Archive for December, 2007

We’ve already had a recipe for the cream puff choux pastry (where I wrote about my grandmother’s long-standing fondness for them) and another one for chocolate eclairs. Here’s a more detailed cream puff recipe, which also includes instructions for the custard filling.

The custard filling relies on the use of custard powder (or ‘custard flour’ as written below). Cornflour-based custard powder was invented in 1837 by Alfred Bird because his wife was allergic to eggs and couldn’t tolerate real custard. Till today, Bird’s brand is perhaps the most popular brand of custard powder in Britain. Besides cornflour, the ingredients in custard powder include salt, flavorings, and annatto or tartrazine coloring.

Do note that both annatto and tartrazine have been known to cause common food reactions. Tartrazine has been in the press recently as one of the substances identified in a recent British study on food additives that can cause hyperactivity in children, while annatto is the only natural food colouring “found to cause as many adverse intolerance reactions as artificial colours and to affect more consumers that artificial colour” (read here). But it’s only very recent scientific research that has revealed these problems.

In the recipe, grandmother specifically noted that Brown & Polson brand of custard powder should be used. This is still available today in India from Unilever Food Solutions Asia (who do Knorr, Lipton, Planta etc. in Singapore, but no Brown & Polson!).

Brown & Polson Custard Powder appears to have a very long history, going by this recipe for savoury custard in the The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant (1861) by Charles Elme Francatelli. Do click on the links to see a digitised version of the original book.

An internet search shows many secondhand and antiquarian book dealers selling a cookbook produced by Brown & Polson entitled, Light Fare Recipes for Corn Flour and Custard Powder Cookery, circa 1930. As I noted earlier, food manufacturers often produced cookbooks as a way of advertising new products and educating consumers how to use them – do have a look at this fascinating digitised archive of Advertising Cookbooks, 1878-1929.

The instructions call for the custard filling to be flavoured with ‘essence’ – I believe this refers to vanilla essence.

Custard Cream Puffs A

Custard Cream Puffs B

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Another recipe of grandmother’s that used Spry vegetable shortening (which I’ve commented on here, in addition to comments on Spry’s equivalent, Crisco, here), which was very much the method of cooking at the time. You can substitute with butter.

See grandma’s list of oven temperatures to find out the correct setting for a moderately hot oven.

This Baked Chocolate Pudding is unique because it has a meringue topping, very similar to these other recipes I’ve found on the internet here and here.

Baked Chocolate Pudding

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Eclairs are made from choux pastry, as are cream puffs. Grandma’s other recipe for choux pastry is here. [30/12/07 update: another cream puffs recipe here.]

You might also want to refer to grandmother’s list of oven temperatures to determine what temperature ‘moderate oven’ refers to.
Chocolate Eclairs A

Chocolate Eclair B

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For the crust, try out one of the shortcrust pastry recipes I posted earlier:
Crisco Pastry
Shortcrust Pastry

In those pastry recipes, I’d commented on Crisco and Spry, which are hydrogenated vegetable fats, and Spry is also one of the ingredients for the lemon curd here. Spry can be substituted here with butter, which probably also gives a better taste.

Cooking the curd in a pan of simmering boiling water rather than over direct heat helps to prevent the eggs from curdling. Read more about this technique and tips on making lemon curd here. If curdling does happen, the lemon curd will have to be strained, so this alternative recipe suggests a way to avoid the problem (including a fascinating scientific explanation) as well as more tips for getting a successful lemon curd.

Lemon Curd Tart

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With 25th December just round the corner, I thought I’d post this newspaper clipping (probably from The Straits Times) which grandma stuck inside her notebook, right on the first page. The facing page has some notes dated 22 December 1957, as you can see here.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Christmas Pudding

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I posted grandma’s Crisco shortcrust pastry recipe earlier. This one uses another vegetable shortening, Spry, which was Crisco’s main competitor. Read more of my earlier comments on these vegetable shortenings also here.

The recipe’s list of ingredients states ‘butter’ next to ‘Spry’, though the ingredients refer only to Spry. As I noted in the Crisco pastry recipe, grandma taught me to make shortcrust pastry with ‘half butter, half Crisco’, so similarly, in this recipe, grandmother might have meant to use a combination of butter and Spry.

This pastry can be used as the pie shell for the many pie recipes in grandma’s notebook.

Shortcrust pastry

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Chocolate Fudge

Fudge is very much an American confection, and continues the collection of American dessert recipes that grandma collected. In some cases, grandma would note down that the recipe came from the American women’s magazine, McCalls, such as in some of these recipes.

Fudge is believed to date from the 1880s, becoming popular at women’s colleges such as Vassar, Wellesley and Smith in the 1890s.

The skill in making a good fudge is to produce a  texture that is both creamy, yet has a fine crystalline texture. The crucial factor is the temperature, both when the syrup mixture is taken off the heat, and when you start to beat the butter into the mixture. Which is why some people would insist on using a candy thermometer when making this. You also need to watch for the formation of sugar crystals on the sides of the pan whilst cooking, and quickly brush them away with a pastry brush dipped in as little water as possible. Some fudge recipes include corn syrup, which inhibits the formation of sugar crystals, but grandma’s recipe doesn’t have this, so more skill is needed to get a successful fudge out of this.

Fudge, like fondants, are confections cooked to the ‘soft ball’ stage, i.e. when a small amount is dropped in cold water it forms a ball that loses its shape when removed from the water.

Read more about the history and techniques of making fudge: here, here and here.

‘Essence’ is mentioned in the instructions but not the list of ingredients; this refers to vanilla essence.

Chocolate Fudge

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Fried Cookies

Christmas is just round the corner, and spiced, fried cookies are a traditional Christmas food in some European cultures, such as Scandinavian rosettes, Norwegian fattigmann, Polish krusczyki, and Italian cannoli and strufoli. Spanish churros are also a type of fried cookie, but made from choux pastry. According to the Cookies-in-Motion website, cookies were made by frying in the days before individual homes had ovens; the webpage also describes the technique of frying cookies, as well as giving various European recipes. This other page gives a timeline of the history of fried dough foods.

Fried cookies are closely related to fried dough snacks, such as doughnuts, and are found in many cultures round the world. Yau char kway (油條) is a popular Chinese variety eaten in Singapore, and the same stall would probably sell other fried dough snacks such as hum cheen baang.

However, these are very doughy foods, and my idea of a cookie is something crisp and hard, more like the keropok (see grandma’s recipe for krupok udang) and pappadam we often eat in Singapore/Malaysia – but I suppose those would be considered crackers.

I like the simplicity of this recipe and the basic list of ingredients. It’s more plain than European fried cookie recipes, which often use cinnamon and cardamom (giving that ‘Christmas-y’ flavour).
Fried Cookies

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