Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Four Cheese Naan with Fresh Cilantro, Crushed & Toasted Cumin Seeds and Garlic

I was watching a Swedish cooking show where a Swedish chef visited an Indian restaurant in NYC. During the program, he made a naan stuffed with cheese, cilantro, cumin and garlic. We never figured out what kind of cheese they used or whether the cumin was whole or ground, but it looked very good and we decided to try making something like it.

I left one ball of dough in the refrigerator overnight and made the one in the photo above this morning. It appears that the naan come out more like naan when you leave the dough to mature overnight, so I have modified the steps taken in making naan accordingly.

To really make naan you need to have a Tandoori Clay Oven. Manjula suggests using a pizza stone. I had neither. The logic is similar to making pizza in that the oven should be as hot as you can make it and the surface that you place the dough on should be ultra-hot. If you have neither of the above like me, all you can do is crank your oven up to maximum heat and then slip the naan on a board, quickly onto the baking hot oven tray.

I have to say that the cilantro was a little disappointing. I would suggest making it without the cilantro and sprinkling some of it on top after it comes out of the oven.

Four Cheese Naan with Fresh Cilantro, Toasted Cumin Seeds and Garlic

Makes 6 Naans


2 Cups AP Flour
5.5 g Dry Yeast
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Sugar
Pinch Baking Soda
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Heaping Tbsp Yogurt
1/2 Cup Water (or as much as you need)



1 Cup Fresh Cilantro Chopped
2 Tsp Toasted Cumin Seeds (Grind them a bit)
200g Shredded Cheese (Mozzarella, Cheddar, Samsoe, Emmental)
6 Cloves Garlic Chopped

Step 1: In a big plastic bowl, mix the yeast with 2 Tbsp of lukewarm water, 1 Tsp sugar and 1 Tsp flour and leave until frothy. This will take around 10 minutes.

Step 2: Add some more of the flour, the salt, baking soda and oil and mix it.

Step 3: Add the rest of the flour and mix it until crumbly, and then add as much water as you need to form a smooth dough. I kneaded mine on a lightly floured surface.

Step 4: After coating the ball of dough with more extra virgin olive oil, return it to the bowl and cover with plastic and let it rise for 6 hours. At this point you can knead the dough thoroughly until elastic and smooth and divide it up into 6 portions. Wrap each individual portion in plastic and store inside the cold compartment of your refrigerator.

Next Day:

Step 5: Take out as many balls as you are going to make and let them warm to room temperature.

Step 6: Preheat the oven to 250C or the highest you can make it go. Leave the tray inside the oven. Knead each portion before rolling them out. Kneading will also help them warm-up so you can start when they are still a bit cool to the touch.

Step 7: Flatten the dough out into a circle, sprinkle with cheese, cilantro, cumin and garlic and fold the naan in a similar way to making Chinese Beef Pies. See Manjula's video.

Step 8: Let these balls of dough rest for 5 minutes, and then flatten them with a rolling pin.

Step 8: Place the naan on oven paper on top of a flat board so that you can slide them onto the baking hot oven tray. If you have a pizza stone use it by all means, but I don't have one.

Step 9: Bake for 3-4 minutes. The baking time will depend on your oven and whether you have a pizza stone. It was around 4 minutes for me. The naan is ready when it is still snow white, but has some golden brown patches on top.

Step 10: Brush the naan with butter and sprinkle with some fleur de sel (and fresh cilantro).

Step 11: Let the oven reheat for 5 minutes before putting the next batch inside the oven. You can bake 2-3 in one go depending on the size of your oven.

We had ours with Garam Masala chicken and a salad.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Steamed Lotus Buns

I still had some leftover lotus paste and Ann of Anncoo Journal suggested I make steamed lotus buns with them. I didn't want to waste any of it as Ronny and I nearly became crippled making it. It was really hard work. Please refer to my previous post for the lotus paste recipe.

I followed a recipe from Smoky Wok, modifying it a bit. I only used sugar to activate the yeast and omitted the rest of it. I also used cake flour as I read that it was better to keep the protein content low.

These were delicious and much healthier than the mooncakes as the wrapper only had a small amount of butter in it. If you have any kind of paste lying around (Azuki, white bean, lotus, etc.) it's very easy to make and wonderful to have with some nice Chinese or Japanese tea.

Steamed Lotus Buns


5.5g Dry Yeast
1/2 Cup Warm Water
1 1/2 Cup Cake Flour + more for kneading
1 Tsp Baking Powder
2 Tbsp Melted Butter
1 Tsp Sugar

Step 1: In a large bowl, mix the yeast, sugar and 1 Tsp of the cake flour and leave it until bubbly for around 15 minutes.

Step 2: Sift all the dry ingredients in a smaller bowl.

Step 3: Mix the dry ingredients into the yeast mixture adding the butter.

Step 4: Knead for around 10 minutes.

Step 5: Transfer to a clean oiled bowl and let it rise for 60 minutes or until it has at least doubled.

Step 6: Start boiling the water in the steamer* when the dough is ready for another kneading.

Step 7: Knead the dough for another 5 minutes until it is smooth and pliant and then divide it into 12 portions.

Step 8: Roll a small ball of lotus paste and wrap it up. See this.

Step 9: Cut oven paper so that they are bigger than the buns and place the buns on top of the paper.

Step 10: Steam 3 at a time for 15-20 minutes.

Step 11: Serve warm.

*I used a couscoussier.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Making Chinese Mooncakes in Spain: A Study in Surrealism

This is a documentary of me attempting to make mooncakes in Spain without the correct ingredients and without a mooncake mold. The arduous process and results were a study in surrealism.

What on earth is this?! It doesn' a moon cake, but what the hell. I spent three days slaving over this thing!

Anyhow, I don't suggest you follow my modified 'recipe' as the lotus paste came out way too soft. I am guessing there was too much butter in comparison to the starch content, and hence it tended to spread all over the place.

The other issue was that the dough did not seem to have the resilience it should have had and was not stretchy and soft and tended to crack, resulting in a surface that kind of looks like the drought hit areas of the earth.

I would say that the only useful part of this blog is how to prepare the dried lotus seeds. The rest is a work in progress.

So here goes...

Preparation of the Lotus Seeds

I used dry lotus seeds as this was all I could find.

I purchased 150 g x 6 packs of dried lotus seeds. After I soaked them in water overnight and seeds that had changed color and so on were removed, this converted to around 1.9 kg of lotus seeds. This means that a 150g pack of lotus seeds will convert to roughly 316 g of usable hydrated lotus seeds.

Step 1: Soak the lotus seeds in water in a big bowl for a few hours.

Step 2: When the lotus seeds have softened sufficiently for handling, check each seed to make sure the germ has been removed from the center as this is very bitter. Also throw away any seeds that look discolored.

Step 3: Soak the lotus seeds in water again overnight.

Step 4: Measure the desired amount of seeds. In my case I needed 1.332 kg lotus seeds to make 3 kg of lotus paste. Put the rest inside a tupperware in water and store in the refrigerator.

Step 5: Boil the lotus seeds for more than 5 hours until soft. Remember that you want a smooth paste. The softer they are the less likely they are to get gritty.

The recipe I followed for making lotus paste was this from Amanda:

Amanda's Recipe

200g Lotus Seed
180g Sugar (120g recommended by author)
160 ml Peanut Oil (100 ml Olive Oil recommended by author)
1 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp Condensed Milk
1/8 Tsp Salt

The author noted that this made around 450g of lotus paste and I needed 3kg. This meant I needed around 1332 g of lotus seeds. I modified the recipe proportions using fresh cream instead of condensed milk:

1330g Hydrated Lotus Seeds
800g Sugar
670g Butter
17 Tbsp Honey
14 Tbsp Fresh Cream
1 Tsp Salt

This is the lotus paste paste I made...or should I say Ronny made. Frankly, without his viking brute strength, it would have been impossible to stir more than 2.5kg of this paste for a few hours. It was insane. Now I think I can understand how Leif Erikson managed to get all the way to the Americas on his man/wind powered boat.

*This recipe yielded 2640g of lotus paste. Don't know what happened to the 360 g, but maybe we took too many spoonfuls out of it to 'taste it' as we were making it, and as I mentioned earlier it tasted good but was too soft.

I used several references for making my moon cakes and will link to them where relevant. In the end I chose to go with the formula on Anncoo Journal.

Anncoo's recipe:

600g Hong Kong Flour
360g Sugar Syrup
12g Alkaline Water
150g Peanut Oil
3 kg Lotus Paste

I compared this with another recipe on House of Annie.

Annie's recipe:

300g Superfine Flour (600g)
240g Mooncake Golden Syrup (480g)
1/2 Tbsp Alkaline Water (1Tbsp)
75g Cooking Oil (150g)
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda (1 Tsp)

A few questions arose at this point.

1. What is Hong Kong Flour?
2. What is Mooncake Golden Syrup?
3. What is alkaline water?

Hong Kong Flour turned out to be a fine bleached flour although I was never able to find out the percentage of its protein content. In the end, I opted for using 300 g AP flour and 300 g cake flour.

Mooncake Golden Syrup can be substituted with corn syrup or Golden Syrup, but if you really want to make it from scratch you need to let it sit for around a year before using it. See this. I opted for using a mixture of syrup and honey used in making Arab confections as this is all I could get.

Alkaline water according to some references is what is referred to as lye water in the west. However some say that it is simply alkaline water and you should do a litmus paper test to determine the pH of your tap water. Pure water has a pH of around 7.0. If the pH is more than 7.0, it is alkaline, if it is lower it is acidic. If your water isn't alkaline, adding baking soda to it can make it alkaline. The water in my area is very hard and alkaline so I just used tap water.

The other question is the baking soda in Annie's list of ingredients. As the dough has to sit for 3 hours to 1 day in her recipe, we can assume that it's not there for its raising properties. I am guessing that it is there to ensure that the dough stays alkaline.

Annie also uses a lot more syrup, which suggested to me that her dough would be softer. hmm....

In the end this is what I did:

300g AP Flour
300g Cake Flour
360g Syrup with Honey
10g Tap Water with an alkaline pH
150g Melted Butter

Anncoo's recipe says to let it sit for 20 minutes, but I decided to let it sit for much longer while I made the lotus paste. I might also add that if you have any doubts about whether your tap water is alkaline and don't want to do a litmus test, add 1 Tsp baking soda to the water.

This is what the dough looked like when it was put into the refrigerator:

The morning after making the lotus paste (and it had cooled down), it was time to shape and bake the moon cakes.

Shaping and Baking the Moon Cakes

Step 1: Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it warm-up to room temperature or at least until it is soft and pliable.

Step 2: Knead the lotus paste well and make 80g balls (or 150g if you think you can do it) . I had difficulty wrapping 150g of paste as my paste as very soft in comparison to my dough. I reduced the amount and decided to wrap them in the same way as I wrap Chinese beef pies - which is not the way to wrap moon cakes, but if you have trouble wrapping it the correct way, I suggest you do what I did!

Step 3: Knead the wrapper dough well and make 50g balls with it.

Step 4: Flatten out the dough into a circle with your hands and wrap the lotus paste ball with it completely.
See this. I didn't put an egg in the center, but put some walnuts and almonds candied with honey in the center.

Step 5: If you have a mold, then lightly dust the ball with cake flour and press it into the mold and remove. If not flatten it with your hands so that you have circular mooncake (with no fancy designs on it).

Step 6: Preheat oven to 180C.

Step 7: Bake 10 mooncakes or so at a time for 7 minutes. Remove them from the oven, cool them and bake the next batch for 7 minutes. Basically the mooncakes will need to cool for 10 minutes.

Step 8: Dial down the oven temperature to 175C and let the first batch rest for another 3 minutes at least.

Step 9: Paint the surface of the first batch of mooncakes with egg wash and put 10 of them back in the oven and bake them for 20 minutes.

Step 10: Repeat the process until all the mooncakes are baked.

Note: I used a well whipped egg yolk + 1 Tsp water for my egg wash.

I was talking to a friend of mine while making these and she mentioned walnut mooncakes, which made me want to make some candied walnuts and almonds.

I just coated a handful of walnuts and Marcona almonds with dark honey from Galicia and roasted them in the oven preheated to 175C (350F) for around 12 - 15 minutes, stirring them around a bit at the 7 minute mark or so. I incorporated these into a few of the mooncakes.

Let me end this by quoting Annie:

"Honestly, if you live in Asia where the filling ingredients are easy to find and buy pre-made, and most of the other ingredients for the skin are also prepared for you, it's not really hard at all. If you live in the West, where the ingredients may be more difficult to find and you'd have to make everything from scratch by yourself, then yes, I'd say it would be tougher."

No kidding!

The last and perhaps most important question is how they tasted. Well, my crust turned out to be like a soft pie crust and the lotus seed paste was very aromatic because of the Galician honey and home made vanilla essenceI used. They were definitely palatable, but they just were not....Chinese mooncakes. Please consult my original sources when making yours.

Addendum 1: The mooncakes need to be made at least 2 days before consumption. After 2 days the wrapper will soften and the cakes will become very fragrant. I left mine out on a cooling rack for the rest of the day and them stored them in an airtight container. Whenever I open the containers the aromatic scent of dark honey from Galicia, caramelized sugar, vanilla, butter and fresh cream spill out of the container and it's a real pleasure to take one of the moonakes out and eat them. Mine may look awkward, but they taste fabulous.

Addendum 2: I used 100% cake flour to bake another batch, and let the dough sit for 20 minutes. This appears to yield a more elastic dough. However, when I baked them the wrappers seemed to crack. This could be because I did not wait until the lotus paste had warmed-up to room temperature.

Addendum 3: If the lotus paste is soft, let it harden in the refrigerator and take them out and make the balls right before they are ready to be put into the wrapper. Then let them soften inside the wrapper before you put them into the mold or shape them with your hands.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Buttermilk Cluster Rolls - Revisited

I made Michael Ruhlman's Buttermilk Cluster Rolls back in February 2010. This is a standard recipe in our household now and I thought I'd share the few modifications I have made to the original recipe.

Instead of baking it inside a cake pan to make that gorgeous looking cluster roll, for practicality's sake, I bake it inside an IKEA bullar loaf tin (27.5 cm x 8.5 cm x 6 cm), and make a few small buns on the side with the leftover dough. If you have a bigger bread loaf tin, you can make bigger balls of dough and bake everything in one go. Some modifications have been made in the recipe because buttermilk is difficult to obtain and expensive in Spain. I use a mixture of yogurt and whole milk.

This is Ronny's sandwich bread these days and he likes to melt Gouda or Cheddar cheese on it, but I love to have it with a generous slathering of marmalade made from bitter oranges from Seville (Mermelada de Naranja Amarga, Angel Camacho Alimentacion, S.L.).

Here's the modified recipe.

Yogurt & Milk Loaf with Blue Poppy Seeds - Adapted from Michael Ruhlman's Recipe


800g AP Flour
125 g Yogurt
445 g Whole Milk
5.5 g Dry Yeast
1 Tbsp Spanish Sea Salt
2 Tbsp Honey (I use Miel Multifloral de Galicia)
Butter (for greasing the tin)
Coarse Corn Flour (for sprinkling in the tin and on the oven paper)
1 Egg
1 Tsp Blue Poppy Seeds

Step 1: In a big mixing bowl, combine the flour (saving maybe 1/2 cup for the kneading), yeast and salt and give it a few whisks to make sure it is well-blended.

Step 2: Add the yogurt, milk and honey and mix and mix it until it's blended enough and you can move it to a floured kitchen surface.

Step 3: Use the remaining flour and knead the dough until smooth and resilient for about 10 minutes, gradually incorporating all of the flour.

Step 4: Put it back in the bowl and cover it with a tea towel. Let it rest for around 2 hours.

Step 5: Butter the bread loaf tin and sprinkle with coarse corn flour.

Step 5: Once the dough has risen, punch it down and knead it well releasing all the gases and then make 4 balls weighing around 300g each (the size of my fist aka the size of a 12 year old boy's fist) and put them into bread tin like you would when making a Brioche.

Step 6: Roll the remaining dough into small balls (100g x 4) and put them on oven paper that has been sprinkled with coarse corn flour.

Step 7: Cover both with tea towels and let them rise for 60 minutes.

Step 8: Beat the egg until it's a uniform smooth yellow.

Step 8: Preheat your oven to 190C (375F) and when the bread has risen, brush the surface of the loaf with the egg wash, sprinkle some blue poppy seeds on top and bake for 30 minutes, then cover with aluminum foil if the top is very brown and bake for another 10 minutes (Total Baking Time: 40 minutes).

Step 9: After removing the baked loaf from the oven, slide in the buns and bake these for 15 -20 minutes or until they are nice and brown on top.

Further Notes: My bread often cracks on top or on the sides and although this doesn't bother me I know it might bother some of you. I found this note on which is helpful.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

This isn't a photogenic recipe, nor is it extra special, but it is a nice basic recipe that you can make with very few ingredients. The flavor and texture of oatmeal and coconut is pleasant and the cookie is soft and slightly chewy. This recipe makes around 52 cookies. The numbers of cookies will depend on how gigantic you make them. Mine were small to medium sized.

I used home made vanilla essence made from vanilla pods and vodka. Here's the recipe I followed.

Coconut Oatmeal Cookies - Adapted from Darlene's Recipe at


1 Cup Unsalted Butter (227g)
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup Refined White Sugar
2 Eggs
1 1/2 Tsp Vanilla Essence
2 Cups AP Flour
1 Cup Coconut Flakes
2 Cups Rolled Oats + as much more as you think you can add to it.*
1/2 Tsp Sea Salt
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1 Tsp Baking Powder

*I probably used 1/4 - 1/2 cup more. Stir in a little bit at a time, making sure you can still make balls out of the batter. You don't want to add so much more that the batter is dry and falls apart. The amount of extra oatmeal you can add will probably depend on the size of your eggs.

Step 1: Preheat oven to 175C (350F).

Step 2: Mix butter and sugars. Then add eggs and vanilla essence until thoroughly mixed.

Step 3: In another bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking power and baking soda. Whisk vigorously so that everything is mixed and sifted. Then add the oats and mix some more. Then add the coconut and mix lightly.

Step 4: Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients 1 cup at a time and blend. Try to do this as quickly as you can.

Step 5: Make small balls with your hands and press them down a bit to flatten with the palms of your hands.

Step 6: Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Floating Loaf - Adapted from Maria Speck's Recipe

The author of Taste of Beirut suggested I look into this very interesting bread that requires minimal kneading and rises inside a vat of water. I was pretty sure it would work, but wanted to know more details, so I looked for a few more sources.

I found a source that had pretty detailed step-by-step photographs, i.e. Bread Experience.

Anyhow, I'm going to share my experience with the Floating Loaf.


2 Cups AP Flour
1/2 Cup Spelt Flour
1 Cup + a little more luke warm water
2 Tbsp Sesame Seeds
1 Tsp Coarse Sea Salt
2 Tsp Brown Sugar
5.5 g Baker's Yeast
Corn Meal (for sprinkling on the oven paper)

Step 1: Mix all dry ingredients except for the sesame seeds.

Step 2: Add 1 cup water and mix and add more water if you think it needs more. The dough should be pretty wet and sticky but you should be able to make a ball with it.

Step 3: Roll in flour.

Step 4: Put the ball of dough into a vat of water. I used tap water, but if the water is heavily chlorinated in your area, I would let the water sit in the vat for a day to let chlorine evaporate a bit. Wait until the ball of dough floats to the surface. In my case, it took 8 minutes for this to happen, but the time can vary.

Step 5: Now knead it a bit on a floured surface and then put it on top of oven paper that you have sprinkled with corn meal. Cover it with a tea cloth/dish towel and let it rise for another 15-20 minutes or so. When it has risen, wet it with your fingers (fingers will warm the water a bit) and then sprinkle the sesame seeds on top. I used a brush during winter once and my loaf caved in. It's going to be baked anyway so why worry about fingers touching the dough?

Step 6: Preheat the oven to 220C (425F).

Step 7: The oven should be pre-heated by the time the bread rises so slide it onto the hot baking tray inside the oven and bake it for 20-30 minutes or until it is golden brown. I baked mine for 30 minutes.

We had aged Manchego cheese with fresh basil and rosemary inspired by Jana's display from Jana Around the World , green Spanish olives, and Cannellini Bean Spread from Steamy Kitchen with our freshly baked loaf of bread. It was a pretty nice lunch.

The beauty of this loaf is that the cooking time is relatively short. You can basically make freshly baked bread in around 60 minutes.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Beef Boregi with Herbs and Pine Nuts from Elra's Cooking

This was my first attempt ever, at using filo pastry and as I tried to separate the layers of filo from the package, Elra's words came to mind.

"You might not use the whole package, but always nice to have extra just in case you tear some."

And boy did I tear some...

In the end, I cheated by using bits of the torn pastry to patch-up holes in the rolled-up filo in the pan. It took 65 minutes before the top of my Boregi was nice and brown.

For the recipe, please go here.

I totally recommend this recipe and really loved the filling!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blue Poppy Seed Sourdough Dinner Buns

I feed my starter once a week, and when I do this I pour everything into a plastic bowl and add 1 cup AP flour and 1 cup water and let it proof. This used to take more than 10 hours, but these days my starter is ready in a few hours.

When my starter is ready, I put half of it inside its container and feed it with 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup water. I use the rest of it to bake bread.

Now, this week I wanted something different. I wanted something different but not difficult or complicated since I had been dealing with some annoying things related to my water purifier for two days.

So I just made bread according to S. J. Ross's recipe adding around 1 Cup spelt flour into the mix and divided the dough up into 16 parts and topped them off with blue poppy seed.

The result was warm wholesome sourdough buns that tasted great with garlic parsley butter.

Here's the recipe.

Blue Poppy Seed Sourdough Dinner Buns


2 Cups Sponge
1 Cup Spelt Flour
2 Cups AP Flour*
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 Tsp Brown Sugar
2 Tsp Coarse Spanish Sea Salt
1 Tbsp Blue Poppy Seeds

*Approximate amount. Depending on the state of your sponge and other conditions, you may need more or less.

Step 1: Add the spelt flour to the sponge and mix it.

Step 2: Add the sugar and oil and mix some more.

Step 3: Add the rest of the flour and knead it until it is more or less mixed.

Step 4: Let it rest for 30 minutes and then knead it around 100 times.

Step 5: Let it rest for another 30 minutes and then knead it around 100 times.

Step 6: Let it rest for another 30 minutes and then knead it around 100 times.

Step 7: Let the dough rest until it has risen to around twice its original size. If you create an indentation with your finger and it does not spring back your bread is risen.

Step 8: Divide the dough into 4. Roll these into thick logs and then divide these into 4 again. This will give you 16 buns.

Step 9: Cover your baking tray with oven paper and put some coarse corn flour on it.

Step 10: Place the balls of buns on the paper and cover with a kitchen cloth and let them rise for 1-2 hours.

Step 11: When they have risen, dampen the tops of the buns with luke warm water and sprinkle blue poppy seeds on them.

Step 12: Put a steaming tray of boiling water on the bottom of the oven and put the oven tray in place. Close the oven and turn it on. The temperature should be set to 175C (350F).

Step 13: Bake for around 30 minutes.

Step 14: Serve warm with dinner!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Osakaya in Mita, Tokyo

I've been remiss about blogging lately even more so than usual, because I've been spending a lot of time back in Japan. It may be difficult for some of you to imagine this, but this Japanese household did not even have one camera until recently and my sister's iPhone is currently on its way to the Apple Graveyard.

Anyway, I didn't make these. I wish I could say that I did.

These are Nerikiri from a wonderful Japanese sweets shop called Osakaya in Mita, Tokyo. Osakaya is a family business that has been around for 17 generations spanning a period of around 300 years.

Nerikiri are made from ingredients such as Shiratama Flour (processed glutinous rice flour), glutinous rice flour, sugar, Mizuame (starch syrup), Azuki bean paste, white bean paste or boiled egg yolks.

A good quality Nerikiri will have a very smooth texture and will have a subtle sweetness to it. Osakaya appears to blend their Azuki bean paste with white bean paste so that the flavor of Azuki does not dominate and become overpowering, but I don't really know what they do to achieve this effect.

I do however recommend that you pick-up some sweets at this shop if you are in the neighborhood. The quality of their sweets are really exceptional.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Christina Mohseni's Estate

I was at a Rotary Club dinner on March 9, 2011. I flew in to attend it, as I had had a craving for Lebanese food for quite some time. To my delight, my friend who accompanied me won a bottle of extra virgin olive oil in the raffle, and I was even more delighted when I found out this special bottle of olive oil was produced on an estate owned by Christina Mohseni, one of the members of the Rotary Club of London. The label has stains on it as it wasn't bottled industrially and was presumably hand carried from the estate in Bibbona to London.

The olive oil had a fresh spicy smell that brought back memories of a trip I made to Tuscany more than a decade ago. I drizzled some of it onto a plate and mopped it up with some focaccia I had just made. It was heavenly.

Thank you, Christina!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sourdough Ciabatta

Ronny was going to make some sourdough Ciabatta this weekend, but upon examination of the recipe he was going to use, I saw baking soda in the ingredient list and I was turned off by it. We still wanted to make Ciabatta so I had to quickly find an alternative recipe and I turned to Elra and sure enough, Elra had made some.

The first step is to ascertain if you have the ingredients for making this.
You will need the following ingredients:

540g AP Flour or Strong Wheat Flour
1 Tbsp Sea Salt
2 Tbsp  Extra Virgin Olive Oil
610g Proofed Sourdough Starter (If you don't have enough, you can add extra water.)
355g Water (Use less water here if you add more water to the starter.)

I didn't have exactly 610 g starter. I only had 500g of it, so I just added 110g additional water. If fed, yeast will propagate and experience told me this wouldn't be an issue, and it wasn't. I added less water. Instead of 355g, I used 300g.

The original recipe uses some whole wheat flour, but my starter is fed on 100% whole wheat flour all the time so I just used unbleached wheat flour. Strong Bread Flour is better but you won't fail if you use AP Flour.

Mix all these ingredients for about 5 minutes making sure it's thoroughly mixed, and then mix it for another 5 minutes a little more vigorously this time. Let it sit for 30 minutes inside the bowl and prepare a clean oiled bowl while the dough is sitting.

Then next step is to fold the very wet dough on a heavily floured surface. Please see this video on how to do it. If your dough is very very wet, I suggest using two spatulas to fold it more than a few times until some of the flour is incorporated into the batter, making it more manageable.

Let the dough sit for another 60 minutes inside the oiled bowl, and repeat the above procedure. By now the dough should be more manageable and you can just fold it over horizontally, then vertically, like folding a letter. Return the dough to the oiled bowl.

Let the dough sit for 120 minutes this time. While waiting, clean out the other bowl and oil it. When the 120 minutes is up, fold the dough again and put it into the newly oiled bowl, cover it with plastic and fasten the edges with duct tape. This is to prevent any weird refrigerator smells permeating your dough.

I pretty much followed Elra's recipe even about the part where she left her dough lying in the refrigerator for 18 hours. This is because when you start making the Ciabatta on a Saturday afternoon, it's around 4 p.m. by the time it's ready to go into the refrigerator. Then you resume at around 10 a.m. the next day, if you're lazy like me. I believe the important thing here is to leave it in the refrigerator to mature for at least 9 hours and it shouldn't matter too much if you leave it there for a few more hours. It's probably not a good idea to leave it there for more than 24 hours though.

The morning after...

I don't have a couche, and I just used a heavily floured IKEA tea towel, sprinkled flour on the bread and covered it with cling film. I think covering them with a floured tea towel would have been better as the dough can stick to the cling film if you're not careful, but unfortunately the rest of my tea towels were in the laundry basket at the time. Here is a video by Susan from Wild Yeast on how to cut and transfer the dough to the floured tea towel or couche.

I let it rise for 1 hour and then started preheating the oven at 250C (475F). As soon as the oven reached this temperature, I placed an oven paper on a flat board (or any hard flat item) and carefully transferred the ciabatta dough with the side that was facing down, facing up this time. This is so that you have those nice artistic looking patterns on your bread when they are finished.

Then, I put a dish with boiling water onto the bottom of the oven. I use a pyrex casserole dish for this. I put the casserole dish in place and then pour boiling water into it, because it's less dangerous this way.

Remove the baking hot tray from the oven, and slide the dough onto the hot tray. This is much easier of course if you have a hard flat board underneath the oven paper. Put the tray back into the oven and shut the door.

Dial down the oven temperature to 230C (450F) and bake it for 20-30 minutes. If the loaves look anemic, bake them for another 5 minutes.

I'm also going to list Elra's references here and here. When you follow the link, it will lead you to Wild Yeast, and since this bread was very photogenic, I've decided to make an entry to Yeast Spotting.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Baking Soda and Baking Powder

Have you ever had problems with cakes and muffins that did not rise?

There are a few things you should keep in mind when baking, depending on what kind of leavening you are using.

Unlike yeast which takes time to make the dough rise and the most common reason for bread not rising is because you didn't wait long enough, baking soda and baking powder act quickly, and you really shouldn't leave the batter lying around. Joy of Baking estimates that baking powder can be left lying around for 15-20 minutes, but a batter with baking soda has got to go into the oven immediately.

First rule: Turn the oven on before you start mixing and weighing things and making the batter. That's why good cookbooks will tell you to preheat the oven to xxx at the very beginning.

Baking soda is four times stronger than baking soda and has a faster reaction time than baking powder, which means that there's more urgency to putting the batter into the oven faster.

Second Rule: Baking soda needs an acidic environment so that it can activate. If you're making a recipe with baking soda, don't replace acidic ingredients with those that aren't. For example, if it calls for buttermilk, don't replace it with plain milk unless it's gone sour and nobody wants to use sour milk in their baking. You can however replace it with milk mixed with lemon or yogurt which are acidic.

Acidic Ingredients: Honey, Natural Cocoa (not dutch processed), Sourdough*, vinegar, Citrus Juice, Sour Cream, Honey, Molasses, Brown Sugar, Fruit, Maple Syrup, etc.

Third Rule: Last but not least, make sure you whisk all the dry ingredients or sift them so that the baking soda or baking powder gets distributed evenly.

For more detailed information, please refer to Joy of Baking.

*When I made the Sourdough Chocolate Cake from King Arthur Flour, I used cocoa that was probably Dutch processed. Although the recipe tells you not to do so, I pretty much counted on my sourdough being acidic enough, and it was. However, should you make a chocolate cake without sourdough and the recipe calls for cocoa that is not Dutch processed, I'd make sure the cocoa is the right kind as there would be no sourdough to make the batter acidic. That, or you can replace some other ingredient with yogurt or sour cream.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Focaccia with Moroccan Oil Cured Black Olives & Herbs (Non-Sourdough Version)

This is a variation of Ilva's Sweet Focaccia recipe and it's a savory recipe similar to the Sourdough Foccacia I made. Aside from being careful about how much salt you sprinkle on top since the oil cured black olives are already quite salty, this bread was delicious. The proportions of herbs to dough was just right versus previous attempts.

Focaccia with Moroccan Oil Cured Black Olives & Herbs


1 Packet Dried Yeast (5g)

4 Tsp Brown Sugar

1 Tsp Sea Salt

3 dl Finger Warm Water

5 dl Bread Flour*

4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 -2 Tbsp Fleur de Sel or Escamas de Sal

20 Oil Cured Black Moroccan Olives (pitted and chopped)

1 Tsp Rosemary

2 Tsp Thyme

2 Tsp Oregano

Step 1: Warm the water and pour it over the yeast. Add the sugar and salt and let it stand until it's a bit frothy.

Step 2: Add the flour. Do this 1/2 cup at a time. You may need more or less than 5 dl. This is because the absorbency of the flour can vary from region to region, brand to brand and due to weather conditions. Then knead this until you have a nice elastic dough.

Step 3: Cover and leave for 1 hour.

Step 4: Roll out the dough on a floured surface and spread the herbs and olives all over it. Then roll it up and knead it a bit.

Step 5: Oil a 21.5 cm x 21. 5 cm baking pan and then flatten the dough into it so that it is 1.5 - 2 cm high.

Step 6: Set the oven to 200C and turn it on.

Step 7: When the oven is preheated, drizzle on more olive oil and sprinkle the top with as much fleur de sel as you wish.

Step 8: Bake in the oven for 15 - 25 minutes or until it's golden brown.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Guide to Blending Flour

The best source I've found online is Joy of Baking. This article gives you a good idea of the percentage of protein you need to have in your flour to get the desired results in specific recipes. It's a site primarily made for Americans, which means that they give you volume measurement equivalents to grams. The site basically gives you all the information you need to calculate how to blend flours yourself, should the country you are currently living in not have certain kinds of flours, e.g. AP Flour (All Purpose Flour).

I thought I'd write a post about this as people travel a lot these days. If you're a single working expatriate you may not cook, but if you are moving around with a family the person staying at home might be doing some baking.

I've heard time and again about how 'the recipe doesn't work with the local flour', but haven't you noticed that no matter where you are, there is that lady or man who doesn't seem to be having problems with baking and is churning out all these amazing things? Why doesn't my cake rise? Why does her cake rise? What is wrong with my cake? There is usually a good scientific explanation as to why one person failed and the other did not. There is no need to engage in any superstitious rituals and there is no need to import flour from your home country.

According to Joy of Baking:

All Purpose Flour: 10-12% protein content
Cake Flour: 6-8% protein content
Pastry Flour: 8-10% protein content
Bread Flour: 12-14% protein content

Now, the country you're in may not have flour categorized in this manner. In Japan for example you will be able to find 2 types of flour: Hakuriki and Kyoryoku. Although Hakuriki flour is generally known as 'cake flour' and Kyoryoku flour is known as 'bread flour' I sent an email to Nissin asking them about protein percentages. They gave me their numbers for their most popular brand 'Camelia':

Hakuriki Flour: 8%
Kyoroku Flour: 12%

Remember basic algebra?

Hakuriki Flour=X
Kyoryoku Flour=Y

You know that this is what you have and now you need to figure out in what proportions you should blend these two bags of flour to get the desired results.

All Purpose Flour: 10-12% protein content

We'll take the median or the average, which is 11%, even though if you wanted a high percentage AP Flour you could presumably use Camelia Kyoryoku Flour as it's within the range of AP Flour. I have found from past experience that since the Kyoryoku Flour was formulated not for making bread, but for making 'Udon', it's easier to handle when you mix in some Hakuriki Flour which was formulated for making cake and French style butter cookies.


Let X=1 *Let 1 portion of flour=100g


This means that you should mix 100g of Hakuriki flour with 116g of Kyoryoku flour to get a flour with an 11% protein content.

For a 10% AP Flour in Japan:


Let X=1


This means you should mix 100g of Hakuriki Flour with 100g of Kyoroku Flour to get a 10% AP Flour. This is the formula I use and so far I've had good results with this. However, I know that should I want more texture, I could increase the proportion of Kyoryoku to Hakuriki.

If you need a 12% AP flour, just use Kyoryoku Flour, although I've found that since it is formulated for making 'udon' it can benefit from a little 'cake flour' blended into it.

To get the desired results, I've found that blending these flours at a 1:1 ratio (10% protein content) works well for me.

As for pastry flour, the 10% blend can work, but if you feel you'd like the crust to be a little more delicate, you need to blend slightly more Hakuriki flour in proportion to the Kyoryoku flour.

Pastry Flour: 8-10% protein content.

For a 9% Pastry Flour


Let X=1


This means that you should blend 100g of Hakuriki flour with 83g of Kyryoku flour.

For an 8% Pastry Flour, just use Hakuriki flour.

I have however found that the 9% blend gives the desired results.

Remember that each manufacturer in each country has formulated their flour to meet the demands of their consumers and you are a minority as a foreigner. If you find Japanese cakes to be too soft, well, unfortunately, this is the way the Japanese like their cakes to be. But this doesn't mean that you have to suffer eating these cakes. Just blend your flours a bit, using the formulas I've provided you with, and you'll get a cake that's more to your liking.

If you want to take this one step further, write your manufacturer back home and ask them for the exact percentages of protein they have in that specific brand of flour you used. I've already done that bit for you on the Japanese end so you can recalculate everything to make sure your blended flour will have the exact same percentage as the flour you were using back home.

If you don't live in Japan, you'll have to do the homework on both ends, but I think I've provided you with enough of a basic guideline so that you can manage to calculate the right proportions no matter where you are in the world.

Note 1: I've found that when I'm in Spain and I blend their regular flour (AP Flour) with their Cake Flour to make Pastry Flour, I need more water for the dough to come together. I am however not sure whether this is due to the protein content or whether their Cake Flour absorbs more water.

Note 2: The most common flour in Germany is Cake Flour. This could be due to the fact that in the past few decades (at least), the Germans bought their bread whereas they baked cake in industrial quantities at home. This means that a lot of foreigners who thought their most common flour was AP flour didn't have enough protein in their flour and ended-up baking different types of things with what's known as Cake Flour in America.

Note 3: When blending your own flour, it's easier to calculate ratios in grams rather than by volume. Doing this by volume means using a more complicated mathematical equation and I'm just not that good at math!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

BLT with Sourdough Focaccia

The BLT is an American pleasure that appears to be widely unknown among certain demographies. The first time I made this for Ronny with regular bread, he loved it. This was my lunch today and I have to say that it was pretty damn good.

After slicing the Sourdough Focaccia which had Moroccan oil cured black olives, rosemary, thyme and oregano baked into it, I toasted the slices. Then I spread a luxurious amount of Spanish cream cheese onto one side and piled on the iceberg lettuce, two thin slices of tomatoes, thin slices of red onion and two crispy pieces of bacon.

Even though the English invented the sandwich, the Americans have elevated sandwich making into an art form with their different types of bread, toasted or not toasted, and the wide variety of ingredients they use. Unlike the English, the Americans weren't shy about being innovative and we have them to thank for the BLT.

Certain sources like to trace back the origins of BLT to Victorian times and attempt to hand over the credit for this invention to the English by saying that 'Recipes are not invented, they evolve', I think we can pretty safely say that BLT in its current state is American cuisine.

Anyway, who cares? Let people who want to take credit for things argue forever. I'm going to eat another sandwich!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sourdough Chocolate Cake

This the aftermath of the disaster involving the Sourdough Chocolate Cake from King Arthur Flour. I'm posting this for you, Lori.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sourdough Herb & Olive Bread

When I fed 'Zlatan' this weekend, I kept separating his children into different bowls and making more and more 'Zlatan' and ended-up with too much sourdough bubbling all over the place, so I made a Sourdough Chocolate Cake which turned out to be a delightfully moist cake, but we were impatient and took it out of the bundt pan too quickly and guess what? It became unsuitable for photography. However, I can tell you that it tasted great and that I'd make it again. I also baked a loaf of bread and made two medium sized buns yesterday with some spelt flour thrown into it but I still had more sponge.

So as I write this, I'm making more of Jim Lahey's No Knead Baguettes and am trying out a new recipe from Sarah's Musings: Sourdough Focaccia.

Sourdough Herb & Olive Bread - Adapted from the Sourdough Focaccia recipe from 'Sarah's Musings'

You start out by mixing these together:

1.5 Cups Sponge (a starter that has been proofed)
1 Cup Finger Warm Water
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Dark Honey
1 Cup AP Flour

This mixture was fermented for 1 hour.

Then, I mixed in:

1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tsp Fine Sea Salt

...and more AP flour.

It should be noted that when using yeast, I prefer to mix in some AP flour first before I put in any oil or salt which the yeast do not like. I am not sure this makes much difference, but if you have had experiences with your bread not rising, this might help. Yeast feast on flour and this will help them multiply, but salt and oil will hinder them from propagating.

Now, Sarah's recipes says 4 cups flour, but flour varies in absorbency and starters/sponge can have more or less water in them, so although this gives you a very rough idea of how much flour you might need, the rule of thumb is to always trust your eyes and hands more when making the dough. I used around 4 cups + a little more flour, but you might need more or less.

So I put in as much AP flour was was necessary to make a smooth elastic dough.

I kneaded it for 5-7 minutes until it was smooth and elastic.

Then I put it back in the bowl to rest.

Sarah used a clean oiled bowl, but I have found that if you're a lazy and messy cook like me, your bread will not die if you just put it back in the dirty (dirty with yeast and flour) bowl you used to ferment the sponge. I guess this is why she's presumably a good homemaker, and I'm not - but I digress...

I covered the bowl with a cloth and let it rise for 1.5 - 2 hours as stipulated.

I then mixed in some herbs: 2 tsp oregano, 2 tsp thyme and 1 tsp rosemary.

I also mixed in 100g of oil cured black olives (pitted and chopped up).

I then lined a pan with more extra virgin olive oil and pressed the dough into the pan just like I did when I made Ilva's sweet focaccia. I wondered about letting it rest for another hour as Ilva's recipe did not require this additional step, but then I thought: It's sourdough and it will rise more slowly than the dried stuff I use.

So I let it rest for 60 minutes.

I was going to brush the dough with more olive oil, but like Sarah's, mine spilled over from the bottom of the pan on top of the dough too, so all I did was sprinkle some fleur de sel over it before I put it into the preheated oven.

Unfortunately, my biggest rectangular pan wasn't big enough and the thickness of the dough was more like 3 cm rather than 1.5 - 2 cm.

I baked it at 230 C (450 F) for around 25 minutes. I had a feeling it should bake for at least 30 minutes, but the top had become quite brown so I took it out of the oven.

...and here it is - a bread baked along the lines of a focaccia bread, but more robust. It is sinfully delicious when you have it with herb & garlic butter. Whatever you decide to call this bread, the crust is crisp and the inside of the loaf is lovely and moist. Don't forget to let it rest for 20 minutes before cutting it.

Summary of ingredients used in this recipe:

1.5 Cups Sourdough Starter
5 - 8 Cups AP Flour*
1/4 Cup + 1/2 Cup + 4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil*
1 Tbsp Honey
2 Tsp Fine Sea Salt
2 Tbsp Fleur de Sel*
2 Tsp Oregano
2 Tsp Thyme
100 g Oil Cured Black Olives

*These are approximate portions. Use more or less depending on what's needed. The amount of fleur de sel you will sprinkle on top of your focaccia for example is really up to you.

Note: I don't watch football, but Ronny does. Guess who named the starter? On a more serious note, when you bake bread with salt sprinkled on top, it will make your bread damp. You either need to consume everything right away or if you have leftovers, you can preheat your oven to 200C and warm the bread for about 10 minutes. I like to sprinkle more fleur de sel over the bread when reheating them.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Sweet Focaccia from Lucullian Delights

If you ever have a craving for ever so slightly sweetened rustic bread, this is the recipe. I urge you to read the original post Ilva made as her photograph is much better for one, and there's just something delightful about the way she writes.

To make this recipe you don't need many ingredients. All you need is yeast, flour (AP flour), sugar, salt, milk, almonds and some olive oil. Ilva used a wet yeast, but I used dry yeast. I used marcona almonds and some sweet olive oil from Riviera Ligure.

These were lovely fresh out of the oven and were still very nice the next day.

Sweet Focaccia with Almonds - Lucullian Delights


1 Packet Dried Yeast (5g)

2-3 Tbsp Sugar + some for sprinkling on top of the focaccia

1 Pinch Sea Salt

3 dl Milk

5 dl AP Flour +

50g Marcona Almonds (blanched & chopped)

4 Tbsps Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Riviera Ligure

Step 1: Warm the milk until it's slightly warm to the touch and pour it over the yeast you have put into a preferably plastic bowl. Add the sugar and salt and let it stand while you chop the almonds.

Step 2: Chop the almonds and then put them into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.

Step 3: Add the AP flour. Do this 1/2 cup at a time. You may need less or more flour than 5 dl. I used maybe 7dl or more flour. The absorbency of flour can vary from region to region, brand to brand and weather conditions (humidity) can change how much flour you need to get a nice elastic smooth dough. Always trust your eyes and fingers more than amounts noted in recipes.

Step 4: When you have a nice smooth elastic dough, cover it and leave it for 1 hour.

Step 5: Put enough olive oil inside a 21.5 cm x 21.5 cm baking pan and make sure it is covered with a light film of oil.

Step 6: Press the dough into the pan so that it is 1.5 cm - 2 cm high. Cover it and turn on the oven to 200C.

Step 7: When the oven is preheated, drizzle some more olive oil over the dough and sprinkle a generous dose of sugar. The sugar you have put into the dough will not really be apparent so if you want a sweet cake, make sure you sprinkle enough sugar on top.

Step 8: Bake in the oven for 15- 25 minutes or until the focaccia is a golden brown.

Note 1: The amount of yeast is not that important. Don't freak out if your packet of yeast is 3g or 7g. Yeast given the time and right environment will propagate and increase. If you feel the yeast hasn't increased sufficiently, then leave it to rise for longer than 60 minutes.

Note 2: Ilva used a bigger pan, but it worked fine with a smaller pan, i.e. 21.5 cm x 21. 5 cm. If your pan is a little bigger or smaller, don't freak out. Just don't use anything drastically bigger or smaller.

Note 3: Because this is a sweet focaccia, I would choose a mild tasting olive oil with a sweet flavor for use in this recipe. I opted for the extra virgin olive oil that Samuele sent me rather than the local olive oil for this reason. I would use local Spanish olive oil for a savory focaccia.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cranberry Oatmeal Bar Cookies

Perhaps because Spain has a lot of local produce, fresh fruit and vegetables are a lot cheaper compared to their dried, frozen or canned cousins. When it comes to dried fruit, there also isn't a great deal of variety available all year round. You mostly see the supermarkets and stores saturated with dried or candied fruit during the months leading up to Christmas and after that they just kind of disappear.

Mercadona, however sell 90g packets of cranberries and so I made a batch of these delicious Cranberry Oatmeal Bars. For the recipe, please go here.

These were very good just as they were, but I'd like to experiment a bit with this recipe some time soon and increase the amount of oatmeal and add some omega-6 rich walnuts so that I can kid myself that the bars are good for my rheumatism.