Coconut

Heavenly Bread: Pão De Deus

In every culture, freshly baked bread evokes waking up to scents of a whole new day of possibilities. While traveling in Portugal, I ate the most delicious bread, or pão. The soft, round rolls were very similar to a snack from my childhood called pau bhaji, a small bun topped with mixed vegetables. I then made the connection that the word pau came via the Portuguese who had traveled to India to trade for spices. In Portugal, pão is eaten straight from the bakery with a strong cup of coffee.

Pão de Deus dough must rise twice before being baked, which gives the bread its fluffy texture. The slightly caramelized coconut topping imparts both a finishing crunch and a hint of sweetness. Pãu is usually eaten at breakfast, but I found that freezing the rolls and pulling them out as needed for an anytime snack was equally delicious! I was not surprised to learn that the Portuguese translation for these rolls is “bread of the Gods.”

Pão De Deus

Recipe reprinted from The Great British Baking show’s Ruby Tandoh:(https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/01/ruby-tandoh-baking-recipes-portuguese-cakes-buns-tarts)
For the dough
10g instant dried yeast
300ml full fat milk, lukewarm
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
25g caster sugar
50g butter, softened

For the topping
150g desiccated coconut
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
30g butter, softened

For the glaze
1 large egg
1 tbsp caster sugar

  • Stir the yeast into the lukewarm milk and leave for a few minutes. Stir the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl, then add the milk and yeast mixture and the softened butter. Mix together thoroughly then knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Leave to rise in a bowl covered with saran wrap. It’s ready after 90 minutes or so, once it has doubled in size.
  • Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls. Pinch the dough underneath to give a smooth top surface. Set the buns on a lightly greased baking tray and cover with saran wrap. Leave to rise for an hour, or until twice their original size, by which time they should feel spongy and soft.
  • While the buns rise, combine the ingredients for the coconut topping and whisk the egg and sugar together for the glaze. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
  • Brush the buns with egg glaze, add a heaped tablespoon of the coconut mixture of each, and bake for 25 minutes in the middle of the oven, until the dough is tan and well-risen and the topping is golden – check after 15 minutes and if the tops are darkening, cover loosely with foil. Let cool. Makes 12 rolls.

 

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Cake Pops With Girl Scout Cookie Flavors

When spring rolls around, I always look forward to receiving my pre-ordered Samoas Girl Scout cookies. However, this year I missed the Girl Scout Troops selling the boxed cookies outside local groceries due to the crazy weather. When my craving for coconut and caramel cookies took over, I decided to recreate all of my family’s favorites – Samoas, Thin Mints, and Tagalongs.

Knowing it would be impossible to remake Girl Scout cookies, I decided to take a different angle. Hoping to capture the cookie’s essence with minimum fuss, I planned to change up both shape and texture. A cake pop is sufficiently different, and yet its firm shape can be coated with any desired flavor. Cake pops are rolled cake crumbs with a lollipop stick or skewer inserted through them. Baking one cake makes many cake pops. I thought that a pound cake would be a better option than shortbread, with fewer calories and a neutral flavor that showcases the variety of glazes. My attempts with store-bought boxed cake mix was satisfying – an instant fix to a craving!

Boxed Pound Cake Pops

  • Make the cake according to the instructions on the box.
  • When the cake is completely cooled, crumble the cake finely with your fingers.
  • Compact the crumbs into firm balls. (To avoid adding calories, I skipped adding icing or cream cheese to the crumbs, usually done to better hold the shape.)
  • Freeze the cake crumb balls for 1½ -2 hours.

For The Flavoring:

Caramel, Shredded Coconut, and Dark Chocolate Chips, Mint M&M, And Peanut Butter Chips

  • While the cake is baking, use separate shallow containers to melt your chosen toppings. I used: caramel, dark chocolate chips, mint M&M, and peanut butter chips.
  • Add cream or milk to the melting chips in order to get a runny consistency.
  • Add shredded coconut to melted caramel.

Assembly:

  • Lightly coat a sheet of waxed paper with a touch of butter.
  • Remove the frozen cake balls when they are firm. Insert the lollipop stick through their centers.
  • Roll the cake pop in the melted toppings.
  • I used caramel and coconut for Samoas, further topping each with a fine sliver of melted dark chocolate over the cake pop, melted mint M&M for Thin Mints, and melted peanut butter chips for Tagalongs.
  • Let cool on the waxed paper.

    Note: I also tried the same melted coatings on sugar cookies.

Edible Flowers: Unique Flavors And Textures

This week, my local public library displayed books alongside a few items picked from their garden patch. I chose both books and the edible nasturtium blossoms to enliven my rainy Saturday afternoon. The orange-red blossoms provided a shot of color against the salad greens, but I was totally unprepared for, but pleasantly surprised by, the peppery zing from these tiny petals! Edible flowers can enhance salads, but they can be also be filled with goat cheese (zucchini blossoms), steamed and served with dips (artichokes), or stir-fried (banana blossoms).

Edible flowers have distinct tastes – bittersweet and perfumed rose petals, peppery nasturtium flowers, pollen-dusted flavor of zucchini blossoms, and hints of banana flavor in banana blossoms. Inspired by the taste of nasturtiums in the salad, I revisited a recipe from my cookbook, Kerala Cooking, which highlighted canned banana blossoms.  This time around, I used fresh flowers.

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Banana blossoms make for an excellent stir-fry, and are available in Indian, Chinese, and Thai food markets, countries where whole or parts of the flower are cooked and served as a side dish. Deep purple petals of the banana blossom protect inner florets, which look like bananas in their early formative stage. Once the outer petals are stripped away, the core is a pale yellowish center of tightly packed petals. I tackled the slightly onerous task of quickly oxidizing flowers by prepping ahead (see below). I also didn’t include the florets, which have to be separated individually for a sliver of the flower. The cooked blossoms tastes floral and light, and yet the dish is substantial like a heart of palm or mushroom salad. Banana blossoms can be stir-fried with your favorite vegetables or served as in the following recipe for a more exotic accompaniment to grilled fish or meat.

Banana Blossoms With Shredded Coconut

Banana blossoms – 2

Lemon – 1 (or 2 tbsp vinegar)

Shallots – 2, chopped finely

Oil – 1 tbsp

Mustard seeds – 2 tbsp

Cumin seeds –1 tsp

Whole dried red chilies – 2

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Grated coconut – ½ cup

Salt – to taste

  • Fill a large bowl with water and squeeze in the juice of ½ a lemon or vinegar to get an acidic solution. This prevents the oxidizing flowers from turning black (similar to what happens when bananas are peeled).
  • Rub the remaining lemon over the chopping board and knife, which prevents the sliced petals from sticking together. Slice the stem off the blossom. Remove the tough or faded outer petals. (Keep a couple of petals aside to use later as decorative containers.) Discard the tiny clusters of banana-like florets, and keep peeling away the petals until the pale purple-yellow ones appear. Remove and slice them into rings. Put them immediately to soak into the bowl of water. Cut the firm yellowish core into rings, and soak them in water. Keep aside for 15 minutes.
  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds.
  • When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the cumin seeds.
  • Once the cumin seeds burst (almost immediately), add the shallots and stir-fry until they turn golden-brown.
  • Add the chilies and turmeric and stir for a few seconds.
  • Add the coconut, and stir for a minute until well incorporated into the mixture.
  • Drain and add the blossoms to the mixture.
  • Cover and cook the blossoms on low heat, about five minutes.
  • Serve the cooked blossoms in one of the petal servers.

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