Brunei breakfast and best brioche recipe

September 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

Brunei is a tiny country with a population of some 400,000 shoehorned into a territory of just 2,228 square miles on the island of Borneo. Part of Borneo belongs to Malaysia and the rest (apart from Brunei of course) belongs to Indonesia. The Sultanate of Brunei was powerful regional presence whose influence was at its height between the 15th and 17th centuries. As its influence subsequently declined its territory became gradually smaller. The economic decline was reversed following the discovery of oil in Brunei in 1929. As a result, tiny Brunei became a highly developed and wealthy country whose citizens have an appetite for Western luxury goods.

Today’s breakfast idea was taken from the cosmopolitan menu of the Fleur de Lys Bakeshop in Brunei’s capital city, Bandar Seri Bagawan. The Fleur de Lys Bakeshop is a French style pâtisserie whose macarons and croissants could rival anything you’d find in Paris. My selections was “French toast kaya – brioche French toast served with our very own ‘home-made’ coconut-egg kaya”. This looked rather more appealing than the various chicken sausage and beef bacon rasher combos on offer, pork being ruled out by local Islamic dietary rules.

OK so I know how to make brioche French toast but what on earth is coconut-egg kaya? Kaya, it turns out, is a sweet, creamy coconut preserve flavoured with pandan leaves, made in a similar way to our own lemon curd (but obviously without the lemons!). Ex pat South East Asians yearn for the stuff and either get it shipped out to them or make their own.

I searched around for an approachable, logical kaya recipe and fell for the lovely pictures in Malaysian-born cook and food writer Billy Law’s blog “A Table for Two”. It turns out that Billy was a finalist in the Australian extra-tough version of Masterchef winning the hearts of viewers if not ultimately the judges.

Billy’s instructions were sufficient and easy to follow. First stop is your local Asian grocer for pandan leaves and good quality 100% coconut milk. I’m lucky enough to have Kim’s Thai foodstore in Manchester’s Chinatown (see contact details below) almost on my doorstep. Walking down the steps into the tardis-like basement, you’re transported to the scents and sights of Bangkok’s Khao San Road. It was straightforward enough to pick up the specialist ingredients I needed here – a good quality 100% coconut milk and pandan leaves:

Having gone to the trouble of sourcing authentic ingredients for my kaya, I now needed a decent brioche loaf to turn into indulgent French toast. Having looked at the dry and sad little excuses for brioche offerings available at local supermarkets I decided I’d better bake my own.

I turned to Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking – from my home to yours” for inspiration, as, based on my experience with her Kugelhopf recipe, Ms Greenspan knows how to handle enriched yeasted doughs. The only quibble I have about this bible-type baking compendium is that having meticulously sourced and researched her recipes from professional European bakers in many cases, she doesn’t give accurate gram weights but turns everything into American cup sizes. I have to reverse engineer her recipes and convert everything back to grams!

Following the recipe and with the aid of my Kenwood mixer, after a day and a half (!) I produced a stretchy, silken ball of golden dough:

The golden colour is attributable not only to the eggs in the dough but also to the full 340g butter required to make the recipe. Let me repeat that – 340g butter, a pack and a half, which looks like this:

I shaped the loaves two different ways, the first like a triple bun loaf as the recipe specifies, and the second as a standard loaf shape (after the time-consuming effort of making the dough you are rewarded by one brioche loaf for now and one to stash in the freezer as a treat for later). These are loaves before proving:

They are quite slow to achieve a rise in the tin as the dough has spent the night chilling in the refrigerator before being shaped the next morning. This is what mine looked like after nearly 2 hours – not really doubled in size but I couldn’t wait for my breakfast any longer:

I always use steam in my oven when baking any kind of yeasted dough as I think it prevents a dry skin forming on the dough too soon which would impede its rise. Thus I added steam to my oven when baking the brioche and was very happy with the rise and end result. I have read elsewhere (specifically Tom Herbert’s comment in a baking article in October 2012’s Delicious magazine) that baking a brioche with steam will produce a thick hard crust but I have not found this to be the case so suggest steaming ahead!

Here are the loaves straight out of the oven:

That first slice, still warm, was definitely worth waiting for:

Interestingly, the loaf shaped as three buns had a more satisfactory structure and better rise than the standard loaf shape so I’d recommend this shaping method in future.

It goes without saying that the brioche made wonderful French toast, sprinkled with a little grated nutmeg and golden caster sugar before being topped with a generous dollop of the home-made kaya. Brunei is now up there in our “top ten” of world breakfasts.

Recipe for coconut egg kaya

Adapted from Australian chef and food writer Billy Law’s blog “A Table for Two”.

Makes enough to fill one small preserving jar with a bit left over.

Ingredients

3 eggs
2 egg yolks
150g golden caster sugar
250ml canned or packet coconut milk – check the small print to make sure it’s 100% coconut
3–4 pandan leaves, knotted (optional)

Set up a double boiler by placing a suitably sized mixing bowl over a large pan containing simmering water.

Having made sure the bowl will sit comfortably over the pan, take it off the heat and add the whole eggs, yolks and sugar to it and, using a balloon whisk, mix until the sugar has dissolved. Slowly pour the coconut milk into mixture while whisking until well combined. If using, drop the knotted pandan leaves into the mixture.

Swap the balloon whisk for a rubber spatula. Place the mixing bowl on top of the pan containing simmering hot water and start stirring the mixture constantly, scraping down the sides and base of the bowl. Baste the pandan leaves by using the spatula to pour the hot coconut custard over them.

The mixture will start to get thicker. This is likely to take between 20 minutes and half an hour. At this stage, remove the knotted pandan leaves, scraping and squeezing the kaya off them before discarding. Test for doneness by drawing a line right through the mixture in the bowl one swift move using the spatula. If a channel remains for a second or two before the mixture flows back, then it is ready. Remember that it will thicken further as it cools.

Spoon the mixture into a a sterilised jar, allow to cool then refrigerate. It will keep for up to a month in the fridge.

Recipe for Brioche

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking – from my home to yours”

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

7g fast action dried yeast
300g strong plain flour
225g ordinary plain flour
10g salt
80g water mixed with 80g whole milk, either at room temperature or slightly warmed
3 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
45g golden caster sugar
340g unsalted butter, at room temperature

To glaze

1 small egg, beaten
1 tablespoon water

In the bowl of a Kenwood or similar mixer fitted with a dough hook, stir together the flours, fast action dried yeast and salt. Pour in the milk and water mixture then turn the mixer on to a low speed and mix for one to two minutes until the flour is moistened and you have a fairly dry shaggy mixture.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl using a plastic dough scraper or rubber spatula. Turn the mixer back on to a low speed and add the egg mixture little by little, then the sugar. Increase the speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes by which time the dough should have formed into a ball.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the butter in big chunks, beating until almost incorporated before adding the next. You will end up with a very soft cake-batter-like dough. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the mixture comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic dough scraper then cover the bowl with cling film and leave to prove at room temperature until the dough has nearly doubled in size, around 40 to 60 minutes depending on the ambient temperature.

Deflate the dough by picking it up and slapping it back into the bowl. Cover the bowl again with cling film and put it in the fridge. Check the dough every 30 minutes and slap it back until it stops rising. You may need to do this 4 or 5 times. Once it’s stopped rising, make sure the bowl is sealed with cling film and leave it overnight in the refrigerator.

The next morning, grease and flour two loaf tins. Loaf tins are notoriously difficult to size so I’ll tell you the measurements of the ones I used here which were both 22cm (Length) by 11cm (Width) by 6cm (Depth). Divide the brioche dough in half, and divide each half into four equal pieces (best done using an accurate set of scales). Roll each of these small pieces into a log shape (the length of which is equal to the width of your tin)and press four of the logs side by side in the base of each loaf tin. Cover the tins with an upturned plastic storage box or big mixing bowl and leave the loaves to prove until nearly doubled in size and filling the tins. This may take up to three hours as the dough is fridge cold and takes a while to get going again.

When the dough is reaching the end of its proving time, make sure your oven shelf is in a central position and preheat the oven to 190 degrees C (fan).

Make the glaze by beating the egg with the water. Brush the surface of the loaves carefully with the glaze trying not to let it run down the sides of the tin where it will prevent the loaves from rising.

Bake the loaves until well risen and a deep golden brown. I like to add steam at the beginning of the baking time (by quickly throwing a mug of cold water into a shallow preheated roasting tin placed at the bottom of the hot oven) to stop a crust from forming and allow the loaves to rise to their maximum potential.

Remove the loaves from the oven when done and allow to cool in their tins for about 15 minutes before turning them out to complete cooling on a rack. The crumb structure is quite fragile at this stage so be careful when you do this. Don’t attempt to slice until the loaves have cooled thoroughly, for at least an hour.

Contact details

Kim’s Thai Food Store
46 George Street
Manchester M1 4HF
Area: Chinatown
0161 228 6263

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Spinach pie and semolina cake from Greece

September 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Spinach and semolina sound like school dinner hell rather than fond food memories don’t they? Trust me, they really can be good given the right treatment.

The summer holidays are over and the boys are back at school, though in George’s case this is the last time I’ll be able to say this as, all being well, he’ll be a college student next September. I’m still thinking longingly of our week spent in Greece in mid August. We went back to Paleros on the Ionian Coast, a straight repeat of last summer’s holiday but it worked just as well this year too.

The village streets are still lined with enticing little tavernas:

Who wouldn’t want to retreat in here for a leisurely lunch on a hot afternoon?

I love the geometric perfection of the Greek script on a taverna menu:

Though an English menu is more practical for the majority of us:

I fact we confined our taverna visits mainly to the evenings and most lunches were picnics in little bays like this one, a short boat across the bay from Paleros:

And our picnic foods of choice were wedges of freshly baked spinach and cheese pie from Paleros’ bustling little bakery:

I’d carry these back from the bakery, crisp, savoury and still warm. I’ve sought out an authentic Greek recipe from George Moudiotis’ excellent and informative book “Traditional Greek Cooking – The Food and Wines of Greece” which I’ve adapted and given below. The widespread availability of ready made filo pastry and bags of washed and prepared spinach make this a cinch to put together.

To complete our picnic, we’d add tomatoes and ripe pears or watermelon wedges to the bag, plus a little sweet something from the bakery. The Greeks clearly have an extraordinarily sweet tooth and, sandwiched between east and west, their baking has a combined culinary heritage. The buffet table at our hotel would be crowned by over-the-top layered and decorated sponge cakes in the western tradition adorned with swirls of crème patissière and whipped cream, highly coloured icings and glacé fruit. My preference was for the more austere but deeply sticky and sweet middle eastern influenced pastries, kourabiedes, baklava, kadaifi and the like. Here’s the simple yet enticing display of these goodies at the local bakery, reverently screened as a protection from marauding insect life:

I tried out the moist little lozenges topped with sesame seeds and a single decorative almond for the first time. I tried desperately hard with my phrase book modern Greek to find out their proper name but ended up with me and the bakery lady smiling and helplessly shrugging shoulders as I failed to understand what these cakes were called. Whatever they are called, they were dense, moist and syrup-laden, a great energy boost after a long swim:

Looking for what they might be in my Greek food bible “Traditional Greek Cooking” once again, I found a recipe for a simple syruped semolina cake called Revani. This is a traditional cake from Northern Greece which I think sounds a little less dense than the cake I tried but similar in flavour and appearance. I give my adapted version of the recipe below and will be trying it out over coffee very soon to bring back those memories of summer.

Recipe for Spanakopita – Greek spinach and cheese pie

Adapted from George Moudiotis’ “Traditional Greek Cooking – The Food and Wines of Greece”

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

900g spinach, washed, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and chopped
150ml extra virgin olive oil
225g crumbled feta cheese
4 eggs, beaten lightly with a fork
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs – a mixture of flat leaf parsley and dill is good
salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g filo pastry, about 12 sheets
pinch grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (170 degrees C fan).

In a large frying pan big enough to hold all the spinach, fry the chopped spring onions in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil until soft but not browned. Tip into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Add the spinach to the frying pan and cook for about 3 minutes until wilted. Tip into a colander and press out as much excess water as you can. Add the drained spinach to the mixing bowl which already contains the cooked spring onions and add the feta, beaten eggs, chopped fresh herbs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. When seasoning, don’t add too much salt as the feta is already quite salty. Mix well to combine.

Brush a 4cm rectangular deep baking dish with oil. Metal is best to conduct the heat and cook the pastry. Choose a tin that is a little smaller than the dimensions of the filo sheets. Lay the first sheet of filo over the base letting the edges overhang. Brush the sheet with oil. Repeat until you have used half the sheets of pastry. This constitutes the base of the pie. Spoon over the filling, spreading it evenly over the pastry. Cover with the remaining filo sheets in a similar manner, brushing each one with oil as you layer up, not forgetting to brush the top sheet with oil.

Using a really sharp knife, score the top surface of the pie marking out 6 or 8 portions. Prick the surface of the pie evenly all over to give an additional way for steam to escape. Trim the overhanging pastry edges but still leaving a small border. Fold this small border over the top and press lightly to seal. Spritz the pie with a little water to prevent the pastry from curling and bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until the pie is golden brown and crisp.

Serve warm or cold.

Recipe for Revani – syruped semolina cake from Northern Greece

Adapted from George Moudiotis’ “Traditional Greek Cooking – The Food and Wines of Greece”

Serves 10-12

Ingredients

For the cake

225g golden caster sugar
6 eggs
5 tablespoons warm milk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
225g fine semolina
150g self raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt

For the syrup

450g golden caster or granulated sugar
400 ml water
75g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
finely grated zest of half a lemon

To decorate

Toasted whole blanched almonds

Line a 12 inch round cake tin with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (170 degrees C fan). Mix together thoroughly the semolina, self-raising flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar together at high speed for about 10 minutes, adding the milk and vanilla extract mix gradually, until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Sift the flour mixture over the whisked egg mixture in three batches, gently incorporating each batch with a balloon whisk trying to retain all the whisked air bubbles in the mixture.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and cooked through.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Put the sugar and water into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil without stirring. Once the sugar is dissolved, boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the butter, lemon juice and zest and leave to cool.

Spoon the cooled syrup over the hot cake shortly after it comes out of the oven. Do this carefully as you do not want the cake to collapse. Leave the cake in its tin to cool completely. Cut it into lozenges and decorate with toasted whole blanched almonds.

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