My post the other day on Michelle’s Putong Ube, and bettyq’s very enthusiastic description of her early morning experiments on the Pacific Nortwest Coast yielding a terrific puto, launched me straight into the kitchen a few hours later, excited to use her guidance and recipe to try my hand at getting a reasonably good puto. But after a quick trip to the grocery(ies) here, I couldn’t find any powdered ube and or ube flavoring so I decided to experiment on my own version… First we purchased under a kilo of fresh ube from the market, lots of freshly grated coconut, and made several batches of puto that yielded pretty good results…
Wash the fresh ube tuber, brushing off any soil or gunk and boil it unpeeled in a large pot of water for say 30-35 minutes until just cooked through. Let this cool a little bit until you can safely handle the ugly hairy beast. Take a knife and carefully peel only the outer skin of the ube, taking great care not to remove the layer of ube just below the skin, that is where a LOT of the purple color pigment resides and if you peel the ube carelessly, you lose a lot of the potential color. Next, I passed the peeled ube through a food grinder and the result is in the photo above… while my camera doesn’t seem to handle shades of purple well, you can tell that the ground up ube is incredibly vibrant in color…
In a large mixing bowl, I added 1 cup of rice flour (Peotraco rice flour, NOT glutinous rice flour, there is a HUGE difference), roughly 1.5 cups of the grated ube, lightly packed, 3/4 cup of freshly squeezed coconut milk/cream from the first pressing, 3/4 cup of Carnation evaporated milk (used this on purpose, figuring the commercial puto producers wouldn’t use fresh milk and the evaporated milk would add that familiar flavor of the 1950’s-60’s), 1/2 cup of white sugar, 1/4 cup of all purpose flour (as Bettyq suggested) and 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of baking powder and a pinch of salt. Mix this well and you get a lavender batter that is a little less thick than pancake batters. You may adjust the ube content at this point or add a little rice flour if you think the consistency doesn’t seem right.
Next I melted some good sweet butter and brushed this generously inside the puto molds, then placed these on a steamer that had already been boiling for several minutes, with a towel under the lid to seal in the steam and prevent dripping onto the puto.
After 8-10 minutes, I removed the puto from the steamer and was utterly shocked to find this first batch of pretty puto-like looking puto. I quickly removed one from the mold and cut it in half… the texture was good, the height achieved was terrific, the color was a bizarre but totally natural BLUEish grey, and a quick pop into the mouth, OMG, this is a pretty darn respectable putong ube! The flavor was subtle but clearly present, it was light but NOT airy, sweet but not cloyingly so, with hints of coconut milk and a canned richness from the evaporated milk. An 8.0 out of 10 definitely, possibly a touch higher. But i wanted better flavor and a more vibrant purple color.
While I was very pleased with these initial results, like bettyq, I was a bit obsessive about wanting to get closer to the Michelle’s version. So I immediately started another batch, the second batch having a little more fresh ube, two or three tablespoons of melted butter in the batter and a little bit of violet and red food coloring from gels (not the watery food coloring). These were even better than the first batch and they appear on the right of the photo above, and the first photo up top. They were more moist and smoother due to the addition of more ube and they really did taste more ube-y, but now they had that nuclear, clearly artificial color that folks find so appealing in a bizarre kind of way. This was a good 8.5-8.75 out of 10 scale.
We tried yet another batch to which we added quick melt cheese and this was pretty good too… Mrs. MM doesn’t like cheese in her puto so she wasn’t thrilled with this one. But the crew were thinking of taking a tray of these out to the construction site down the street to sell them… they decided to eat them all instead!
To get this puto to a slam dunk 9.25-9.50 level, I think a little bit of concentrated ube flavor might be necessary. While I am thrilled with my version that doesn’t have the added food color or flavoring, I think a little sleight of cook will pump this up a notch… after all, most cakes have vanilla or lemon or other essence to pump up their flavors… What I can say about the experiment is that I don’t necessarily believe it when a commercial product clearly states on their box “NO ARTIFICIAL FLAVORING” and since they don’t say it, I assume they use ARTIFICIAL COLORING. The next day, I found three different types of ube flavor at the Landmark grocery and will try adding it to the puto on my next trial… You really have to wonder what McCormick means by “Nature Identical Ube Flavor”… heehee. Thanks, bettyq for the base recipe and inspiration to try my hand at puto again. Folks in the Philippines who have access to a decent market and supermarket will definitely be able to make this version of puto in a flash.