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Archive for the ‘vanilla’ Category

This icing is meant to go with Chocolate Cake.

The 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.

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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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Do compare this with the earlier recipe for Marble/Marmer Cake. Both recipes are noticeably generous with the use of eggs, but this one has fewer ingredients. Most importantly, this recipe doesn’t include any raising agent, which indicates that the rise is completely dependent on:
a) the creaming process – remember to cream butter and sugar till extremely light & fluffy, and add the egg yolks a teaspoonful at a time to prevent emulsifying;
b) the whisked egg whites – beat till ‘medium peak’ stage where the whites are still glossy and smooth but distinct marks are left by the whisk as you beat and when lifted, the peaks can hold their shape for a while (this is before you get to ‘hard peak’ stage where the tips of the whites are more pointed). Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America says,

This is the ideal stage for foams to be folded into batters… since the whites are still flexible enough to expand without bursting as they get hot.

And of course, fold in the flour and whisked egg whites very gently to prevent knocking out the air from the batter.
There are no instructions for doing the marbling, but of course, grandmother knew the technique well enough not to have to write it down in these notes to herself. One way to do it is to remove a third of the batter, add in the cocoa powder. Then pour the cocoa batter into the bowl of plain batter and swirl lightly before pouring the mix into a baking tin.

Speaking of baking tins, grandmother’s recipes often don’t specify the size of baking tin to be used. According to British cooking guru, Delia Smith, this is a typical problem of heirloom recipes:

One of the primary reasons why cakes sometimes fail is the recipe itself. It might be wrong or simply too vague, like some of grandma’s hand-me-downs which never mention details like tin sizes or oven temperature.

Marble Cake II

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In a recent comment here, one of our readers requested for grandma’s recipes for Chinese New Year goodies. Well, grandma never did much CNY baking in my memory and the recipes in her notebook seem to reflect this as well.

However, I have just come across this cut-out from the newspaper, most likely The Straits Times from sometime in the late 1950s or 1960s, which has two CNY recipes submitted by readers. This must be from the same food column which published the Christmas Pudding recipe.

With Chinese New Year less than a month away, you might want to have a go at these two recipes: ‘Toothless Delight”, which is actually a ball of sago pearls rolled in coconut and the familiar CNY cashew nut cookies, although the recipe here in fact comes from an Indian reader :)!

Both the recipes come from readers in Johor state: one from Batu Pahat, the other from Johor Bahru; if this was indeed from The Straits Times, it reveals the readership of this Singapore newspaper included those in the neighbouring Malayan state. Historically, Johor had always been closely linked to Singapore in economic and social terms because of the geographical proximity, Singapore being the nearest big city (and much further back, Singapore had been part of the Johore Sultanate). After the Second World War, new political entities were created that placed artificial divisions between Singapore and Johore: the Federation of Malaya (formed in 1948, gained independence in 1957) which excluded the Colony of Singapore. However, the textures of everyday life, such as newspaper distribution and readership show that long-standing patterns continued regardless.

The ingredients in ‘Toothless Delight’ include ice cream in ‘soda flavour’ or ‘fruity pineapple flavour’. I don’t see this incorporated into the recipe instructions, so perhaps it’s for serving on the side. Read my earlier notes on the history of commercial ice cream in Singapore here.

New Year Goodies

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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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