Kek Lapis Rempah or Spiced Layer Cake

imageOne of my fondest memories of Hari Raya was visiting Mak Timah’s house in Singapore. Besides her lovely hospitality and welcoming children, what I really looked forward to was her Kek Lapis. Those golden layers  of rich, buttery decadence were redolent with the taste and smell of unknown spices. I could never eat more than 3 or 4 slices (haha), but the memory of those wonderful squares would remain with me until the next Hari Raya when I could have my next fill.

It is therefore unfortunate that I could never find another kek lapis to match Mak Timah’s amazing concoction. Mum managed to obtain Mak Timah’s recipe and I have been trying to replicate it without much success. Somehow I always felt that there was something missing. Her recipe called for 30 egg yolks  and 600 gm of butter (yes, gasp!) No wonder I could never eat more than a few slices at a time. It also meant that I can only try to make the cake once a year – way too expensive to try to make this cake too often.

 

This year, I decided to try making this cake again. However, I had also forgotten to bring with me to Namibia the essential mixed spice for layer cake (and the recipe book with Mak Timah’s recipe in it!) Well, I thought it should not be a problem. I could just google the layer cake spice recipe and try to make  it myself. Ha! Good luck! All of the Malaysian spiced layer cake recipes that I found online used the store bought spice mix. I decided to dive more into the history of the cake and found a similar cake of a Dutch-Indonesian origin called Spekkoek – the thousand layer spiced cake. The spice mix included ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and cardamom. It sounded promising, but I also recall tasting a hint of fennel. So, I began blending a few different versions and stuck with the one that smelt the most familiar. I generally don’t have ground ginger in my pantry, but I did have a piece of dried ginger that I put into the spice blend.

 

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That is not the dried ginger that I used…

In terms of the cake itself, I have made a few different versions but the one that I really loved in terms of the texture is the one  by Asma Laili in her book “Mintak Ampun, Sedapnya” which used a little almond meal, and some condensed milk in place of ovalette, (which I also did not take with me from Malaysia. They don’t seem to have ovalette or any such thing here, and this could be a good thing. Who needs more chemicals?)

So, I took the recipe from here (which I believe is based on Asma Laili’s version) and tweaked it based on what I had on hand.

Kek Lapis Rempah

20 egg yolks

5 egg whites

500 gm butter

350 gm castor sugar

130 gm cake flour mixed with 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar

60 gm almond meal

4 tbs condensed milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

Spice mix: 1 cinnamon bark (size of your pinky), half fresh nutmeg, 12 cardamoms (shelled), 12 cloves, 1 small piece of dried ginger (about 1/4 of your pinky), a teaspoon of fennel. – Blend fine, sieve, blend, sieve until you have really fine powder – mix with the cake flour.

Rempah: Kulit kayu manis (sebesar kelingking), setengah biji buah pala, 12 biji pelaga (buang kulit), 12 cengkih, 1 keping halia kering (1/4 jari kelingking), 1 sudu kecil jintan manis – kisar hingga halus, ayak, kisar lagi hingga jadi macam tepung. Gaul dengan tepung kek.

Method:

Grease and line an 8″x 8″ cake pan.

In your stand mixer, beat the butter and condensed milk till fluffy and white

In another bowl, beat the egg whites till stiff, slowly add castor sugar and keep whipping till glossy like meringue. Add egg yolks, keep beating till pale and thick. Add vanilla essence.

At this point, pre-heat your oven grill.

Add the butter mix to the egg mix gradually and keep beating till well amalgamated. Add the almond meal. Finally add the cake and spice mix. Mix gently.

Put a scoop and a half of the cake mix into the pan and spread gently. Bake till golden. Take it out. Press gently with a spatula (I don’t have the cake leveler thing). Brush with a small amount of melted butter. Add another layer and bake. Repeat until all cake mixture is done.

As you are layering, only use the top grill heat. Once all the layers are done, use both top and bottom heat and bake for about 10 minutes.

Tempeh Making – An Obsession

I love, love, love tempeh. Growing up in Malaysia, tempeh was something that we had regularly. It can be made into sambals, marinated in spices and fried, it can also accompany many different vegetable dishes as it adds a certain succulent “meatiness” due to its ability to absorb nutritious, flavourful broth. It is supposed to be a highly nutritious meat substitute. However, I never really cared about its nutritive content. Tempeh was just a yummy thing.

Then, life started to take me away from the comforts of home. Living in Bognor Regis, England, then Warsaw, Poland, and now Windhoek, Namibia – tempeh is not something that we could always easily obtain. Saudi Arabia was the only other place that we have lived in where tempeh was readily available.

The first time I tried to make tempeh was in Warsaw. Hubby traveled to Moscow for work and came back with two packs of tempeh. What a precious, precious gift! In the dead of winter, I saved half of a pack of tempeh and mixed it with some boiled soy beans and left it to do its own thing in the linen closet (for warmth). For the first day it seemed to go alright. Mycelium started to grow around the new beans. Yet, on the second day I could smell the tempeh turning bad. There was a reek of ammonia in the linen closet and the batch was thrown out. Sigh. I never tried it again. Even when we got more precious tempehs from Berlin, I prefered to cook it, rather than waste it on another attempt at tempeh making.

14 years from the Warsaw experience, we were told that we would be moving to Windhoek (what’s with us and capital cities beginning with “W”?) Quick research told me that tempeh would be very difficult to source there. I was determined that before we left Malaysia, I would take with me some tempeh starter.  For weeks, we scoured various markets in search of tempeh starter. No luck. A day before departure, we were referred to a tempeh maker in a wholesale market. I spoke to the lady and asked if we could get some newly innoculated beans (in the hope of keeping it alive for a few days and starting a new batch in Windhoek immediately upon arrival). Perhaps it was the desperation on my face, but she asked if I would not just rather get the starter in a sealed bag as that would last me a few years, as opposed to innoculated beans that would not last the week. She sold me the only bag of starter she had on hand.

Step 4

My precious bag of tempeh starter

We got to Windhoek, settled in and just before Eid, I decided the time was right to make tempeh. Conditions were not ideal as July is winter and the house is not really built to insulate us from the cold. I spent weeks reading up on other blogs, various websites of home experiments of making tempeh in temperate climates. We bought a big bag of soy beans. I soaked half and started preparing the first batch.

ATTEMPT 1:

464 gm soy beans

2 gm tempe starter

  1. I soaked the beans for 12 hours.
  2. Spent 1 and half hours dehulling the beans by hand (ugh!!!)
  3. Boiled the beans for 3 hours (those beans were just too hard and refused to get soft). They became somewhat soft at the third hour, but instead of looking plump, light coloured and soft-ish, the beans were yellow and not very plump.
  4. Left the beans to cool, rubbed them dry with kitchen towel.
  5. Added 2 grams of starter, mixed well.
  6. Placed beans in perforated, ziplock sandwich bags, sealed.
  7. Placed the bags in oven with lights on, but heating element off.

OBSERVATION:

After a few hours, the beans started to sweat. It meant to me that the starter was active. I kept a close eye on the first appearance of white mycelium. After 12 hours, no mycelium. The beans started to look soggy from all the sweating.

After 20 hours, once again the smell of ammonia. The beans looked slimy. I chucked the beans out.

Depression. I wanted to blame the starter. I wanted to blame the weather. I wanted to blame the blog writers for giving me wrong information and advise. Yet, I knew there were things that didn’t seem right in this attempt. The yellow beans, the 3 hours of boiling, the excessive sweating. All those do not seem conducive to delicate mold growing environment.

 

ATTEMPT 2

500 gm soy beans

a tablespoon of tempeh starter

  1. I soaked the beans again, but this time in warm water. After 3 hours, I added boiling water to the soaking beans. I repeated this process 3 to 4 times. After 14 hours the beans looked white and plump.
  2. Dehulling the beans seemed easier this time around. Maybe because the soybeans were better hydrated. It took me about an hour to dehull and discard the soybean skin.
  3. Instead of boiling the beans, I decided to steam them this time around. It took about 90 minutes at high heat before the beans became somewhat soft with a few kernels being al dente. The beans were definitely not yellow this time. See the comparison below:

4. Once the beans were ready, I removed them from the steamer onto a clean, highly absorbent kitchen towel (meant for drying dishes). I left the beans out in the sun for about an hour. Then I cajoled my son into blow drying the beans for about half an hour. Again to reduce the moisture level. He obliged.

5. Once the beans were dry (some moisture, but not wet) – I added more starter compared to the first time – a tablespoon instead of a mere teaspoon. The starter was carefully mixed into beans with a very clean spoon. Then the beans were placed in perforated sandwich bags again (new ones).

6. This time, I decided to place them on oven cooling racks and instead of putting these bags in the oven, I decided to leave it on a table with warm air from the heater circulating naturally. After a few hours again, the beans started to sweat excessively. I started to panic.

7. Scoured the internet on what to do. Read that another person decided to make more holes in the bag to allow for better control of temperature inside the fermenting beans. Another person did not even put his beans in a bag, but left them in a glass container. I did not want to poke more holes in these bags and potentially disturb the spores, so I just opened the zip to allow the beans to breathe.

8. The beans became cold. I panicked. But I also fell asleep. Dead to the world.

9. A few hours later, the beans were no longer sweating. There was no heat emanating from any of the bags. I prepared myself for another round of failure, but as there was no ammonia-like smell coming from the bags, I decided to ignore the beans and let them do their own thing.

10. At around the 14th hour, hubby claimed that the bags were warm to the touch. And indeed, they were. I started to get a little hopeful, but also got a little distracted and forgot about them for a while.

11. At 16th hour – white fuzz were all over the beans. The mycelium is announcing its presence!!

12. At 20th hour… we have these:

and 24 hours after being put into the bags, here is the cross-section of the tempeh:

Finally1

 

So, making tempeh is not as easy as it is made out to be. Dehulling the beans can be a bit of a chore. There are many elements that contribute to the growth of the mycelium – moisture and temperature control being key. Cleanliness is also important as any contamination can result in the beans going bad. However, the thrill of seeing the growth of mycelium, the nutty smell of tempeh as it ripens, the taste of fresh tempeh and knowing exactly how it was made, makes the whole experience worth while. However, if you have a timeline (e.g. if you have a dinner party and you would like to have some tempeh on the menu), start soaking the beans 3 days before the event.

I have seen websites that sell tempeh starter online. If you have the inclination to try, why not order some and make your own tempeh from scratch at least once. You may just get hooked!

Lunchbox idea and recipes: Fluffy, spiced quinoa and quick chicken cacciatore

Spiced quinoa, quick and easy chicken cacciatore, steamed veggies. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad - an orange, pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries

Spiced quinoa, quick and easy chicken cacciatore, steamed veggies. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad – an orange, pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries

I fell in love today. With quinoa. Seriously.

It took me a while of experimenting with different types of quinoa and various recipes, but it has always been touch and go. Sometimes fluffy, most times soggy and a little gritty. In spite of this, I bought a new batch of quinoa during my last trip to the organic shop. I desperately want to like quinoa, and I want my family to like quinoa too because of its nutritional content. It would be good to have some other alternative to pasta, rice and potatoes. So, last night I blog hopped, trying to find new recipes, new methods of cooking this wunderseed. At almost 10 pm, I hit upon a website that had great step by step instructions on how to cook the perfect, fluffy quinoa, every time. It actually got me so excited to try the method out that it was hard to fall asleep.

So, this morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I tackled the quinoa. While I tweaked the recipe a little to suit my son’s palate, I followed the instructions to a “T”. The result… wow!!! Fluffy, tasty, soft yet with a little bite to every kernel, (can I say kernel?) It’s not unlike well fluffed couscous but with the added benefit of a really nice, rich, nutty flavour – not a single clump to be seen.

I decided to pair the quinoa with a rich and thick cacciatore made with chicken thigh fillets. Again, the recipe has been modified somewhat – sans alcohol, of course. A cup of steamed broccoli and cauliflower completed the lunchbox combo.  It was all I could do to not have a bowl of dear son’s lunch there and then – just a teeny bit of taste you know, just to make sure that it’s ok for him. Ha! Anyway, I could no longer stop myself by 10 am – whatever was leftover is now gone. All I can say is… try this. I would so have this combo for dinner, (and breakfast, and lunch,) every other day. As for the quinoa… if it were not so expensive, it would replace rice as the staple food in this household.

So… on to the recipe:

Fluffy spiced quinoa (for in-depth step-by-step instruction and photos hop on over to lunchboxbunch.com)

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons quinoa (rinse till water runs clear and drain)
  • mix together – 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp coriander powder, 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic – smash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup and 2/3 water
  1. After the quinoa is drained, add the spice mixture to the wet quinoa. Mix well.
  2. Heat the pan and with low heat, gently sautee the garlic. Careful not to brown.
  3. Add quinoa to the pan. Stir for a minute or two.
  4. Add water. Let it come to the boil. Cover the pot and bring heat down so that the water simmers gently.
  5. Leave the pot alone for 12 to 15 minutes, (do not touch, take off the lid, peep, whatever.)
  6. Turn off the heat. Walk away again. For another 15 minutes. Let the quinoa plump up further with residual liquid and steam.
  7. After the 15 minutes are up, take off the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Not spoon. Fork.
  8. Ta-dah!!! You have a bowl of the good stuff. Ready for yumminess!

Quick and easy chicken cacciatore

  • Skinless fillet from 3 chicken thighs – cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 brown onion – chopped roughly
  • 1 garlic – chopped fine
  • 1/2 red bell pepper – chopped roughly
  • 1/2 of 400 gm can tomatoes
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup of pitted black olives – sliced
  • a handful of parsley – chopped
  • salt, sugar and pepper to taste
  1. Heat olive oil and sautee chicken pieces for about 5 minutes till brown. Remove from pan and drain.
  2. Add to the pan the onion and garlic, stir till softened, add red bell pepper. Stir.
  3. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of chicken stock. Scrape the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add tomatoes and the rest of the stock. Let it come to boil and add chicken pieces.
  5. Simmer gently till sauce thickens. Season and add parsley.

Recipe for lunchbox: Salmon and herb filo parcels, wholemeal pasta in pesto sauce

Dear son came home  and burst into the kitchen… urrr well… the rather messy kitchen as I was trying to get dinner done and on the dining table. I was cooking Asian food, and you know how messy that can get… grrrrr. However, the interruption was worth it, as his next sentence was:

“Mama, I really, really, really, really looooooooove my lunch today! Thank you.”

Apparently he loved everything that was in his lunchbox and wondered when he could have it again. Whether this was due to the fact that the food was really nice, or because he was ravenous after his 2 hours of pre-school swimming session, I will never know. I am just happy that he enjoyed the meal enough to let me know that the lunchbox combo was a winner.

I use the same base for the herb marinade and pesto sauce – not just for the sake of convenience, it also ensures that the flavours are complementary. Here are the recipes for the said lunchbox menu:

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Salmon and herb filo parcels:

  • 200 – 250 gms skinned salmon fillet – cut into 4 pieces
  • 2 sheets of filo pastry
  • some olive oil for brushing

Blend fine the following:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • a handful of cilantro
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Wash and pat dry the prepared salmon
  2. Rub 2 tablespoons of the blended mixture on salmon pieces
  3. Cut each of the filo pastry into 2, and brush with olive oil
  4. Place a piece of the marinated salmon in the middle of one of the filo pastry half – wrap and brush the  outside with more olive oil. Repeat till all salmon is wrapped.
  5. Bake the salmon parcels in pre-heated 180 degree celsius oven for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on thickness of fillet.

Wholemeal Pasta in Pesto Sauce:

To the remaining basil and coriander marinade above, add the following and blend fine:

  • 10 raw almonds
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. If mixture is too thick, adjust with more olive oil.
  2. Boil half a cupful of dry wholemeal pasta according to package instructions. Drain and toss in pesto sauce. I sprinkle the top with some grated emmental cheese for extra flavour.
  3. Serve with grilled cherry tomatoes.

Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 7

Finally, we are getting down to the last set of photos… We had to say goodbye to the last Thermos insulated lunchpack. The top of one of the containers broke, so we got another Thermos insulated lunchbox set. Though rather pricey, it does keep dear son’s food hot until lunch time. The cost saving and health benefits of packing his lunch far outweighs the cost of the lunchbox, imho.

 

Monday: Chicken, oat and vegetable soup, steamed broccoli, cheesy tortillas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.

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Tuesday: Traditional Malaysian Vermicelli Soto – Blanched rice vermicelli, spicy chicken soup, potato croquettes,  shredded chicken, blanched beansprouts & minced scallions, chinese parsley. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Wednesday: Buckwheat soba salad, vegetable soup, baked Thai chicken nuggets. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Thursday: Salmon and herb filo parcels, pasta with pesto sauce and grilled cherry tomatoes. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 6

We are at week 6… hmmm almost halfway through! Have I been away THAT long??? Just realized… this was the week before the school vacation, and wow! I must have been burnt out or something – poor son had 3 rice days? It goes to show how important planning is prior to the start of the week 😦

 

Monday:

Cheesy tuna and wholemeal pasta bake, steamed asparagus, cherry tomatoes and tempeh chips. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt. Snack to share: wholemeal lamb pesto pizza

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Tuesday: Brown rice with spinach and mushrooms, salmon teriyaki, veggie spring rolls. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.

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Wednesday: Flavoured rice, sweet and sour chicken, pickled veggies. Mid-Morning snack: Fruit salad and raw almonds

Thursday: Lamb meatballs in tomato sauce with wholemeal spaghetti, sesame sugarsnap peas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad. Post-swim snack to share: Sweetheart brownies.

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Friday: Malaysian roasted chicken rice and condiments, salad and chicken broth. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.

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Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 5

Let’s press-on… another week of packed school lunch ideas:

Monday: Cheeseburger and sugarsnap peas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad. By dear son’s request, sigh, to take away the Monday blues. Oh well… hope this is ok, lean beef, hold the fries and soda.

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Tuesday: Home-made wantan noodles with prawn and chicken wantan parcels, prawn and vegetable broth. Mid-morning snack: Granola with fresh berries and yoghurt.

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Wednesday: Vegetarian quinoa chilli, guacamole, oven baked corn tortillas, cheese & spinach quesadillas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Thursday: Parmesan crusted chicken tenders, baked wholewheat penne and broccoli in cheese, steamed broccoli. Mid-morning snack: fruit salad. Post-swim snack to share: Banana and walnut cake.

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Friday: School Trip Jungle Trekking / Hill Climbing Packed Lunch – Roast chicken and sesame pasta salad. Snacks: Fruit salad and assorted sandwiches.

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