Tuesday, January 13, 2009
New Year's Resolutions, and some seasonal surprise
The new year is here, and I finally came up with a few resolutions I would like to achieve this year.
1. Blog more regularly. Actually, just blog more. Yes, I know, I know.
2. Attempt making more intricate gateaux/desserts at home. I am usually very lazy when it comes to making multi-component desserts at home because firstly I would have to do all the dishes, and secondly, I usually crave comfort food when I am at home, thus instant gratification were the words of the day last year.
3.Get a step closer to my dream of opening a contemporary patisserie.
4.Bake more seasonally, creatively, and sustainably.
5. Frequent the farmers' market more, well, frequently.
On another note, my friend Mallory at The Salty Cod has rallied me to participate in Jugalbandi's Click! The Photo Event, and this month's theme is RED. So what more appropriate than featuring the spoils of summer produce in Australia?
But after splurging on these fruits (and some luscious mangoes too), I have to justify their purchase by making something with them. I decided to start with an old nemesis: strawberry daifuku, or Japansese rice cake with bean paste and strawberry filling. I have always been mesmerised and obsessed with Japanese wagashi (traditional sweets), because not only are they hand-crafted with utmost meticulous care; their shape, colour and appearance reflect both simplicty and seasonality to the highest order. I have always wanted to learn the skills to make these little beauties, but for the longest time, I could not find any books which deliver its instructions in English.
Well, I still could not actually. But my persistence finally paid off. On my last vacation home to Jakarta, Indonesia, I met the executive chef of the newly opened Ritz Carlton Jakarta, who happened to be Japanese, and who coincidentally also runs a newly opened cooking school which offer short courses in traditional Japanese sweets---aka wagashi!!
So I immediately signed up for two items: strawberry daifuku and a spring wagashi called kiku. So far I have stored what I learnt in the recesses of my brain, but last week, in the face of a punnet of rapidly ripening strawberries and the prospect of having to make a light, easy-to-eat summer dessert for a picnic slash movie at Moonlight Cinema at the Royal Botanical Gardens, I decided to make these old favourites of mine. I have modified the recipe and method to make the sticky dough easier to handle, and replaced the red bean paste with white bean paste, which I think complements the strawberries better. Not only is this sweet light, healthy, completely gluten-free (here's to you, Mallory!!), it is so delicious I could not stop eating them!! You can also adjust the sugar to your own liking, or omit them from the dough. I would, however, recommend not to completely remove them from the bean paste, just for that bit of sweetness that makes life so much sweeter!!
For the skin
125g dango-ko (a mixture of glutinous and non-glitunous rice flour. In general, shiratama-ko is the preferred flour to make daifuku, but I discovered that the skin made out of dango-ko is easier to handle, with minimal sacrifice to the glutinous texture)
125g confectioners' or icing sugar
Potato starch, to dust
For the filling
300g lima beans, soaked for 6-8 hours in cold water, skin stripped off
100g caster sugar
13 small strawberies, stemmed and hulled
Place lima beans and soaking water in a stock pot and boil. After boiling point, add more water (about 250-300g), and continue heating. Bring up to boil again, then strain off liquid and immediately refresh beans in cold water. Soak the beans in cold water for about 5 minutes. Return the beans to the stock pot, fill with plenty more water, and simmer at low heat until beans are tender and crumble easily. If you are unsure, it is better to simmer the beans a little bit longer to ensure a smooth paste. Strain off the water and place beans into a large bowl. Add some cold water into the bowl, stir and wait a minute or two until bean paste settles at the bottom. Skim off any floating impurities off the surface of the water. Repeat three to four times until the the top layer is free of impurities. Place a large, clean tea towel over a bowl, and pour the bean paste. Squeeze hard to ensure all the water is removed from the bean paste. Make sugar syrup by combining water and caster sugar in a saucepan until boiling. Add half of the raw bean paste into the boiling sugar syrup, stir to combine, and boil again while stirring continuously. Add the rest of the raw bean paste into the mix and continue to mix at low heat. Continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated. A good way of telling is to bear in mind that the paste has to be moulded around the strawberries---thus you don't want it to be too wet or too dry and crumbly. Cool down, and divide paste into 13 equal portions. Roll into balls, and flatten slightly. Set strawberries on top of disks, and mould bean paste around strawberries, leaving a portion of the tip uncovered. Refrigerate while you get the skin ready.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well, and place in a steamer. Depending on your flour, you might need more or less water. If unsure, it is better to add more water, as this will only affect the steaming time required, and not have any effect on the texture of the skin. Steam for 20 minutes, checking and stirring every 5 minutes to ensure that skin is steaming evenly. In the meantime, wet a large tea towel and dust work surface with potato starch. Transfer dough into the center of the wet tea towel. Be very careful as dough will be very hot and sticky. Fold the tea towel into two, with the dough encased inside, and roll the dough into a log. Cut this log into 13 equal portions. Work with a little at a time, and keep the rest of the dough covered. Taking a piece, flatten into a round disc and set onto the dusted surface (roll it into a ball first if you need to---if dough is too sticky, encase it in the wet cloth and use it to help you roll it into a ball.) Stretch the dough out a little, and set the tip of the strawberry down on the surface of the disc. Pull up the sides so that they join together, and turn the dough around and dust the bottom with a little potato starch to seal.
And the cherries, you say? Well, I just have to wait a little longer until I settle down in my new job to start baking again. I just hope by then it will not be too late to buy more cherries.