Kuala Lumpur Cookies

(Kuala Lumpur Cookies)

After spending a considerable amount of time on holiday, I’m now back cooking in a commerical kitchen and admittedly, I’ve really missed it. Several years, a few kitchens and a couple of unpleasant experiences ago, I really thought I was done with the whole business. What I’m rediscovering however, is that if you love cooking but occasionally feel discouraged, it’s probably because you just haven’t found the right place yet.

Of course, the only way to find the right place is to keep working, keep pushing yourself. Cooking school may be great, but it doesn’t teach you work flow, a sense of urgency or how to move in the tight space of a bustling, sweaty kitchen. You meet all kinds of characters when you work in the industry. The adage that they are a special breed rings true in every place I’ve ever worked in. Singing baristas, grumpy bakers, OCD pastry chefs and angry-shouty head chefs; you’ll meet them all. You’ll even learn a thing or two from them; always about how to work and sometimes about yourself.

Currently my new job is teaching me how to manage multiple ovens and handle dough (one day, I may be able to give Miss Smilla and her snow a run for her money). At the same time I’m also rediscovering little things like how short and small I am compared to high storage shelves, heavy flour bags and unwieldy baking trays, and how completely clumsy I can be (paper cuts from baking paper, anyone?). In the past I’ve smashed my thumb instead of a stubborn walnut with a heavy pestle, walked straight into a hot oven door (red faced from embarrassment and the impact of said door), and inexplicably burned my chin several times on silly things like the edge of a hot tray and the tip of a blow torch (the less said about that, the better).

Last week, someone at work commented twice, that my English was ‘really good’. I pointed out that since I am older than her, I have actually been speaking English for much longer than she has. Although I’ve been living in Australia for what feels like most of my life, I was originally born in a small town near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and am occasionally reminded of that place.

These cookies are based on the much loved Monte Carlos which are typically sandwiched with vanilla cream and raspberry jam. I filled mine with home made kaya jam (flavoured with fresh pandan leaves), and as an ode to the place where I came from, am calling them Kuala Lumpurs.

Kuala Lumpur Cookies :
(makes 18-20 filled cookies)

185g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g light brown sugar
pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 small egg
40g dessicated coconut
290g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

kaya jam, for sandwiching the cookies

Preheat the oven to 175’C.

Sift the plain flour and baking powder together and set aside. In an electric mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar and salt until pale. Add the vanilla extract and egg, mixing well. Add the sifted flour mixture along with the dessicated coconut and briefly mix on low until just combined. Roll tablespoonfuls of mixture into balls and place on lined baking trays. Gently flatten each cookie with a fork. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack before filling and sandwiching the cookies together.

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Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons

(Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons)

The best things I ate this week? Juicy, dribbly, sweet and sour West Indian cucumber pickles, straight from the jar. Plump steamed dumplings stuffed with barbecued eel and spring onions. Misshapen blue corn tortillas piled high with ceviche, pickled jalepenos, avocado, chilli and lime. And this lamington. Turns out the best things in life aren’t necessarily always the prettiest.

My favourite things act as antidotes to the melancholic nature of a season. August feels less friendly when you’ve misplaced a favourite woolen blanket or feel too keenly the cold creep of kitchen tiles on bare feet. Sometimes, it’s also just about wanting a little bit of cake, nothing too heavy, preferably chocolate flavoured, maybe with a sprinkle of coconut and some brown sugar as well, thanks…

Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons :

For the sponge :
6 eggs
140g brown sugar
pinch of salt
125g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

chocolate sauce for dipping (recipe below)
250g dessicated coconut

Whisk the eggs in an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and salt and continue whisking for a few minutes. Sift the remaining dry ingredients over the egg mixture and fold in gently but thoroughly. Transfer this mixture to a greaseproof paper-lined 8″ x 12″ baking tray. Bake in a preheated 175’C oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Once the cake is cooled, peel away the baking paper. With a serrated knife, trim the edges of the cake (or leave it if you don’t mind slightly rough edges on your end product) and split the sponge in half lengthways. Spread filling of your choice on one half of the sponge. Here I’ve used a salted caramel sauce but you can also use cherry jam, chocolate custard or whipped vanilla cream. You can also skip this step if you want unfilled lamingtons. Sandwich the sponge back together and cut into as many squares as you like (12-16 squares, depending on how big you want each portion to be). Dip each square in chocolate sauce and dredge in dessicated coconut.

For the chocolate sauce :
(You can use a more traditional recipe for chocolate frosting, but I prefer this one because it has more depth of flavour and is less sugary. It doesn’t set the way the frosting recipes do, but the sauce soaks in a little and sticks well to each sponge square.)

200g brown sugar
120g cocoa powder
400g water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium pan, place the brown sugar and cocoa. Whisk in the water and vanilla. Bring to boil, stirring. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened. Strain and leave to cool before using.

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The Christmas contender. White chocolate lamingtons.

(White chocolate lamington)

Coconut and white chocolate remind me of white Christmases, of which I’ve experienced a grand total of 1. It happened several years ago when we visited B’s parents in Northern Ireland over the holidays and on Christmas morning, it partially snowed, much to my excitement and awe. We got dressed, tumbled down the stairs and not long after, the guests arrived and were sitting down to a very traditional lunch of roast turkey, baked ham, sprouts and potato salad, followed by mince tart, Christmas pudding and iced fruit cake. Later we tried with modest success to make a dent in an impossibly large tin of Quality Street that someone had unwrapped.

This Christmas will be celebrated at my parents’ place in sunny Sydney, hopefully feasting on typical Summer fare : oysters, prawns, whole baked fish and a family favourite – cold glazed ham.

As usual for most of our gatherings, I have been charged with the responsibility of supplying the dessert. I’ve been vacillating between wanting to make something chock full of traditional yuletide spices and dried fruit, while also thinking that perhaps we should be having something lighter with plenty of seasonal mangoes, peaches and cherries.

After making these white chocolate lamingtons however, I think we may have a real contender for our final Christmas course.

White chocolate lamingtons :

For the cake :

170g (6 ounces) couverture white chocolate, melted
2 eggs
240g (8 1/2 ounces) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
300g (3 1/3 cups) plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
220g (1 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
125g (9 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 180’C (350F). Line a 8 x 12 x 1 1/2 inch rectangular baking tin with greaseproof paper and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla extract. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk until all are incorporated. Add the white chocolate and beat until well mixed through.

Transfer the batter to the baking tin and bake for about 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely before cutting and glazing.

To coat the lamingtons, melt 220g couverture white chocolate with 100g milk in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Remove from heat and stir, then allow to cool and thicken before using. If your kitchen is too warm, place the bowl in the fridge for 15 minutes or so, to help speed things up. Cut the cake into squares, trimming off the crust. Dip each square into the glaze, then roll in a bowl of dessicated coconut.

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