Cashew and coconut cookies with pandan tea

November 26, 2009 § 1 Comment

It’s been an absolute age since I last posted, mostly because it’s been a manic few weeks and the fun (haha yes, note the intense sarcasm here) hasn’t stopped. Luckily today I woke up to a beautifully sunny, albeit cold day and having completed my mission to find pandan leaves in Chinatown yesterday, I was determined to serve up some delicious-looking and tasting delights for you all.

It’s officially winter here in the middle of nowhere (best known as Buckinghamshire), so I was in dire need of something warm and comforting, but also quite exotic. Whilst playing around in mangroves and waterfalls in Singapore and Malaysia, my friends and I often came across various local delights such as pandan leaves in desserts and beverages. These desserts would usually also contain nuts or coconut to complement the delicate taste of pandan. Pandan itself has been hailed the ‘vanilla of the East’, despite not actually tasting of vanilla at all – the allusion to vanilla is derived from the way that pandan is used to flavour desserts and sweets.

Coconut is a perfect complement to pandan, and cashew nuts are also often used in oriental cuisine so a pairing between these two ingredients would surely produce a smashing accompaniment to a calming brew of pandan tea? Although I found it amusing that in all my exotic ingredients I’ve still managed to come up with the time old classic of a cuppa and a biscuit.

Making these cookies was relatively simple, although you do need various ingredients which are easily found in most supermarkets:

  • 240g plain flour
  • 60g rice flour
  • 40g cornflour
  • 60g coarsely chopped cashew nuts
  • 60g desiccated coconut
  • 125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 150g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp whole milk

Start off by creaming the butter and sugar together, until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla essence and beat well.

Now you can either chop the cashew nuts roughly, or you can take the easier option which is to put the cashew nuts into a resealable plastic food bag, close it and take a rolling pin to it to reduce the nuts to small pieces. This is a wonderful stress relieving activity! Then, mix the desiccated coconut with the contents of the food bag.

Measure out the three types of flour, sift them into a separate bowl and add the cashew/coconut mixture. Combine thoroughly before adding the butter mixture. Mix well to give a breadcrumb-like texture.

At this point you will probably start using your hands to manipulate the mixture into a dough. Add the milk a tablespoon at a time, mixing thoroughly to form a dough. Work the dough together with your hands until it starts to come clean away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Knead the dough onto a well-floured surface until it is smooth, then wrap in cling film and refridgerate for one hour.

Pre-heat your oven to 160°C and grease and line two baking trays generously. Once the hour has elapsed, take your dough out of the refridgerator, divide it into equal pieces (usually about 3 or so) and roll out the dough to a 1cm thickness. Using a cookie-cutter, cut out shapes and place onto the baking tray about an inch apart.

Bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes and then cool on a wire rack.

Whilst your cookies are cooling down, you can prepare the pandan tea:

  • 200ml boiling water
  • 1 blade of pandan leaf, shredded
  • 1 Ceylon tea bag
  • Honey to sweeten

You can buy pandan leaves from most Asian food supermarkets or Thai speciality markets. I found mine in a small store in Chinatown, London. While fresh pandan leaf is ideal for this recipe, you could probably use frozen to the same effect, but would be advised to defrost it thoroughly first. Wash your pandan leaf to get rid of any dirt that might be from the packaging. Then, cut the leaf up into small sections, about 2 inches across and shred using a fork.

Place the shredded pandan leaf into a small saucepan and pour the boiling water over. Steep for 5 minutes so as to release the aroma of the pandan leaf. Add the tea bag and brew according to taste – I didn’t want a strong tea taste, so opted to brew for only 1 minute; obviously if you want a stronger tea, leave the tea bag in for longer. Remove the tea bag before serving and sweeten with honey if required.

A delicately comforting snack, cashew nut and coconut cookies provide a lovely accompaniment to pandan tea, and you can easily dip the cookies into the honey for a sweeter taste. A touch of the exotic brought to your table.

Chilli-chocolate covered strawberries

November 4, 2009 § 4 Comments

With the weather becoming more miserable by the hour and the cold creeping in through every corner it was time to heat things up a little. Being Indian, I’m predisposed to liking the taste of chilli, so when I saw Lindt’s chilli chocolate on offer in Waitrose the other day I simply had to have it. Chilli and chocolate, which otherwise go very well together in a Mexican dish by a similar name, is a divine combination. The dark chocolate simply melts in your mouth leaving a fiery afterthought. The idea of chilli-chocolate is by no means a radical new one though, apparently the Mayans and Aztecs were incredibly fond of the flavours and chilli-chocolate has been popular in South America and Mexico since this time.

Chilli and chocolate

Having racked my brains as to how I could put this exquisite ingredient to use, I finally lingered upon the memory of balsamic dark chocolate-dipped strawberries I had at my friend Spence’s birthday picnic. A very unusual but successful combination – perhaps another unusual combination like chilli and chocolate may be quite tasty when put together with strawberries?

Drying strawberries

So I got to work, and what with the price of strawberries these days (I’m shaking my fist at you, Tesco) I ended up having to delay this delectable treat for a few days until my Sainsburys delivery came to the rescue (once again). My strawberries finally arrived, plump and bright red, in the arms of a drenched delivery man. It was time to get started:

  • 40g dark chilli-chocolate (I used Lindt’s chilli chocolate)
  • 40g 85% dark chocolate (again, Lindt is good but the better quality, the more exquisite the taste)
  • 10 large strawberries, ideally with long stems

Firstly you’ll need to chop up the chocolate so that it melts more easily; this should be easily achieved using a sharp knife, slicing down the chocolate in 5mm slices so it fragments (as in the above photograph). Once both types of chocolate have been sliced up, put aside. Pick out your large strawberries, ensuring they do not have any rot and aren’t over-ripe. Wash them gently under a cold tap.

Washing strawberries

Pat them dry on a tea towel or kitchen paper to get rid of excess water – if the water gets into your chocolate when you dip the strawberries in, it ain’t pretty. To melt the chocolate you’ll need to set up a double boiler, or if you’re well-equipped you’ll have a bain-marie to hand. If not, you can set one up very simply, just put 1-2 inches of boiling hot water in a saucepan over a low heat, and set a glass bowl above it, not touching the water. This separates the chocolate from the pan and the water and so the heat from the boiling water will effectively heat the glass bowl and melt the chocolate. Meanwhile, halve your strawberries as so, and once your double boiler is set up, scoop all of your dark chocolate fragments into the bowl at the top.

Halved strawberries and chocolate

Once your chocolate has melted to a smooth, shiny consistency, you can either reduce your heat to the minimum or switch it off altogether. At this point you should line a baking sheet with some parchment paper and set it next to the double boiler.

Melted chocolate

Then you can start dipping! Hold the strawberries by the leaves or long stems at the top, then dip into the melted chocolate, coating thoroughly and twisting the strawberry as you take it out to ensure smooth edges. Set the coated strawberries onto the baking sheet, leaving a little space in between each of the halves.

By the time I had finished dipping my strawberries the sun was already setting!

Sunset and chocolate strawberries

Once all of your strawberries have been dipped and set onto the parchment paper, put them into the refridgerator to chill for 10-15 minutes, so the chocolate hardens. They will lose their sheen, but will be ready more quickly – if you want them to stay shiny, you could try leaving them out until they are set but it’ll take a lot longer!

The result is a gorgeous treat, that is a lovely gift (especially for Valentine’s, which is ages away) that has a naughty kick to it, subtle but definitely suggestive.

Chilli-chocolate covered strawberries

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