Anadama Bread: A Very Good Place To Start


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Among the lessons I've learned while baking bread, this, I suppose, could have been the most predictable: Baking bread is not like riding a bicycle. If you haven't done it in a long time, well, don't count on being able to do it again.

I won't go into it, but there exists a recent valiant attempt at making multigrain bread extraordinaire, which many bakers in the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge had pronounced a breeze. In my Brooklyn kitchen, however, this turned out to be anything but. And the end result was a flat dense brick that was as saggy in the center as it was dry and mealy.

"You're out of practice," the husband noted. (Which earned him extra dishwashing duties but — I had to admit — was not untrue.)

How to solve the problem? An old Julie Andrews song instantly came to mind.

Perhaps, I thought, it might help to go back and start at the very beginning …

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Portuguese Sweet Bread: True Crack Bread


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There has been no small amount of grumbling in this household recently.

The complaints are rather monotonous — they all go something like this: What happened to the bread baking?

It is true that not too very long ago, there had been great ambition on this front. The idea had been to make a bread every week along with dozens of bakers around the world in a quest to bake our way through The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

But then, of course, life intervenes. (In my case, that would be the months spent traveling for research and then writing The Book.)

Gradually, my smoke-filled kitchen (thank you, ciabatta) and bygone bagels were becoming faded adventures in our memory.

During a break in the hubbub, however, I decided this nonsense had gone on long enough. The bread-baking bible was dusted off and my trusty KitchenAid mixer was resuscitated.

On the docket was a bread I’d been curious about: Portuguese sweet bread, a type of loaf, lovely, soft and sweet, that’s popular in Hawaii and New England. (It was introduced to those regions by Portuguese immigrants.)

Now, in the times that I’d tried it, it had always reminded me of the slightly sweet buns and loaves I grew up eating in Hong Kong and Singapore. It was time to see how this recipe would turn out in my own kitchen …

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Pfeffernüsse: Victory Sweets

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My mother called the other day, saying she’d been thinking it was time for a change.

Time, specifically, to take down the massive German flag that’s been hanging in my girlhood bedroom in Singapore since the 1990 World Cup. (And the discovery of the wonder that is Jurgen Klinsmann.)

There were protestations, of course — the Germans were doing well in this year’s World Cup. They might win it all again! Why jinx things by folding up my precious flag?

That point, of course, is moot right now. After getting trounced by the Spanish earlier this week, the Germans take to the field today — not to fight for the World Cup. Instead, third place is theirs — if they’re lucky.

Now, when I’m stressed or depressed, I tend to storm the kitchen. So, what to make for this occasion?

“Time to write about some octopus recipes!” my friend Kevin suggested. (Given that I don’t sanction the rallying cry to grill Paul the Psychic Octopus, who predicted, to his German aquarium’s dismay, that Spain would knock Germany out of the semi-finals, I decided to ignore this.)

Something more humane, perhaps. Cookies, for example, seemed harmless enough.

And Martha Stewart had just the recipe …

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Pineapple Tarts: The Start Of The Journey


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In the beginning, there were pineapple tarts.

These buttery, crumbly, bite-sized marvels bewitched me as a child in Singapore. My paternal grandmother made the best ones, of course — every Chinese new year, she would hit the kitchen to churn out her tarts, pushing me to eat as many as I wanted as we sat in her living room, unhurriedly passing time.

I never learned to make my grandmother’s tarts as a child, unfortunately.

When I was 11, she died. And the chance for her to teach me anything suddenly vanished.

After many years of mourning this lost opportunity, I traveled back to Singapore in early 2009 to learn how to make these tarts from my aunts. My grandmother had taught them how to bake the tarts when she was alive and they were now the keepers of her prized recipe, which I’ve included below.

The experience was enlightening — but it also generated a spark. I now knew how to make the tarts of my grandmother, a legendary cook in our family and to all she knew.

But still, I wanted more.

Thus began a journey of discovery — one that would take place in the kitchens of my Singapore family. Over the next lunar calendar year, the women of my family would gather over hot stoves to laugh, tell stories, shake our heads and, above all else, cook.

The story of my journey will be shared very soon. (Hyperion’s Voice is publishing “A Tiger In The Kitchen” in January 2011.)

But first, it must be written — and so I must bow out of this blog for a while. Seven weeks, to be exact. (Special thanks to Yaddo, the artists’ colony, for generously offering me a nook in the woods to think and create.)

I hope you’ll forgive this absence, but you must admit, it’s for a rather good reason. 

When I return in late April, I’ll be looking for all of you. My year of cooking in Singapore is over but the journey continues here. And I hope you’ll be coming along with me.

Until then, buon appetito and enjoy …

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Poilane Miche: Tackling A Legend


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As usual, I had bread on my mind the moment I returned to New York from my latest trip to Singapore.

After weeks away from my oven, I always touch down just itching to bake something. And this time, a quick check with my fellow Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge bakers revealed that they were mired in a difficult spot in the bread lineup.

“We are in Sourdough right now,” said Daniel in Berlin (a.k.a. @MisterRios of the Ährelich Gesagt blog). “Everyone is tRYEing their best.”

Ahh, bread humor. Gotta love it.

After the laughter subsided, however, I started to get worried. Sourdough in the hands of lesser bakers can be a massive pain in the tush. 

I should know.

Just last month, bolstered by a successful pane Siciliano and wondering what to do with a bowl of sourdough starter, I brazenly decided to take on a legend: Poilane miche — the Holy Grail of breads.

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Top 10: The Memorable Eats Of 2009


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You know it’s been a good year when you are able to say this: 2009 was when I began to eat for a living.

I’d always been a devotee of affairs of the stomach. I may have written about fashion and other lifestyle areas for a living but baking, braising, trying new recipes, eating out — those were what consumed me when weekends rolled around. 

Luck has its ways of finding you, however. Now, on the precipice of 2010, I’m beginning to close out a lunar calendar year of cooking and eating with my family in Singapore as research for my book, “A Tiger In The Kitchen.” 

My journey so far has taken me many places – France, where I had the loveliest gingery champagne cocktail with friends old and dear; China, where my father and I went in search of my great-grandfather’s footprints in the village of his birth. And, of course, Singapore, where my aunties and maternal grandmother have been plying me with meals, recipes and much, much love along the way.

With all that I’ve packed into 2009, it’s hard to decide what the highlights have been. But, inspired by some stellar Top 10 gastronomic lists out there (definitely check out Sam Sifton’s list of Top 11 dishes in New York in the New York Times), I decided to give it a go.

Here, in no particular order, are my 10 memorable eats of 2009. 

Enjoy, buon appetito and listen, let’s do this again in 2010 …

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Panettone: The Seven-Day Bread


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If you are among the people who believe that nothing says “The Holidays” like a festive loaf of panettone, let me just say this: You are mad.

This bread, it is evil.

It will drive you insane, make you tear your hair out. You may find yourself repeatedly staring intently at an unrising bowl of taupe glop, thinking, “Just, why, God, WHY?”

I mean this for the folks out there attempting to bake it, that is. (If you’re the sort who buys panettone in a store then, sure, go for it. I’m sure that’s pretty harmless.)

The problem I had here was holiday spirit.

Recently, I found myself so infused with the stuff that I decided to tackle panettone for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge

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Pane Siciliano: One Sexy Bread


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The same thing always happens when I’ve been on my weeks-long trips for book research in Singapore.

When I’m away, I find myself overcome with intense longing for something in my Brooklyn home. By the time I return, it’s all I can do to keep myself from running toward it (cue slow-motion romantic comedy music here) and getting it all hot and, well, hot.

My family home in Singapore doesn’t have an oven, you see — so when I’m away from my trusty hunk of stainless steel, a major itch to bake starts taking over.

When I returned this time, I was determined to jump back into the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, where bakers around the world are making a bread each week from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.”

On the docket that week was pane Siciliano, a beautiful, golden Italian bread formed in a voluptuous “S” shape.

It seemed like just the thing to scratch my itch.

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Apple-Cornmeal Cake: A Reason To Celebrate


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A dear friend recently asked me what my ideal birthday cake would be.

My immediate answer was a pure pipe dream (in the U.S. anyhow) — a durian cream cake in which the sliver of cream wedged between two layers of pound cake is flecked with hefty chunks of creamy durian, a pungent, Southeast Asian fruit that’s hard to find in New York.

Now, if I can’t have durian cake, my second choice would be a vanilla cake coated with a creamy guava or passionfruit icing.

I know, I know.

I have been told I can be hard to please.

Having no durians, passionfruit or guava at hand, however, I set about making myself one of my absolute favorite fall cakes — an apple-cornmeal upside down cake that is so simple and can be assembled so quickly that I’ve set it out for more Thanksgiving and autumn meals than I can count. 

In fact, it’s what first came to mind when my Let’s Lunch group, a bunch of intrepid cooks around the world who have a standing monthly lunch date, decided to do a fall dessert for November.

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Light Wheat Bread: Simple Does It


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The last time I baked a bread, what emerged from the oven was a loaf of casatiello, a gorgeous hunk of Italian bread studded with salami and oozing with hot cheese.

So you might understand why I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this week’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge loaf: Light wheat bread.

After the sexy Italian, wheat bread seemed like the yawner of a boy next door.

(You know — the ugly one.)

But after having spent several weeks in Singapore without an oven at my disposal, I was itching to bake something. Anything.

And, as it turned out, this plain boy next door actually had his surprises.

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