well, I had no piping bag and never piped before.

Improvisation #1.  Having seen kitchen maestros work with ziploc bags as icing bags, I thought it would be a piece of cake to replicate the same.  They made it look easy. No nozzle?  Just snip a corner off and pipe them like macaroons.  Haha.  Wrong.  The piped cookie dough looked like fingers.   Darn.  Not the look I was after.

Improvisation #2.  Chilled the dough for a few minutes ( it was definitely wilting from the kitchen humidity).  Then took teaspoonfuls to quickly roll into balls and flatten on the cookie sheet.  This worked fine, but the cookies looked kind of forlorn and plain.

Improvisation #3.  Sprinkle some nuts over before baking.  I chopped some pistachios and sprinkled/pressed them over the cookies before baking.  Pistachios are great because you get green-brown colours from the nuts and different textures as you bite into a cookie.  Also instead of just butter, you get a mild pistachio flavour too.  Not as boring looking and somewhat more contemporary.  Hurrah!  Great served with a cup of tea as it has a delicate flavour.

Makes 48 cookies
Recipe adapted from Christine's blog

Ingredients :
130gm butter - room temperature
65gm icing sugar
35gm caster sugar
1 egg
200gm plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
some finely chopped pistachios

1.  Preheat oven to 190C and lightly grease the baking sheets.
2.  Cream butter in a bowl until smooth and pale.
3.  Add in the sugars and cream until fluffy.
4.  Beat in the egg, about 1/3 at a time.  Make sure you beat well after each addition.  Mix should be quite light and pale at this stage.
5.  Stir in vanilla essence.
6.  Sift the flour and baking powder together and stir into the batter with a spatula.  Don't over mix, just incorporate the flour in.
7.  Chill dough for about 10 minutes in refrigerator.  You want this to be slightly firm to roll into balls.
8.  Take about 1 tsp of dough at time and roll into balls.  Work quickly or else heat from your hands will soften the dough.
9.  Press each ball gently to flatten slightly, and sprinkle the chopped nuts over.  Press the nuts gently into the dough.  This will ensure the nuts don't fall off after baking.
10.  Bake for 10 - 13 minutes.  Remove from oven and gently place on wire rack to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.

I used a teaspoon to help slide the chopped nuts over each cookie.  Less messy, and less waste versus sprinkling. 
If like me you have a super-small oven, keep the dough in the fridge until you are ready to roll out the next batch.  If the dough is too soft, it is very difficult to roll into balls.  You get hand-cream.
Don't fuss about getting them into perfect balls because you will flatten them anyway.  Some imperfections just proves that you have lovingly made these by hand :)

By the way, don't try to carbon-date my age just because I was taught Home Science in school :D

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Flourless peanut butter cookies - for Chinese New Year

For years, I've managed to avoid making cookies for Chinese New Year, despite gentle hints from Mom.  My excuse would invariably be 'no time-lah, wouldn't it be easier to buy?'.  It takes me ages to make cookies using our little oven.   However given that the outlook for 2012 is not as bright, I decided to make some cookies this year - more economical.  Or so I thought.  Have you seen the price of butter recently?  Which got me thinking about what store-bought cookies are made with.  Butter? At those prices? Unlikely.

Anyway, I decided on peanut butter cookies and found an interesting recipe posted by Sylvia in her blog
PeachesandDonuts.  Peanut cookies are a staple during CNY, but they are normally made with lard. Ugh.  Much as I love my pork, the thought of using lard isn't my cup of tea.  Plus lard has a tendency to turn rancid in our humid weather.  Double ugh. 

This is a flourless peanut butter cookie, using only PB, sugar and egg.  Simple, really.  The lack of flour
just means the cookies are full of the peanut butter flavour and come out crisp on the outside and slightly
soft and chewy inside.  It also cracked quite prettily, which gives it an even more home-made look.  However, flourless also means this recipe doesn't yield very many cookies - I managed about 40 in total.  Absolutely yummy and the kitchen smelled heavenly of peanuts.

Adapted from All Recipes
Makes 40 cookies
1 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup soft brown sugar
(Note: Using Soft Brown Sugar will make the cookie softer. Use White castor sugar if you like a crisper one)
1 egg
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Method :1.  Preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Grease cookie sheets.
2.  In a medium bowl, stir peanut butter and sugar together until smooth.
3.  Beat in the egg  then stir in the bicarbonate of soda. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place them 2
inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. ( I pressed the balls to get a flatter shape).
4.  Bake for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven.
5.  Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely before storing.

Notes :
The cookies don't spread very much, so I rolled the balls and flattened them slightly, hence the cracks.
There's no need to chill the dough before working it - the chilled dough isn't as malleable.  It's easier to
ball up with a soft dough.
I used smooth peanut butter, about 3/4 of a jar.

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