The Making of Martabak

Instagram Post 1/20/2020

I’ve posted before about martabak (or martabak manis – manis means sweet), one of my favorite Southeast Asian desserts; it’s usually available at one of the three monthly Indonesian food bazaars, but this past weekend, the Indonesian Gastronomy Association (IGA) outdid itself by presenting a live demonstration revealing the way it’s made.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Without giving away any recipe secrets, batter is added to a special lidded frying pan that cooks and steams the pancake; a leavening agent causes it to rise into its characteristic honeycomb sponge-like consistency. The green color comes from pandan (screwpine) paste; it’s my favorite variety and highly recommended.


It’s slathered with margarine (which is considerably more malleable and easier to work with on the sunny streets of Indonesia than in the chilly atmosphere of a capacious Elmhurst assembly hall).


The sweet stuff which can appear as any or all of chocolate sprinkles, cheese, nuts, and sweetened condensed milk is added over half; the plain side is folded over the top (and I do mean over-the-top) of the enhanced side…


…and cut into serving pieces.

More photos of the event to come.

Follow IGA on Facebook or Instagram @iga_newyork to stay apprised of their schedule; find them at the Elmhurst Memorial Hall, 8824 43rd Ave, Queens, monthly.
 
 

Homemade Pumpkin Pie – 2019

Instagram Post 1/16/2020

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

One more from my holiday home cookin’ collection. Believe it or not, it took years to get this Pumpkin Pie recipe right – years, because I only make it biannually so the upgrade opportunities are few and far between. First trick is to use only fresh pumpkin, and the small sugar pumpkins at that – none of that canned stuff. (Yes, I’ve read the propaganda from some who claim that it’s all the same – IMO they know not whereof they speak.) My recipe includes three milks (inspired by tres leches cake): sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream along with brown sugar, eggs, spices, and such. Here, it’s topped with homemade Pecan Brittle and whipped cream.


The view before slicing and adorning. (Yes, I add the pecan brittle at serving time so it doesn’t get icky.) The crust has been another labor of love, intended to evoke the taste of a cinnamon sugar cookie. (Perfect with pumpkin, right?) The flavor is spot-on, but the texture needs a bit more finessing. Ah well, back to the groaning board. 😉
 
 

Cupid Cheese Fruit Cake

Instagram Post 1/13/2020

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Cupid Cheese Fruit Cake, a relatively new kid on the block, is my new durian gateway drug dealer. Find them in Flushing (of course) in the New York Food Court at 133-35 Roosevelt Ave, Stall 18. The menu touts Regular Durian Pie and a Super Durian Pie that’s even more abundantly filled than the former (you’re lookin’ at it). I was more than pleased. A return visit is in order to sample some of the other flavors – mango, banana, raisin, hawthorn, dragon fruit, and seven fairies – the last two topping my list. Ice Rice is on the agenda as well, but not before I run the table of fruit pies.

I can only imagine what this would be like with a scoop of Flushing Ice Cream Factory’s durian melting on top!
🤤


The #obligatorycheesepull
 
 

Georgian Deli and Bakery

Instagram Post 1/12/2020

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Three delectable beauties from Georgian Deli and Bakery, 2270 86th St in Brooklyn; sometimes the only road to comfort is via homespun baked goods.


Pakhlava (you might see an infinite number of alternate spellings, but Instagram restricts me to 2200 characters) – loaded with chopped walnuts and golden and black raisins, punctuated by white beze (meringue). Pakhlava and baklava share the same Turkic root word but aside from the walnuts the resemblance between them ends there: three layers of rich, sour cream based dough in contrast to multifold sheets of gossamer phyllo leaves with sweetness coming from dried fruit instead of a beehive of honey.


Crescent Cigarette Cake – walnuts and raisins again, cinnamon too, a fairly standard complement for the region. Sufficiently distinct to include here.


Qada (you might see kada) – my absolute favorite of the three. Tight roll, tight crumb; butter, flour, sugar, butter and perhaps an egg yolk (did I mention butter?) – how can something so simple be so delicious? (Oh yeah. Butter. 😉)
 
 

Medo

Instagram Post 1/6/2020

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Adorbs!
🥰
Now, if that’s a word that resonates for you and if you like Hong Kong style sweet, fruity, soupy desserts, then you’ll ❤️ Medo at 3 Bay 25th Street, just off 86th St in Bensonhurst. The décor is primary school classroom, replete with kids’ desks (but adult sized and not cramped) stocked with crayons, coloring pages, and the like. Expect variations on coconut milk, mango, durian, sago, pomelo, red bean, sticky rice, taro and the other usual suspects; bubble tea, mille crepes, and additional snacks await as well.

Cute interior design notwithstanding, I seriously enjoyed what we ordered. From the Snow White section of the menu, this is the Durian and Black Glutinous Rice option: islands of sweet custard-like durian and black sticky rice with its welcome contrasting texture floated atop the icy snow and sago enhanced coconut milk.

And yes, next time I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll be back.
 
 

Pan de Arroz

Instagram Post 1/3/2020

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Popped in at Mi Mexico Pequeño, the Mexican bakery at 4513 5th Avenue in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, looking for a snack and grabbed this pan de arroz. Think of the filling as sort of a dry rice pudding, cinnamon forward, not too sweet; the pastry is light in texture although not in heft – a satisfying treat. Love those Mexican panes dulces!
 
 

La Flor de Izucar

Instagram Post 11/26/2019

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

I did a post a couple of weeks ago in time for the Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos, and picked up a pan de muerto at La Flor de Izucar, 4021 5th Avenue, in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. I didn’t mention the other goodies I was incapable of resisting at the time though; since they were delicious, I am compelled to share.

On the left is their corn bread. It’s somewhere along the corn bread <-> corn pudding continuum: sweet, moist, dense and heavy. There’s nothing subtle about it – and that suits me just fine. I’m sure light, fluffy cornbread has its place, but this manifestation of corn masquerading as a baked good totally won me over.

On the right is their bread pudding – even sweeter and denser than the perfect cornbread, laden with raisins, the two inspire a return visit to see what other goodies await.
 
 

The Chinese Taffy Man

Instagram Post 11/24/2019

Ah, the serendipity of meandering through any Chinatown, spotting a modest peddler hovering over his wares, and purchasing a taste knowing you may never see him again because timing, after all, is everything. The dragon’s beard candy vendor in Manhattan’s Chinatown is like that. In this case it was the Chinese Taffy Man on Main Street (well, that’s where I saw him) in Flushing.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)
This piece was about seven inches long before I stretched it to the point of rupture so you could both take note of the slightly salty peanuts encased within and perhaps get an inkling as to the chewy texture of their sweet sheath.


It reminded me a little of White Rabbit, one of the first Chinese candies I ever tasted decades ago.

[PSA: Taffy is made from sugar, toffee adds dairy like butter or milk, nougat blends in egg whites and/or nuts or other good stuff. Oversimplification, but that’s it. In a nutshell.]
 
 

Kringle vs Kringle

Instagram Post 11/23/2019

⚖️
After my 11/16 post about Holtermann’s kringle on Staten Island, a number of folks spoke up about their experience with the same Danish pastry from Trader Joe’s. So of course I had no choice but to purchase TJ’s version for one of my typically OCD A/B tests.

Trader Joe’s product comes to us from the O&H Danish Bakery in Racine, Wisconsin, a family business that’s been making kringler and sharing hygge since 1949, so their Danish culinary bona fides are well established; their website, ohdanishbakery.com, touts some 23 tempting flavors but I suspect TJ’s offers only almond.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

TJ’s is filled with a rich, dense almond paste and adorned with a lemony glaze. It was slightly smaller and featured a filling, glaze and dough that were a bit sweeter, perhaps, than…


Holtermann’s, shown here from the previous post, that boasted a nut filled nut paste filling, a sweet sugar glaze and a slightly more sophisticated, handmade tasting dough that seemed to have more of a from-scratch, small-batch taste.


TJ’s in its entirety, complete with a quarter for size comparison, as I did for…


Holtermann’s – photo from my last post for the sake of completeness. I told you I was OCD.

The verdict. They were different, and both were certainly good in their own fashion as described above. Then again, Holtermann’s cost $22 and involved a subway ride, a ferry crossing, and no small amount of time getting there and back again, but at $7.99 for a similar confection, I can walk to TJ’s in about half an hour and probably burn off some of those kringle kalories while I’m at it! 😉
 
 

Milkcow

Instagram Post 11/20/2019

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

If you’re a habitué of soft serve emporiums, you’ve probably heard about Milkcow, the burgeoning Asian ice cream chain that launched in South Korea a few years ago. Its target is the youth market – which you’ll immediately appreciate from watching the “making-of-the-ad” video on their website, milkcowcafe.ca, or checking out their menu firsthand at 69a Bayard St in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

They have two flavors, ube and, um, the white one. No, not vanilla. It’s milk flavor. Organic milk to be precise. But Milkcow is all about their over-the-top toppings in 16 combinations: macarons, Oreo crumbles, jelly beans, caramel popcorn, chocolate rocks, assorted syrups including brown sugar boba, or the Instaworthy signature cloud of cotton candy or hunk of honey cube.

In my opinion, you should opt for one of two strategies for your visit to Milkcow: taste appeal or eye appeal. My advice for the former goes like this: Savor a sample of milk flavor. Notice that it’s very dairy with nary a hint of ’nilla and rather subtle. Then repeat with ube. My sample today had bits of, well, something, in it – actual ube perhaps? – that didn’t bother me, just surprised me. Both flavors were quite good. Then enjoy the unadorned version (they call it the Milky Way) of your choice.

The surrender-to-excess approach is as follows: Make sure your camera lens is clean. Check out the menu. Choose whichever option you think will fetch you the most Instagram likes. Take the perfect picture from the perfect angle with the perfect background. (Unlike this one.)

Notice I didn’t say anything about consuming it. Here’s the rub: the delicate nature of the milk flavor is immediately overwhelmed by the addition of anything, including even the drizzle of chocolate sauce you see in this photo – the mistake I made and am here to caution you about.

Therefore, my counsel: Choose your path, cleave to it, and you will succeed in your mission. Don’t be cowed by compromise.