Archive for the ‘egg’ Category

Sri/Seri Kaya

Is kaya a custard or a jam? Cracking my head over this semantic question has kept me from posting this recipe — not even that, but mere notes on ingredients — which grandmother noted down. She has listed two sets of quantities, the one on the right originating from her friend, “Mrs S.K.”.

Grandma wrote ‘coconuts’ but experienced cooks would know she was referring to the number of coconuts needed to produce the correct amount of coconut milk (here’s how to do it using grandma’s traditional grater).

According to Wikipedia, the name srikaya, usually shortened to kaya, is derived from ‘the word meaning “rich” in Malay’, and being based on eggs and coconut milk, rich it certainly is! Locals hoping to cut down on their cholesterol intake know that this is one food to reserve for occasional treats only :).

I’ve only ever known this as kaya, and grandmother’s notes are the first time I’ve seen it called sri kaya, which leads me to surmise that the full name was in common usage in the past but has long since been shorted, with the original word now disappeared from popular knowledge.

The use of coconut milk also pandan leaves (in most kaya recipes) points clearly to Southeast Asian origins, either Malay or Indonesian, and the Philippines have their own version as well. Kaya is also very much associated with Straits Chinese (nonya) cooking, which is hugely influenced by Malay and Indonesian cuisine. A popular type of nonya steamed desert is kueh salat, glutinous rice stained with blue colouring from the butterfly pea flower (bunga telang) and topped with kaya.

However, perhaps what Singaporeans think immediately at the mention of kaya is kaya toast, which some overseas friends have told me is their favourite Singapore food :). Kaya toast is found in traditional local coffee shops, known colloquially as kopi tiam, which historically have often been the preserve of the Hainanese community.

Many Hainanese worked in the food industry, often as personal cooks for the colonials as well as wealthy Asians. Bread and toast formed a daily staple in colonial Singapore, and not just amongst the European population. In Hainanese kopi tiam, western bread in the form of charcoal-grilled toast was spread with sweet, rich local kaya.

These days, traditional enterprises have adopted modern business strategies, Ya Kun Kaya Toast being one of them. With humble origins in the 1930s, it is now a franchise in six countries outside of Singapore with a distinct branding leveraging off its long history and a nostalgia for the old days.

Grandma’s notes won’t help you much if you don’t already know how to make kaya, so this webpage describing someone else’s grandmother’s kaya method might prove very useful. Although I’ve never made kaya myself, I’ve heard it requires plenty of patient stirring to get a good consistency. Nowadays, many people use a microwave shortcut, a slow cooker or even the jam function on a bread maker. What’s also becoming more popular now is a vegan, eggless pumpkin version that is not only healthier but much easier to prepare.

So — custard or jam? well, actually I don’t think it matters :).


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This is a straightforward cake recipe using the creaming method. You might want to refer to the tips on creaming here and here.

Instead of butter, this recipe uses hydrogenated vegetable shortening, under the Spry brand name. I’ve commented on the history, use and health considerations of using Spry or its competitor brand, Crisco in an earlier posting. My personal choice would be to use butter, which would probably also give a better taste.

For the filling and icing, please see:
Chocolate/Coffee Filling
Chocolate Water Icing

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This quick bread basically uses the muffin method of mixing: dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another, mix together very quickly till just blended. The difference is that it is baked into a large cake, rather than small muffins. For me, I often do the opposite and bake cake recipes into muffin or cupcake sizes because they need less time in the oven and hence use less electricity.

Don’t let the ‘rub butter in flour’ bit fool you into thinking this uses the rubbing-in method (see Plain Scones). Here, it is just a way to incorporate solid butter. Other recipes melt the butter and combine it with the wet ingredients. Personally, I’m lazy to melt butter when I make muffins, and usually use oil instead :). A cooking oil with a neutral flavour is best, but coconut oil will give a strong tropical flavour if that’s the effect you intend to produce.

For more on oven temperatures, see grandma’s notes here.

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The term ‘Drop Scones’ can be rather confusing because it’s used to refer to two distinctly different items. The first usage, which seems to be more common in America, is scones made by the rubbing-in method, just like that described in the Plain Scones recipe but roughly shaped by dropping spoonfuls of the dough onto a baking sheet (as illustrated here).

The second type of ‘Drop Scones’ is not made from dough, but a batter, and its alternative name, ‘Scotch Pancakes’ reveals what it’s most similar to. ‘Drop Scones’ are considered a traditional Scottish recipe, as you can read here.

The photos here show you what Scotch Pancake style Drop Scones look like, and the recipe also provides ideas for eating them with savoury toppings.

It’s this pancake variation that grandmother’s recipe below refers to. This is evident from the way the ingredients are combined (straight mixing, no rubbing-in) and the reference to a ‘batter’ that must be left to stand.

Without any clear instructions for the quantity of milk (and I’m not sure how much exactly ‘1 Breakfast cupful’ is!), it would certainly help if you were already familiar with working pancake batters to be able to judge the correct consistency by sight. Don’t forget to use self-raising flour or else add some baking powder.

You may wish to compare this recipe with grandma’s Pancake recipe as well as check out some buttermilk variations (buttermilk assists the rise of the batter and tenderises it) here and here. You’ll notice the second recipe substitutes milk+vinegar for buttermilk, you can also use lemon juice,citric acid or cream of tartar to create the same result; read about buttermilk substitutes here.

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Doughnuts are a hard food to pin down. They come in fried or baked versions, and can be made by a huge variety of methods: some are like breads and use yeast as a leavening agent, while others rely on baking powder; they can be made by the muffin method or by the creaming technique. Grandmother’s recipe introduced me to yet another style of doughnuts.

The recipe here is for a choux pastry. Although grandma did not record the instructions for this, you then go on to fry the choux pastry, as the recipes here and here explain.

This style of doughnuts is closed connected with another kind of fried dough – crullers, which are fashioned into a long, twisted shape. Traditional French crullers are also made from choux pastry, while other kinds of crullers can be made from other kinds of leavened doughnut dough (either using yeast or baking powder). The term ‘Chinese crullers’ is sometimes used to refer to Chinese you tiao [Mandarin] / yao zhar kwai [Cantonese].

Speculation on the historical origins of the doughnut range from prehistoric Native Americans to ancient Rome to the medieval Middle East. However what most sources agree on is the better-documented story of how doughnuts became an American staple. Beginning in early modern Germany and Holland, oliekoecken (oil cakes or fried cakes) were brought to the New World by Dutch settlers, and had established themselves on the American dining table by the mid-19th century.

Well, if what makes a doughnut a doughnut is the hole in the middle, then what about the dough balls made from these holes? Aside from just seeing them as leftover ‘doughnut holes‘, one can simply shape the dough directly into balls and make more elegant-sounding beignet (recipe here).

Below are the two recipes grandmother copied into her notebook. The first is for choux pastry-style doughnuts, The second set of ingredients doesn’t include eggs and therefore can’t be for choux pastry. You’ll need to improvise your own cooking method there.
Doughnuts 2

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The inclusion of baking powder indicates that these are American-style pancakes, which are thick and eaten in stacks, often topped with butter and maple syrup. In comparison, British pancakes and French crepes are much thinner and don’t use leavening agents (read more about the differences here).

Grandmother used to tell me about her encounters with American foods through Mrs Armstuz of the YWCA, and quite possibly, American-style pancakes were among those foods.

Unfortunately, this is another one of those recipes where there are no instructions and only very vague quantities (the ‘teacup’ is my grandmother’s own measurement based on our cups at home, and most of those from that old set have broken and been thrown away over the decades). So you might want to refer to other recipes for American pancakes, such as this, this or this.

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It’s taken me quite some time to write up this post because of a prolonged foray into the meaning of ‘soogee’ and the origins of this dish.

In Singapore and Malaysia today, it’s usually spelt ‘sugee’ but I quickly discovered that there are alternative spellings – ‘sugi’, ‘suji’, ‘sooji’, ‘soojee’ – which are used in India. However, suji is the Hindi term used in North India, whereas in South India, it goes by the name ‘rava’, ‘ravva’, ‘rawa’ (wonder if someone can help me – is this in Telugu?). You might like to refer to glossaries of Indian cooking here, here, here and here.

Now this strong Indian connection intrigued me because Sugee Cake is firmly entrenched in Singapore & Malaysian as a distinctly Eurasian dish, as you can see here and here, while Mary GomesEurasian Cookbook describes it as the ‘typical Eurasian wedding cake’ and at the restaurant at the Singapore Eurasian Association, Quentin’s, ‘the sugee cake made by his mother is always a hot favourite’. The status of Sugee Cake as a perennial local favourites is reflected by its inclusion in Singapore secondary school home economics textbooks :)!

Although categorised as a single ethnic community, Eurasians in Singapore and Malaysia have a diverse range of origins (Portuguese, Dutch, British – in chronological order of the appearance of colonial powers in Malaya, mixed with different Asian ethnicities, usually Indian or Chinese). However, what is usually presented as Eurasian culture in Singapore is the colourful Portuguese variety, which traces its roots back to the community in Malacca, a town conquered by the Portuguese in 1511. The Portuguese had also landed in Goa, on the west coast of India, in 1510, and established a colony there. Portuguese-Indian Eurasians from Goa soon migrated to Malacca in the following century or so, before the Portuguese lost Malacca to the Dutch in 1641.

It therefore seems most likely that Sugee Cake originated on the Indian subcontinent, an offshoot of Indian sweets made with sugee, such as halwa and kesari (this recipe being the version from a Singaporean with roots in Kerala, a state also on the southwest coast of India not far from Goa). Halwa and kesari, like many Asian sweets, are both cooked on the stove top, whereas Sugee Cake is baked in an oven, like a European cake, which represents the Eurasian element in this recipe.

But what is sugee/soogee/suji/sooji? It’s semolina, which is in fact a product made from durum wheat (what Italian pasta is made from). The Penguin Companion to Food tells us that durum wheat is a very hard variety of wheat and ‘when coarsely milled, the brittle grains fracture into sharp chips, and it is these which constitute ordinary semolina’. Semolina is found in cuisines all round the world, from British semolina pudding, to German rote Grütze, to Russian gurieveskaya kasha, to Greek ravaní (related to South Indian rava?), to Middle Eastern halva (clearly connected to Indian halwa).

Semolina, like other flours, can be milled in different ways and ground into different textures. According to this document about the wheat industry in India, suji is ‘coarse semolina’ and rava is ‘fine semolina’. Most recipes don’t make a distinction between suji, rava and semolina, so perhaps it depends on how fussy you are.

Besides Indian sweets and Sugee Cake, semolina is used in other Singaporean/Malaysian ethnic cuisines, such as the Malay Kueh Bingka Suji (N.B. there are other types of kueh bingka made with tapioca, also a popular nonya dish) as well Sugee Cookies, which are a mainstay of Chinese New Year snacking (see recipe here) as well as popular for Malay Hari Raya (see photos here). Most home bakers would probably pick up the most commonly available semolina flour by local flour mill, Prima Flour, which is found every supermarket.

Grandmother’s recipe below doesn’t include baking instructions, so you might want to cross-reference with other Sugee Cake recipes, such as this one from Rose’s Kitchen or this one by Amy Beh, the well-known Malaysian food writer. However, both use the creaming method which doesn’t feature in grandma’s recipe at all, and the length of time one is instructed to soak the semolina varies from 1 1/2 hrs (Amy Beh), to 3 hrs (grandma) to 8 hrs (Rose’s Kitchen). All the recipes use a heart attack-inducing number of eggs though! Reminds me of grandma’s Marmer/Marble Cake recipe :).

Soogee Cake

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