Bao buns

Bao buns are so posh, a couple of years ago they were the sandwiches of multiple Michelin starred chefs, last year they began to appear in trendy cafes. Soft and pillowy, these Asian buns are not only great cooked filled with spicy pork and veges or shrimps and chives at your local takeaway, but as the fancy chefs discovered a new take on the classic ‘sandwich’.

Bao are easy to make, the whole process takes 2-2.5 hrs. I used bamboo steamers bought cheaply from the local Asian shop, but any steamer can be used, the advantage of these is that they stack and if I buy more I can cook more bao at a time 😉

Ingredients:

  • 525g plain flour (nb not hi-grade, many recipes substitute in some cornflour but I have not tried this)
  • 1½ Tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 50ml milk
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 200ml water (not cold not hot, just barely warm) 1You may need to adjust this, depending on your flour, I did, adding a couple of Tbs more water during the mix. But I guess you may even find you need to add flour!

And (half way through):

  • 1 tsp baking powder

Method:

Mix the dry ingredients, except NOT the baking powder, add the wet ones, and mix. When the dough forms knead long and well (I cheated and did both mixing and kneading in our breadmaker on dough setting). As always add more flour if the dough is ‘too hard’ and add more water if it is ‘too soft’ – once the dough is in the goldilocks zone stop meddling (the reason meddling is ever necessary is because different flours and they say even the weather can throw the proportions out a little bit.

Set the dough to rise in a warm place until well doubled (1-2 hours). Tip the dough out and flatten it, sprinkle over the baking powder, knead for 3-5 mins. Roll into a ‘sausage’ and cut into 16-18 similarly sized pieces. Roll each into a ball, flatten into a circle on a floury board and with a rolling pin (or large bottle) roll out  to a thin oval (rather longer than you’d think – the aim is to have enough when it is folded to make a decent bun). Brush the top with oil, fold in half and place on small squares (cut a bit larger than you expect the finished bao to be) of greased baking paper.

Place these carefully in the steamer leaving room for them to more than double again. Leave to rise, again doubling, about 1.5 hours.

Put the steamers on top of a saucepan of well boiling water, steam for 8-9 minutes. They should split easily, though a knife may sometimes help. Fill with something tasty, oily and salty. (I love bacon, lettuce and tomato with plenty of mayonnaise.)

Notes   [ + ]

1. You may need to adjust this, depending on your flour, I did, adding a couple of Tbs more water during the mix. But I guess you may even find you need to add flour!

Ciabatta Bread is simple quick and tasty

Ciabatta is one of the simplest and most nearly fool-proof breads. Baking bread is so simple, just mix flour, water, and yeast. But so much can go wrong, and there are so many variations on the theme…

So, because ciabatta is one of the simplest and most nearly fool-proof breads it is a great place to start.

Ingredients:

1000g Strong Flour (if in NZ Gilmours sell Beta brand which is perfect)
850g water
25g dried yeast
20g salt

Method:

Mix dry ingredients except salt. Make a well, pour in the water, and begin mixing. Before the dough has really come together sprinkle on the salt and mix for 3 minutes. The dough should be soft and almost runny compared to most bread doughs. (As this is a wet dough, so it will develop impressive gluten just with this mixing and standing.)

Allow to rest for 30 mins. Oil an roasting tray well (too much is better than too little), and tip the dough into the middle. Put in a warm place (e.g. airing cupboard) for 20 mins.

With oiled or floured hands (I use flour if the dough risks being too soft) fold one edge into the middle, and repeat for the opposite edge. Turn 90° and repeat. Leave to rise in the warm place. (Repeat twice more, i.e. folding and rising three times).

Tip out onto floured surface and cut into three oblongs. push each one down and spread, repeat the foilding and place on the baking tray. Leave to rise 30 mins or until doubled. Dust with flour.

Bake in a 210°C oven for 20 mins (turning half way through) put a pan of boiling water on the base of the oven to develop a nice crust.

NB I make bogus baguettes using this recipe (with a little higher flour/water ratio) and just cutting in half (instead of three) and folding the final time only the long sides.

Healthiest Chocolate Treat: Research update and recipe

IMG_1014Phase two of my R & D efforts to produce the world’s healthiest chocolate treat saw the addition of beetroot, almond flour and licorice to reduce the sugar content. The result is not so much a muffin as a hot chocolate mousse, but so delicious it has to be bad for you, yet so healthy it’s criminal.

Hot Chocolate Mousse Recipe

Blitz in food processor:

  • 1 large or 2 small cooked beetroot
  • 1 large or 2 small avocado

Add:

  • 1 cup cacao
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 tsp licorice extract and 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour sieved together with 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar (you may be happy with less, or may need more – you be the judge, cookery is all about frequent tasting 😉
  • 1 cup milk (or milk substitute) add more till a slightly runny batter is produced

By hand mix in:

  • 1/3 cup cacao nibs

Makes enough to fill 12 large muffin cases. Cook at 170c for about half an hour (the time will vary a lot depending on the exact size of the veges etc… so again judgement is needed.

Result hard shelled soft and gooey chocolate mousses to eat with a spoon, decadent and delightful.

Health Warning

When you discover red in the toilet bowl, do NOT panic, you do NOT have ebola, beetroot does this if you eat enough, and you will not stop at just one or two of these treats.

If you want to make these even more decadently delicious, and can stand them being a tiny touch less outrageously healthy sprinkle with icing sugar.

Healthiest Chocolate Treat Ever: Current Research

Avocado Chocolate Muffin mix
Avocado Chocolate Muffin mix

For my current research project I am experimenting with substitutions with the aim of producing the healthiest chocolate treat ever.

I am using my standard chocolate muffin recipe as the starting and reference point.

My first step is was radical, I substituted avocado for the fat, milk and egg. Aiming at Vegan as well as healthy. So far results are encouraging the muffins are soft, almost creamy and chocolaty. (Just needing a little salt – hopefully not enough t be unhealthy – to counteract the vegetarian bitterness of the avocado.)

Replacing half the chocolate chips with cocoa nibs also worked well.

Now, what I need next is a sugar substitute. Would honey work do you think? And does Manuka honey retain its health benefits when heated?

For chocolate-lovers only

Perhaps practice makes (if not perfect) them look better...These cookies pack the most intense chocolate punch. They are not for people who think that white stuff is “chocolate”, even people who believe real chocolate can advertise how much milk it contains may balk, but those who love real high cacao solid dark chocolate should love them. They don’t look like much before they are cooked and are even less appealing when baked, but the taste and texture… Try some on a chocolate-lover near you 🙂

They are soft and crumbly, but so chocolatey…

  • 250g shortening (I used a mix of margarine and rice bran oil)
  • 140g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 50g cacao made up to 300g with plain flour (use less cacao for a milder chocolate hit)
  • 0.5-1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate cut into fragments and cacao nibs (again for those who want milder could try all chocolate fragments)

Each time you add an ingredient mix. (The easiest way is straight into the food processor and zap until the last item.)

Make into balls, smaller than golf balls (unless you want giant cookies). Place on baking sheet well apart, squash with two fingers or the base of a tumbler. Cook at 180 C for 12-15mins. They will still feel soft, but will harden on cooling.

They look dreadful (that’s why there are no photos), so you may want to do what we do to make brownies look respectable drench with icing sugar…  personally I leave them nude and hope that will put other people off, sadly Barbara was still happy to scoff half the last batch 🙁

PS Can anyone tell me a source of Fair Trade cacao nibs in NZ – googling suggests they are available in the USA but not here 🙁

Guilt free baking :)

There are even recipes with pictures for beginners :)
There are even recipes with pictures for beginners 🙂

OK, I’m sorry, this post is not about how to eat loads of fat and sugar yet not lose your youthful slenderness (or indeed any other “first-world problems”) it’s about baking with reduced oppression.

Most trade allows the rich and powerful to oppress the poor and weak. Trade ensures that the rich get richer, and (being impersonal) does not care if the poor get poorer. It is quite clear if you track almost any product grown in the Majority World that the price paid to the producer is peanuts compared to the profit paid to the sales and distribution entrepreneurs (i.e. “middle men/women”), it’s even peanuts compared to the wages paid to factory workers in richer places that convert the product into goods we buy.

FairTrade (and other schemes but they are the best known) seek to redress this balance by ensuring a decent price gets paid to producers.

Now to the “guilt free baking” part 🙂 The Big Fair Bake is a competition that is promoting Fair Trade.  Here’s what to do:

  • If you are a baker – enter.
  • If you eat and enjoy other people’s baking – get them to enter.
  • If you have a blog, website, use Facebook, Google+ etc. – make a link so your ‘friends’ can see.
  • If not – email a few people…

Quick delicious cookies

IMG_8820Here’s a basic, quick but delicious cookie dough.

  • 110g butter, ideally at room temperature (Vegans use margarine)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (yes, that is 1.5 tsp don’t stint the vanilla if like me you make these with nuts, of course if you use chocolate chips you could substitute almond essence)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Zap in food processor till well mixed, then add:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Briefly mix (very briefly in the machine or a bit more vigorously if by hand 😉 Then mix these in by hand, or use other “extras” (choc chips, other nuts, crystalised ginger…)

  • 1 cup wallnuts chopped

Roll into small balls and squash them on a lined baking sheet, they won’t rise or spread much in cooking. Bake at 170C for c.15 mins turning the sheet at half-time.

Be patient, though they are delicious warm and crumbly they are almost better when (nearly) cool. Since this is a quick recipe it only makes a few, to eat at one sitting. So you had better not copy me and be home alone whe you bake them, I said they were quick, easy and delicious, I did not say they were healthy 😉

Clotted cream and scones for a real Devon Cream Tea

Of course, though clotted cream is delicious on its own, on biscuits (especially slightly soft ginger nuts) or with just about anything sweet or semi-sweet you care to name, the absolute best way to eat it is as a Devonshire Cream Tea. No! Any Kiwis reading this who believe a Devon Cream Tea can be approximated using whipped cream, thickened cream or some other Ersatz product – forget it! It can’t for a Devonshire Cream Tea (or even its rival and near approximation a Cornish Cream Tea) you must have proper clotted cream. (Even the stuff they sell in tins and jars that comes from factories is a mere approximation to the real thing.

Here’s how you make a quick modern version. (The real thing is made in big enamel basins over a water bath, using fresh raw cream.)

Making clotted cream

  • Take a bottle of “Fresh Cream” from the supermarket.
  • Pour it into an oven proof bowl or casserole that will allow the quantity you have to fill it 3-6cms deep
  • Put it in the oven at 80C (or if you are not sure of your thermostat maybe 70C for longer)
  • Be patient
  • …be very patient
  • Gradually the delicious “clots” will form as a skin on the cream
  • When you can be patient no longer (or after 8 hours or so) scoop off the clotted cream into a serving bowl

Nb. don’t worry if some ordinary cream is mixed with the clots the variability of texture and taste is part of the joy (part that mass-produced cream, in these days of standardised homogenised industrial dairying, cannot really deliver).

Once it’s cool (be patient again!) eat with jam (traditionally strawberry, but your favorite is probably OK) on scones.
[PS the comment below asking about clotted cream icecreams prompts me to add this note: If you are careful in scooping off only the skin you will end up with a very hard homogeneous product like commercial clotted cream. The ideal is to scoop up some of the runny cream as well each time, giving a good approximation of the texture of real farmhouse cream 🙂 and the extra benefit of both greater spreadability and a slightly more economical product!]
There is considerable debate between those who put the jam on top of the cream as decoration, and those (perhaps because they value lower calories over taste, heretics!) who use the cream as decoration – provided there are approximately equal loads of cream and jam (in this ecumenical and tolerant age) either can be permitted 😉
If you don’t have a good recipe for scones, and I had no need of one before I discovered the secret of making clotted cream 🙂 here’s one adapted from Allyson Gofton.
sconesScone recipe
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
50 grams butter (or if you must margarine)
¾-1 cup goats whey or milk (ideally slightly soured – I remember my granny saving “off” milk for making her famous scones)
  • Heat the oven to 230C
  • Put the flour, baking powder and salt into the food processor, zap briefly to mix and airate.
  • Add the butter and zap till it becomes crumbs.
  • Make a well in the centre, pour in the whey or milk (start with 2/4 cup
  • Mix quickly with spatula to make a soft dough.If you need to add a little more liquid.
  • On a floured surface roll to 2-4cms thick (depending how big you like your scones).  Do not flatten be gentle!
  • Cut into 5cm rounds (or squares) and put on a greased baking tray. Left over whey or Brush with milk to glaze.
  • Bake at 230ºC for 10-15 minutes until cooked, turning the tray round at half-time.
  • Cool on a rack till you can comfortably eat them. They can be crisped and warmed if you make them ahead of time.

Really quick and easy chocolate muffins

This recipe is as quick and easy as it gets. Just turn the oven to 170C, get a muffin tin (I love the bendy silicone ones, so easy to get the muffins out 🙂 and/or some paper muffin cups.  Sieve the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl:

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 5 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 1/2-1 cup cacao (depending on how chocolatey you like them)
  • 1 cup sugar (I use dark brown for a lovely warm sweetness)
  • 1/2-1 cup chocolate chips or cut up chocolate bar

Then mix lightly and make a “well”. Pour in:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1 egg

Stir, as gently as possible, till mixed. Spoon into the baking tin/cups. Makes 12 middling size muffins. Sprinkle with sugar or almond slivers. Bake about 15-20 mins till dry but still soft (not moist and squishy). If this batch are dry try again cooking less, till perfect or till you need a break from chocolate 😉

Do use FairTrade cacao and chocolate, so they don’t depend on slave (or near-slave) child labour.  And try to keep some for tomorrow (for the sake of your own weight)!

Emergency chocolate cake

  • 75g butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 cup milk

Throw these in a food processor and zap till well blended (it is easier if the butter is at room temperature (but for Emergency Chocolate Cake it usually isn’t 😉

Grease a middling size microwave-proof bowl, if you want to use a cake sized bowl then make double quantity.

Then add to the food processor:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Zap into a thick batter consistency, if it is solid add a little more milk (you can use soya etc. milk or water and milk powder).

Pour into bowl, and microwave on high for 2-3 mins till the top is firm. Cool then release onto a plate, eat while still warm, if you need a topping make extra mixture and use that (uncooked).