Montreal Brunch

20160806_112614The brunch menu said ‘brouillade d’oeuf, croissant, echalote verte grille and sirop d’erable.

“What’s brouillade?” I asked.

“Scrambled eggs,” hubby replied.

“With maple syrup?”

“Yes!” Emm, the resident Montreal-er said. “We put maple syrup on everything.  Pancakes, beans, meat pies. Eggs, no problem.”

Canada  produces 80% of the world’s pure maple syrup and is the leading supplier of maple syrup and maple products. Quebec produces over 90% of Canada’s supply, with the Federation of Québec Maple Syrup Producers controlling the supply and sale of the product.

In 2012 the news world was rocked by the theft of over 10,000 barrels of syrup from a warehouse near Montreal.   At the time, grade A syrup was trading at $1,800 a barrel (approximately 13 times the price of crude oil) and the loss was valued at nearly $20 million dollars. It focused attention on the cartel-like Federation and dubbed Quebec as the Saudi Arabia of maple syrup.

Referred to as the Great Canadian Maple Syrup heist, the theft was remarkable for the size and scale of its organization.  Moving that many barrels would have required one hundred tractor trailers trucking through the warehouse site, unchallenged and undetected.

Hmm … sounds like a good heist movie. I could imagine Donald Sutherland as the criminal mastermind and Keanu Reeves as the lead driver in a convoy speeding across the Trans Canada highway.

Meanwhile, my brunch plate had arrived.  It looked like  I’d found one of those missing barrels. It had been poured all over my eggs.

Les Québécois have famously sweet tooth(s). They love sugar – tire sur neige (maple syrup taffy on snow), sucre à la crème l’érable (maple fudge), tarte au sucre (sugar pie) and pouding chômeur (poor man’s pudding) which is  a kind of maple syrup cobbler with no pretensions of fruit.

20160806_112620Not being a Quebec native myself, I found the dish a bit too sweet.  I traded it for hubby’s sandwich.

His meal violated another axiom of heart healthy foods. Cholesterol rich with braised beef, melted cheese and sauerkraut, it was fried in butter and accompanied by frites cooked in duck fat.

Delicious, heart clogging Québécois fare.

Montreal, Canada. 2016

 

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TangZhong Bread

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Hokkaido Milk Bread

I mentioned that I have a new hobby?  I’m still at it.

Having baked and eaten several loaves of  chewy homemade bread I began to wonder why Asian breads are so different. One of the reasons why I started experimenting is that it’s so hard to get ‘regular’ bread in Singapore. Forget about regional Jamaican specialities.  Boules, sourdoughs, baguettes are impossible to find.

Let me qualify that.

Specialty breads are impossible to find at reasonable prices. European and artisanal breads can be bought but it’s at places like Paul’s Boulangerie, where they fly in specially milled flour and charge exhorbitant prices.  My neighbourhood has bakeries galore but they all make Hong Kong style breads.  Light and fluffy, the breads are pillowy soft, have an ephemeral crumb and are always slightly sweet.

A little research uncovered a technique called the TangZhong method which originated in Japan but is widely used in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.  It was first publicized by a Chinese author, Yvonne Chen who introduced it in her book ‘The 65º Bread Doctor’.  The technique involves cooking a flour and water roux and adding it to the dough during mixing.  The science behind the roux has something to do with gelatinizing flour and its subsequent hydration effect.  After a little bit of YouTubing and a whole lot of Googling, I decided to try  PastryGirl’s Hokkaido Milk Bread on her Desserts First website.

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Fine, even grained crumb with a touch of sweet

TangZhong breads have half as much flour as a Basic Bread recipe and the technique calls for twice as much kneading.  Many recipes recommend using  a bread maker or upright mixer for the heavy kneading.  However, my under-powered Oster upright  was not up for the job.  After 20 minutes the machine began to overheat and I could smell  traces of burning metal.  I scraped out the dough and spent the next 20 minutes developing my biceps.  For the final proof, I  folded rolls into two regular pans and gave them a finishing  glaze of egg wash.  It resulted in a beautiful, brioche looking bread.

The taste was lovely – just like the breads in the better Hong Kong style bakeries.   I’m not sure if it was the tangzhong or the 40 minutes of kneading, but the bite and chew was definitely lighter and more tender. The tangzhong articles say that the roux keeps the bread moist with a longer shelf life.  So far, my breads haven’t had a problem with shelf life (they don’t hang around long enough) but I can say that these rolls were just as delicious the next day.

It’s an interesting thing, this tangzhong method.  It got me thinking about another hard to find bread from Jamaica, the eponymous Hardo bread.  A non-verified source says that the Hardo was introduced to the island by Chinese bakers.  The distinction of  Hardo is its resilient, fine grained crumb and its ability to keep fresh over a long period. My French born husband would argue with the ‘resilient’ attribute.  He’s described hardo as heavy and brick-like; solid enough to build houses with.

Notwithstanding, the connection between the bread and Chinese baking is intriguing.   Maybe that will be my next project.

Singapore.  April 2016

Bread Baking Binge

I’ve been on a bread baking binge.   Fueled by my  success with Easter Bun, I stocked up on flour determined to try different types of bread. Starting with Robin Hood’s Basic White Bread.  My, oh my. What a revelation.  I do believe I’ve found a new hobby.

The marvel in making regular bread is that it rises so much more than sweet bread.  Twice as high and twice as fast. The first time I peeked under the tea towel I was  surprised at how much the dough had risen.   After de-gassing  and reshaping into loaves, it rised again.  Twice as high and twice as fast as Easter bun.   Why is that ?

Yeast loves sugar but too much sugar inhibits growth.   Easter Bun has a full cup of sugar while a Basic White has 2 tablespoons.  To compensate, Easter Bun uses 6 teaspoons of Active Yeast while Basic uses 2 1/4 teaspoons. Even so, the rise in the sweet bread takes longer and is not nearly as high.  This is not to disparage – the appeal of real Jamaican bun is its dense, sweet chew, its full toothesome goodness, its spicy complement to buttery cheese … hmm, where was I …

Bread making is different from cake making.  I make cakes regularly and am comfortable in whipping up butter cakes, sponges, muffins, etc.  I’ve always stayed away from  real breads, scared off by the finickiness of yeast and the long yeild times. Plus there’s a whole mystique about the craft which is quite intimidating.  For instance, I bought Jeffrey Hamelman’s book on “Bread – A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes.”  After flipping through the first eight pages on just mixing the flour, I hastily closed the tome and moved on.    It took a wave of  nostalgia for Easter bun (and inability to purchase in Singapore ) for me to try making it by hand.   Luckily this time, four years later, it worked.

Robin Hood has a delightfully straightforward recipe for Basic White Bread.  Here is my variation for a Whole Grain version.

WHOLEGRAIN WHEAT BREAD

½ cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast

1 cup warm milk
½ cup warm water
2 tbs butter
3 tbs molasses
1 ½ tsp salt

4 ½ cup bread flour
1 cup wholegrain flour

Proof yeast in ½ c water & 1 tsp sugar

Mix milk, water, butter, molasses & salt
Add 2 cups bread flour with yeast. Mix in the remaining bread and wholegrain flour.  Knead for 5 mins.

Rest in lightly greased bowl for 1 hour under parchment & tea towel.

When doubled, place on lightly floured board anc cut into two pieces.  Use your fingers to press into a rectangle and remove the excess air (de-gas).  Shape the loaves by rolling into a tight roll and placing into 2 floured loaf tins (8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ x 2 3/4″  or 1.5L). Cover with tea towel and rise 1 hour.

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.

Brush with butter for a soft crust.  Makes 2 loaves.

 

 

Chewy Christmas Ginger Cookies

Who can resist chewy, spicey ginger cookies on Christmas Day.  Warm, crispy at the edges and soft in the center. Perfect with a cup of tea.  It harkens Christmas past, present and future.

Big Soft Ginger Cookies

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Chewy Ginger Cookies

2 1/4 cup  Flour
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

2 tbs sugar

Measure and mix dry ingredients
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and molasses
Mix flour mixture
Shape into 2 inch ball, using a heaping tablespoon
Roll balls in sugar
Place on ungreased cookie sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart
Bake in preheated oven at 350, for 10 minutes or until lightly brown and puffed. Do not overbake, as this will make the cookies hard.
Cool cookies on sheet for two minutes before removing and cooling on wire rack.

Makes 18 cookies, depending on size.
Adapted from ‘Better Homes & Gardens New Baking Book’

… but not Nam Prik Mang Da

NamPrikMangDa It’s a good thing to read labels.

Although Nam Prik Pao is lovely addition to any Thai dish, I’m less certain about Nam Prik Mang Da.   In doing a bit of research for some old photo’s I discovered that not only do Thai’s add water bugs to their curries, they also add it to pre-made curry pastes.    It’s call Nam Prik Mang Da.  No doubt it is slightly more expensive than the plain ole Nam Prik Pao.   I’d seen the fresh water bugs in a previous Thai trip.  They have a lovely floral aroma (I smelt it)  and delightful crunch  (I was told) but I thought they’d be  too expensive for commercially made curry pastes.  Not so.

Notice the lack of bug-looking ingredients on the bottle’s label.

Here’s what Mang Da actually looks like.  Yum.MangDa