Saturday, January 24, 2009


Owing to the fact that I have been avoiding health hazardous commercially made noodles over the years and have been discouraging my children from consuming noodles when they eat out have made us into a non noodle eating family in the home. Most of the time. And since the fascination and novelty of making my own homemade flat rice noodles (kuay teow) has finally fizzled out and come to a hiatus (at least until I regain both energy and zeal to make homemade noodles of any kind again) a curry laksa recipe post was something that I have been postponing for the past several weeks.

But, being the animal that I am, my appetite has gotten the better of me. So although no one at home will eat curry laksa, for various reasons (allergy, spicy, bean sprouts etc), with the exception of number 3 son who, thankfully, will try anything, familiar or strange, I have decided to cook up a small pot of this very racially and culturally ambiguous dish using, instead of yellow noodles, pasta vermicelli (the safest type that I can find that does not contain preservaties and such) as the noodle base.

I have to say that curry laksa is one of my favourite dishes ever since I was exposed to it at the ripe old age of twenty. It is a complete dish (in taste rather than nutritionally) in the sense that it is spicy, is soupy, is creamy, is noodley, and (at the risk of sounding cheesy) is Malay, is Chinese and is loved by Asians and westerners (especially Australians) alike.

I find it quite hard to claim curry laksa as a Malay dish because Malaysian Chinese cook and specialize in this dish just as feverishly. Or perhaps even more so. So I do tend to believe that this is a dish that was invented by the Nyonyas (originally Chinese immigrants who adopted Malay culture in the choice of language they used and in the way they dressed and cooked their food). And thus I believe the curry laksa was born.

And like other nyonya dishes which have, over the centuries, resulted in the perfect balance between the elements of Malay and Chinese cuisine, curry laksa is one of the most satisfying, sought after noodle dish in the country that is palatable and very flavour friendly to all, whether they have been born and bred with it or have only recently been acquainted with it.

The Malay components of the curry laksa are the coconut milk, the sambal, the ground paste of onions, chillies and lemon grass while the Chinese features are the tofu, the noodles and the soupy-ness of it.

Ironically, one could make the most horrible tasting curry laksa by using (gasp) curry powder. I had this most ghhoribble dish of curry laksa at the 'new' Kota Kinabalu airport many years ago and I almost threw up. And that was at a time when I had no idea how to make curry laksa and yet instinctively I knew that it was all simply a dish of big mistake.

So you should never cook a dish (this is a warning to all chefs/cooks at airport restaurants) based on its name ONLY. Do some googling for heaven's sake or ask your mother.

Ellice Handy's curry laksa recipe is one that never fails me if I follow it closely. Authentic, 'clean' and precise is how I would describe recipes that she has devotedly written down. Click here to find out more about Ellice Handy. Since I have tried no other recipe for curry laksa hers is what I will be posting now with a few very minor adjustments to accommodate the use of packaged coconut milk and some additional topping ingredients.

600 gm fresh prawns, shelled and cleaned
small fish balls made from :
300 gm ikan tenggiri/mackeral or ikan parang(don't know the english translation for this)**
5-6 teacups thin coconut milk, the consistency of thinned milk
2 cups thick coconut milk, the consistency of full cream milk
salt to taste
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Ingredients to be ground and mixed to a paste :

2 dessertspoons coriander powder
* 3 stalks serai, sliced
1/2 cup galangal/lengkuas, sliced
*6 candlenuts/buah keras
*12 - 14 dried chillies, soaked and de-seeded
*1 cm fresh tumeric/kunyit
*a slice of belacan (1 inch square pc)
*1 cup shallots

All * ingredients to be ground in a food processor or blender until it becomes a fine paste and then mixed with the coriander powder.

Method :

Put oil in a deep pot and when hot add ground ingredients and saute until fragrant and the oil begins to seperate from the ingredients. Add the prawns and a little salt. Fry for about 5 minutes and then add 5 cups of thin milk.

When it boils add the fish balls and when the fish is cooked, add teh 2 cups of thick coconut milk, adding more salt if necessary and stirring gravy to prevent the coconut milk from curdling. Keep fire low. When gravy begins to come to a boil, remove pan from fire. keep aside

450 gm beehoon or yellow noodles (preferably homemade) :D

6-7 tofu puffs, halved
300 gm bean sprouts, cleaned, scalded and drained
fresh cockles, boiled briefly and drained, optional or /and
1 cucumber, deseeded and shredded
Golden fried shallots
Sambal, optional

To serve :

Put a serving of noodles each into 4 -6 deep bowls or soup plates.Top it with the tofu puffs beansprouts, cucumber, cockles (if using) and shredded chicken meat. Pour piping hot curry gravy over the noodles etc. Top with sambal for extra spiciness if desired. Serve.

NOTE : Instead of fish balls I made chicken balls as I could not get the fish that I was looking for. Nothing could be easier than making your own fish/chicken/meat balls if you have a food processor. I am not inclined to buy ready made fish balls because they contain, like manufactured noodles, boric acid, preservaties and loads of msg. For the chicken balls I used :

500 gm of chicken breast meat, cut into chunks
1 1/2 tsp salt

Process the 3 ingredients in a food processor until it becomes a fine paste. Remove, shape into small sized balls and dunk in boiling water until they float to the top. Remove and drain. Any extra can be kept in the refrigerator to snack on, for noodle soups or for stir fries with veggies.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Sponge cakes have never been a favourite kind of cake for me. So I seldom make them. I like dense, moist rich cakes if I'm faced with a choice but otherwise I would much rather have some buns or pies. But I was plagued by an abundance of egg yolks in the fridge left over from another recipe so I had to think of something before they turned bad. And quite reluctantly I recalled Rose Levy's (The Cake Bible) wonderful recipe for a classic golden genoise.

Unfortunately it uses a shocking amount of egg yolks, 3 more than what I had, but I thought, what the heck, so I threw caution to the wind and decided to dive in. I have made this before when I was doing a little cake business on the side and it changed my perception of sponge cakes forever. It is moist (where I always imagined sponge cakes as dry) and tender and golden (where I always imagined sponge cakes as pale) so although I would still rather have a dense moist cake I have to say that this is a very very good sponge cake. It also makes the loveliest madeleines imaginable.

For those who are not yet familiar with her, Rose Levy Beranbaum bakes like a chemist. 'The Cake Bible' is a comprehensive and dizzyingly encyclopedic collection of cakes and everything related to them. You have to be a very curious and passionate baker to want to read every single detail. She gives precise recipes for poured fondant, rolled fondant, chocolate fondant, pastillage, 38 kinds of buttercreams, white and dark chocolate roses, crytallized flowers and so much more. In the past 8 years my baking life has been comforted by the knowledge that it is there assuring me just in case I need a fail safe recipe or to understand why things did or did not happen in my baking experiments. I have never had a more exact recipe book ever.

This recipe for a genoise in particular would go perfectly with any silky, smooth buttercream with the exception of chocolate which, according to Rose Levy, would overwhelm the flavour. Otherwise a topping of some plain whipped cream would be perfectly delicious. I have tweaked it a little by giving it a lemon flavour by adding the zest of a lemon.

I must also warn you that this also a wonderful recipe for a heart attack. It uses 12 egg yolks. But if you're not averse to heart attacks please read on otherwise abandon further interest. But then you may also remember that that mayonnaise and Bearnaise sauce is not any healthier so I suppose an egg yolk rich cake once in a while is better than mayonnaise everyday.

The recipe....

scant 1/2 cup clarified butter*
1 tsp vanilla essence
12 large egg yolks
175 gm sugar
100 gm sifted cake flour
3 tbsp cornflour
1/4 cup water

Zest of 1 lemon (my own addittion)

* Don't be alarmed by the clarified butter. It can easily be made.....

4.5 oz/128 gm of unsalted butter

In a heavy saucepan or small pot melt the butter over medium heat, partially covered to prevent splattering. When the butter looks clear, cook uncovered, watching carefully until the solids drop and begin to brown. When they become deep brown, pour immediately through a fine strainer, add vanilla and keep warm.

The cake....

In a large mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water heat the yolks and sugar until almost hot to the touch, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Using a whisk beater, beat the mixture on high speed for 5 minutes or until triple in bulk. I'm not very sure what Rose meant here..that is whether to beat while the mixture was still placed over the simmering water of to take it off the pan. So I usually do it the more convenient way by taking it off the pan, pouring the mixture into the mixer bowl and then use the whisk attachment to beat it for 5 minutes. It worked without any problems. At this point you can add in the lemon zest if you wish.

While the eggs are beating, sift together the flour and cornflour. Decrease the speed and beat in the water. Sift half the flour mixture over the egg mixture and fold it in gently but rapidly with a large balloon whisk or rubber spatula until almost all the flour has disappeared. Repeat with the remaining flour until the flour has disappeared completely. Fold in the clarified butter in 2 batches until just incorporated. I would suggest using a rubber spatula for this one.

Pour immediately into prepared pans which have been greased and floured thoroughly. I used a 9 inch bundt pan. Otherwise a 9 inch round springform pan is fine.

Bake in a preheated oven at 170 C 25-30 minutes. The cake is ready when the sides have shrunk a little. There is no need test. Once the sides have shrunk it is done.

Let cool and dust with icing sugar or slice into two and fill, top and/or cover with buttercream. This would make an extremely soft and tender birthday cake. It's not dense, heavy or rich so it can really take plenty of buttercream without being painfully rich and sweet.

Monday, January 19, 2009


 A deep sunset fish curry was my father's almost daily and required dish with rice. But like any fish dish the curry is only as good as the fish is fresh.

Whenever I think fish I always recall the years I spent in Kota Kinabalu, a town on the west coast of Sabah. Marketing was a complete pleasure there. Not only were the fish fresh where loads of them arrived by boats each morning, delivered at the doorstep of the wet market which fronted the sea, but most of the fish would be glistening and rebellious with life, squirming and flipping arcs and somersaults. Squids would be flickering lights off the surfaces of their skins, crabs would be trying to get away and the prawns they would lie there very firm, full bodied and dignified with their heads still firmly attached. It was a place where you could smell the ocean..

But in KL where most fish often come all the way from Thailand (God knows why!) you would be very lucky to catch sight of bright eyed, firm fleshed fish or prawns with good heads on their shoulders. Most are stale, limp and dull and compared to Kota Kinabalu marketing couldn't be more disheartening and boring.

So for those of you who live in coastal towns where the daily supply of fresh fish is almost as certain as the sun coming up every morning please enjoy it. There could be nothing sweeter than the flesh of a fresh fish freshly grilled, steamed or curried.

Recipe for a fish curry....

Serves 4 -6

900 gm of a firm white fleshed fish, sliced into steaks

3 medium large onions,
2 garlic
1 inch ginger

1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 tbsp curry powder for fish ( I used 'Baba' brand)
2 tsp tamarind paste, mixed with 1/4 cup water and the juice strained
10 - 15 curry leaves

1 1/4 cups thin coconut milk
1 1/4 cups thick coocnut milk

1 medium brinjal halved and cut into 2 across, or diagonally (no rules here)
3 lady's fingers or okra, topped
1 large tomato, halved

1/4 cup cooking oil


Slice one of the onions finely. Keep aside. Blend in a blender or food processor the other 2 onions, garlic and ginger to a paste. Mix the curry powder with the blended onion mixture and add some water to make it a loose wet paste.

Heat the cooking oil in a fairly large pan until hot. Saute the sliced onions, mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds until the onions turn soft and the spices fragrant. Add in the curry paste and curry leaves and saute for a further 6 or 8 minutes until the paste cooks through and oil rises to the top. Scrape the pan if necessary to loosen any paste that sticks to the bottom.

Pour in the thin coconut milk and bring it to a boil. Put in the vegetables and let boil for 2 or 3 minutes then put in the pieces of fish and turn the heat down to a simmer. Pour in the tamarind juice and add salt. Add in half the thick coconut milk if there is not enough liquid to cover the fish two thirds of the way.

I did not time the cooking but when the fish seems about to be cooked through add in the remaining coconut milk and stir carefully to avoid breaking up the fish. Adjust for salt. Serve with white rice.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Cheesy, Chocolatey Cappuccinoey

Once in a BAD BAD while I indulge in cheesecakes as I sinfully do in brownies and anything chocolatey. But what I do love even more is a combination of chocolate, cheese and coffee. This cake was over the top. It was rich as in cheese, dense as in brownies and addictive as in caffeine. A killer combination. So I did away with the whipped cream and served it 'plain'. As plain as only plain could be.

Inspired by the enchanting Chinese bowls I had bought and displayed in my previous post I took pictures of this decadent cake in the garden. As you can see, I went over the top with that too and while I was thinking flowers and of what kind I should use (inspired by Denise from chicky egg in her recent Apple cake post photos) I remembered the bunch of dried roses hanging off the corner of my gilt-framed mirror in our bedroom. A fresh bouquet of roses that was given me by my children for my birthday a year ago which I had, as I always do, when I 'm lucky enough to get a bouquet of roses, hung them upside down in the least humid area of our home and I let them dry to a crisp. It would last forever.

Being extremely partial to dried roses I sometimes think they are more beautiful than fresh ones. Call me strange, but there is something very romantic in dried aka dead roses. They remind me of old oil paintings in their subdued, muted tones. Shriveled and blurred at the edges and not quite distinct.

Back to the cake....

Having added 2 heaped tablespoons of instant coffee to a basic brownie recipe I have come up with a brownie bottom with a slightly bitter edge to it and combined with the creamy cheese top the flavour becomes lusciously cappucchino-ey. I love the strength and flavour of the coffee when it melds with the warm, dark chocolate in the oven. The aroma was quite incredible. It started off as a dark and smudgy flow of edible molten lava ready to solidify into a sticky mass just so as to suspend a rich, moist and creamy top. Cheesecake, brownie and coffee heaven.

An absolutely immoral combination.

Now with the recipe...

The Cappuchino Brownie Bottom :

150 gm butter
125 gm dark semi sweet chocolate
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tbsp instant coffee granules

1/2 cup of walnuts, chopped

Over a double boiler of simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate. Once melted take it off the heat and add in the eggs, sugar and essence. Mix well. Add the flour, cocoa and coffee granules. Stir with a spatula and fold until just mixed and no flour remains visible. Add the walnuts. Mix them in. Pour into an 8 inch removable bottomed pan that has been buttered and floured. Bake in a pre-heated oven of 150 C for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is quite firm but not too firm.

Note : You will not need the whole batch of brownie mix. Leave about 1/2 to a cupful of mixture behind. You can bake the extra in cupcake cases later.

TIP : When the brownie bottom is done you will notice that the top would have puffed up a little making a very slight dome. Don't worry. Just take it out of the oven and let it cool so that it settles down and the surface will level itself ready for the cheese layer.

The Cheesecake :

500 gm cream cheese
2/3 cup castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Cream cheese in a mixer until smooth. add the sugar, essence and continue to beat until smooth. Add the eggs a little at a time until well mixed. Pour batter over the brownie bottom and bake in 170 C oven for 40 -45 minutes or until the top of the cheesecake feels firm and is a lovely golden brown, amber almost. Turn off the oven an allow to cool in the oven with the oven door slightly ajar so that the cheesecake will not crack.

Note : I allowed the cake to cool a few hours before removing.

TIP : There is no need for a water bath with this recipe. The cheesecake cooks beautifully without it.

TIP : As I did not want the brownie layer to be over baked I padded a baking tray with some newspapers and placed the cake tin on top.The paper gives the brownie some insulation from the heat so that it does not overcook.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I love festivals don't you? You get plenty of cheap things sprouting up in foyers of shopping malls every time a festive celebration threatens to pounce on you when you turn the corner. And in Malaysia that seems to be a monthly event. Almost.

With Chinese New Year looming not too far off, I, the bargain hunter, the cheapskate, the ceramic detector went on the prowl. I found myself surrounded by some Chinese ceramic bowls in candy colours . They glared hard at me. It was all I could do to look back meekly, my spirit, shriveled to a wisp and my fingers groping my purse for 20.50 RM. I handed it over.

It's a jungle out there!

I just stopped in my tracks when I saw them. And when I got closer I almost blacked out. They were almost free at 3.90 RM each. You can see how many I bought. Not that many but many enough to not know what to do with them. At times like these thinking is not an option. In fact it would be the most despicable thing to do. But if you have to think about it here's an interesting article that will set you thinking about it.

Aren't they beauties? I am just insanely in love with them. Wonder what fate has in store for them in my home? I'm thinking now. Bites. Appetizers. Got to think of something soon. Ahh.....rugelach maybe...Yes I got to make some..tiny ones and pile them up nice and sweet in one or two of those bowls. I can't wait to get started.

They're waiting in the garden.


Having claimed possession of those dream bowls I then headed towards Cold Storage supermarket just across from the foyer. I love that supermarket because they have some really lovely household (small range but good choices) items at very reasonable prices. I have bought some very pretty platters and oven proof casseroles over the years at disgustingly cheap prices.

So if you have an eye for bargains and pretty items and cheap items, like me, go there. Scan, detect, aim and buy.

These jars that I bought almost escaped me if someone hadn't left one of them laying around deserted on one of the shelves.

It came in a set of 4 and I could not find the other 3. I searched and I even used my thing detector hoping to get some more but to no avail. But contented to go home with just one anyway I brought it over to the cashier and when I reached there he told me that I have to buy it in a set of 4.

Did he make me happy or what? So he went in search of the other 3. I would have waited the whole day for him. And they are a funny, odd shape with lovely colourful fruit prints on the covers. I would pay anything for QUAINT. I would die for quaint.

Finally he came back to me with the whole whopping set and the LAST one! Sorry girls!

No. No fairy god mother I knew waved her wand and put those lovely cutesy jars amoung those weeds last night. I put them there so I could take a picture. Got to get working on those weeds.

Who knows what I would fill them with. But you know what? Who cares. I'll have enough satisfaction just looking at those fruits on the covers. And at their funny shape.

I got them and I own them. That's what's matters.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Soto ayam or chicken soto is a lovely spicy (as in heat) dish. It's a thin chicken soup, sweetened with ground onions, garlic, ginger and tinged yellow with tumeric. It's aromatic flavour comes from the addition of ground coriander, ground cumin, the whole spices of cinnamon, cloves and cardomon pods and last but not least it is made from freshly made chicken stock.

The softness of the fine rice noodles contrasts with the crunch of the bean sprouts. The meaty flavour from the beef patty and the shredded chicken combine in a wholesome way. The rice cakes and hard boiled egg rounds it off as a complete meal. And the burst of flavours from the chopped spring onions, coriander leaves and the sweet fried onions add much flavour to make it an absolutely, heady, aromatic, warm and delicious comfort food when finally it is drowned and drenched with the hot, steamy and spicy soup.

Typically, a dash of thick, sweet soy sauce spiced up with chopped fiery, bird chillies may be dribbled over as the final condiment to complete the dish. It is a bowl bursting with flavours, textures and sensations. It's utterly comforting yet light and slurpy. If we had winter, this would definitely be the ultimate warm, winter food.

I just wish the bowl that I used was bottomless. As you can see I filled it to the brim and there still wasn't enough soup for me!

Serves 2

4 chicken whole legs/breasts
Some chicken bones/carcass, optional
4-5 kaffir lime leaves
1 lemon grass, crushed

The above ingredients are to be boiled in 5 cups of water for about 45 minutes until chicken is cooked and tender. Once done remove chicken and drain. De-bone and shred the chicken meat and keep aside. Reserve the stock. Discard lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. There should be about 3 1/2 to 4 cups of liquid stock left.

3 shallots
2 garlic
1/2 inch ginger
1/2 inch galangal/lengkuas
1/2 inch fresh tumeric or 1 tsp tumeric powder
2 candlenuts/buah keras
2 heaped tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper

The above ingredients are all to be blended or processed until it becomes a fine paste. Add a little water or oil if necessary.

1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
2 cardomon pods

1 kalamansi lime
1/2 tsp sugar
salt to taste

Noodles and Garnishes for Serving :

3 oz of rice vermicelli/ mee hoon, blanched in boiling water until soft. Drain & keep aside
a handful of bean sprouts
1 stalk spring onions, chopped
1 stalk coriander leaves, chopped
1 egg, hard-boiled and halved
2 kalamansi limes, halved
2 tsp of golden fried onions (slice 2 shallots finely and fry in oil until golden brown)
2 pieces of potato and beef patties (recipe below)
8 cubes of rice cakes/rice cubes, optional

Heat up a medium sized pot. Put 3 to 4 tablespoons of cooking oil and heat up till hot. When hot saute the ground paste and whole spices of cinnamon, cloves and cardomon pods until fragrant and the oil rises to the top probably about 5-6 minutes over a slow fire. Stir occasionally to prevent paste from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Add all the stock to the pot and bring to the boil and then simmer. If the stock was reduced to 31/2 cups add 1/2 cup of water to make up to 4 cups of soup. Add salt and sugar to taste and more pepper if you like for more heat.

Add the juice of 1 kalamansi lime. Stir and adjust salt for taste.

To Serve :

Divide blanched noodles between 2 bowls. Top each bowl of noodles with bean sprouts, shredded chicken, halved hard boiled egg, potato and beef patty, rice cakes, chopped spring onions, chopped coriander leaves and fried onions. Pour the soto soup over. Serve hot. Enjoy!

Monday, January 12, 2009


An Indonesian carry over. This is a beef and potato patty that can be eaten as an additional dish with rice or as a must have topping to a lovely spicy soup noodle dish called Soto. What is nice about this dish is that the potatoes are deliberately left lumpy instead of smooth as opposed to the mashed potatoes of croquettes. It can be made with any kind of minced meat or even fish such as mackeral or our local tenggiri. Very rustic in its use of cumin, chopped coriander, chopped spring onions, chopped chillies with a few squirts of lime or lemon juice, salt and pepper. Very delicious.

4 medium potatoes, boiled, cooled, peeled
180 gm mince meat
1 stalk spring onion, chopped
1 sprig coriander, chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp or more ground black pepper
1/2 tsp or more salt or according to taste
juice of a lime or half a lemon

1/2 egg, beaten
1 egg extra, beaten

1/2 cup of cooking oil

Heat a small pan and dry fry the mince meat until it turns brown, and the moisture has evaporated and is cooked. Remove from heat and put into a bowl and let it cool.

Add the boiled and cooled potatoes to the mince. (Alternatively, the potatoes may be cut up into wedges and fried and cooled).

Break up the potatoes with a fork roughly. Do not mash.

Add the chopped herbs, ground coriander, pepper and the salt. Squirt in some lime or lemon juice. Taste for salt. If necessary add some more salt. Add 1/2 a beaten egg and using your hands bring the mixture together and form them into patties. You should get about 10 patties.

Heat up the cooking oil in a small pan. Dip each patty in the beaten egg and shallow fry till golden brown on one side then turn over to cook the other side. Serve.

TIP : Potatoes and mince must be cooled down before mixing otherwise the moisture from the heat will make the mixture soggy, difficult to handle and will break easily when frying.

TIP : Mince meat must be cooked to rid it of moisture before mixing into potatoes. If using fish the fish too should be shallow fried or poached, drained well and then flaked in largish pieces before mixing with potatoes.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


And Cream Puffs............

Well ...yes... so I have a slight weakness for anything custardy and anything with pastry. That's because I like the combination of a buttery and not so sweet pastry combined with the gentle sweetness of a creamy custard as opposed to the glaring and painful sweetness of cakes filled and topped with rich, rich buttercream. And they're very pretty too. Most of the time anyway. And it brings back a flood of memories.

I remember, as a very little girl, clutching my father's little finger as I stumbled along, trying hard to keep up with him, as he strode across the street like he was trying to win a racewalk. Somehow it never crossed my father's mind that I was just under four feet tall and needed three steps to match his one. But our destination was a place that I always looked forward to as much as he did.

That little cafe, in George Town, had swing doors like those in cowboy saloons in cowboy shows that were screened on black and white television a long, long time ago. But those doors were painted a lovely pale green and as we pushed them open they would creak, and we left them flapping behind us.

Inside it was cool, as cool as the pale minty green that greeted us, and quaintly furnished, with tall-backed, worn, wooden benches, painted in that lovely pale creamy avocado green. Those benches, with their tall backs, faced each other across a table but they were also arranged so that they were back to back along the length of a wall. So if you sat in one cubicle you could not see the people in the next. They had the same arrangement done along the opposite stretch of wall and I think too that they had some fragile looking tables and chairs scattered in the middle.

I can't quite remember if the seats were cushioned but what I do remember vividly was the beautiful soft, pale green which at the time gave me the childish feeling that a gigantic tub of soft creamy green ice cream had melted, spilt and swathed the whole cafe in its gentle sweetness.

It seemed to me at the time too, illogically though, that it was because of the lovely creamy green that they were able to serve us the most wonderfully delicious, scrumptious and softest cream puffs that hid the most wonderful creamy custard filling inside. To me they were the best in the whole wide world. We would eat in satisfied silence, my father and I. My father finishing his cream puffs in seconds while I savoured each soft mouthful as I thumped my heels softly against the bench.

My father patronized that cafe whenever he yearned for a plate of cream puffs or chocolate eclairs with his ceaseless daily cups of tea after a day of lectures. And if I was lucky I went with him.

Cream puffs have been and still are my very favourite dessert sweet. And that little cafe with its swing doors in its wonderful creamy sweet-minty green with traces of our colonial past leaves in my memory the things that I attach to cream puffs and it will remain one of the most nostalgic childhood memories ever.

So I felt very very lucky one day, many years ago, when I discovered a recipe from a French cookbook, written by Eileen Reece for Marks and Spencer, that turned out those exact wonderful custardy filled puffs as I remember them. And since then I have made no other. It was and remains the puffiest tangible link to my childhood yet.

But what a surprise too that that very mixture for cream puffs and custard could be turned into one of the prettiest pastries that are a cross between cream puffs and a tart. They are called POLKAS. And they taste utterly delicious. Pate a chou (choux pastry), Creme patissiere (custard cream) and a Pate sucree (sweet pastry) combine to make this the most delectable tart I know. Another sweet pretty puffy pastry to my repertoire. And yours. But first the Cream Puffs......

The Recipe for Cream Puffs :

Choux Pastry :

5 oz flour
1/2 pint cold water (less 2 dessertspoons)
pinch of salt
3 oz butter
1/4 tsp sugar
4-5 eggs

Creme patissierie/custard cream :

4 egg yolks
4 oz castor cugar
1 1/2 oz flour
18 fl oz/500 ml milk

To mkae the choux :

Sieve flour on to folded paper and set aside. Put the water,salt, butter and sugar into a heavy based pan over a medium heat and bring to boiling point. When the butter has melted draw the pan from the heat, pour in the flour all at once and stir vigourously with a wooden spoon. Work the paste thoroughly until smooth, return the pan to the heat, working until the all moisture has evaporated and the mixture leaves the sides of the pan clean. Like so....

Add the eggs one at a time, working the mixture thoroughly in between each one. I used the machine for this. Beat the last egg seperately in a small bowl and add it gradually to the mixture to avoid making the mixture too liquid. When finished the mixture should be glossy and firm and supple.Leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 220 C. Line a baking sheet with non stick baking paper of butter and flour it. Drop small balls of the choux onto the baking sheet using two teaspoons shape into balls, well spaced out. Bake for about 15 minutes until well risen and golden brown and firm to the touch. Golden brown not brown as in the picture. I had forgotten to put the timer on and I over baked them :( Cool on a wire rack.

The filling :

In a large bowl beat egg yolks and sugar and flour until a smooth paste. Add the milk and continue beating until smooth. Strain the mixture into a heavy pan. Place over medium heat and cook stirring continuously until the mixture thickens which will happen rapidly.
Remove from heat and leave to cool completely.

Make a slit in the cream puff and using a teaspoon fill with the custard or alternatively make just a tiny hole and pipe in the filling using a piping bag and a plain nozzle.


Pate Sucree :

8 oz flour
4 oz butter
3 oz castor sugar or granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg

Cream butter and sugar until creamy. Add egg and beat until well mixed. Take it off the machine and fold in flour with a spatula. When it begins to stick together pour out onto a floured board and work the ingredients until it forms a ball using only your finger tips. Sprinkle flour if necessary. Refrigerate for 20 or 30 minutes until firm.

Make a quantity of choux pastry and custard cream as above.

Roll out the pate sucree to about 1/4 inch thick and cut intorounds using a 3 inch fluted cutter. Place on a lined baking sheet. Pipe the choux pastry in a ring along the sides of the rounds. The thickness of the ring should be that of a little finger). Cook for 20 minutes in 200 C oven. During the last 10 minutes check to see that the surface does not get too brown too fast. Cover with foil if necessary. Cool on a wire rack.

The empty Polka shells ......

To serve :

Dust each polka with icing sugar, fill with the custard cream and place 1/2 a teaspoon of granulated sugar in a heap in the centre of teh filling. Hold a metal kitchen fork with an oven glove over a high flame and when extremely hot place the back of the prongs of the fork on to the heap of sugar to caramelize it and colour it golden.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I don't make this sauce very often because of the peanuts in it. Hubby and I are trying to avoid clogging our arteries so... But it's a very good sauce to go with satay (obviously) but also with nasi impit (compressed rice) and ketupat nasi (rice packed in coconut leaves), with fried soya bean curds and also vegetables, some raw and some blanched. When dribbled over vegetables the dish becomes a very tasty salad called, in Malay, gado-gado (fight-fight)...literally translated. :D

So this is a very versatile sauce and if you're really out of anything you could just use it as a dip for some crunchy cucumbers, celery, carrots, fish or prawn crackers, nachos, you name it. It's very very yummy. In fact I think it's just a spicy version of the western peanut butter but just a tad more saucy, as in sauce.

Some like their peanuts ground finely and some like it coarse. It's all a matter of taste. Just like in smooth and crunchy peanut butter! But whatever way you make it it's definitely going to be good and a crowd pleaser.

I made it just now and when I thought it was done and tasted it I felt that there was something that was really missing. I just wasn't satisfied. It was ok but it definitely did not make me jump up and down. So I did what most people would do. No, I didn't call my mother. I googled. and I saw some versions of this recipe that used coriander powder. I thought coriander powder seemed so right so I added 2 teaspoons of coriander powder to the sauce, cooked it a while longer and that just made so much difference! It jumped from a 5 to a..... well, I'd like to say ten or even a nine but I'm sure there are some better ones out there, so I'll just say a modest 8 1/2.

So here's the recipe :

About 1 1/4 cups ground peanuts, a little more if you want your sauce slightly thicker,

3 medium sized large red onions, I used ones the size of ping pong balls,
4 garlic cloves
1 lemon grass, sliced
4-6 dried chillies, chopped up

The above ingredients except the peanuts are to be blended with a little water until it becomes a thick and fine mush,

2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 inch galangal/lengkuas, bruised

1 cup coconut milk of medium consistency, like fresh milk,
2 heaped tsp tamarind paste/asam jawa mixed with 1/2 cup water and the juice strained,
1 tsp sweet soy sauce
5-6 tsp palm sugar or white sugar
salt to taste

cooking oil

Heat up 1/4 cup of oil and saute the ground spices, put in the ground coriander and the bruised galangal. Saute it for about 7-8 minutes over a slow fire until fragrant and the oil rises to the top. Add the coconut milk, tamarind juice, sugar, salt soy sauce and lastly the ground peanuts. Stir to mix well and simmer over a low fire until the oil rises to the top again. Adjust the amount of peanuts according to your preference. A little more for a thicker sauce and a little less for a thinner sauce. Taste for salt. Done.

TIP : Adjust the amount of chillies according to your heat tolerance. Since everyone of us at home have different chillie heat tolerance levels I used my Sambal Tumis to top up one of the bowls of sauce for those who prefer it spicier.

TIP : Watch the sauce as it cooks. It can burn easily if you are making it quite thick. If you find at the end that it is too thick just add some water to thin it down.

TIP : Even if you would like your sauce to be crunchy I would suggest that you still grind or pound half of the amount of peanuts finely so that the sauce has a creamy base while the coarser bits will give the texture and crunch.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Roti canai is an Indian food that has been popularized in Malaysia as a 24 hour food, literally, day in and day out and is swiped, slurped and gulped down with a curry by every Malaysian like nobody's business. It is the most popular roti in the country because it's cheap and it's available everywhere and at any time.

Many say that the name' canai' has been derived from the city of Chennai, formerly Madras, (hence the name roti canai/chanai), introduced and popularized by Indian immigrants. On the other hand 'canai' is also a Malay word meaning knead, hence roti canai or kneaded bread. Many Malaysians also believe that this roti is more prevalent here than in India which seems to imply that it is actually a roti that had been invented here and then exported and introduced to India.

But whatever the story is behind this roti maybe the unique characteristic that distinguishes it from other breads is in the way in which it is made. After kneading the dough it is left to rest for a few hours. It is then flattened, twirled and tossed into the air until it becomes so thin that you could almost see through it.

Not a particularly easy roti to make if you haven't the guts, the adventurousness, the patience or the opportunity to learn. But not impossible at all. Like everything else once you get the hang of it (pun not intended) it's easy peasy.

This roti like many other Indian rotis is eaten with all kinds of curries under the sun. A tad greasy (understatement intended) but it seems that nobody cares, at least nobody in Malaysia anyway. After all it's no more greasy than your neighbourhood McDonalds, KFC or the English fish and chips. So don't complain!

I will show you the sequences of making this roti with a lot of help from pictures as it is quite hard to explain in words so I do hope the pictures that I have, with much inconvenience and a with a whole lot of trouble, taken, (in between greasy hands, greasy table and greasy dough) and with the help of one of my wonderful sons, will aid you in getting a more vivid view of the process.

But first a little personal history. I had learnt to make this when, at the age of sixteen, my mother had brought me along to watch an old Malay man (yes, not Indian (long story)) share the secret. I was very lucky to have had that opportunity and he was a very good teacher because after that lesson, no practice, and a year later at the age of seventeen I was making my first roti canai for relatives whom we had invited for dinner. And my rotis were a success.

As they say show not tell is a better teacher. So look at all the pictures and I hope you will be brave and give it a go!


600 gm all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp sugar (2 hours)
1/2 tsp sugar (8 hours)
1/2 pint water
1 egg
pinch of salt

Sift flour into a large bowl or your mixer bowl. Beat the egg and add it to the water, add salt. Stir. Pour the egg mixture into the flour and turn on your machine or knead by hand until you get a smooth ball of dough. Not much different from kneading any other bread dough. This recipe is very precise so it is quite unlikely that you will need to add more flour or water at all. If you do need to, do it a little at a time. Once the dough is smooth roll it inot a long sausage shape and then cut it into 10 pieces. Leave that for a moment.

Get a medium sized wide bottomed bowl or a bowl like the one in the picture and fill it with oil about 2 inches high. Now roll each piece of dough into a nice round ball and place them one by one into the bowl of oil. If necessary add more oil to completely submerge the balls of dough. Don't worry the oil will not be wasted. You will be using it, though not all of it and the rest can be used for cooking ( no it will not be dirty at all unless you have ten other people dipping their hands in it.) Cover with cling film and let rest for either 2 hours or 8 hours depending on the amount of sugar you used.

Grease the surface of your table very well with the oil from the bowl. Better more than less. After the dough has rested for the said number of hours take one ball of dough out from the bowl, place it on the oiled surface/table. Drip some oil from the bowl onto the dough for smoother handling and proceed to flatten it with the palm of your hand as much as you can or until it is about the size of a teacup saucer like in the picture below.

Note : As you take out a ball of dough from the bowl you may find that it sticks to the other balls of dough in the bowl. Do not be concerned. Just detach it from the other pieces and proceed.

Now, using the palms of both hands rub the dough in a circular motion all over and you should find the dough becoming a larger and thinner circle. Get it as thin as you can by doing this without tearing the dough or puncturing it. In between all that you may need to sprinkle oil from the bowl onto the sheet of dough if you find difficulty in rubbing the dough or if the surface of the dough seems somewhat dry . Usually this roti is made on stainless steel counters which does not cause as much friction so less oil can be used in the process. Look at the two pictures below to get an idea.

Now, using both hands, because the sheet is very delicate by now, lift off an edge gently and by pulling and stretching the sheet around the edges you will be able to get the sheet to become thinner and larger. Try not to tear a hole in the sheet, but if you do it is not the end of the world. Just proceed, gently pulling and stretching avoiding hte hole as much as possible, until the sheet is thin and almost translucent. The stretching of the dough lends some airiness and lightness to the dough and sometimes I shake/wave it (like you would if you were shaking a bedsheet) to trap some air underneath. Of course when the experts do it the dough gets very light and it gets a good airing due to the flipping and tossing of it into the air. I can't do that so this is the best that I'm willing to go. Watch the pictures below.

Once the sheet is as thin as you can get it lift it up at one edge and about an inch or two off the table with your fingers like you would a filthy piece of rag. Look at the picture below. Then let it down again onto the table but this time as you let it down swirl it around until it rests on the table like a swirly little turban. Look at the following pictures. This is where you get the last opportunity to trap some air into the mound of dough to give it the lightness later.

Once that is done, and using the pads of your fingers rather than the palms of your hands pat the little turban all over until it flattens out into a larger circle, about the size of a dessert plate. Observe the pictures that follow.

Done. It is now ready to be pan fried. If you are working the dough some distance away from the stove I would suggest that you place the flattened dough onto a saucer and carry it over to the pan for easier handling. Heat up the pan first until hot, add about a teaspoon of oil and wait for that to get hot then place the pancake into the pan. Fry both sides until a golden brown and crisp. The heat should inflate the roti a little through the air pockets that were formed due to the earlier stretching and the final twirling into a turban.

The final product.

TIP : The most hassle free way of making this roti is to finish up the dough by making all the 10 pancakes and keeping each one aside (you must have a surface large enough though) or you could place each one on a saucer each and put aside until the rest are all ready. Then fry them one by one. If you do it this way you will not be running up and down between stretching and pulling the dough, wiping your greasy hands on your tea towel/shirt/jeans/pyjamas/hair/face etc and frying the roti.

This same dough sheet is used to make 'roti bom' which is a smaller and thicker version of the roti canai, 'roti planta' which is roti canai with added magarine of the 'Planta' brand, 'egg roti' which is roti canai with an egg broken into the dough and folded up before frying, and 'murtabak' which is a meat filled roti canai.


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