this loaf in several words: 67% whole wheat, 80% hydration and minimal interaction
I had put together this post over the summer as I was getting very consistent results with my usual sourdough loaf (though not the loose craggy crumb I dream of!). And if I’m to continue following along current pandemic-baking trends, sourdough is up next, given that many have trouble finding yeast plus newfound time to nurse slow-growing loaves of bread.
But this is a, hmm, casual sourdough, shall we say? It was something I developed when facilitating my inattentiveness and impatience was a priority. The features: single rise and some cheating with the shaping. I really mean the “minimal interaction” part.
I titled this post, “my (current) favourite” back in the summer when I wrote it. I revived my sourdough starter recently (hello again Barty!), and the loaves that I’m making now are not this bread. I’m taking a slower pace, and a renewed interest in techniques that I generally avoided. Like practicing shaping without deflating. Oh and kneading, something I dumped as soon as I was able to in my rather tenuous and unimpressive bread-making journey.
So, my go-to loaf from a different time and a bit of a different world. Not ardently whole wheat (67%) and definitely not too serious.
This is day 6 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses! Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.
A friend and I found first ourselves in Simit and Chai on a winter day with an abnormal amount of snow for Toronto. It was crowded, but we found room on a bench tucked in front of the window and watched King street turn white (again, it was an abnormal amount of snow!) with hot Turkish tea and baked goods. The cafe is named for their simit, which look like sesame-coated Montreal-style bagels, but rolled thin and wide and surprisingly soft. Split in half, they’re filled with various fillings, or served with different dips and side dishes.
When I asked for a recommendation for a small snack the olive paste acma was unequivocally endorsed – a soft, oil-enriched dough, burnished with egg yolk and sesame seeds, and rolled around a salty black olive paste. With a generous filling-to-bread ratio, the olive paste is both gentle and immensely savoury, and the best savoury pastry I’ve had in a long time.
Acma are often made unfilled, and twisted in various ways, commonly a bagel-like shape (for a recipe in this style, here is one from Ozlem’s Turkish Table). The ones at Simit and Chai are also twisted, but more in a bun-like form, which I’ve done here as well.
The dough that I’ve made here is something of an intermediate average – and it’s such a delight to work with! Quite sticky, but soft, stretchy, and it bakes up wonderfully tender. The acma took a couple batches to get the where I wanted – I made the dough saltier, rolled them thinner, and filled with lots more olive paste.
400mL can black olives packed in water (I ended up with 160g of olives once pitted)
200g all-purpose flour (generous 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp instant yeast
60g boiling water (1/4 cup)
60g whole milk, cold from the fridge (1/4 cup)
34g olive or vegetable oil (approximately 3 tbsp)
1 egg white
egg yolk for egg wash
black sesame seeds
Drain and pit the olives, and grind in the food processor with 1 tsp of olive oil until it forms a thick paste. Taste and season with salt – I use about 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt, but this may depend on how salty your olives are. This also makes extra olive paste – you can eat any leftovers on bread or in sandwiches.
To make the dough, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Combine the boiling water and cold milk, which will result in a nice warm intermediate temperature. Add the water/milk mixture, the oil and egg white to the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough is formed.
Cover with a damp towel and let rest ten minutes to allow the gluten to begin developing. Fold the dough – fold it onto itself like an envelope horizontally and vertically to form a tight ball. Let rest another ten minutes and repeat the fold. The dough will be a bit sticky and very elastic and smooth.
Let the dough rise until doubled, around 30-40 minutes.
While working with the dough, lightly oil your hands. Divide the dough into eight portions, each about 50g. Shape each piece loosely into a ball. As you work with one piece of dough, keep the others covered.
Roll out the ball of dough in one direction to produce a long oblong rectangle-ish shape. Exact dimensions don’t matter, but typically the dough is around 6cm wide by 16cm long and about 0.5cm (1/4″) thick. Spread with 1 tablespoon of olive paste, sparing the edges. Roll up widthwise into a long, skinny log, pinching the edges to seal. Stretch the log slightly, then curl it the log around itself, tucking the end underneath. Set the acma on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Cover with a damp towel and let rise around 25-30 minutes or until puffed.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F. Beat the egg yolk with a few drops of water. When the acma are ready to be baked, brush with egg yolk and sprinkle with black sesame seeds. Bake the acma for around 13 minutes or until nicely browned. I broiled mine for a couple additional minutes to get a deeper colour.
Brush the hot baked acma with a bit of melted butter and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cover the buns with a lightly damp towel as they cool to keep the crusts soft.
My mother has always been worried about a resurgence of anti-Chinese racism. Reading negative news articles about China (which in western media, is most news about China) she would turn to me and sigh. “I wonder how this will affect Chinese Canadians here.”
To be honest, I never really took her concern that seriously. That racism, including anti-Chinese racism, is alive and thriving in Canada, I didn’t doubt. But I couldn’t understand why my mum was worried that anti-Chinese racism would increase – particularly compared to the virulent racism faced by black and Muslim and indigenous folk in Canada. Though comparisons are not the point of this particular discussion (also, keep in mind that model minority is a myth) – as while racism impacts different groups in different ways, it still functions to oppress all racialized groups.
However, perhaps were I old enough to remember SARS, I would think differently. These past weeks have been eye-opening for me to see just how quickly and effortlessly the more vitriolic aspects of anti-Chinese racism slither back out.
My family has a living memory of anti-Chinese racism. It starts with my great grandparents who paid a $500 head tax to enter the country and then watched as the already slit-sized doorway shut completely for 24 years with the passing of the exclusion act. My grandparents grew up being harassed, excluded from certain clubs and restaurants, and paid less than their white counterparts. Holding onto the self-worth in one’s Chinese ancestry was difficult when you lived a country that didn’t want you because of that, but the stories they tell me of their strong family bonds and the tight-knit Chinese-Canadian community made that possible. That I grew up hearing stories of my family members’ struggles and successes with such pride is a testament to their resiliency.
Things have changed since then, but their memories remains – and those memories are valuable reminders because things don’t change as fast as we want them too. The stereotypes are still there. The myths are still there. Xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, and it’s meeker little cousin, the image of a Canadian as a white person, is still there.
These things are resilient. How can they not be when people are born into a society built on them? I remember one time when a friend made an offhand remark, a reference to Chinese people eating dogs. “That wasn’t meant to be racist,” he said quickly. “I know,” I replied with just as much panic. We sat in silence for a moment – both of us wondering what had just happened until he continued, admitting “No, it was racist. I don’t know why I said it, but I’m sorry.” Despite being one of the most introspective people I know (usually he would be the one catching my assumptions), being fed a lifetime of stereotypes through media, pop culture, and various other influences, had programmed in those stereotypes despite his best intentions.
Recently, it seems that the coronavirus has elicited some of those preformed associations and judgements in many countries – such as in Canada, the States, and Europe (as well as other countries in Asia). But it’s important to recognize those responses for what they are (i.e. primed by judgements and fears in order to relegate the coronavirus to the fault and concern of “others”) and what they are not (i.e. rational concerns justified by recent events).
As a very much white-passing person, I’ve spent time coming to terms with the fact that my mum and I do not experience the world in the same way – or rather, the world does not treat us in the same way. There are interactions, where I am right by her side, but sometimes I will still not see or feel or even notice the microaggression the way she does.
And so instead, I need to listen. When we’re warned, or when fears are confided in us, listen and acknowledge them. It’s a bit of what we can all do, especially those of us that are white or on the whiter side.
What has been heartening amidst this is that there is a vocal Asian diaspora advocating for themselves – bringing back stories of SARS, contextualizing blowback in the history of anti-Chinese sentiment, and bringing attention to the normalized everyday racism some members of the community encounter.
At the same time there is still such a tragedy occurring. I can’t imagine the amount of fear and distress that must be happening in Wuhan and other affected areas under lockdown where the real issue resides.
Revisiting the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome – Ian Mosby, also the academic who helped shed light on the residential school nutritional experiments, has a piece on how the power of prejudice gave rise to an entire outbreak of “disease.” It certainly resonates with today, in no small part because these myths still linger.
Swallowing our Bitterness (The Cut) – Kathleen Hou reflects on her experiences of anti-Asian racism (edited in Feb 2021 to add this artcle)
And lest it not be evident, while I’ve focused on anti-Chinese racism in this post, listening and advocacy are just as important if not more for other racialized groups, particularly those who shoulder the brunt of white supremacy oppression in Canada, such as black, indigenous and Muslim folk.
Nothing gets posted on the blog without a recipe. I have so many drafts, it is simply not allowed to happen! I had debated what recipe to pair with this post – at first I was going to throw in a semifreddo, then a caramel tart. But none of those recipes felt at all related to the content.
Instead, I decided to pull out this steamed radish cake from the drafts – not because it’s a recipe of Chinese origins, but because it’s a recipe from my grandpa, a person that I’ve learned so much from: how to make tarte tatin, toppings for jook, and some, cushioned I’m sure, of what it was like to grow up as a person of colour in early/mid 20th century Canada.
This steamed radish cake, which we call something along the lines of lo bok go, is a grandpa classic. It’s a savoury cake, often found at dim sum, with a base of rice flour and grated daikon flavoured with dried shrimp, sausage, dried shiitake and green onions.
I brought some of my version to my grandparents; the first time there wasn’t enough dried shrimp. The second time around, the general consensus was that the cake was well-textured but, as my grandma lamented, “the radishes taste so much weaker now.” Things have changed in many ways.
When my grandpa makes this, he makes it very soft – dare I even say a bit mushy. It’s the perfect texture for how we usually end up eating it though – reaching in the fridge throughout the day and slicing off a slab of the cake for a cold snack. I’ve played with his water/rice flour ratio for a firmer cake in this recipe, which is best for pan-frying it. But just steamed and cold from the fridge is how I remember eating this cake the most.
Adapted from my grandpa’s recipe with some modifications. My grandpa’s softer cake uses a ratio of 4:3 water to rice flour by volume, ideal for if you’re planning to just eat the cake cold out of the fridge! I reduced this to a ratio of 1:1 by volume for a firmer cake which holds up very well for panfrying.
3 dried shiitake mushroom
25g dried shrimp (my grandparents wish I added more though!)
5g dried wood ear
375g daikon/1 medium daikon (lo bak)
6 green onions
2 Chinese-style sausage (lap cheung)
small knob of ginger
160g rice flour
1 tsp kosher salt
350 mL water for a firmer cake (as photographed) OR 460g water for a softer cake
The night before, place the shiitake, wood ear and dried shrimp into separate bowls. Boil some water, pour over the ingredients and let sit (ensure the mushrooms are completely submerged) until cool. Cover and place in the fridge to soak overnight.
The next day, grate the daikon on the holes on a box grater. Toss with a couple pinches of salt and place in a sieve to drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Then, squeeze the daikon to remove the excess water.
Finely chop the green onions and sausage. Mince the ginger. Drain the shrimp, wood ear and mushrooms, and finely chop.
Place the rice flour in a bowl, mix in the salt and a bit of white pepper. Whisk in the water until smooth, then add all the prepared ingredients. Pour into a large greased dish (I used a porcelain oval casserole – the exact size doesn’t matter as it will just affect how thick the cake is). Steam for around 40 minutes (depending on the thickness of the cake); while the surface might be a bit sticky, the cake itself will be fairly firm.
Let cool and chill. It can be served cold and sliced, or the slices can be pan fried with a bit of oil until golden on both sides and then served with soy sauce.
This focaccia is terribly, thoroughly, utterly devoid of whole wheat flour. It’s thus also chewy and springy and light, when sliced reveals an cobwebbed cavernous crumb, and tastes of delightfully unadulterated carbs.
I love the flavours of whole grain but there is a part of me – probably the part that remembers growing up on plain white rice and craving plain white bread (though only being given whole wheat bread) – that wants nothing more than plain white flour and salt and fat. And besides… there are some textures that I find hard to achieve once I start bringing in whole grains.
The dough, from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible, is a wonderful carb base for anything you so desire (even just salt and fat! maybe a fragrant olive oil fat). This time I topped the focaccia with sliced onions, brussels sprouts and gruyere. The flavours are more so in line with a flammekuchen/tarte flambée gratinée, but of course the dough gives it a distinctly focaccia-like bounce and spring.
The Karelian pastry. From what I’ve read in the Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas, there are a few classic fillings. There is the mashed potato (see here), but most commonly it is a savoury rice pudding, or also a cream of wheat filling.
It’s all starch wrapped starch. And it works! In the past I wanted to carve my own path and cluelessly tried making a vegetable filling, but I can confirm: the starch on starch is the way to go.
jook, or rice porridge, is a definite winter comfort food for me. this is one of my favourite ways to make it, with a strong duck broth and simple garnishes
My mum would always make jook (congee or rice porridge) for me when I was sick. The degree of flavour would depend on the degree of sickness; a cold meant a base of chicken broth, whereas a stomach flu would call for nothing more than rice cooked in water with a slice of ginger.
While these blander variants are just what I want when I’m under the weather, my favourite sort of jook is not one I grew up associating with sickness. After buying a BBQ duck, my mum would dismantle it and the the bones, stripped of the meat, would be simmered for a couple hours for a strong broth which made a jook heavy with meatiness and spices and a just a tad bit sweet.
I returned from a summer back at home in trepidation of seeing the state of the front yard garden. I had been sent a photo update partway through the summer – not being around to weed the yard, it had become a mass of grass, strangling spindly pea plants, and with the odd orange tomato standing out from the undifferentiated conglomerate of green.
When I had first arrived back, it was early in the morning, but the next day I was eager to start clearing out some of the grass choking the vegetables.
Looking at the yard, it appeared so much tamer than I expected – there wasn’t quite the height or bulk that I had been expecting. Then I realized that was because there was nothing. Apart from the expansive raspberry bushes, the yard was a flattened pad of dead, cut grass. A new pad of weeds, mostly clover, had begun to poke up like post-buzzcut fuzz in between the yellowed grass stems.
A chive plant waved jollily from the corner. The chive plant was spared.
Looking more closely, I found some more remnants of a (questionable) garden that once was. A handful of red cherry tomatoes and a couple green beefsteaks lolling on the ground in the shade of the raspberries… and a small, prickly field cucumber over in the other corner of the yard.
I collected and bagged the evidence.
“Dear roommate.” I said, as we sat down for dinner, “I was looking at – or rather – looking for my garden,”
“HAHAHA.” She said in the sort of despondent laugh just as telling as the explanation. “Yes. Um, there is a story there.”
It goes something like this: our landlord’s wife plants medicinal herbs in the yard. The roommate is warned not to pull up anything stick-like – and so given all the stick-like crabgrass taking over, leaves everything well alone. Until one day she comes back to a mowed lawn.
The garden was a unfortunate bystander caught in a confluence of factors. The sequence of events all started with me, when the garden was abandoned by its caretaker (i.e. me), then was watched over by a considerate roommate, and inevitably met its end at the blades of a landlord trying to keep his property relatively presentable and law-abiding instead of a crab-grass and dandelion cultivation centre.
I am pretty chuffed that at least I still have chives!
more ways to consume the end-of-season deluge of swiss chard, this time some packed feta, herb and swiss chard phyllo pies. plus, waxing poetic on the wonders of phyllo
Perhaps you too have had a massive end-of-the-season influx of Swiss chard, and perhaps there was also this 2-for-1 deal for frozen phyllo pastry that caught your eye. And as well, it is certainly possible there was also a conveniently-timed get together coming up which probably entails bringing some food or another. In such a situation, this would be a helpful recipe.
flaky pastries filled with swiss chard and herbs – and the addition of allspice which seems to do wonders in making the pastries taste like more than a wad of chard.
The problem of making pastries when you have a great deal of aging chard to consume is that generally you’re increasing the final mass – from what could be a manageable pile of boiled chard, water squeezed out and compressed into a block, sliced and served in no more than 15 large swallows – to potential piles of pastries. Though admittedly, pastries can be given away and shared, as they may hold more appeal than a compacted slice of boiled chard leaves. (Perhaps we can salt the boiled chard actually – after all, that surely adds no more than a few pinches of mass.)
To circumvent the issue of piled plates of potential pastries appearing, you can make some very large pastries so that surface area (i.e. pastry) to volume (i.e. filling) ratio is reduced. And you can compact the filling down as well. And suddenly, a bagful of chard that would surely last a couple of dinners, surprisingly seems like less and fits quite neatly into four well-filled pastries.
Today, instead of writing a blog post, I bring you an excerpt from the world-renowned and very insightful website, Blog Tropes. Is this the equivalency of submitting a Wikipedia page for an assignment? Well yes, you can certainly see the state of inspiration that I am in.
Writing about How Hard It Is to Think of Something to Write About
A staple in the blog post topic repertoire, Writing about How Hard It Is to Think of Something to Write About, uses the body of the blog post, ideally reserved for witty anecdotes or relevant tips and advice, to describe how the author is struggling to write said blog post. When phrased that way, Writing about How Hard It Is to Think of Something to Write About sounds almost clever and meta, but this lowbrow technique may be employed as a desperate method of getting out of needing to think of something actually engaging, original, or interesting.