Thursday, June 21, 2012

The passive-aggressive cook

We all have our culinary goals. Caroline's goal is to be able to create meals off the cuff, without having to rely on recipes. Emily (not my sister) has mastered the art of baking for people with sensitivities. My goal is to be able to bake with scientific precision. I'm something like my Aunt Grace in this respect; the main course is important, but dessert is where the real fun begins.

And I'm sure someday I'll be allowed to bake again. Maybe I'll have to wait till I go back to Smith, but eventually it'll happen.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Definition of insanity

For years now, I've been making rhubarb pie for family picnics, and I really thought I had it nailed. I made the same recipe over and over: James Beard's rhubarb pie (no strawberries) and Fannie Farmer's pastry recipe. I thought I knew what I was doing.

But I did not! Oh I did not. The pie I made yesterday is to my previous rhubarb pies as an flat balloon is to an inflated one. In some cases, this comparison is literal; yesterday's pastry actually increased in size and puffed up beautifully, and it had enough filling for once. On the flip side, my former end product was half-filled at best, the pastry was flat and tough, and the recipe called for flour to absorb the moisture, so it was usually pretty dry.

I should have stopped making this pie after the first time I made it. At most, I should have attempted it twice, realized that the results were identically uninspiring, and just quit. But I persisted. Why did I insist that I was doing it right?

Technically, I was correct; after all, I followed the recipe to the letter. But the pie was wrong. Why didn't I see it before?

An even more interesting question: Why did I continue using shortening even though Aria (former boss, professional pastry chef) said you get better results with butter? Why??

Who knows, I'm just stubborn. Anyway. All-butter pastry makes all the difference and I'm never going back.

Would you?

Friday, June 8, 2012

I'm beginning to see why Caroline says she follows certain blogs despite hating them. I was so in love with How Sweet Eats, but lately the recipes have all been bizarre and I can't help but notice that the author must be exhausting to live with. She sounds like so much work! Couple that with interminable grilled cheese sandwich recipes (a different kind of unusual cheese and fruit-based salsa every time), and I think I'd go insane.

It's decided. I could never marry a food blogger.

That being said, Emily's blogging about food for the Columbia Daily Tribune! Unlike many food bloggers, Emily is actually delightful and eats vegetables on a regular basis. Go read her stuff, she's funnier than I am.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Badly lit food porn: true to the genre

Browned butter brownies. Recipe here. 

Oh man, I think I want those brownies now. 

The surprisingly poofy bao dough. My mom and dad set up stations: he divided the dough, she rolled it out, I made the filling, and we all filled the bao. 

My cat oversees the rolling process. 

Aren't these honeys? We got a little overzealous and over-filled a few, but not by much. 

It's a thing of beauty. 

And delicious to boot. 

Cha Sui Bao

I want to preface this recipe by saying that it's a time commitment, but if you manage you time properly it'll take about a full day rather than a full weekend, and the end result is very, very good; my sources tell me that it tastes just like bao you'd get at dim sum. (OK, my parents said that. That sounds a lot less professional than "my sources," though.)

Original recipe is here, but I found it hard to follow, so I'll condense and simplify it for you right here. Metric measurements on original site, as I find the side by side measurements a tad confusing. I also think that a full day's work for only twelve bao is absurd, so double or nothing, my friends!



2 pork fillets/tenderloins (roughly 2-2.5 pounds)
8 large cloves of garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons (3 gm) ginger, grated
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3 tablespoons maltose (you can substitute honey)
3 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce (NOTE: I used dark soy sauce only and it came out fine.)
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons shaoxing cooking wine
1 teaspoon (2 gm) ground white pepper
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon (2 gm) five spice powder
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon pillar box red food colouring (which I didn't use because a. I don't trust food coloring and b. I couldn't find it. It's just an aesthetic thing, though.)

  1. Trim the pork loin to remove fat and tendon and slice lengthways so you have two long pieces, then cut in half. By cutting the pork in to smaller pieces to marinate you will end up with more flavoursome char sui. If you want to leave the pork in one piece you can do this as well. Place in container that you will be marinating them in. I used a Pyrex baking dish. 
  2. Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. 
  3. Cover pork well with the marinade mixture. Marinate overnight, and remember to flip the pork if not completely covered. Reserve the marinade for basting when cooking the pork. (NOTE: Now, there are several options as to how you can cook the pork. I just popped it in the oven, but the original recipe says barbecue yielded the best results, which I'm inclined to believe. For simplicity's sake, here's the instruction for oven roasted pork, and feel free to poke around and explore other methods.) Pre-heat oven to moderate 350°F. Cover a baking tray with foil or baking paper, and place on top of this a rack on which to cook the pork.
  4. Place pork on the rack and place in oven. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, basting and turning.
  5. Turn the heat up to 400°F for the final 20 minutes as this will aid the charring. Cook until cooked through. And since it's pork, don't forget to take the internal temperature. Pork is done when its internal temperature is 160 degrees, or 145 if you're feeling frisky and get your pork from a reputable source. 


Bao can be baked or steamed, but I'm providing the baked version because that's what I made and it doesn't require any special equipment.

A: Dough

2½ teaspoons (1 packet) of dried yeast
¼ cup sugar
½ cup warm water
2 cups plain flour
1 egg (medium size - slightly beaten)
3 tablespoons oil
½ teaspoon salt
Egg wash: 1 egg beaten with a dash of water

  1. Place the sugar and warm water in a bowl, mix until the sugar has dissolved. Add yeast and leave it for 10 - 15 minutes until it becomes all frothy.
  2. Sift flour in to a large bowl.
  3. Add yeast mixture, egg, oil and salt and stir. Bring the flour mixture together with your hands.
  4. Place dough on a well floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes.The dough will be very sticky. When you have finished kneading, it should be smooth and slightly elastic.
  5. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise. Original says wait for the dough to double in size, but I let it rise an extra hour and a half, so it was about three times bigger and beautifully light. But it's your call. This will take from 1 - 2 hours depending on weather conditions and your schedule at that time. 
  6. While dough is rising, make the filling, since it needs time to cool. Dough recipe will be continued when you've made your filling. 

B: Filling

Char sui (finely diced) This is, for all intents and purposes, as much char sui as the recipe above yielded.
4 green onions/spring onions (finely sliced)
2 tablespoons hoisin
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 teaspoon corn starch
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or pan.
  2. Add diced char sui to the wok/pan and stir then add spring onions, cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add hoisin, dark soy sauce and sesame oil to the pork mixture, stir fry for one minute.
  4. Mix cornflour and stock together and then add to the pork mixture.
  5. Stir well and keep cooking until the mixture thickens, 1 or 2 minutes.
  6. Remove mixture from wok/pan and place in a bowl to cool. Set aside until ready to use.
Made your filling? Is your dough ready? Beautiful! Let's continue.

Filling your bao:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Once dough has doubled in size knock back and divide in to 24 portions and shape in to round balls.
  3. Use a rolling pin to roll out to approximately 2 inches in diameter. Then pick the piece of dough up and gently pull the edges to enlarge to about 3 inches in diameter. This ensures that your dough is thicker in the center, so your bao don't split down the middle. It's not an attractive look, though it may make a comeback in the spring season. 
  4. Place a good sized tablespoon of filling on the dough circle. It will be very tempting to over-fill, but don't you do it, or your bao will explode. Then gather the edges and seal your bun. 
  5. Place the bun seal side down on your baking tray. Repeat until all dough rounds have been filled. 
  6. Once all buns are complete, brush surface with egg wash.
  7. Place your bao in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Best to just eyeball it; when your bao are done you'll definitely be able to tell. I'll be posting pictures in just a few minutes. 
So that's that! Go out to your nearest Asian grocery, get all the esoteric ingredients you need for the filling and marinade, get a pork tenderloin at Price-Rite, and get cooking!