Thursday, October 30, 2008

My 3rd Daring Bakers' challenge - procrastinating pizza!

I've done it! I've done it! Well, try filming your own pizza-tossing video - I started 'fisting' one piece of the overnight-proofed dough (don't look at me like that; it's in the instructions to 'gently twirl it atop your floured fists', OK?).

Went out to turn on the video-mode on the camera on a Danish cookie tin on the dining table. Went back to the kitchen countertop to continue stretching the dough, which, by the way, was very soft and dangerously getting thinner and thinner. By the time I got in front of the camera, two holes had formed in the middle.

Hey! As it was the first piece of pizza dough I've ever made from scratch in my life, I didn't really care. (There are always the next two pieces to improve on.) Some flour got on the floor, I later discovered. Wipe, wipe, wipe!

Halloween pizza, it looks like. Double-yikes!

Then I ran out to buy some basil leaves to make my own pesto sauce, but the supermarket had run out of it, so I bought a small jar of Genovese pesto (cheating! I know). Also snatched up a pack of grated 'pizza cheese' (again it felt like cheating 'coz maybe I should artfully choose a nice chunk o' cheese and grate it myself? Sorry, it'd been snowing last night and today's been cold and lazy) and several white button mushrooms (at least this is fresh and I had to cut it myself).

Arrived home to further stretch the edges of the dangerously thin pizza dough. (The first mistake I had made yesterday was to put the three pieces of dough on semolina instead of on parchment in a pan which was covered in plastic and left overnight in the fridge.) It was dotted with semolina on one side, heh heh.

I strew semolina on an oven tray and placed the poor oval-shaped stretched dough on it. At least it wasn't amoeba shaped, all right? Then I painted some pesto on most of it. Since I didn't have tomato pizza sauce on hand, I squirted a wee bit of Heinz tomato ketchup on one corner (just to see what it'd taste like, ha ha, bad, I know). Arranged the sliced mushroom in such a way that it covered the smaller holes in the dough (more cheating!) and sprinkled some cheese where there were no holes. The centre is somewhat paper thin. I wondered how it'd work out in the hot, hot oven. Mmm...

Does anyone else see a face in the left mackerel pizza?

Popped the tray in the 220-degrees-C oven. After three minutes, I took the tray out and turned it around for even heating. Another three minutes and the centre was getting brown but the edges weren't coloured yet, so I added another two minutes but lowered the heat by 10 degrees. As a result the centre was brown, thin and crispy while the rest was almost brown, slightly chewy and quite thin. The ketchup-smeared bit tasted sweet - yikes! Enjoyed eating it very much - almost all gone. Will make the other two tonight for the poor unsuspecting other half. *cue: evil laughter*

How the pizza would have looked had it been a dog.

P.S. Do you think he'll want Heinz ketchup on his? *batting eyelashes innocently* (I mean the man, not the dog.)

In the end, he asked for Quattro Stagione (four seasons) and he got one with mackerel in tomato sauce and one with pesto, fresh button mushrooms, fresh sliced tomato, cheese and - you guessed it! - a small patch of Heinz tomato ketchup. (Oh, what? I don't take orders very well? Mmmff!) Silly me forgot to add some dried Italian herbs to Italianise it. But it must have tasted OK 'coz the man ate more than I thought humanly possible. (Myself, I'm all pizza-ed out for the next two months.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Soul-scrubbing Swiss cleanliness + untraditional Zopf bread baking

The Swiss are remarkable for their diligence. As they are descended from mountain folk who had to plan ahead to keep food on the table during the wintry months, hard work is a cultural trait. An off-shoot of this is their obsession with cleanliness and the cleaning task.

Someone is always cleaning something. Every couple of months, we are told to remove our car from the basement garage for a few hours so that cleaners can, well, clean it out. Never mind that it is still quite spotless.

Once every few weeks we need to clear the stuff away from our front door as cleaners come in to vacuum and wash the stairwell, landings and lift in our low-rise apartment building.

We came across this outdoor toilet in the forest next to a meadow. Notice the toilet brush next to it? No, we didn't lift the cover to see if it's like a regular WC with water in it.

One friend, when looking at a flat for rent, asked if the white-tiled floor was easy to clean. The answer was, "Yes, of course." She hadn't counted on how frequently she had to clean it as every single strand of hair that falls can clearly be seen on it.
If you want to make a coffee appointment with a Swiss woman, she probably can't make it this Thursday as she's cleaning her apartment. Friday? Oh, no, she's doing the laundry. If she likes you well enough, she might pencil you in three weeks from now.

Bovine Rambo? A cow with horn guards or growth guides on Zugerberg (mountain).

I, being totally, irrevocably, cleaning challenged, cannot hope to keep up, let alone compete, with these hyper-hygienic folk. So, to immerse myself more in the quaint and interesting Swiss culture, I opted to make Zopf, the braid bread.

Zopf (Braid Bread)


500g Zopf or bread flour
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 packet of dried yeast (7g)
300ml milk, lukewarm
50g softened butter
an eggyolk mixed with a tbs of water for brushing

Mix the yeast with the lukewarm milk in a big bowl. Mix flour with sugar and salt. When milk has bubbled up a bit, add the flour mixture and butter. Mix till you get a maleable lump. Knead for 10 minutes. Leave in the oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap for an hour in a warm place or till doubled in volume.
With floured hands, divide dough into two long ropes. Twist them together, then double up and twist again. Leave to rise again for about 30-40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 210 degrees C. Brush top of braid with egg-yolk mix. Bake on parchment for 30-40 minutes. Bottom should sound kind of hollow when knocked with a knuckle.

I forgot to mix the eggyolk with water, so the 'paint' looks a bit thick and unsightly. I also used a loaf pan to contain the braid, so I wouldn't get pointy ends or funny shaped slices. (Swiss grandpas wouldn't be pleased.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Look, Ma, no eggs! Or scones won't break my bones

A tree in Cham lake park provides a hiding place in summer and autumn but will be bare in winter and early spring.

Fall colours are mellow and warm.

He says scouns and I say skons. But then he's German - he might as well say skonnes. Eek.

Well, anyway, after a work trip to California and meeting a couple of friends in Seattle, he came home with a book about their special little hotel, a boutique hotel - a boutel, you might be tempted to say - which they gave him (the book, not the hotel).

(right) A leafy arbor above Lorzen river in Cham, Switzerland.

(above) The Millhouse near Carew Castle, Wales.

In it is an irresistible recipe by their chef in residence. Our not-so-recent trip to Cardiff to attend a friend's lovely wedding included a few forays into the Welsh countryside and sampling some afternoon milky tea with freshly baked scones. So it was partly nostalgia (and a nod to scones with my friend Xeus at The Teapot Cafe in SS2 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia) that made me bake those beckoning tea treats.

No-Egg Flaky Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tbs sugar
5 tbs unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup currants or dried cranberries
whipping cream for brushing the scones and to serve

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (195-200 degrees C).
Mix with a whisk in a big bowl the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
Cut in butter with a butter knife in each hand until mix looks like coarse crumbs.
Pour in cream and fold in everything until just incorporated. Do NOT overmix.
If mixture seems a little dry, add a little more cream.
Fold currants or cranberries into batter.
Press the dough in 3 or 4 batches on lightly floured board 1 1/4-inch (3cm) thick. Cut into triangles. All in all about 8-16 scones, depending on size (enough for 4 hungry mouths).
Place scones on ungreased cookie parchment. Brush tops with a bit of cream.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Let cool on a rack.
Serve while still warm with whipped cream, clotted cream or homemade marmalade - and you'll feel like you're floating on heaven's best cushion.

Nestled in the boutique hotel book is also a recipe for grapefruit and orange marmalade. Here's the recipe reproduced (in my own words) in honour of FatBoyBakes:

Grapefruit-Orange Marmalade

500-600g of oranges including one pink grapefruit
400-500g of sugar or raw sugar (depending on how sweet your tooth is)

Wash and dry the fruit with a clean towel. Cut the oranges into 8 wedges and cut 1mm slices from those. Cut the grapefruit into wedges and then into 8mm chunks.
The membranes and seeds (don't discard them when you cut the fruit) of the citrus fruit contain pectin, so you don't need anything other than sugar.
Then you boil the living daylights out of the mixture on low heat for about 2 hours or till it looks thick enough for your liking, giving it a stir once every 10 minutes or so. Then carefully ladle into clean dry jars with metal covers leaving 1cm headroom. Cover and leave to cool.
I feel better storing the jars in the fridge after that, but apparently you don't have to. Makes about 650ml of marmie (3 smallish jars).

If you don't like your marmie so bitter, first take off (and reserve) the peel with a potato peeler and then discard HALF of the white covering underneath. I suggest cutting the orange peel finer than the grapefruit peel 'coz the orange peel takes forever to get soft.

(left) Marmie with slices of bread
(above) Lavash done Alexa-style with herb leaves
(above right) Lavash done thick and muscly - for strong jaws. ^_^

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fussy Flo Heatherfuss gets flustered

Flo Heatherfuss could not find her shoes. They were medium-heeled, strappy and red with little silver buckles on the front.

“Mother, have you seen my red shoes?”

“No, dear. Where did you last leave them?”

“In the closet by the front door. A few nights ago. They’re no longer there.”

“Mmm… I don’t know. Do you think Maddie could’ve borrowed them?”

“She wouldn’t dare.” Flo's nostril's flared.

“Well, ask her and see.”

“Okay. Is she here now?”

“No. She’ll be in tomorrow at ten. She’s scheduled to do the windows then.”

Clad in her favourite Italian-fan socks, Flo rummaged in her shoe cupboard and chose a pair of navy loafers to go with her slate-grey coat. Slamming the front door after her – still annoyed at not finding her silver buckled shoes – she left for the Hairy Bean pub three blocks away from her mother’s townhouse. At thirty-four years old, she was tall, lean and brunette with a no-nonsense demeanour. She had a purposeful stride although she had no real purpose going to the pub other than to sip a cool lager.

Who should be sitting at the far end of the bar but Reggie Wanderlust, someone she once dated briefly. Flo tried to pretend she didn’t see him and ordered a beer but Reggie came up to her stool and said, “Hullo, Flo. Didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Uh, hi, Reggie.” Flo kept her eyes on the shelves of bottles behind the bar but Reggie made to sit next to her. She coughed, held out a hand and said, “Hope you don’t mind but today I would like to be by myself.”

“Oh, I see. Very well.” Reggie moved four stools away and sat down with a glum expression. He ordered a slice of quark cake from the bar-owner Harry Bean.

A football match from the national league was showing quietly on the battered television set in a corner of the bar. Flo looked at the screen once in a while as she drank her cold beer. Then the door creaked open and someone shuffled in. Startled, Flo realised it was Heinrich Hundfutter, the man who worked three cubicles away from her desk at her office. He sported a shock of dark hair and his features were well balanced and pleasant. At first, he did not recognize her and then he did a doubletake.

“Oh, hi. You’re Flo, aren’t you, from the office?”

“Yes, I am. Hi, Heinrich. Are you a regular here?”

“Yes… no. Well, I come here once in a while, I guess. Hey, may I sit here?”

Flo avoided looking at Reggie, who was intently studying them while shovelling cake between his crackly lips, when she said, “Yes. Wouldn’t mind if you did.”

Suddenly she felt bashful and knew not what else to say. Luckily for her, Heinrich complimented her on her sky-coloured form-fitting dress with a V-neck. She said thanks and blushed visibly. All this was caught the attention of Reggie, who looked morose despite the deliciously moist cake which was fast disappearing from his plate.

Flo was feeling flushed and nervous; she wasn’t sure why. Heinrich kept the conversation going, talking about the latest news at their workplace. She was hardly following the conversation or holding up her end, merely giving nondescript ums and ahs to punctuate Heinrich’s chatter. After a while, he started giving his watch little sneaking glances which did not escape Flo’s notice.

“Are you waiting for someone?” she asked with a wrinkled brow, hoping the answer would be no, but - alas! - he said yes. Apologetically he added, “I’m supposed to meet a friend here, but she’s late.”

As the evening wore on, the television droned and Reggie, having now ordered a slice of Harry’s popular poppyseed cake, kept up his observation of Flo and Heinrich. Flo, in the meantime, focused her attention on the beautiful sunflower Harry had placed in a tube-like black vase.

The door of the pub swung open every so often and handsome Heinrich kept swiveling his head to see if his date had arrived. Flo started to feel disconcerted. She hoped that his date would never come, but then again he was already distracted, no longer the attentive man he was at the beginning of their chat. She noticed he wore the kind of cotton-knit sweater that she liked, with the collar tips of his shirt tucked under the high U-neck. He also wore a rather pleasant cologne which she could detect above and beyond the stale beer and faint rancid oil smells of the place.

The bar was filling up with half-smart-looking men and women in high heels. Finally, the door creaked open one more time. Both Henry and Flo turned their heads to look. Henry smiled and Flo frowned. The attractive woman breezed in and gave Henry a peck on the cheek. She noticed Flo and said hi coolly.

Flo could hardly say a civil hullo in return for she was looking at the young woman’s feet, the toenails of which were painted a brilliant red – to go with the silver-buckled strappy red sandals that Flo had been searching for earlier in the day. Heinrich’s date was Maddie Suess, the part-time househelp of Flo’s mum. Flustered and speechless, Flo left the pub. She passed a pond and felt like the weeds mired at its edge - the reflection was almost exactly like the real thing.


My old living-room

My old living-room
In Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

A cherished dream

A cherished dream
To live on a pale beach by a crystal clear sea. (This was taken on the east coast of Johor state, Malaysia.)