14 February 2007

The Day About Love

In the last few hours of the day leading up to Valentine's Day, Fel and I got a little delirious, leaning over a bridge across the Singapore River. Right after cursing and swearing at a few teenagers hawking roses, and balking at heart shaped balloons floating around, we started inventing crazy stories about clouds, laughing at ridiculous things and dumping things into the river (it was accidental, I swear!).
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So Valentine's Day is here again. The day when guys are pressured and obliged to surprise/impress their girlfriends (new or old) with gifts, flowers and magnanimous gestures. Poor men.
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The restaurants will be packed, florists will be busy all day long, teddy bears will fly off the shelves, and chocolates will be consumed in obscene amounts.
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While it is all fine and dandy to embrace this day, just as we embrace Father's Day or Mother's Day, I can't help but think how people like my Grandmother feel. I don't know much about her love for my grandfather, and I'm not sure if she even knows that Valentine's Day falls on the 14th February, or what it means. But if Valentine's Day is a day of love, it should be a special day for my grandmother too. Why not, especially since she has 20+ grandchildren and 10+ children whom she loves, and who loves her too? Why not, especially since she has built up a healthy repertoire of dishes that she cooks for us all at family gatherings to show us how much she loves us?
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She probably has enough recipes stored in her head to fill up a cookbook. Her recipes have evolved over the years and have been tuned to suit our Yuen family's tastebuds, making those recipes all the more precious. However, there is one dish rooted in our family's history that she still has no clue how to make - Steamed Egg Custard. My great-grandmother's Steamed Egg Custard in particular.
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I had blogged about it before, when my uncle made it quite a while back. Somehow, he was the only person in my family who had picked up the recipe from my great-grandmother. He knew the exact proportion of water to egg and the timing, which involved burning a joss-stick. Once he told me about the joss-stick, I was sold to the recipe. I imagined my great-grandmother keeping an eye on the lit joss-stick, willing it to burn up faster so that her preying grandchildren would finally be able to feast on her ultra smooth and silky egg custard.
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I had been waiting for a good opportunity to recreate it, and after a visit to a famous shop in Chinatown along Temple Street that sells great steamed egg custard, I wanted to see if the recipe my uncle shared with me could beat it.
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But a minor problem was that I could not remember the amount of rock sugar to add, and how to add it to the steamed egg custard. If I didn't remember wrongly, even he couldn't tell me and told me to estimate (agar agar) it.
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I set out on this exciting little experiment of mine, recording on the white board in my kitchen the exact proportions used in the recipe, while winging the sugar syrup to add to the custard. To make it even more precise, leaving little room for error, I used my kitchen scale instead of the emptied egg shells to measure the amount of water to add to the beaten eggs. I even made it a little more exciting by trying out the steamed egg custard in three flavours.
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Steamed egg custard is usually available plain, or with 'ginger juice'. To add to that, I made one infused with pandan leaves and, in light of the upcoming Chinese New Year, one with mandarin orange juice (though on hindsight, I should have used mandarin orange zest to flavour it instead). Since it was an experiment after all, I also steamed the egg custard in three different receptacles to find out which receptacle would result in the best texture.
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As it turned out, the mandarin orange did not come through, and the best texture came from the one steamed in my small ceramic cup. The worst was the one steamed in the short-shotglass. Also, both my parents commented that the one steamed in the small ceramic cup is exactly like the one that my great-grandmother made, smooth and silky, and precariously wobbly on the spoon.
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Some people may prefer the type sold in Chinatown, firmer and paler in colour, though still soft and creamy. Yet I can't help but feel inclined towards and proud of the Yuen Family version.

I've decided what I'm going to contribute to this year's Chinese New Year potluck - Steamed Egg Custard, the Yuen way! I hope my grandmother will love it too. Although it was only my first try at the recipe, because it worked well, I'll put up the recipe anyway.
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So here's my gift to everyone out there. Happy Valentine's Day!
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My Great-Grandmother's Steamed Egg Custard
Serves 1
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Ingredients
1 egg
3 egg shells worth of sugar syrup* (or just use a kitchen scale to measure the weight of the egg and multiply this times three to get the weight of sugar syrup required)

*sugar syrup = 1 part rock sugar to 4 parts water
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Method
Create sugar syrup by combining water and rock sugar, and bring to boil over medium heat.
Remove from heat when sugar has almost dissolved and leave to cool. (**see below for variations)
Beat egg well, but not until too foamy, then beat in cooled sugar syrup.
Strain into a ceramic bowl and steam for an hour.
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**For Steamed Egg Custard with Ginger: Add 1 tbspn of roughly chopped ginger to hot sugar syrup at this point.
For Steamed Egg Custard with Pandan: Add 1 pandan leaf, chopped into small bits/shreds, to hot sugar syrup at this point.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

hi,
drop by your blog quite frequently. i like the way u blog. makes cooking sound so fun. =]
y
anyway, would like to clarify by what u mean b 3 egg shells of water. as in 3 half egg shell or 3 whole egg shells. cause after u cracked the egg, it would be halved right. haha. sorry if this question sounds ridiculous!

cheers,
marie-

Daffy said...

Hi Marie,
Cooking should be fun! I hope it is for you, and mostly satisfying the moment you see how the food you have cooked has delighted your friends and loved ones.

I'm sorry that the recipe was unclear. I literally meant three whole egg shells worth of sugar syrup. That was exactly the way my great-grandmother did it. She would crack a small hole in the top of an egg and drain the egg out, then use the empty whole egg shell to measure out the other parts of the recipe. You can then crack the other eggs the way you usually would.

But with modern technology, I managed to cheat by using a kitchen scale. So I cracked my eggs into a bowl and measured its weight (minus the bowl of course), then multiplied that by three to find out how much sugar syrup is required.

If you don't have a kitchen scale, they do have reasonably cheap ones out there, just get a digital one as it is much more reliable. If not, do it my great-grandmother's way as it definitely still works. =)

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

hi,

thank you for the reply. yeah. it is really clear now. shall try it some day.

yeah. cooking is fun. i love it when my friends and family loves the food. but it's quite funny that i do not like to eat what i cook.

happy cny! (:

cheers,
marie-

Daffy said...

Marie> Just in case you get to read this, the egg custard is best steamed in individual portions. If it is steamed in too big a container, the bottom parts won't get evenly firm.

And I know what you mean about not eating what you cooked. I spent the whole day yesterday cooking for a party, and I didn't feel like eating with them. And so I didn't! Thankfully it wasn't too rude of me since they were all my father's friends. :)