May 13, 2011

Steamed Layered Cake/Kueh Lapis

This steamed layered rice cake is a favorite hawker food in Malaysia and it's one of my favorite. I remembered fondly how I would gingerly peel each layer off and eating it with small bites. I've tried several attempts making this over the years and the cake ended up in the trash. My friends told me that it requires some skills in adjusting the batter mixture and steaming each layers. I am not going to give up without another try at it. I stumbled upon Madam Kwong's recipe and it seems to work. I made some adjustment to the recipe and it turns out quite beautiful--but not quite as perfect to the ones back home.
Ingredients: (adapted from Mdm. Kwong's)
450 gm rice flour
150 gm tapioca flour
3 cups sugar
1 can (400ml) coconut milk
½ tsp. salt
2½ cups water
2 screwpine leaves (pandan)
A 9-inch round pan (greased thinly with cooking oil)
Steamer with rack and lid
food coloring (red, green)
¼ tsp. pandan paste
1.Combine water, pandan leaves and sugar in a saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolved completely. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Discard the pandan leaves.
2. Mix the the 2 types of flours, salt and coconut together. Beat or mix until the mixture is free from lumps. Then stir in the sugar mixture whisk well to mix. The mixture should not be too thick and runny, but just enough to coat the back of the ladle or spoon. Add and adjust water if necessary to make a total of mixture to measure about 4 cups. Strain through a sieve and allow mixture to sit for about 15 minutes.
3. Divide the mixture into 3 portions: ½ cup for red coloring; 1½ cups for green coloring and a tsp. of pandan paste; 2¼ cups, no coloring
4. Add enough water to the bottom tray of the steamer and bring to a boil. Put the baking pan in the top layer and allow to heat up the pan.
5. Measure ½ cup of the white mixture and pour into the pan and cover lid to steam for 3 minutes. When the first layer begins to thicken and set on top, remove lid and pour in ½ cup of the green layer. Cover lid and steam for 3 minutes. When the third layer begins to thicken and set on top, add ½ cup of mixture with no coloring. Repeat the steps and procedure, alternating green and white mixture until all the batter is used up. The final and the last layer is red.
6. After the final layer is set, steam further for another 15 minutes. Remove the lid and wipe excess moisture and cover again to finish steaming.
7. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares or diamond-shaped pieces.
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May 1, 2011

Shaker Lemon Pie

I did some research and found the origin of this pie, it was invented in the early 1800’s by the Shakers. The Shakers are a religious group who believes in pacifism and the simplicity of communal living. They believe in giving up all their worldly goods and take up the cross of celibacy. There was an article about this pie by Sue Hubbell who traveled the country back roads with her dog. Her quest is to search for pies and write about them in her book, "From Here to There and Back Again". Here's an excerpt about this pie:
“The Shakers invented this pie back in the early eighteen-hundreds when they began trading goods they grew or manufactured for the few necessities they couldn’t produce. Lemons, which they considered an important item in a healthy diet, were one of the ‘world’s goods’ they needed. Their lemons came all the way from New Orleans and were so dear that the Shakers believed it a sin to waste any part of them, so they devised a recipe that would use the whole lemon.”
I had this tasty and delightful pie at Camino restaurant in Oakland. It has a nicely baked shell made from buckwheat and the inside is a custard-like filling with thinly sliced whole lemons. I am surprised that the lemon rinds didn’t taste bitter at all; instead it is has a tantalizing sweetness with a note of tartness and almost melts in your mouth. I asked the waitress how they make the lemons tastes so good and they told me the trick is to macerate the lemons with sugar overnight. This process allows the lemons to absorb the flavor and the sugar helps breaks down some of the tartness.
The recipe calls for Meyer lemons because they are less acidic and have a milder and thinner-skin than the regular lemons you find in the supermarkets. The Meyer lemon is a reasonably hardy plant and they do relatively well in California's sunny and warm climate. I enjoyed the pie so much as Camino. I thought I would try making this at home. I wasn't able to get some buckwheat flour, so I just have to settle for the basic crust recipe. If you want a gluten-free crust, substitute the flour with buckwheat instead. Enjoy!
Ingredients: (inspired and adapted from Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
3 large Meyer lemons
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. melted butter
8-inch pie dish
Dough: (8-inch pie)
2 cups all-purpose flour (or buckwheat)
½ cup shortening
6 Tbsp. ice cold water
½ tsp. salt
some flour for rolling
1. Wash and scrub lemons thoroughly, dry with paper towels. Slice lemons thinly and discard seeds. Add the slices of lemons in a bowl and add sugar. Gently mix to incorporate the sugar with the lemons, cover and leave to mascerate for at least a day in the refrigerator.
2. After a day's of mascerating, the lemons are now ready. In a bowl, mix together egg, melted butter and flour until mixture is free from lumps. Pour this into the lemon mixture. Combined gently to mix and set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 450 °F. In a large mixing bowl, add flour, shortening and salt. Cut shortening with a pastry cutter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add water a litte at a time until mixture begins to stick together. Note: It is ready when dough holds together when pinch with fingers. Add more water if the dough doesn't hold together. Gently knead dough to form into a ball, remove and place on a lightly floured surface.
4. Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Cover and let it sit at room temperature for about 5-8 minutes. Dust rolling pin with some flour and roll dough into 10-inch circle. Carefully place onto a 9-inch pie plate. Trim the extra dough around the pie dish. Pour the lemon-sugar mixture onto the pie dish, spreading out the lemons evenly.
5. Roll out the second dough, as before. Place this over the top of the lemon filling in the pie. Pinch top and bottom of pie rounds firmly to seal around the edges. Flute and decorate the edge of the crusts. Using a fork poke some holes on the top to allow steam from the cooking to escape.
6. Brush pie surface with egg wash, sprinkle some sugar lightly on top. Bake in the center of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375°F (350° if using glass dish) and bake further for another 25-30 minutes until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and set out to cool completely before serving.
Cooks tips: I left my lemons in the fridge for two days and it's still okay. I took a small teaspoon of the mixture and add some water and ice to it and I have a refreshing lemonade.
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