how to – spin sugar

I’m putting up this how-to guide now because I’m going to use this method in one of the (savoury) recipes I’m posting later today for a selection of Chinese cold and cooling ‘grazing’ dishes… I hopefully will be posting a link to lots of very pretty pictures later on…;-)
I will add actual pictures of this recipe later today or tomorrow – but it’s a bit too hot to be cooking caramel in the daytime at the moment.
So, a bit of basic science – this is pasted from
‘….Caramelization is what happens when sugar melts. A crystal of granulated sugar, scientifically called sucrose, is held together by chemical bonds, but energy from heat can break these bonds, splitting the crystal into its two component sugars, glucose and fructose. These sugars break down further, freeing their atomic building blocks: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen and oxygen atoms reunite to form water, and the carbon clusters in increasingly larger clumps. Eventually the water evaporates and the carbon starts to burn.
However, if you stop this process while the sugar is still a liquid, you can make spun sugar. ‘
There’s a couple of things that it’s good to think about before you start. By all means use a sugar thermometer if you have one, but you don’t need one. It is actually v. easy to make with no fancy kit- I made my first spun sugar when I was 13, when I was bored and I’d been left alone in the house for a few hours….and we had no gadgets at all.
If you have a pan with a light coloured inside, it will help you catch the syrup before it starts turning golden, but it’s probably more important to use your heaviest bottomed pan to stop it burning too quickly.
Sugar gets very hot – in fact, you’re taking the syrup up to ‘hard crack’ stage, which is about 155 degrees celius/315 degrees Fahrenheit, so do take care and make sure small curious children are out of the way. You can make caramel baskets/shapes without the cream of tartar, but the strands will be thicker and the caramel will be dark(er).
As well as your pan, and a clear work space, you will also need a small glass of cold water (especially if you have no thermometer), plain vegetable oil for greasing handles of wooden spoons (for making curls and spirals) and greasing the outside of a metal bowl (for making cups and baskets)… can also make free-er form shapes on greaseproof paper. For spinning fine strands, I use a fork.
If your pan is not particularly thick bottomed, it’s quite a good idea to half fill the sink with cold water, so that you can take the pan off the heat and place it in the sink to arrest the cooking before it burns.
Finally, something I always used to do was make too much – the ratio is always 2:1 sugar to water and a pinch of cream of tartar – 100g of sugar and 50ml water makes loads.
100g granulated sugar
50ml water
Pinch of cream of tartar – it can be a meanish pinch for this amount, a normal pinch if you’re making more.
Glass of cold water on the side.
Place water and sugar in a pan and stir before you put it on the heat. Place over a medium to high heat to dissolve the sugar – DO NOT stir at this point as you’ll make the sugar recrystallise and go all grainy. Bring to a hard boil, and after a couple of minutes, drop a little droplet into the water in the glass with a teaspoon – when this goes hard straight away, it is done. Hopefully you will be able to catch this before it starts going golden – unless you want it to be golden.
Take off the heat and add the cream of tartar, stir a couple of times and then you are ready to spin. Dip a fork in the syrup and swirl around your greased mould or gently swirl onto greaseproof paper, touching already formed strands from time to time to create your desired shape. The quicker you swirl, the thinner the strands. Leave to cool and harden before gently prising off the mould.
Don’t make this too far in advance or put it in the fridge, as the moisture will soften the structure.


How to: roll a perfectly round….

chapati, roti, paratha, tortilla, dumpling wrapper…

millions of recipes out there, but what most of them fail to do is explain how to get them round  ….I guess it’s because lots of recipe writers grew up in houses where they’re made all the time and they absorbed the process through osmosis 😉

Being a creature who takes awhile to work things out sometimes, I didn’t clock on to this little trick even after I’d spent hours watching dumplings being made in China and gone and bought myself a special little dumpling wrapper rolling pin ( I have a serious love affair with jiaozi going on) – they’re slightly tapered at one end – I just thought I needed more practice, but I was using it the wrong way round.

Anyway – the trick is, to lean slightly more heavily on one end of the rolling pin than the other, while turning the dough a little bit after every roll – I’m left handed so I turn mine counter clockwise….(continuing the clock analogy) you want turn the dough about 5 or 10 minute spaces towards you each time.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread can be white – called ‘Scofa’, the kind you get in Greggs, or brown – called ‘Wheaten Bread’ in Northern Ireland. I always make the brown version but the method and amounts are the same for both. Traditionally, it’s made with buttermilk, but any vegan milk works fine – it’s the reaction of the bicarb of soda with the cream of tartar (tartaric acid) that does all the work and makes it rise. Really quick and easy to make – no kneading.

For every 500g strong bread flour
1 handful of wheatbran – optional, but nice – usually to be found near the breakfast cereals in the supermarket.
1 level teaspoon of salt
2 level teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
2 level teaspoons cream of tartar
About 300ml (1/2 pint) milk/buttermilk/plant based milk

Pre heat your oven to 200 celsius/gas mark 6. In a bowl, mix all the dry ingredients and combine thoroughly – it’s worth adding the soda and the cream of tartar through a sieve or a tea strainer, so you don’t get yellow blobs through your bread – also be careful not to be over generous with these two, ‘cos there’s a fine line before it tastes too soda-ry.
You can bake this on a baking tray or in a loaf tin – whichever you use, dust with flour or wheatbran (for a loaf tin, dampen the sides, then dust) – you need to do this first, because it needs to go straight in the oven, once you’ve mixed in the liquid.
Add most of the liquid and mix – you want a mixture that looks wet and sticky, but not splurging all over the place – the consistency of a rich fruit cake mix/chunky wet concrete/cold porridge. Add the rest of the liquid until you get there – if it looks too sloppy, add a bit more flour. Transfer to tin or tray – if you’re making it on a tray, score the top with a large cross.
Pop in the oven, on the middle shelf and bake for 40 minutes, until it’s well risen and golden brown. As with all bread, you can test whether it’s done by tapping the bottom of it for a hollow sound. Leave to cool on a rack. When it’s fresh, the brown version is almost impossible to cut finely, but gets easier after a day or so.

Crispy fried shallots, garlic or onions – how to!

I didn’t make any of the above on my mega condiment marathon, in fact I always buy my crispy fried shallots but seeing as the last post was all about alliums, I thought I’d put this up as an addendum – ‘cos you can’t buy them everywhere, and you have to make your own fried onions for biryanis. There are a few tips to getting them crispy without burning them. The shallots used in Asia are the little pink ones you can buy in Vietnamese or African shops, and they and garlic get cut lengthways – onions for biryani generally get across into rings.

Whichever way you cut, they should be fine, 1-2 mm for shallots and garlic, 2-3mm for onions and uniformly sliced – otherwise, some will be in danger of burning and some will remain decidedly uncrisp.

After they’re cut, spread them out and leave them to dry for several hours – all alliums have quite a lot of juice and contain a high level of plant sugars, which contributes to them burning if you don’t do this. In winter, when it’s cold and damp, I put mine on a tray and set it on the radiator.

When you’re ready to cook them, heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a pan or a wok until it is hot, drop in the slivers, turn the heat down to low and watch closely. You want them to be golden brown, but they will continue to cook even after you take them out of the pan. Drain on kitchen towel.

If you’ve made a big batch, they can be stored in a screw top jar after they are cool, but don’t add any salt ‘cos they’ll go soft and leathery. Salt just before serving, if at all.

101 uses for Jaggery sugar

Jaggery, which comes in blocks or small round discs, is unrefined sugarpalm sap which has been boiled down and reduced. It gets made all over the Indian sub continent and throughout South East Asia. It is anything from golden to nut brown in colour.  I usually buy the golden kind from Thailand, which is like the tropical answer to maple syrup. It has a rich complex smell and flavour – buttery, malty – imagine a piece of butterscotch or a ‘Werther’s Original’ only much, much better…at least, the golden coloured one is. As you can tell, I’m a fan 😉
It is quite hard to cut, and would take ages to dissolve a whole mini cake, but it grates really easily. As well as using it for Asian cookery, it’s really useful for English style home baking.
Seeing as I still haven’t got my cooker piped in, it’s going to be ages until I’m baking again, but this is a quick list of its many uses for dairy free/vegan versions of butter recipes, substituting the sugar in the recipe and using a vegetable oil/hard fat.
The golden kind from Thailand:
With a vegetable solid fat, like Trex, for crumble etc.
With coconut oil for crispy flapjack.
With liquid oil for florentine bases and butter caramel popcorn.
Gently melted and then a plant based milk or cream added for a condensed milk looky likey.

Melted with a little water, it also makes a very acceptable substitute for the multi-layered flavours of honey.

Darker ones are great for darker style (Dundee, Christmas, Jamaican coconut drops, Parkin, Ginger Cake) cakes and sweets as they are more toffee-ish and less buttery.

home-made kecap manis

So, Sunday morning after my nice rice porridge, I did try to carry on with the cleaning but, frankly, by lunchtime, I was losing the will to live…seeing as the kitchen was spick and span, and I’d done all the washing up and put it all away, it seemed like the perfect time to make a nice big mess ehem, make some sauces and condiments 🙂
They are all really quick and simple, most of them store pretty well (not that they last that long in my house), are useful if you live far away from specialist shops and contain no msg.

Kecap manis – ketjap manis is a sweet thick soy sauce from Indonesia. In some countries outside of Indonesia, in Holland, for example, you can find a good quality brand quite easily, but in the UK it’s really hit and miss – loads of brands have got an overpowering molasses/treacle flavour and it goes off after a while. If you only use it occasionally or you live on your own, this is expensive and annoying.
I use it for Mee Goreng – an Indonesian version of Chow Mien and I also add it to vegetarian versions of dishes which traditionally use Chinese Bacon.

Ingredients for basic version
1 part soy sauce – I use half light soy and half dark, as dark on it’s own is still too treacle-tasting for me.

1 part palm sugar (jaggary), grated- you can use ordinary sugar, but jaggery has got a lovely complex almost buttery flavour – it keeps for years. Chinese and Indian stores sell it quite cheaply – Sainsbury’s little jars are exorbitant.

Combine soy and sugar in a small pan and heat gently until sugar has dissolved, then boil for about 3-4 minutes until the mixture begins to go a bit syrupy – keep an eye on it…you don’t want it to burn. Allow to cool and transfer to a bottle – store in the fridge if you haven’t got sterilised bottles.
I use one of those little enamel pots for turkish coffee to cook mine, so I can literally make a couple of tablespoons at a time.
Some people make versions flavoured with garlic, star anise, coriander and galangal – I rarely bother, but if you want to do this, then infuse the soy with the spices at a low simmer, then strain, then proceed as above with the sugar. Make it in small batches – it will last for a couple of months if you store it in the fridge.

粥 glorious 粥 – rice porridge, Cantonese style

Having made so much pepperpot soup, I ate it for lunch and dinner Saturday, Sunday and Monday – but it was a bit full on to have for breakfast as well.
Sunday morning I made 粥 – zhōu – rice porridge – congee. It is one of my favorite ever breakfasts whatever you call it and it costs about 25p for a litre, including spring onion and ginger for the topping – bargain.
If you look on wikipedia, there’s names for it in 24 or so languages from all over Asia, and in Chinese cooking it is cooked in various styles, both sweet and savoury, (also sometimes with other grains, ground or whole, such as millet, corn etc) – lots of Chinese shops in the UK also sell a multi grain mix. Nearly everywhere, though, it is recommended for the elderly, the sick and young children, as well as for breakfast – it is generally great comfort food, with a sweet, fragrant yet clean taste. I know I always think of making it when I feel old, or ill….or childish 🙂
It’s also often served with a dim sum meal.
Different recipes use different types of rice, and for ages I thought this was down to which region or community the cook came from, but a few months ago, in a lazy moment, I counted how many porridge recipes were in my chinese cookbook from the Jilin Cookery School – a whopping 167, it turns out, and they use a variety of methods and rice types – I had been, for years, using half glutinous and half normal rice – which usually turned out just fine, but not always 😦 so I asked the lovely bloke who works at Hung’s on Wardour St (he’s in charge of the bbq meat and noodle section at the front, but he also does the porridge) and after a bit of confusion, ‘cos we were using different words for the same thing and my chinese is not perfect – he told me they use short grain ‘japonica’ rice – if you’re English, and you’re reading this – this is not short grain pudding rice – it’s everyday japanese rice or sushi rice. Don’t buy the tiny packs for making sushi in the supermarket either – it costs a bomb. In a Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean/Japanese store an unbranded bag should cost about £1.99 a kilo, and you only need 100g to make a litre.

Ingredients for 2 big bowls
100g/ 2 handfuls short grain rice
Approx 1 litre of water
5-6 fine julienne of fresh ginger
chopped spring onion
salt or something salty – to taste

anything else you fancy – coriander/mushrooms/greens/seasoned freeze dried tofu/chinese sausage/fried shallot/fish/ chilli bean paste – sky’s the limit.

you can adjust the level of water to make it thinner or thicker, but it should be at least 8 parts water to 1 part rice for the thickest kind, and then you’ll have to stir it constantly near the end so it doesn’t catch and burn. To make a thinner version use 12-14 parts water.

Wash the rice to get rid of excess starch dust, place in a heavy bottomed pan with water and bring to the boil – stir a couple of times to make sure no grains have stuck to the bottom, and turn down to the lowest simmer possible – the secret is cooking it slowly and gently, so that the starch comes out of the grains without breaking up – cook for an hour, hour and a half, stirring a few times near the end to make sure it doesn’t catch – make sure you only put the lid on the pan half way, because it will bubble up and mess up your stove even at such a low heat. Season with salt or bouillon powder or what you will, pour into your bowl, add ginger and spring onion and whatever you’re using and enjoy. Often for breakfast, the porridge is just seasoned, and pickles/fermented beancurd or whatever are served on the side, but you’re in the comfort of your own kitchen so you can do what you want.