It canâ€™t be the holiday season unless you have baked SOMETHING! In our home, the ovens go into overdrive this time of year and at Marketmanila, we started over a month ago testing ensaimada recipes, making several leche flans, pan de sal, lenguas, angel food cake, upside down pineapple cake, cookiesâ€¦ and the list goes on and on. Several readers have left comments regarding some of the key ingredients that I use for pan de sal and other baked goods so I thought I would put a quick post on the basics for those of you who are interestedâ€¦ First, the flour. I normally use the readily available Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour for recipes that specify all-purpose flour. Even though it says pre-sifted, always re-sift if the recipe asks for it. For breads, ensaimada, etc., I use a harder wheat flour, in this case from Liberty Mills and purchased from a bakery supplies store in Nasugbu town (though this is available in Manila and all towns above 5,000 population, I would think). It appears in the photo here and essentially it is better for bread.
This hard wheat flour is what approximates the old name â€œprimeraâ€ which refers to quality and essentially gluten content, I think. It is also not as bleached as supermarket all-purpose flour. For cakes, I used boxed Maya cake flour only because I havenâ€™t seen anything else, have had mediocre results with Maya so far. I read somewhere once that if you canâ€™t find cake flour you just have to slightly reduce the amount of all-purpose flour to attempt to replicate the impact of using cake flour. For eggs, I use the finest organic eggs I can find such as the organic eggs from Joey Malana at the Salcedo market (though his are the bloody priciest I have ever purchased at PHP250 for 30 eggs and that’s discounted!) or the organic egg seller at the Taguig market. They have a near orange yolk and a viscous white. I thought I would do well to buy eggs in local town markets but they have generally turned out to be extremely watery and the yolks break into the whites annoyingly oftenâ€¦ In general, the cost of ingredients in baked goods is small compared to say a meat dish, so splurge for the finest quality you can afford.
On butter, I have mixed feelings. I have practically given up. For some reason, the Philippines has really crappy butter â€“ generally very high water content (which screws up recipes big-time) and lower than average quality. There are a few European and Australian butter brands available but they are incredibly expensive for the slight bump up in quality. For recipes which I donâ€™t think the butter will necessary shine through, I use any decent locally available unsalted butter. In theory, unsalted should be of a better quality as there is no salt to mask the underlying taste of the butter. When I need something that will shine through the finished product, I go French or Danish (the latter on the assumption that they must have happy cows in Denmark, right?) and pay through the nose. Think butter spread ON TOP of finished ensaimadas then sprinkled with sugar and cheese and think nose-bleed butter. My sister buys superb top-quality French butter in New York from a wholesaler that delivers it to her home during peak baking seasonsâ€¦how lucky is that!?!
On sugar, I should point out that despite our growing literally tons of the stuff, the bulk white sugar you get in the grocery is oddly, not the finest quality. It is often relatively large grain, so much so that sometimes it doesnâ€™t mix well with other ingredients and your cookies come out grainy and the sugar granules are clearly visible. The brown sugar readily available is also crappy and looks like colored white sugar. If I need sugar that has to disappear into the dish, I buy the Peotraco caster sugar from better groceries which is finer and not that much more expensive. I also use their powdered sugar for icing on the “annual” gingerbread house. I have been known to literally fill a whole grocery cart with powdered sugar in boxes when they donâ€™t have the bulk plastic bags availableâ€¦ finally, all through the year I keep my eyes out for good brown sugar like muscovado that looks, feels and smells like brown sugar should. If it clumps up and gets hard, thatâ€™s actually a good sign that it is the kind of sugar you should want. I read somewhere that if keep apple slices in the sugar jar it will prevent it from clumping upâ€¦ I havenâ€™t tried this and wonder if it will work in such a humid countryâ€¦but thatâ€™s what I read.
On yeast, I use Fleischmans yeast in packets if I am only doing a little baking. This is the priciest of the locally available yeasts but it is reliable. Just make sure it hasn’t expired. If I am baking in bulk, I buy the Red Star yeast in cans and once opened keep it in the fridge. I throw it out after 5-6 weeks and buy a new can to ensure the best quality. On salt, I am lucky enough to have one more box of really salty tasting kosher salt that I use in bread. As with half the good stuff for sale in Manila, it is now no longer in stock and the store doesn’t know if they will ever get it again… Everyday iodized salt is good for most recipes. In fact, most recipes are done using measurements that approximate fine grain iodized salt.
Finally, for some of the readers, as you frantically search for sourcesâ€¦ here are some you may or may not know about. Landmark grocery in Makati, while a mess, does have many of your baking needs under one roof. I also go to Cook’s Exchange in the basement of Rockwell with branches at Megamall et al (for baking equipment, some ingredients, silpat mats, microplane graters, etc.), I also like Gourdoâ€™s in the Fort with several other branches (utensils and a few ingredients) and lastly, someone has handed me details for SWEETCRAFT, a baking and confectionery supplies store located on Boni Avenue. I have never been there though it comes recommended. I also understand there is a Chocolate related bake shop in Quezon City somewhere but I have never been there either. For those interested in SWEETCRAFT, give them a ring at 532-1595 to make sure they are still in existence. They are at 373 Boni Avenue, Mandaluyong City. I will try to check them out but things are a bit hectic these daysâ€¦