Banana cardamom rolls

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I almost detonated when I saw the news headlines 2 days ago concerning the murder of freelance journalist Kenji Goto.

So many grotesque or inhumane things occur nowadays that most of us have been rendered practically immune to their effects. This murder in particular, despite its obvious malice, was probably expected. Abe went from stoic to emotional in no time, but the inevitable couldn’t be prevented. Beheadings and carnal torture methods are still being used around the globe. Violence is fought by violence, two fires igniting and ultimately, doing nothing. One side may be susceptible, perhaps a little forgiving, but sometimes that only stirs the impatience of the other party. There is no win-win situation, is there? Such malice is beyond comprehension. ISIS, in contrast to the USA’s initial certainty of its containment, is still evolving, affecting, blighting freedom of speech. Killing. Us humans, ultimately, have regressed. It’s back to the French Revolution again. Where are the guilliotines on the streets? If we aren’t the bad guys, we’re the onlookers who can’t do anything but sit back and squirm. I wonder when a balance will prevail.

Alright now. I made banana chocolate cinnamon rolls two months ago using a blog link I thought I trusted. The dough itself turned out ok, however it just didn’t possess the most desirably degree of fluffiness of brioche-like tenderness of crumb. The tops were a little too hard, and a knock sounded hollow. Something had to change, right?

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First thing’s first. This recipe involves overnight proofing, which makes it easy for you if you want to chuck this in the oven first thing in the morning and have something sweet and comforting for breakfast. On the weekend, probably, when you won’t feel too guilty. You whip up the dough the day before, let it proof a while, roll and fix your little buns in a nice little tray, then throw it in the fridge. All that time taken is so worth it.

I’m lucky to have a stash of spices around the house. When I saw the box of cardamom, unground, waiting, I knew I had to do something with the stuff. Anyways, I had never experimented with cardamom before. I wanted to keep the main idea of banana and cinnamon, but in order to keep the purity of flavour of cardamom in tact, I decided to forgo the chocolate. That being said, after the process of rolling and spreading the filling, please do feel free to add chocolate chips or chunks. Not a lot of cardamom is ground and used to produce a subtle yet effective aroma, so the addition of chocolate would be complementary, not distracting.

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The key to the soft, tender crumb, light and springy, is in the length of time taken to both knead and proof. When I first tried making cinnamon rolls (the traditional sort choked in cream cheese icing), I couldn’t get my head around the slogging away with my poor hands at the counter, and baked them just a little too soon, when the dough wasn’t robust. Sticky, but not worked at enough. Thankfully, I know much better now. This recipe, which I adapted from the lovely Smitten Kitchen, yields rolls which are fluffy, yet have sufficient body and weight to grant themselves the proper title of ‘roll’. For what is a roll without the keen addition of air (and a ton of butter)? In her original dough recipe, she first stirs the batter in a bowl, before turning it out to properly knead by hand (or you can use a kneading machine). Here, I decided to do it all in the bowl, to prevent precious batter getting stuck between my fingers and washed away. I knew I was taking a risk to prevent an episode of sad farewell, but it all paid off. I used a simple vanilla icing, though these may also be made with your favourite cream cheese icing recipe. The banana, which is mashed together with butter as the base filling, addresses the cardamom amicably, not letting it overpower, providing comforting flavour and a nice gooey touch alongside the strong spice. Some of the banana will touch the bottom and melt in the heat of the oven, so bits of the bottom will get all caramelised and crackly. Isn’t that the best thing in the world? I think so.

Actually, if you like crusty tops and sides in general, then I implore you to read on.

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Banana cardamom rolls (makes 6-7, adapted from here. Recipe can be doubled for 12 buns)

Dough:

1 egg and 1 egg yolk

25g white caster sugar

45g melted butter

4g instant yeast

235g all-purpose flour

half teaspoon salt

85ml whole milk, or almond/rice/soy/skim

Filling, from previous improvisations:

half tablespoon ground cinnamon

75g brown sugar

30g room temperature butter

1tsp ground cardamom (I used a mini mortar and pestle to do this)

1 small, ripe banana, or half a large one, mashed

Icing

100g powdered sugar

2-3 tbsp whole milk

1 tbsp vanilla extract

pinch salt

In a large bowl, whisk the egg, egg yolk, sugar, butter and milk together. Mix the yeast, flour and salt (make sure yeast and salt are on separate sides of the bowl) in another smaller bowl.

Add the dry mix to the wet mix and stir with a wooden spoon. Stir just to combine at first, then with a little more vigour once the dough comes together. Stir and beat the mix for around 5 minutes. The dough will be extremely sticky! But do not fret. That is what you want. Take a short break here, then continue ‘kneading’ for a couple more minutes, in the bowl with your spoon. I kneaded for a total of 8 minutes, no more and no less. After kneading, the dough should be pale yellow, and very resistant to further fiddling. Stretchy, glutinous, strong, and still very sticky.

Take dough out of the bowl and put into a clean bowl, oiled or sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel. Let this rise for 2 hours.

In the meantime, make the filling. Mix the mashed banana and butter together in a small bowl, then mix the cinnamon, ground cardamom and brown sugar in another. Butter/spray a 9×9-inch baking pan or 9-inch circular pan (for cheesecakes/normal cakes etc).

After 2 hours, take the proofed dough from the bowl and press into a 9×6-inch rectangle on a lightly flour-dusted counter. If you’re doubling the recipe, press it into an 18×12-inch rectangle. Take the mashed banana and butter mix and spread on the dough, making sure not to layer it on too thick, and leaving a centimetre untouched frame along the sides. Sprinkle on the cinnamon, brown sugar and cardamom. At the point, you may wish to add chocolate chips or chopped nuts. Gently roll the dough from the long edge to form a 9-inch cylinder. Using a serrated knife, saw the log into 1-1.5-inch sections. I managed to squeeze 7 from this batch. Put the sections into your baking pan. Cover with cling film or a towel and pop into the fridge overnight, or up to 16 hours.

20 minutes before baking the next morning, remove the pan from the fridge to let them warm up a little. Heat oven to 177C (350F), and position the middle rack. Bake the buns for 27-30 minutes. Mine took 28 minutes. Halfway into the baking time, cover the buns with a piece of aluminium foil to prevent them over-browning or burning. During this time, mix all the icing ingredients together, then go ahead and make yourself a cup of tea whilst browsing the papers. Once the buns emerge, let cool on a cooling rack. The absolute best thing about these buns is that they actually take a very short time to cool down, so you can have one straight out the oven (like me). Drizzle the icing over one to enjoy first, then drizzle the remaining icing over the other buns half an hour later, once they’re fully cool, so the icing won’t melt all over the place.

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Ah, mornings.

Open Door Policy

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Impromptu meet ups at nice, tucked away corners with old faces may cost a lot physically, but I don’t put price tags on the reliving of old brother-sister moments. Brunch, you say? Hell yes. I’ll be there, 11.30am on the dot. I’d like to make a reservation for two please, sir. Oh, and in natural daylight if that’s possible (yes I did say that on the phone). I’ll wander all around Tiong Bahru if that’s what it takes to finally live in the moment of the cynosure of this adorned café.

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roasted field mushrooms with wilted greens on toasted brioche with black truffle purée

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Look at that. Basically, it was fantastic. The mushrooms were tender, unbruised little baby ones without too much oil suffocating their gills. You can see that after the knife cut, the brioche was yellow, sweet and fluffy, making it an angelic bed for the muted savoury tones of everything on top. The one thing I didn’t like was how when my plate came, the brioche was nowhere to be seen. And I prefer to observe and appreciate each component. Otherwise, it merely looked like a meat eater’s leftovers, neatly placed to the side for the rabbits.

What I really loved was that truffle purée. It looked like the liquid which you would skim off soft bricks of ebony sludge, but the flavour and texture was all right. The best thing to mush on top of the crisp, toasted sides of the skinny brioche wall, laden with a few mushroom stalks and set off nicely with the flat, forgiving greens. Fragrant, thick goop.

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ODP pancakes with Grand Marnier and orange

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And right here you may observe my tartan-clad self attempting to handle my friend’s gem of a film camera.

The pancakes were disappointingly dry coins. As if its spirit was sucked into a vacuum before they served it. Sapped of all life. The Grand Marnier itself could not suffice. Yes there was liquor and orange, and it didn’t look all that bad at first, but I took one bite and declined another. The other thing I could not stand was the woman next to us who wouldn’t stop scrutinising our every little moment. Hovering, waiting. The sort whereby whenever you looked in her direction, she was already looking in yours. But I may forgive her, because she was new and I was in a hey-I’m-not-an-odp-virgin-anymore sort of mood.

The next time I come, I’ll try the scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. I will, because I can, and well, salmon.

Rating: 3.6/5

Open Door Policy

19 Yong Siak Street

Human Categories?

Before I babble, a few favourites and faraway-summer-dreaming.

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Dungarees bring back memories of England. I’d slide in the buckle and feel all countryside yet proper. Rustic warmth in denim fibres.

To the point.

So you see, I’m always laughing on the inside.

When I see a girl or boy on the street trapped in a bubble. Of the latest trends or ways of communication. Of happiness and nonchalance. Of bits and bobs of life’s seemingly finest. Polka dots and stripes and all the huppdeedoo patterns in between.

Of course, who am I to judge. They’re probably just like me or far greater under all that. They feel obliged to present themselves in such a manner and perhaps I myself am trapped in a bubble of dissonance and lowly curtness. I, Alex, The Psychotic Observer of this peaceful and harmonious world (well sometimes, especially after the Boston fiasco. My prayers reside amongst their graves, together with those in the Middle East. We tend to talk heavy on a western bias when it comes to death, don’t we?)

No, these people are probably not blindly following trends for the sake of doing so; that girl with 5 inches of make up, bright pink stilettos and purple peplum top might just have earned a PhD in economics at Harvard university.

Same goes for that round and soft human being hanging around corners in a baggy shirt with peace sign logos and jodhpurs. On the other hand, someone who looks the most smart or put together may not necessarily be just as so on the inside. This might sound as stupid as saying a girl eating a croissant isn’t always French, but then again, sometimes circumstance and context throw me off board, together with a human sentience and empathy threshold. Really, it does, and sometimes I’m plain embarrassed by it. Every day I walk past people I don’t know personally and immediately fasten them into categories; categories they might not even belong in or which they only feel inclined to be a part of due to selection pressures in the Great Social Survival.

I recall walking around with my dad at the Botanic Gardens and coming across a meek old man with stiff and oily silver locks half covering thick spectacles, which in turn gave his small eyes a demeaning glaze. He stopped for a while to adjust his stained brown running shorts. Sweat made his translucent singlet fully transparent, with some bits clinging to rather unflattering areas.

‘Hey, Prof!’ Dad walked over to Brown Man. The latter held his ground, his stare thoughtful and a tad crazed, if I might.

So. Professor and lecturer at NUS (National University of Singapore). Taught my dad in the 80s and still going strong. I could literally feel an outpouring of speechless respect and unknowing adoration from this selfish and judgmental soul of mine.

There was a huge barbecue party at my house once, thanks to an abundance of leftover charcoal from the robust remains of last year’s soiree (newly stocked!) An olive-skinned, gangly woman in her 30s or 40s came in looking every part the look-at-me Caucasian socialite. Her perfectly manicured fingernails could have killed a tiger cub. That crotch-skimming dress reeled in all the looks. All this whilst I was on my second serving of homemade tiramisu, hair a straggly mess. When I greeted her and offered some champagne, I must’ve looked like I was sprouting algae.

But oh wait, she’s only a doctor with a professional background in the Art of Violin Playing.

I guess my assumptions are my mistakes. Lesson learnt.