Two years ago around this time, Ah Ma left this world. I was there standing by her bedside while I sense her leaving, it is hard to put into words for the feeling.
Ten years ago Ah Ma passed me a chiffon baking pan when I asked her for the recipe as she makes a mean chiffon cake. She uses to make it a lot when I was younger, and I remember it soft, fluffy and huge! Of course the chiffon pan was huge too, and believe me, when I say it’s huge it is. I believe it can actually fit a 10 eggs recipe easily.
Six years ago I tried my hand first time beating the egg whites stiff and make a green tea chiffon cake in inspiration of Ah Ma, and looking back, I have come a long way. Now I can beat egg whites with confidence, but not exactly to perfection though at least I can tell which state it is in. As I lamented then, I couldn’t use the chiffon pan that Ah Ma gave me because it does not fit into my mini toaster oven. Though my mini oven has served me well in all my baking endeavours for all these years, I have to say I am rejoicing over my new built-in oven finally!
But I digress, yes Ah Ma, suddenly I have overwhelming thoughts of her. For the past two years, I have still been wishing Ah Ma on her birthday but I never really did remember her going away date. Maybe naturally I believe in celebrating life rather than death. But my sister mentioned it that day, so I thought hey I should bake something in memory of Ah Ma then, and so I did.
I didn’t manage to bake a chiffon cake as good as Ah Ma’s, but I believe she would be proud of me nonetheless for my
Honey Chiffon Cake
As my chiffon pan was huge as mentioned, it was actually a 9-inch pan. The recipe turns out too little for it, so I would recommend using a 7-inch chiffon pan if you have one. Using a larger pan also yielded a larger surface of baking, thus making it slightly over-baked than I would have liked it. If I am ever to repeat this, I will surely double/triple the recipe. Other than that, I also found that the cake has softened nicely and the flavours developed more distinctly after a day, so if you can bear it, let it sit a day before devouring it, you won’t regret it!
Egg yolks 3
Honey 4 tbsp
Oil 3 tbsp
Water 1 tbsp
Flour 85 gm
Baking powder 1 tsp
Egg whites 4 (please note the difference)
Cream of tartar 1/8 tsp
Sugar 1 tbsp
Preheat oven to 170 degrees.
Sift flour and baking powder together. (I sifted twice to make it lighter and finer)
Mix in the salt.
Whisk the wet ingredients together till well combined.
Fold in the earlier flour mixture to create a batter.
Beat the egg whites with cream of tartar and sugar till stiff peak.
Fold and whisk about 1/3 portion of it into the earlier batter to loosen it.
Then gently fold in the rest of beaten egg whites, be careful not to flatten it.
Pour into a 7-inch chiffon pan
Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes.
Invert pan immediately after baking.
After cooled, run a knife around it and remove from pan.
Hokkien Mee / Prawn Mee / Har Mee / Xia Mian / Hae Mee
Yes being of so many names (due to dialects), and not to be confused with the black stir-fried Hokkien thick noodles, it is actually a prawn noodle soup. Up north in Malaysia, Taiping included, we normally called it Hokkien Mee, so imagine my confusion when I moved down south to KL initially. From then on I have started to identify it as Har Mee (in Cantonese dialect that is widely use in KL), and so will this post for consistency.
The soup is a broth made of prawn shells broth that is boiled with pork ribs. Later on prior to serving, the soup will be added with belachan chili paste, which is an important ingredient to make it truly Malaysian. Though this dish may have originated from the Fujian province in China, the Hokkiens in Malaysia must have tweaked it with our famous belachan to make it more complex and intense in flavour. It is normally served with yellow noodles and/or mee hoon / bee hoon (rice vermicelli), and served with various condiments like fried pork lard (a personal must even though there are various health concerns about it, validated or not), taugeh (bean sprouts), kangkung (spinach), sliced tauhu (tofu) and of course prawns.
Tale of two mothers Due to my mother’s lack of culinary inclination, the kitchen in my Taiping house have not seen much fire activities except the occasional boiling of eggs or cooking rice or quite scarily cooking instant noodles. Thus since a kid, I have the luxury to go out often and explore the street food and hawker stalls of Taiping. In fact my mother is not one who is tham jiak (I wonder where I get mine from, must be the Hokkien blood in me, my mother is Hakka by the way) but one who prefers familiarity and comfort. Therefore she would always go back for familiar Malaysian food. One of the food that she kept revisiting on our Saturday lunch rituals (she goes to work on weekdays so Saturday lunch is quite a precious mother-daughter thing), was the Har Mee in Tai Chien, Taiping. Sadly though the stall is no longer there as the proprietor had retired and there was no one to take his place, which unfortunately have also been the fate of most of the good food in Taiping.
My other mother, which is my nanny who had taken care of me in the first five years of my life, was totally different. Not only does she have a flair in culinary, she was also as tham jiak as me. We can see the similarity between us where she would seek out to try various food popping up in Taiping while she also loves to cook and bake at home. Besides, she have this good quality, which sadly I do not possess, was the determination to keep making something until it is right, so most of her signature dishes are to die for. She has her family and friends vouching for her, but most importantly, her husband who sing praises of it.
“You should ask Lai Ma to make Har Mee for you, hers is the best! You should definitely learn from her before its lost”
“Lai Ma, let’s make Har Mee, I want to learn”, I chirped.
Lai Ma rolled her eyes “There’s no ingredients…it’s troublesome….” and she continues with whatever grumbles she can come up with, as she knows, as much as I know, as much as also my Lai Pa knows, is that my Lai Pa himself wants to eat it. Of course I am sure his intention of me learning the trades are definitely there, but being tham jiak himself, he is obviously hankering for it. Despite my Lai Ma’s various excuses, she would next day wake up early to go marketing and even prepare all the necessary ingredients before calling me up, “You come over now, we are going to make Har Mee”, which is of no surprise to me and also much to my delight to be able to learn and eat it of course.
Ah, this is the power of love, and one that has been around for a long time. One hints, one understands, one gives excuses, one pretends and in the end both happy. One happy for the labour of love from the wife, another because her husband appreciates her labour of love.
Har Mee from a Taiping stall: Taiping Har Mee have the flavour that is very similar to the Penang hokkien prawn mee but minus the char siew slices. I must say the Har Mee that I had in KL had always paled in comparison, so do try out Har Mee if you are up north in Malaysia. Else you can try to make one as below!
Har Mee from a Taiping kitchen: The difference of the Har Mee coming out from your own kitchen is the quality of ingredients that went into it. Here you will see big prawns and big chunks of pork ribs. Besides you can choose to have which ingredient more (or less) according to your palate. Just try not to be as tham jiak as me where it was overflowing with ‘lius’ (ingredients) till even the noodles were hidden. Then again, forget what I just said and liberally pile on your favourite stuffs!
The soup 1 big pot of prawn shells
800g to 1kg pork ribs
Dry fry the prawn shells till fragrant
Then boil them in water to extract the flavours
Strain the liquid and discard the shells
Add extra water and then put in the pork ribs
Boil for about 2 hours or till meat is soft
Add rock sugar and salt to taste
Crispy lard and fried onions Roughly a bowl of pork lard, chopped to small even cubes and then marinate with some salt
Big handful of small onions, sliced thinly
Add about 1/2 cup oil (depending how much pork lard) to wok and heat up
Deep fry pork lard till brown, pork lard will yield more oil in the end
(Lai Ma’s tip: normal oil is mixed with the pork lard so that it would not congeal after cool)
Scoop out the fried pork lard to a bowl, leaving bout 1/2 cup fat in the wok
Then fry the sliced onions in the fat
When almost brown, lower the fire and add a tablespoon of sugar to mix
(Another Lai Ma’s tip: sugar is added for the secrecy to crispy fried onions)
Scoop out to drain and then cool. Once cool keep in a bottle to keep it crispy
Chili paste and prawns Blend belachan, onion, dry chili and fry till dry
1/2 cup small prawns, shell removed
Heat oil and fry 3 tbsp of the blended paste
Scoop out the paste leaving bout 2tsp behind
Fry it with the prawns till cook
Set aside both paste and prawns
Noodles and other toppings 1 bunch of Kangkung
Bee hoon, pre-soaked till soft
1/2 cup big prawns
Bring water to boil
Blanch the kangkung, then remove
Then blanch the yellow mee
Then blanch the bihun mee
Finally right before serving, blanch the big prawns
To serve Pile the noodles into the bowl
Pour the soup over the noodles till just covered and then pour it back into the pot (this is the secret to most noodle soups for the flavour to first coat the noodles)
Pour in the soup again with some pork ribs if desire
Top with the chili paste and little prawns
Then pile on remaining toppings as per preference
I am sending this story and delicious Malaysian dish hailed from Taiping to Babe in City KL‘s Merdeka Open House 2011 – Makan Through Malaysia. The first time that I joined was her first open house 5 years ago (how time flies!) with my Chiffon Cake recipe and story. Thank you babe for choosing one of my ideas for the theme again and I can’t wait for the rest of the virtual roundup for delicious food from all over Malaysia!
Where have I been missing for so long? Happily busy as commented by a new reader of mine? Yea, I would say so. Currently my tasks are getting heavier, where I see myself working later and later but there is one other thing that is making me go crazy, preparing to be a bridesmaid and helping out in my sister’s wedding! Oh boy, now I know that planning for wedding needs so much of an attention. Every little details counts for big things.
Anyway, enough bout me as I am here to tell you a story about an amazing woman. I mentioned about my Lai Ma in my Chinese New Year great feast at her home. I practically spend the first 4 years of my life at her humble home, surrounded with lots of love from her, her husband and her children. There were also chaos and mischief as I had my dear god sister U and her brother as partners in crime.
The story of how Lai Ma became my nanny started like this. My first nanny was not her, but another lady somewhere in Aulong (a suburb of Taiping) and at that time I was about few months old. My mum had to send me to a nanny because she was working and could not take care of me full time. So one fine day, my Pho Pho(grandma) decided to give me a visit, and took a cab to Aulong. She found me at the hall, crying pitifully, desperate for a nappy change and yet with no one attending to me. As she reminisced to me, she found the nanny happily cooking in the kitchen seemingly unaware of my predicament. That was enough for Pho Pho where she called up my mum immediately, and with a recommendation from a distant relative, my mum drove right over after work, pick me up and drove me straight to my Lai Ma’s house. That was how Lai Pa described, where I came in my mum’s car late in the evening, in need of love and attention right into their home that was never deprived of those. And so begin my years of growing up there.
I would say it had been the shaping years of my life, trust me we children do absorb everything like sponge during the first 5 years of our lives from family and people surrounding us. So environment counts and lucky for me, it was a great one. After that it is the school, the teacher and then to friends. So if you had just turned into a mum or are expecting, remember this, the next 5 years is the time you take to shape your child. Anyway, not to divert, so my Lai Ma, her husband and her three children (all in their teens then) had shaped me in many ways. When I finally move back permanently with my family, I somehow felt I was different, albeit a bit on the stubborn and naughtier side due to fact that I was exposed to peers other than your own siblings, so I was somehow the stronger and mischievous one in school, but that would be another story.
Quite a pity though as when I was young, I was a rascal who refused to eat. All I want to do was play, play and just play. So when it comes to meal time, it was either wham bam thank you ma’am and then rush off to continue whatever game that we were in, or it would be a long torturous road of trying to cheat me into finishing my meal. This was how un-tham jiak I was when I was young. Maybe I did not know how to appreciate food then, which I make up real well now, I hope. I even shied away from Malaysia’s king of fruit, the durian when I was young and no amounts of coaxing or brain-washing can make me eat it. This was another real pity thing as my Lai Pa goes to an estate all the time, to hunt wild boars (yes, hunting with big long guns that you would only see in the movies) and also harvest many wonderful fresh local fruits, and one that always came back fresh from falling off the tree is the durian.
So now I am all grown up, appreciating food in its myriad of tastes, smells and textures, that I see how much I have missed then, oh and yea, I do eat durian now and enjoy it very much. Funny how much one’s taste can change so much as they grew up. My Lai Ma’s cooking was superb, sadly that I realized this so much later, but still not too late fortunately. I also learnt that she was an excellent baker only after I had left Taiping for studies, where her husband and children had once bought her a huge mixer (maybe it was smallest at that time), that lasted her for more than 20 years until now, where in occasions I got to use to bake a few cakes with her and even made my first virgin cheesecake at her place, her acclaimed best recipe from those who had tried. It was a really cool stand mixer, like a KitchenAid of that time, where I believed I would have dream and wish for it then like how I wish for KitchenAid now.
From the recent Chinese New Year (the most celebrated occasion for the Chinese every year is still vividly fresh in my mind), I had managed to learn one of her ‘secret’ recipe, the young papaya pickle. It is thinly sliced young papaya soaked in Chinese rice vinegar, sugar and sliced chillies, in glass containers, which can last for ages but it never does, not in my household anyway. I was lucky last year when once during a visit to her house, she had just made a big batch, soaking in few glass containers of various sorts such as jam jar, taucu jar (her favourite) and other sauces jar, just like how we Chinese like to keep these containers/bottles/boxes for ‘just in case’s, which this time, rarely I might say, was really put to good use. She even reminded me to bring back the container the next time I come back so that it can be reuse for more pickled papayas! So, this year when I visit her again, I casually mentioned that I had brought back the containers for her (proudly as I was really famous for forgetfulness, especially in her household of really keen and responsible people), and she was indeed surprised and happy. Then I also casually mentioned that I simply looove those pickled papayas, where I polished off in just a week and had been yearning for more since then. She perk up immediately to know I enjoy it so much and offered immediatly “it is so very easy to make, let me make a batch for you to bring back tomorrow!” I was thrilled yet worried as my plan was to go back with my cousin was right after breakfast, which she waved off as no problem as she said it can be done in a jiffy.
Come the next day, my mum fetched me to Lai Ma’s house early in the morning before meeting my cousin for breakfast to pick up my precious pickled papayas. My mum was also very intrigued and want to give it a try, which later I passed one jar to her (later claimed by her to be excellent) and took two jar back home to PJ. Yes, my dear Lai Ma had made a huge batch for me, where she had skipped her daily morning walk that day just to get to the market early to buy papaya, come back and then slice and soak them just in time for me to pick up before I leave. I felt so loved, people say food is the way to a man’s heart, for me that is the way to a child’s heart, yes I am still very much a child to her, for me at least, and for all time to come I’m sure.
Young Papaya Pickle
When I asked my Lai Ma how do I know how to pick an unripe papaya that is just right for this pickle, my Lai Pa was right there listening, and as I said that he was a wise food enthusiast too, he told me straight away “when you just see a tiny hint/streak of yellow on a green papaya, then that papaya is just right for pickling”. See, I told you my Lai Pa was a wise food enthusiast (and also in many other areas of life, I’m compelled to add), he gave me such an easy and fool-proof method to my pickling journey! The recipe below is more of an estimation as it really depends how much papaya slices you can get from your papaya, how strong your rice vinegar is, and how sweet and spicy you want it to be, so follow it as a guideline and then taste as you go on.
Green with a hint/streak of yellow papaya (sliced thinly) Chinese Rice vinegar
Red chillies (sliced in inches)
Put the sliced papaya into a jar (from your stashed of ‘just in case’ glass containers)
Pour in rice vinegar to 3 quarter full (do not add to full as the papaya will produce more water as it pickle)
Put in sugar to taste, stir in each addition and continue tasting to just right
Throw in few slices of chillies (as many as you like, but for mine I saw bout 1-2 chilly for a jar)
From time to time, give it a turn around (i.e. spoon bottom to top and vice versa so that all the papayas could get to soak), with a really clean dry spoon.
After a while all the papaya will be happily soaking in rice vinegar and its own juices, so then onwards you can keep as long as you want, just remember to take out with clean spoon every time. (Psst, sometimes I dip in with my fingers when I could not resist but no worries, mine do not need to be stored for long anyway).
P/S: I am submitting this entry to Apples & Thymes to celebrate my Lai Ma, just like a mother to me and a mother to her lovely children, and how she play a big part in my life and my love for food.
Update: The lovely round-up of Apples & Thyme can be found at Mele Cotte.
I believe every cook has its challenges. Every cook has its qualms. As for me there are only two things in this culinary world that always gave me the apprehension. It is the yeast and the beat-till-stiff-peak thing. Oh yes, shamefully, as a cook, I have yet to even bake a bread myself, the thought of culturing a colony of yeast and then kneading them together and then hoping they would multiply and make your dough grow fat, seem so daunting, impossible even. But then, yesterday I had just overcome the other one of my culinary shortcomings, though not without some glitches. Before this, I had failed before in my attempt unknowingly, when I baked the birthday cake for my Ah Ma, resulting in a dense short sponge cake. This time however, I had finally beaten those stubborn egg whites stiff and baked myself a chiffon cake! Hurrah!
As a kid, I have always loved chiffon cake (similiar to sponge cake but lighter and taller). My Ah Ma used to bake a mean pandan chiffon cake. She can make them rise really high in her huge chiffon pan, which she had passed on to me and which sadly, could not fit into my mini oven. Besides, here in Malaysia, chiffon cake is really popular among the locals. The most popular one is of course, the pandan flavoured chiffon cake then next is the orange chiffon cake. My mum used to buy it a lot too for me to bring to school last time, and I absolutely love the soft texture and the soft feeling of it. One can eat the whole chiffon cake without feeling you had eaten a bomb. In case you’re wondering, I have yet to try to eat the whole cake myself, ha-ha. Nowadays in KL, we can find chiffon cakes easily in the Pasar Malam (night market) and also at any of the hypermarkets like Tesco and Carrefour, which gives even better prices. Every time I wanted to buy them I would stop myself and then think “hey, you can easily bake one at home!” In the end I would end up deprived of them, cursing myself all the time. After so long, I guess it finally paid off. I succumbed to temptation, flipped through thousands of chiffon recipes, choose a promising one, braced myself and finally baked one.
Since this is such a well-loved light dessert for the Malaysians from eons ago, I am submitting this entry to Babe‘s Merdeka Open House 2006! Though this cake can still be found easily outside, I believe it is no longer the common bakes of Malaysian households, in a way it is a long forgotten recipe. Now with this easy and adaptable recipe, I hope everyone will bake one their own, just like how my Ah Ma would and make some kid really happy. Do look out for this wonderful event as Malaysia celebrates its 49th birthday.
All these while, I had always been used to the idea of pandan or orange chiffon cake, until I ate one cheese chiffon cake baked by C, a fellow KC during our first gathering. Then it dawned on me that chiffon cake is actually really versatile, and could be flavoured in anyway you would want to. In fact we had been having the chocolate sponge cake in our famous blackforest cake all these while unknowingly. Chocolate seems like a good choice, but no too normal, then I do not have any cheese in stock (not after I just baked off a batch of overdue ones), then suddenly I stumbled upon this recipe, from Jo’s Deli Bakery for green tea chiffon cake. now this is certainly interesting. I love green tea, as drinks and also especially in ice cream. It is certainly an exotic taste, which I found really versatile in a lot of things. This green tea flavour took the chiffon cake up to another level of sophistication altogether, setting it apart from the usual ones. The green colour can be deceiving, as my mind would keep tricking me that I am eating pandan chiffon cake, but when I chew on the soft cottony cake a few times, and revel a bit in the flavour, then the green tea will come through and oh wow, I’m lost for words. Let me go try another one (yes it’s an excuse) and come back with better words to describe it.
Green Tea Chiffon Cake
This recipe is actually for a fancy birthday cake, all dressed up with whipped cream and green tea powder, but I just took the basic sponge cake and give it a try. After all this is about me and the egg whites war, so a basic chiffon cake will do. I do not have a chiffon cake pan, but I heard before that it can be baked in the usual round cake pan so there goes the pan problem. Well, I finally manage to beat my egg whites stiff peak, it stands on the tip of my beater and I can turn the bowl over my head without being splash white (Jamie’s way). Then I carefully fold in the green tea portion, taking care not to expel all the air I had whipped in. Now everything seems find till this step, but my one mistake is, I believe, my oven was too hot when I put it in. Before that I had been baking a chocolate cake at higher temperature, though I had lowered it down for a while before putting in the chiffon, apparently it is still hot, half of the top blacken considerably slightly after half time and that part did not rise as much, this is because my temperamental oven are usually hotter at the inner left, I don’t know why. Another thing to note is I used a 9 inch pan, instead of the 8 inch that the recipe called for, that is why my cake was shorter and with that it baked in a much lesser time, which luckily I check with a toothpick and took it out sooner. Oh ya, I also took care not to peak until only the last quarter of baking time.
A few things that I noted from this recipe are, first I would dissolve the green tea powder in the water, then only add to the flour mixture. As for the egg yolks, it should be beaten first, then add with the oil and beat further to mix well, as both are of the same kind, it should be easy and then add to the flour mixture too. This way it will be easier to incorporate everything together, which I had a hard time earlier. I would be reflecting these in the recipe.
Next time, I would also go back with the 8 inch pan and bake at the right temperature (until I found how to deal with my oven), and if possible get myself a chiffon cake pan for better heat distribution, in case you don’t know, chiffon cake pans have a tube in the middle for the heat distribution along with the sides of the pan. Now that I had finally successfully baked chiffon cake, and love it, I would be baking more soon, so definitely worth the investment (note to self). Look out for more of my chiffon cakes adventure, I would still be going back to this green tea a lot, but of course I will be experimenting on other flavours too, yum!
100 g cake flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
45g castor sugar
4 egg yolks
50g oil (I used olive)
2 tsp/3g green tea powder
4 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 170C
Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda into a bowl.
Add in the sugar.
Beat the egg yolks, then add in oil and beat well again.
Dissolve the green tea in the water.
Stir in both the oil and water mixture into the flour mixture.
Stir until incorporate well.
In a separate clean bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar till bubbly.
Gradually add in the sugar and whip at high speed until stiff peaks form
Fold 1/3 of the egg white into the green tea mixture to enlighten it
Then pour this mixture into the remaining egg whites and fold gently to combine
Pour into a 8 inch pan and bake for 40-45 minutes
As soon as the cake is removed from the oven, invert the pan and let it cool
Once cooled, run a knife around the sides of the pan to remove the cake