Aside from lechon, bagnet, empanadang Vigan, and longganizas by the score, Philippine cuisine has another calorific dish that goes down a treat when the weather is cold, the rain falls in sheets, and the wind howls like a wolf in the wild.
Kare-kare, a rich stew of beef or pork cooked in a sauce traditionally made with toasted and ground peanuts and rice, has its origins in the royal cuisine of the Maranaos of Mindanao where it was served as one of several courses during regal banquets among datus and sultans. The coming of the Spaniards brought the dish north to Luzon and the Visayas, specifically the provinces of Pampanga and Cavite whose versions of kare-kare are considered the standards by which all forms of the dish are now judged.
A classic kare-kare is made solely with oxtails or a combination of oxtails and beef offal – the soft, velvety cheek and tripe mixed with a few tendons to add a deliciously chewy, sticky texture. In some homes – and mine is one of them – the beef offal is replaced by equally rich, and deliciously fatty pork legs or bellies. (I understand that some health-conscious chefs are flogging a seafood kare-kare, but the culinary purist in me shudders at the notion.) All that rich protein is balanced by the addition of such rustic vegetables as pechay (bok choy), banana blossoms, sitaw (snake beans), and eggplant. All these ingredients are cooked in a rich sauce thickened with ground peanuts or, more conveniently, with peanut butter in this harried day and age. The resulting stew is served with some pungent, salty bagoong alamang to counteract the richness and to give balance to the sweetness.
All you really need at this point are generous cupfuls of steamed white rice for a meal that will certainly keep you warm no matter how strongly the storms outside may blow.
When I celebrated my birthday last Saturday, I chose not to have a conventional birthday cake – which runs true to form as I haven’t had a conventional birthday cake in ages. Instead, I found myself kneading buttery brioche dough to make a half-batch of the cinnamon rolls. Half-batch because I used the rest of the dough to try my hand at baking a Sally Lunn.
This is how the loaf is described in Wikipedia:
A Sally Lunn is a type of yeast bread originating from Bath in the West Country of England, the recipe for which is said to have arrived with a French émigrée in the 17th century. It is often lightly scented with lemon, and is traditionally served sliced horizontally, spread with butter or whipped or clotted cream and reassembled. It is still produced commercially in Bath.
One side claims that Sally Lunn is just an English bastardization of the French phrase soleil et lune (sun and moon) which pretty much describes the golden, circular appearance of a baked loaf. Another side claims that it’s a bastardization of the French word solimeme which is a kind of brioche baked in a round tin. Finally, there’s a group in Bath that says Sally Lunn was how locals pronounced the name of Solange Luyon, a Huguenot (French Protestant) who moved to England in 1680 and made her living baking brioche-style loaves sandwiched with rich cream.
Well, whichever way it came to be, the Sally Lunn is a rich, decadent affair: soft, pillowy, buttery bread filled with fluffy clouds of fresh-whipped and lightly sweetened cream. It has become a popular offering for elevenses and high teas along with all the usual scones, buns, and biscuits.
Quite obviously, I’m not English so I didn’t grow up hankering for a Sally Lunn at either eleven in the morning or four in the afternoon. However, there was just something compelling about this particular bread that made me hunker down on a cloudy afternoon and whip it up for a birthday dessert.
Traditionally, a Sally Lunn is flavored with lemon zest and is made with white sugar. I chose not to go the conventional way and flavored my loaf with vanilla extract and used dark brown muscovado sugar instead of refined white. The end result was a deliciously fragrant bread that was pillowy-soft but not too sweet. The fact that it wasn’t very sweet made it a perfect canvas on which I slathered generous orangey lashings of confiture de lait before serving. What I got was a delightfully citrusy treat that had the moreishness of sweet cake and the belly-filling qualities of very good bread.
Honestly, I cannot begin to describe how gorgeous this is when eaten along with a large cup of milky coffee perked up with cinnamon and ginger.
Homespun Sally Lunn
500 grams all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 cup salted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
50 grams muscovado or soft dark brown sugar
1 sachet fast-acting yeast
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confiture de lait (milk jam)
1/2 cup glutinous rice flour for dusting
additional 2 tablespoons milk for brushing
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Put the milk and butter in a heatproof bowl and microwave on HIGH for a minute and a half. Whisk until well combined, then add the eggs and vanilla extract. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix until you achieve a shaggy mess of sorts. Knead for about twelve minutes, dusting the dough with rice flour from time to time to cut down the stickiness; dough will be very soft. Cover with a clean dishtowel and leave to rise for about an hour.
Grease 2 8-inch cake tins; set aside.
Punch down the risen dough and cut into half. Press each half portion of dough evenly into the prepared tins. Cover with a dishtowel and leave to prove for about 15 – 20 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.
Bake the loaves for about 25 – 30 minutes. Allow to cool before turning over onto serving dishes. Slice each loaf into thirds and evenly spread the confiture de lait between the layers. Reassemble and cut into slices to serve.
There are days when the only thing that can cheer you up is a fat Bavarian creme doughnut virtually bursting with cream filling – vanilla for the most, slightly lemon-scented if your local sinker joint likes to be a bit posh. And there are days when you want a good, fat cream puff drizzled enticingly with swirls of amber-tinged caramel.
And then, you have days like this when you have no idea what you want and you don’t feel like tossing a coin to make a choice. On days like this, run like heck for the nearest Chewy Junior branch.
What you get are large, cream- / custard-filled sinkers with equally tempting toppings. Like cream-puffs, they’re filled till almost bursting with billowy swirls of flavored custard. However, the outside is as chewy as a yeast-raised doughnut and is just as moreish.
Personal picks – recommendations just in case you find yourself shocked into indecisiveness by the assorted flavors on display – are the white-choc-topped and cream-cheese-stuffed strawberry shortcake, the chocolate almond crunch, and the marshmallowy kiddie rocky road. Whichever you choose, your cravings will certainly be satisfied. 😉
It’s a dietitian’s worst nightmare (and one many shrinks will, literally, shrink from) whenever people like me declare rather proudly that chocolate is sometimes the only thing you need to put things in their proper perspective, the only thing you need to set a very bad day to rights.
So, just imagine the sort of hell those poor dietitians and shrinks will end up going through when I say that a molten chocolate cupcake is the solution to a day when the world has pretty much reduced you to tears because of all the madness that seems to have broken loose.
This particular indulgence is from Union Jack Tavern and consists of a large, slightly under-baked chocolate cupcake made with a batter that’s a cross between brownie batter and hot fudge sauce. (If you aren’t salivating yet, I salute you. You have nerves of steel!) As a result, it’s amazingly fudgy and quite literally melts in one’s mouth. It’s served warm and topped with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream and generous swirls of chocolate sauce.
Honestly, you could have this for dessert and share it with friends (or, in my case, my equally greedy siblings). However, if you’re having a particularly gruesome day, I recommend this as lunch for one in its entirety. By all means, go get a cup of hot coffee to wash the magnificently fudgy sweetness down. 🙂