June 20, 2013

Cocktail bun

I had almost quit blog writing after I gave birth to my son. Caring for a newborn leaves you feeling guilty doing anything else. In the chaos of new parenthood with small tasks that never end, food bloggingfrom finding angles for photos to jotting down details of a recipegives me a sense of accomplishment when I can see through the birth of a post til the end. It takes me back to my pre-motherhood self.

Yet, cooking itself could be a mess when you have a restless child, especially they cry when your hands are drenched in some gooey mixture of butter, egg, and flour. That said, the stress is actually pretty short-lived when you can literally smell the finished product in your head.

This is why I choose to make the cocktail bun, a buttery and coconuty brioche roll with an aroma so desirable that all those kneading and shaping are well worth the efforts. The freshly baked cocktail buns smell heavenly: you can literally single out the coconut in the air. Next come the golden crust and a little bit of sesame garnish that visually complement the buns. Last but not least, you are ultimately swept away by the soft and fluffy crumb that wraps around a velvety and hearty coconut filling.

Sweet Heart Cake Shop is a bakery I always frequented back in Hong Kong
The cocktail bun gets its name not from any use of spirits but from the use of baking scrap mixtures, which reminds me of the humble origin of the British crumble. These buns represent the essence of Hong Kong-style: appropriating foreign ingredients to create a localized version in a minimal and economical fashion. Bakeries in Hong Kong are as ubiqitous as Starbucks in the US. These buns are hugely popular among the locals. To busy students and workers, they are a meal of its own when paired with lemon tea or malt milk.

My husband loves these buns. They have even become our late night nostalgia snacks, something to munch on after a busy day with our baby. It takes us to our remembered pleasure, a pre-parenthood youth and innocence that pressured new parents hunger for.

Cocktail bun
recipe adapted from SandyWanCooks
makes about 10 buns

2 1/4 cups bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 tsp yeast
5 oz luke-warm water
1  large egg
2 tbsp butter

1/2 cup or 1 stick butter
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup coconut flakes

1 egg for egg wash
sesame seeds for garnish

Dissolve yeast in luke-warm water. Mix the ingredients for the dough. It's okay if you find the dough sticky; it is supposed to be that way, just like a brioche dough. The more you knead, the more elastic and less sticky the dough turns out, and the happier you'll be with your hands free of sticky bits that are hard to get rid of. So knead the dough until it windowpanes, about 10 minutes. The resulting bread will be flaky and airy. Set the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a plastic wrap. Let rise until it's doubled in size, about 1 hour. (Tips: I'd clean the work surface now for the mess coming up.)

Punch the risen dough. Shape the dough into 10 tiny balls. Let rise for about 20 minutes. While waiting, mix the ingredients of filling and divide it into 10 equal parts.

Pat the tiny balls with your heel of the palm and put the filling in. Let rise again until it's doubled in size. The second rise is crucial in helping build the structure of the bread.

Preheat the oven to 375°F 20 minutes before baking. Beat an egg for egg wash. Apply it in three strokes. Sprinkle sesame seeds for garnish. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until golden brown.

May 08, 2013

My mom-in-law's rooftop garden 2013 spring


I'm back in Hong Kong again. It has become almost a ritual to check out what my mom-in-law is growing everytime when I'm home. What is even more special this year is that most of my son's food comes from here! And to my surprise, he loves what I hate: beet.


tianqi (a kind of Chinese herb)

yam leaves



April 28, 2013

Lotus root chips

My son is already 11 months old. When I wrote my last entry on steamed potatoes five months ago, I didn't foresee what was to come: mealtime struggles. The fear of rejection and stress plagues me everytime when mealtime comes. Apparently babies cannot be manipulated when it comes to eatingthey simply keep their mouths shut. To get my son to eat, we exhaust every possible distraction technique, such as using lots of props, so that we can quickly shovel spoonfuls of what we call "food" - purees of unidentifiable ingredients - into his mouth. We sing too; sometimes we even bark and meow.

That he is unaware of the act of eating really troubles me. I'm secretly keeping my fingers crossed this distraction technique won't persist into his toddlerhood! That's why I'm also sitting him next to us during adult mealtimes and giving him bits and pieces of what we eat as his finger food, even letting him squish and squash them in a playful manner. He's still in his mouthing stage, probing the world by tasting everything within his reach. Needless to say, I'm not particularly impressed that his favorite "food" is remote control and my cell phone. I just wish his curiousity in biting can replicate on the dining table.

That said, as a mom of a restless child, I need to bring out the sensory and textual appeal of the food I serve in a more playful way. We love stimulation, don't we? That's when lotus root comes in. I can imagine my son poking his fingers to fit in those tiny holes of the plant when cut crosswise. The shape of the chips resembles flowers. How beautiful! Its texture is a cross between crisp apple and mealy potato; its taste a subtle earthiness that reminds one of its origin—a rhizome, or underground stem—of the lotus plant that is often associated with modesty and purity.

Lotus Root Chips

Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
1 section lotus root, medium sized, about 1/2 pound
pinch of salt and pepper
olive oil
Preheat oven to 400°F. Bring to boil a pot of water and boil the lotus root for 10 minutes. (Preboiling yields a chewy texture that compliments greatly with crisp crust but it's optional.) Slice lotus root, either peeled or unpeeled, into 1/8 inch chips. Coat the chips evenly with enough olive oil. Spread the chips evenly on a greased baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes on one side before turning; then bake for 5 minutes more or until golden brown. Enjoy! These lotus root chips will definitely spark some curiousity in little minds.



April 22, 2013

A home-cooked meal of late 1970s Hong Kong

This picture shows my dad and grandma (in the center of the picture) enjoying a scrumptious home-cooked meal with guests in a tiny apartment they rented when they first immigrated to Hong Kong from Meixian, China. I wasn't born yet. My mother was still in China. There were five dishes, which I couldn't figure out what they were, and one soup. Despite the modest and simple decor in the apartment they live in, dinnerware used was exquisitely decorated. I can imagine how important a proper dinner meant to themback then as new immigrants in an exotic land.