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Over the Moon(cake)

1 Oct

September 19th was the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated by Chinese communities with lanterns and the giving and eating of mooncakes, round pastries traditionally filled with sweet bean or lotus pastes which could be considered the Chinese equivalent of fruitcake.

Durian Snowskin Mooncake

Behold, the most Asian thing I’ve eaten

The gift-giving aspect of mooncakes has led to something of an arms race in the packaging and novelty-flavor factor. Mooncakes come in resplendent boxes (we’re using one of them, actually a little chest of drawers, to store Mr. SOK’s cuff links) and are offered in ever more exotic flavors; non-Chinese franchises like StarbucksHäagen-Dazs, and Godiva have gotten in on the action with modern offerings like chocolate fillings and ice cream mooncakes.

The original “modern” mooncake is the snowskin mooncake, which is actually a cousin of mochi ice cream: an ice cream filling is surrounded by a soft, slightly sticky wrapper made with glutinous rice flour. Although buying your own mooncake is kind of like throwing yourself a shower, I had to get the Hello Kitty durian snowskin mooncake, which I think is the most Asian food item I’ve had.

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A Cronut™ by any other name…

29 Aug
The Breakfast (top) and Kaya (bottom) KLonuts

The Breakfast (top) and Kaya (bottom) KLonuts

Malaysians love trendy things, and food, so it’s no surprise that cronuts have debuted here, under the non-trademarked name KLonut, which is a play on the city of origin (Kuala Lumpur) and not Asian pronunciation. They’re available at the equally punnily named Dessert Storm. I’d had my eye on them for a while, and then a college friend came for a visit and gave me my excuse to try them out. Their signature flavor is peanut butter and caramel, but I went with the more “localized” flavors of the week, The Breakfast and the Kaya. I mean, why get a normal cronut when you can get something Malaysian? The Breakfast was filled with Milo-flavored custard and topped with condensed milk and bits of Milo cereal — Malaysia’s version of Cocoa Krispies — while the Kaya was filled with a coconut custard.

So, are cronuts/KLonuts/doissants worth queuing up for, as they do in New York and London? (And have I been living in Malaysia too long, now that I’m saying “queue” instead of “line”?) Now that I have a baby in tow, I’m going to say no, as there is no foodstuff I’m willing to wait for with a potentially cranky infant, even dim sum at Tim Ho Wan’s. Luckily, there was no such crowd at Dessert Storm. We tasted The Breakfast first.

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Oh, Miso Ice Cream!

31 May


I seem to be on a popsicle kick lately. One of the supermarkets I frequent in KL has a fancy popsicle stand called G-Stick, and they had a limited edition run of Japanese-themed popsicles, including Miso Hazelnut, Wasabi, and…Lavender. (I guess Hokkaido is famous for its lavender fields, but it’s not the first thing I think of when imagining Japanese flavors.) I wasn’t too impressed with my last wasabi-flavored sweets experience, so I went with the miso.

ImageMiso is a fermented soybean paste that most people have probably encountered in the form of miso soup. It’s salty and packed with umami, and in Japanese cooking, it’s often combined with sugar for a savory-sweet flavoring; misoyaki butterfish is a good example. Miso also pairs well with fats, like mayonnaise, so miso ice cream isn’t actually that much of a stretch.

The actual product didn’t have as strong of a miso flavor as I expected. It tasted a bit like salted caramel ice cream, but with a stronger nutty/savory undertone. What I found weirder than the miso ice cream was the wee belt of nori (seaweed). I understand that it makes a cute accent, but I think chocolate would have paired better with the ice cream. Maybe the nori should have been on the wasabi popsicle, maybe with a sushi rice-flavored glaze for the full effect? G-Stick, are you up for the challenge?

Let’s blow this popsicle stand

20 May

OMG, the baby is asleep! Quick, write a blog post!

Potong popsicle stand

In Malaysia, the icy treat we know as a popsicle is called an ais krim potong (literally, chopped ice cream). For whatever reason, they’re usually round — maybe they’re made in the same molds as tube ice? — and come in classic flavors like red bean, yam, and black mochi rice. (What can I say, Asians do sweets a little bit differently.)

As in the West (plus Australia), someone has decided to do an artisan/hipster take on the lowly potong in KL, and they’re calling themselves — what else? — The Potong. (That’s their adorably twee popsicle cart above.) The coconut chocolate flavor appears to be the crowd favorite, as it’s always sold out, but I’m always drawn to their seasonal flavors like pineapple chili.

Potong popsicle

It’s all about the packaging.

Their most recent line, for spring, featured floral flavors; I tried the lychee with rose water. I was a little nervous because rose water confections often taste like soap, but the floral notes were pretty subdued; the orange zest tended to dominate the more subtle flavors of the lychee and the rose. Still, it’s hard to resist such a poetic combination. The Potong, I’m looking forward to your summer collection.

Green Tea Oreo “Soft Cookies”

8 Nov

I can’t remember where I heard about this, but apparently Oreo is trying to cash in on the whoopie pie fad by introducing a variation they’re calling “soft cookies.” They’re also trying new ways to appeal to the growing Asian market (even including directions on how to eat an Oreo in their ads and packaging). I was shopping in the Japanese foods aisle of my local supermarket and I saw a bag of these in matcha, or green tea, flavor, and being as I have developed an enormous sweet tooth over the past 8 months (and have always been a sucker for novelty snacks), I couldn’t resist picking up a bag.

As you can see, they’re basically itty-bitty whoopie pies. The cookie portion tastes like, well, a soft version of the Oreo Original—not very sweet, with a hing of chocolate. The filling is also surprisingly restrained in sweetness, with the pleasant bitterness of green tea, and has a more whipped texture than the paste in the middle of the Oreo Original. The cookie could stand to be a bit softer, and I wanted more filling, but I think Oreo has something going here. I’m one of those freaks who likes the cookie portion but not the frosting. Though my mother would never have allowed Oreos in the house, I did get them occasionally at school (or at my after-school program), and I would try to find someone to split them with, or try to peel off the offending layer somehow. Needless to say, I am not a fan of Double Stuf.

I don’t know if the green tea flavor is limited to the Asian market, or if the Oreo Soft has debuted in the US at all. Maybe one of my Western readers could do some reconnaissance?

SOK Bake Sale, Part 2: Pandan Cupcakes with Gula Melaka Frosting

12 Sep

Whoopie pies weren’t enough for me, I guess. I decided to bake cupcakes the very next day, for a friend who’s moving back to the US. I wanted to make her something Malaysia-inspired, and, I admit, I was looking for an excuse to make this cake from Life is Great, which I found when I was making pandan-flavored madelines (which will have to be a later post, since I forgot to take a photo). Take a look at the link. It’s a gorgeous cake that practically screams “bake me!”.

My poor denuded pandan plant

Pandan, called screwpine in English, is an herb used widely across Southeast Asia in both sweet and savory dishes. (It’s also an effective deodorant and insect repellent; apparently one of the common ways to rid your car of durian smell is to line the seats with pandan leaves.) Rohani at Bayan Indah described it as “the vanilla of the tropics,” not so much because of its aroma—nothing like vanilla—but because of its ubiquity. And, much like vanilla, trying to describe pandan flavor is difficult. It’s sort of an herb-y, almost musty flavoring; think of freshly steamed basmati or jasmine rice. To make pandan “extract,” you take 10 to 15 leaves and grind them in a mortar and pestle, or if you’re lazy like me, you blend it to a pulp.

The creepily green pandan extract. Apologies for the dark photo.

The resulting liquid is a vibrant emerald green, almost unnatural. (The only other edible thing I can think of that’s this green is spirulina.) The color holds during cooking; anything flavored with pandan extract is usually bright green. Unfortunately, I had too much batter for the green to come through; while there was a barely perceptible hint of color in the cupcake, for the most part it looked like plain butter cake. At least it tasted like pandan, even if I didn’t get the visual hit.

The tasty but disappointingly not-green final product

I topped the cupcakes with gula melaka Swiss meringue buttercream, putting the previous day’s lessons into action. When my frosting started curdling, I walked away and Skyped my husband and his family; by the time I came back, the butter was sufficiently warm, and the frosting came together without incident. And it tasted divine. SMBC, as I mentioned before, is like warm ice cream, and gula melaka tastes like a cross between maple syrup and brown sugar. The frosting was definitely what the British call “moreish,” as in, “I’m going to eat more of this straight from the tub.” Together, the caramel of the frosting and the pandan cake were a classic pair. I’m going to have to work on my cake-decorating skills, though; the coconut garnish that you see in the photo is to cover up the fact that I can’t seem to frost a cupcake without bursting the ziplock bag I’m using in lieu of a proper pastry bag. Maybe the lesson here is that I need to invest in pastry bags?

SOK Bake Sale, Part 1: Chocolate-Passionfruit Whoopie Pies

10 Sep

I’ve been on something of a baking kick lately, thanks to a newfound sweet tooth coupled with actually having some events to bake for. (Even on my most dedicated sweets binge, I find it hard to finish a dozen cupcakes while they’re still fresh.) I wanted to bring something festive to a baby shower, but wanted to try my hand at something new, so I decided to make some whoopie pies. These have been something of a trend lately, though not as ubiquitous as cupcakes or macarons; it’s frosting sandwiched between two cake-cookies (basically, cake batter baked like a drop cookie). Though the classic combo is chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, à la Oreos or Ding Dongs, but any combination that you would use for a cake will work; pumpkin and red velvet are especially popular. I’ve been wanting to make something with passionfruit, and everyone loves chocolate, so chocolate and passionfruit it was.

The cake portion of the whoopie pies

First I baked the cake portion, using this recipe from Baked Explorations, via The Modern Domestic. I omitted both the hot coffee and the coffee powder and used extra buttermilk instead. The batter was sticky as the dickens (they don’t call it devil’s food for nothing), but they baked up beautifully—fluffy but not dry.

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