Monday, March 30, 2009

Marshmallow Cake

Cake of the Month
As the family marks my third child’s progress onto her first year, I will be celebrating her monthly birth day in this blog by featuring a cake. Lined up for the next twelve months, and hopefully on afterwards, are old-time favorites, reliable standards, as well as new discoveries, as I go on a quest for the best cakes around the country.
I've come full circle. It's been a year of delicious cakes, sourced from around the country's specialty bakeshops, or at least from several places we've found ourselves in, in the year that has just passed (in an amazingly expeditious manner).

A real, year birthday, though, calls for a "real" birthday cake. A birthday cake that may appear, and feel, in a kaleidoscope of colors and themes and designs, but deep inside all birthday cakes are the same - soft, cloud-like chiffon, with or without your choice of filling.

Or so I thought.

I had never ordered "designed" birthday cakes previously. Besides being so expensive, I wasn't thrilled with the pre-packaged decorations that screamed branding and commercialism.

I had always just bought a commercially baked marshmallow birthday cake - chiffon frosted with white marshmallow icing - and had it personally decorated, by myself, and sometimes with the participation of the celebrator, and other kids who happened to be present.

The design varied with each child's desired motif. So every year I had to decorate two cakes, for the birthdays of each of my first two children, that had been, at the least, exercises in creativity.

Every step involved in the decoration - from conceptualization to sourcing out the materials needed, to use of resourcefulness when it didn't turn out as pleasingly in reality on the day of the party - had required extreme stretches of imagination, and had been absolutely exhausting to both mind and body.

Yet immeasurably satisfying on both fronts - for me and for the birthday celebrator. As I said, wild imagination, coupled with a palette of watercolors (or crayons), some styrofoam and cardboard cutouts (pre-cut designs can be bought), commercially available plastic toys and resin or ceramic figurines, and we had recreated fantasies that had been unavailable anywhere else.

Plus, that unabashed pride on the child's face is priceless - incomparable stuff that proves parenthood can be, infinitesimally, gratifying.

And there is an added bonus - the decor, since they're real, could be used long after the party. I once had a superhero motif for my son, with all Justice League members I could find in Divisoria adorning the top of the cake, bleeping and talking in recorded voices and blinking red lights.

The Superman I had found was the kind which was suspended from the ceiling by a cord, and he was there flying round and round above all the superheroes like the real thing. He continued to fly and hover around the house (in a limited circle, of course) until the next birthday. The others served as extra presents.

I have practically given up, though, on the marshmallow cakes. They are turning up impossibly drier and drier every year. For my third child's landmark first birthday I wanted a good, and by which I mean a fairly decent and actually edible, cake.

I had found a bakeshop in Cavite City that makes consistently good marshmallow birthday cakes, but we had bought from it on a few occasions that its cakes were dangerously becoming close to being, uh, common and ordinary.

On a visit to Estrel's for a caramel cake I leafed through the cake catalogue, and belatedly realized that they do all sorts of cake for any occasion, using that heavenly lemon-kissed vanilla chiffon.

In fact, I was smitten by one design that I ordered it as is, thinking I'd just add a personal touch or two so as not to forego the tradition I'm trying to establish.

As it happened, that decision saved the day. Because we planned to incorporate two other celebrations - our housewarming, and thanksgiving for all the blessings that our family has received the past year - I was swamped with a gazillion tasks that, even though I went on a one-week leave from work prior to the party, I never found the time to hunt for cake decor.

It didn't help that a loved one was confined in a hospital for a minor surgery two days before the party. I almost wasn't able to pick up the cake. Estrel's policy is to bake and make the cake on the day of the party, and I asked to pick it up (they don't deliver) on the first hour.

But on that day time ran short, and I couldn't have spared a few hours on the road. Worse, I hadn't foreseen that the van was on coding (banned from major roads due to a traffic scheme in place) that day. I had to ask a ninang (godmother) to pick the cake up for me and ship it to Cavite (I'm thankful that Estrel's released it without the receipt).

At the ferry they would not receive unaccompanied goods for transport, so I had to send somebody to ride with the cake. When it arrived I just inserted a rose-scented pale pink candle I had the sense to buy previously, and promptly placed it in the lawn where we were to have the party.

So that's how my second daughter ended up with an unadorned, but designed, cake on her first birthday. Nevertheless, it elicited a lot of acclaim by its looks alone. Because the marshmallow fluff icing was almost two inches thick it looked like a fondant cake. And the flowers - colors according to personal specification - were whimsically scattered enough that it looked homemade.

It generated even more cheers when the candle-blowing ceremony was over and the cake was cut. The potent piquancy of lemons was so powerful it cut through the sweetness of the icing, that despite the thickness not a smear of frosting was left on the cake plates. And the chiffon - what more could I say? It mirrored the icing, and each forkful seemingly suffused the air with the scent of vanilla.

Which goes to say that I hope my daughter forgives me for this faux pas that wasn't really so. She's not that old enough, anyway, to appreciate any effort I would have put into a personally decorated cake. Her birthday cake charmed the adults as much as her kuya (older brother) and ate (older sister) and the other older children who were her guests. And that's good enough. At least until the next birthday.

Scout Tobias corner Scout Limbaga Streets
Barangay Laging-Handa, Quezon City
Tel. Nos. (632) 3722965, 3717938

2-layered cake, 8" and 12" Php3,300

Cakes of the Month
Divine Chocolate Cake, by Divine Sweets (Puerto Princesa, Palawan)
Cakelines, by Jon-Rhiz (Cavite City)
Dayap Chiffon Cake, by Kiss Cafe (UP Diliman, Quezon City)
Belgian Chocolate Cake, by a La Creme (City of San Fernando, Pampanga)
White Chocolate Mousse, by Gateau de Manille (Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City)
Mango Cake, by Red Ribbon (with outlets all across the country)
Ube Cake, by Goodies and Sweets (several locations across Metro Manila)
Mango Charlotte by Sweet Bella (Dasmarinas Village, Makati City)
Strawberry Cake by Vizco’s (Baguio City)
Almond Chocolate Fudge Cake by Malen's (Noveleta, Cavite)
Caramel Cake by Estrel's (Quezon City)

Other Cake Features
The Cakes That Did Not Make It To The List
Pinkie's Fondant Cakes, Pinkie's (Dagupan City)
Sans Rival, et. al., House of Sans Rival (Dumaguete City)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Baker's Hill

This is part of an ongoing series, "Tinapay," about local breads and cookies at street corner bakeries across the Philippines.

Newbies, tourists, or simply visitors to Puerto Princesa will invariably, as I had, hear about Baker's Hill.

This is not a hill where bakers converge, or a place where you can find a mountain of baking paraphernalia. It is a bakeshop, situated on a ridge that could well be considered a hill, along millionaire's row in a far-flung barangay in Puerto Princesa City, in the charmed island province of Palawan.

Other visitors to the city told me, during that dream-like, 3-week family vacation mid-summer of last year, that Baker's Hill is a home-grown bakeshop so successful that it has already ventured out with a branch in Metro Manila.

When we did get to the place, one Sunday afternoon, there were a lot of vehicles parked along the road, and needless to say it was bustling with people. But we found that it was a kid-friendly establishment, well worth the half-hour or so trip from the city.

We went inside the complex to enjoy the funny fiber-glass statues, a mini zoo showcasing Palawan fauna, mini playgrounds, and an extensive cactus and bonsai garden and nursery, from which you could purchase whatever catches your fancy. After we've toured around and the kids were enjoying the playground I ventured to the bakery.

But by then I was too late, and most of the baked goods were gone, or only a few pieces of each were left. Gathering all that were still available, I noticed that the price tags had the label Ribonettes marked on them. And when I sampled the hopia, it tasted exactly like that Ribonette hopia sold by the cardboard box in many bakeries and streetside stalls around Metro Manila.

So I became curious. Was the home-grown tale true, or was it the other way around? The sales staff were vague, but the replies indicate that Baker's Hill was opened in Palawan after Ribonette had been established (I'm not exactly sure where, but it seems to be somewhere in Taguig).

It was either the owner of Ribonette became enamored with Puerto Princesa that a branch was put up there, or the owner of both bakeshops is a Palawan native who went to Manila and then went back home, putting up bakeries in both places.

Anyhow, if this is the real connection, it shouldn't deter those who have tried Ribonette's hopia (they're not exactly a must-have pastry, if you know what I mean....). Because at Baker's Hill the breads and pastries are the best one could find in the city.

The softest, most aromatic pan de sal and its variants (Spanish, filled with tuna, adobo, chicken curry, etc.), a pianono as long as a sword, flaky rolls, an ensaymada ring topped thick with heavenly grated chocolate, a cuddly-soft mamon.

There were a lot of products I wasn't able to try, as most bins were empty, but I am of the belief, based on what I had tried so far, that they would be splendid (except for the hopia). Certainly a far cry from Ribonettes products, and definitely superior to the offerings of most well-known bakeshops in Metro Manila.

Sadly, I lost all the photos I have taken, of the breads and the other attractions of the whole Baker's Hill complex (except for the hopia above, ironically!), when my laptop crashed and had to be reformatted. But there are many photos abounding in the internet, and there is one particular site (link here) where the photos mirror, to a certain level, the ones I took.

And of course, I'm counting on the "come-back come-back " legend ascribed to Palawan, for the time I could spend another vacation there, and visit Baker's Hill again.

So for those planning on a visit to Puerto Princesa, don't forget to drop by Baker's Hill, and try all the breads. There are souvenir items on sale there, too, like shirts, pearls and glass beads accessories, next to the bakery that wafts the so comforting smell of baking bread.

No ATM in sight for miles around the area, so bring a lot of cash (credit cards not accepted). Baker's Hill can be included in the itinerary when going to the crocodile farm, the butterfly garden and the Mitra resthouse.

The view along the ridge is awesome, the houses are nice (including the mansion at Baker's Hill), plus watch out for that signboard announcing "This is the mansion of so-and-so," which several in our company wanted to tear down (he has got some nerve!), but I told them it would provide many a funny moment for other visitors after us, so they let it be. ;-)

Baker's Hill
Mitra Road, Sta. Monica
Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Tel. No. (6344) 4333414

Going there is an uphill climb, and no PUVs ply the area. It is near the butterfly garden, and along the road going to the Mitra house.

Ribonettes Bakeshop
Tel. No. (632) 6424280

Posts About Puerto Princesa
Sea Urchins
Fresh Fish
Daing na Tahong
The best chocolate cake in the country!

Puerto Princesa Restaurants
Balinsasayaw Inato and Grill
Chao Long

The Tinapay Series

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pinatuyong Kamias

I have only recently discovered that dried bilimbi, or tuyo/pinatuyong kamias is available, sold in the public markets (or at least in Cavite).

During the rainy season about a couple of years ago I had had a sudden craving for a mild sinigang, but fresh kamias could not be found. I had asked vendor after vendor, until one replied that she only had the dried kind.

I had never used the dried kind before, though I had heard that Filipinos abroad take it with them. An aunt-in-law had actually made it one instance, and said that it had been such a pesky task, because the fresh fruits had to be spread directly under the sun (I think she had placed them on top of her roof), and had to be constantly turned over and over, several times a day for about a week, or until they had been properly dried out, like a raisin, or a mummified, malnourished prune.

{in the process of being dehydrated}

With my market discovery I think it is much more convenient to buy, because in Cavite a pack of about ten pieces sells for Php10. This is enough for a fish sinigang good enough for 4-6 people.

Of course if I had a tree that's dripping with kamias, I'd dry the surplus, too. For I found that I, along with the kids and the nannies, actually like the dried kind better than the fresh! The sourness is concentrated, with a mellowed out, mature kind of taste, and the acidic tartness is completely gone. It is similar to the intensity of sun-dried tomatoes. The resulting soup has a somewhat sweet edge to it, and has a nice, golden color.

Strangely enough, now that it's kamias season, the dried kind cannot be found. So we've been using fresh kamias in our almost daily sinigang, but we're sorely missing the intenseness of the dried variety that I'm seriously considering buying a kilo, even two, of fresh kamias, to dry in the summer sun.

We used to have tilapia in fresh kamias soup, with native pechay, tomatoes and ginger, almost weekly. But now we prefer it with tuyong kamias.

{Using medium-sized talakitok (trevally/cavalla), with tomatoes, kangkong ang siling haba or siling pang-sigang}

{with prawns or shrimps, mixed with bok choy and sliced radish}

{and even with salmon belly, plus mustard leaves, okra, gabi (taro)}

Related Posts
Fresh Kamias
Sinigang na Bangus
Kamias-Lasuna Salad

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Pias is the Pangasinan term for this fruit (Averrhoa bilimbi, of the family Oxalidaceae) that is one of the many souring agents used in sinigang (soured clear soup) across the Philippines.

Equivalent term in other Philippine languages:
  • kamias/kolonanas/kolonauas (Tagalog)
  • kalamias (Southern Tagalog)
  • pias (Ilokano/Pangasinan)
  • puis (Igorot)
  • iba (Bisaya, Hiligaynon)
  • kalingiwa (Bisaya)
  • kiling-iba (Bikol)
It is called "cucumber tree" or "tree sorrel" in English (weird). It is grown and utilised, as food or food ingredient, in Asia and South America. In the Philippines it is more like it grows on its own, as it is not really cultivated but it is found extensively in the width and breadth of the archipelago, in backyards and farms and along paved and unpaved roads.

In Asia it is commonly referred to by its Indian name, bilimbi, which strongly influenced how it is called in other Asian languages - belimbing, billing-billing, balimbing, blimbing, taling pling, kaling pring.

In Southern American countries it is variously known as blimblin, bimbling plum, grosella china, mimbro, tiriguro, vinagrillo, birambi, pepino de Indias. There is a French term, carambolier bilimbi, or cornichon des Indes, though I doubt if it can be found there, much less eaten.

Pias, in the Philippines, makes its appearance in markets at the onset of summer (around the end of February), or even earlier, but it is hard to find during the rainy and cold seasons (August to January).

But that is just about right, because pias is used mainly in sinigang, the Filipno soured soup with either meat or fish, that is served during the hot months. It is served hot, like most soups are, but the sourness of it refreshes and cools, and so is apppropriate for the blazing tropical summer.

The fruit is very tart, but in soups it is a mild souring ingredient. It is actually one of the least potent in the array of Philippine sour fruits used in sinigang. I believe it is just a notch above the tomato, which is considered the mildest peres (the Pangasinan term for the souring ingredient in sinigang), and half a level below the kalamansi.

And so pias, and the tomato, as well, is used to sour only the sinigang that contains fish. And not all fish, but only freshwater fish, or marine fish that have delicate flavor. Deep-sea fish requires an ingredient that imparts a more forceful sourness, while meats (chicken, beef, pork, goat) use the most powerful of them all, sampalok, or in the case of the islands of Panay and Negros, batwan.

{in abundance}

When it is pias season the fruits sprout in a congregation, plentifully, around the trunk of the bilimbi tree. We are just starting to enjoy the fruits this year, and I am drooling in anticipation of the dishes it could be added to, besides the sinigang.

We add it to the vegetable mix of saluyot tan labong (bamboo shoots and saluyot leaves), and to puso'y ponti tan saluyot (banana heart and saluyot leaves), as well. The clan on my father's side of the family use pias in bagisen (dinuguan, pork blood stew), while I was taught that Bicolanos use it in laing (taro leaves stewed in coconut cream).

My husband likes the fruit sliced thinly, then mixed with agamang (bagoong alamang, salted fermented krill), to be eaten as an accompaniment to grilled or fried fish. During such times it is not far-fetched to think that I feel like on a picnic, with my hair tossed by the sea breeze.

Related Posts
Kamias-Lasuna Salad
Pias Flowers
Pinatuyong Kamias
Sinigang na Bangus (milkfish in soured broth)
Saluyot Labong
Banana Heart, Saluyot

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Barasoain Inipit

One of the earliest posts I did on my "Tinapay" series (an ongoing archiving of regional specialty breads/pastries I find in street bakeries during my travels across the Philippines) is about the Bulacan soft chiffon custard inipit, specifically the Mil-Ros brand.

I had written the post exactly three years ago (weird, it was unplanned that I should revisit it now - I just found out this detail as I am typing this!), but it is still generating responses, and the latest comment was entered late last year.

What had been interesting, though, was the reaction of the former general manager of the Shell gasoline station, where I discovered the Mil-Ros inipit. She had actually recommended another brand, also carried by the now renovated and much more bigger station (and currently managed by her sister-in-law).

The brand recommended, purportedly better than Mil-Ros, was Barasoain Bakeshop. The next two commenters seconded her, so I was intrigued, and it went to the top of my must-buy list during trips along the North Luzon Expressway, or NLEX.

But every time we went North I couldn't find the Barasoain brand, and most of the time the Mil-Ros inipit was also out of stock. The salesladies confirmed that the Barasoain brand is sold faster than the Mil-Ros, and is often asked about by travellers.

But I was in luck during our recent trip to Baguio - we made it on a Thursday, which I think spelled much of a difference, because not a lot of people make an out-of-town trip on a weekday.

There were a few packs of Barasoain inipit left on the Bulacan pastry shelves of Shell Select, and I promptly got all of them, along with a pack of ube roll (like a big pianono filled with ube).

The verdict?

As I mentioned in my original inipit post I am very partial to the Mil-Ros brand because it is the first inipit I have ever had. Its surface is buttery, and I find a good balance among the thin chiffon, the custard and the sugar crystals atop the inipit.

But yes, the Barasoain inipit chiffon is softer, the custard thicker. Sinking your teeth into it is like eating a delicious, yema-filled cloud. The ube roll was also great - filled to the brim with ube that is seemingly made from the real thing.

And if both Mil-Ros and Barasoain happen to be available the next time we go North?

Why, I won't have a second thought and grab both!

Related Post
Mil-Ros inipit

Both the Mil-Ros and Barasoain inipit are sold at Shell Select, the convenience store of the Shell gasoline station (Tel. No. 6344-6935080) a few kilometers after the toll-gate, along the north-bound lane of the North Luzon Expressway.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lazy Weekend Breakfasts

I was able to get a half kilo's worth of fresh mountain blueberries on a recent trip to Baguio City, and it's been figuring in a lot of my breakfasts lately.

I first used it in a blueberry cheesecake, caramelizing it with a little sugar and blitzing it after it's cooled along with the cream cheese and cream. After the cheesecake has set I topped it with more fresh blueberries.

A no-fuss, lazy weekend breakfast that's been a favorite of mine for years now is mixing the blueberries with a spoonful of cottage cheese, a sliced banana, and an apple that's been cored and diced. It's a perfect treat to wake up to mid-morning - just a few minutes to prepare, and doesn't require any dexterous nor mind skill that it could be assembled while still half-asleep.

And the best part, it's a very light dish, so that I could join the family in the full-course lunches I am wont to prepare on weekends (like making up for the weekday cooking by the househelp).

The blueberries, banana and apple (better if using both green and red), plus fresh strawberries if available, is my ideal mix, because they all somehow complement one another in taste and texture, which is then rounded up by the creamy, soft curds of the cottage cheese. Last weekend my strawberries have all been eaten up or made into shakes. But I added a mango, de-seeded and cubed, because I couldn't resist, with several sitting on my fruit tray, very yellow and so fragrant.

The mango was so sweet it dwarfed the individual tastes of the other fruits. But it was still a delicious mix. I'll probably try another one with solely mango and cottage cheese next weekend, as it is mango season, after all. And especially since I have now run out of fresh blueberries and I don't foresee another trip to Baguio in the immediate future.

I also use fresh bluebrries in pancakes, just incorporating them in the pancake batter before cooking. Topped with some powdered sugar and more blueberries, another easy-to-whip but satisfying mid-morning weekend breakfast.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


It's quite difficult to find a decent dining place in Cavite City, and the neighboring municipalities, for that matter.

Apart from the usual fastfood joints, what abound are carinderias, while there is the requisite panciteria (an eatery serving stir-fried stick noodles) and a Chinese restaurant.

At the nearest neighboring town, Noveleta, the choices widen, but I've had nightmares going there with the family during holidays when all the househelp are on vacation, and we'd rather eat out than deal with a crying infant while I vainly tried to stir a half-burnt sauce.

The restaurants look good - there is a steak joint, a pizza-pasta-bakeshop place, an "authentic" Japanese eatery catering to the expat locators at the nearby EPZA. And further on in Kawit there are nipa huts specializing in grilled and sizzling local dishes.

But all these, and I mean all, are closed on Sundays and holidays. We've experienced having a Christmas lunch, a new year's day dinner, a birthday, at Jollibee and McDonalds, after finding one restaurant after another dark and shuttered. Pathetic.

So we've started rounding up some restaurants we've probably overlooked in Cavite City, in the hopes of finding more accessible and readily available eating places, when emergency strikes. Although now with the baby turning one and all, and walking to boot, I think I'll be able to handle holiday feasts this year.

We usually have Sunday dinners at the local panciteria when the nannies take their day off, so it has ceased to be a rather "special" place to go to on occasions fit to be celebrated with a finer meal.

My husband has been passing by this hole-in-the-wall for quite some time, labeled Asao, which I can't figure out the meaning of - the owner must have a relative in Japan. So one evening we decided to try it.

We ordered bulalo (beef bone and marrow boiled for hours, served in its broth), but what was served was more like a bony nilagang baka (beef chunks boiled with roots and leafy vegetables). And the soup did not have the richness and taste of hours of boiling, but rather of boullion cubes.

I was charmed, though, by the serving dish - not the usual ceramic bowl, or clay pot, but in an individualized clear dish with warmer, a thoughtful touch, but is actually critical when serving beef soups so it keeps warm and does not congeal.

But the more interesting find that dinner was this pancit (noodles), called pancit puso ("noodle heart"), my first time to encounter such, though later on we'd find it in other carinderias in the city.

It is the usual Filipino stir-fried noodles, this one colored with achuete (anatto seeds), but the reference to a heart has to do with the accompanying pickled puso ng saging (banana heart).

The usual pancit is mixed with a squeeze of kalamansi juice, so that the saltiness is tempered with a dash of sourness. In pancit puso, the pickled banana heart takes the place of the kalamnsi.

The pickled puso is mixed into the pancit, and you get alternating bites of salty pancit and chewy, sour-sweet heart, which makes it refreshing, and before you know it, you've finished the whole plate.

If only for the pancit, I'm willing to go back to Asao. And probably try other, interesting, dishes, too.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Batwan Jam

One of the things I vowed to bring home from Iloilo, during my one-day trip there last year, was batwan, the souring ingredient of choice in Bacolod and Iloilo, and I assume for the islands of Negros (at least in the Occidental portion) and Panay, as well.

Batwan can only be found in these islands, and I had relied on generous friends for handfuls of the fruit for me to use in making Ilonggo dishes (cansi, KBL, even the common-across-the-islands sinigang na bangus). Since I'd be in Iloilo on a business trip (read: all expenses paid), it had been my turn to bring batwan as pasalubong.

During my casual jaunt to the Iloilo City public market in the afternoon of my trip, no batwan was to be found. But when the brother of an office colleague, with whom I flew into the city, heard what I was looking for, he made some calls, and by the time we were heading to dinner a sack of very fragrant batwan - reminiscent of ripe lanzones that had a citrusy zing to it, which made me drool - was waiting for me.

This was the same person who introduced me to Wewyn's squid rings, who looked for diwal for our group to dine on, told me to try Roberto's siopao and who drove us around the city letting us taste his favorites - great, newly-fried peanuts on the highway to Pavia, soup no. 5 (my first!) in Mandurriao, an excellent lumpiang ubod, crispy crablets.

He was solely responsible for all my eating adventures on that incredibly food-laden trip. I could not have squeezed everything, nor would have experienced everything, in probably a week, what I ate and tasted and tried and brought back home in just about five hours. Thank you, Manong Bong Young.

There were about three kilos' worth of batwan in my backpack, and in between all the squid rings and piaya and chocolate rolls and biscocho and barquillos, they were squeezed and squished until I could get home and unload them.

By that time many had turned brown and mushy. The very reason they cannot be found anywhere else outside of the Ilonggo region - they don't keep well, much less travel far. I was told three days from the tree and they lose their prime.

Although I have a large household with all the househelp and nannies and drivers, we all could not keep up with the batwan spoiling, even though all we had was sinigang (soured broth), alternately with fish and meats, for days. A third of the loot went to all my previous benefactors as pasalubong, and we desperately tried to use up another third until our molars ached.

The last third needed to be cooked, fast. I remembered my Ilonggo host mumbling something about dulce de batwan. I had heard about kamias jam, so the idea wasn't far-fetched.

And since I bought muscovado sugar at the Iloilo market (said to be used for kalamay), I decided putting them together would be such a good, truly Ilonggo idea.

I just washed the batwan, put them whole in a deep pan, and sprinkled all the muscovado (about 1 1/2 kilos). When I stirred the mix I thought it was too dry, so I added about two cups of water. When the mixture was bubbly I turned down the heat so it was just barely simmering.

After about an hour the jam was a superlative amber color, the batwan mushy and had shed skin. But it still had too much liquid, so I decided to lower the heat a little more, and left the pan uncovered.

Another hour and the jam was the consistency of syrup. When I tasted it it was so sour, like unsweetened tamarind. So I added about a kilo more of brown sugar, which was all we had in the house.

On hindsight I should not have chickened out and let the sugar melt, without adding the 2 cups water. The additional brown sugar aggravated the situation, and it took all of five hours of a gentle simmer for it to get to the consistency I wanted. By that time, however, the jam had turned black from the burnt muscovado.

~ ~ ~ ~

It's been four months since I put the jam in bottles and hid them in the cupboard. It had mellowed down, the sourness just a whisper, and it has a woderful chewy, chunky texture, the seeds soft and totally edible. Its taste is akin to candied tamarind, the sweetness in deep, earthy tones, but without the characteristic acidic tartness.

Paired with good butter on toast, it makes for a lovely breakfast, or afternoon nibbles. If only it had retained its beautiful amber coloring, it could make for an excellent gift. Good thing, though, there is not a hint of bitternes from all the burnt sugar. So I guess I should not be bitter about it, too. Especially since it's very enjoyable, cost almost nothing,* and a totally Filipino organic jam, to boot. A rather great way to use up those excess batwan.

*A kilo of batwan cost Php20, the muscovado was about Php60, the brown sugar Php30. Total of Php110, about US$2.50, and I had the equivalent of about three jam bottles, or about Php40 per bottle (the cooking cost me nothing, because my utilities are free, care of the husband's company). What else could possibly beat that?

Related Posts
Panaderia de Molo
Public Market
Lunch: Nora's
Dinner: Breakthrough
Roberto's Siopao
Biscocho Haus/Wewyn's

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Iloilo's Pastry Houses

[Biscocho Haus' butterscotch, baňadas, biscocho]

Summer is, finally, fully here. It's been gathering its powers since the start of the year, but the gentle hanging amihan (northeasternly winds), cooled by the Siberian and Chinese winters, blowing over the archipelago was just too cold.

Now the slant of the earth at this time of the year puts the country at its nearest to the sun, so we get the maximum heat blast. It showers sometimes at night, but that doesn't do anything to dissipate the heat, but instead fuels the sun's anger more.

So it's now the peak of the travelling season. Travel usually starts at the end of the rainy season, about October at the earliest, with mild temperatures characterising December which makes it nice for hikes and walks. Domestic travel this season started in earnest during the two-week Christmas vacation last year.

However, last year's typhoon season was horrific, upturning and sinking boats and large ships, and producing ferocious funnels of tornadoes that it had not been a good time for island-hopping. And beaches during the last months of the year, and from January to February, are usually cold, places worthy of a visit are water-logged or mosquito-infested.

So the best time has just only started, just about now. Even though the sun is so hot it will melt your skin. I have come to buying suits with high UPF ratings for my kids, they who love the sea and sand as much as any Filipino, even though they are city-bred.

And of course any travel, Filipino-style, is not complete without the pasalubong, usually food that defines a certain place, bought for the office colleague or barkada or neighbor, to share the experience and partake of the place visited.

So I'll be featuring some noteworthy and economical (important when you have a lot to buy for) pasalubong during this season, picked up from previous travels, or hopefully to be brought from my planned travels this season, and also the pasalubong I've received/will receive from travelling colleagues, barkada and neighbors.

I have already featured quite a few, posted in the category abet/pasalubong (found in the sidebar), and my first two for this year were those peanuts you buy in Baguio but are actually made in Pangasinan, and my loot from Zamboanga.

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This time I am revisiting Iloilo with the two most famous pastry houses in the city from which I bought my pasalubong, a spill-over of my one-day Iloilo trip.

Biscocho Haus is the most famous, with its chewy butterscotch bars, and of course its porous biscocho, slices of old bread sweetened and toasted. It has other cookie pastries worthy of hoarding in my own pantry, as pasalubong to my house - flavored barquillos, banadas, ube piaya, rosquillos.

[Wewyn's biscocho, muscovado piaya]

The first time I was in Iloilo was when I had just finished my freshman year in college. I was with a group of friends, and we were enjoying the summer break. We took the ferry from Bacolod, having traveled the width and breadth of the island of Negros.

At the pier the first vendor who confronted us was carrying a pack of Wewyn's biscocho, crumbly, also porous, but held together by a spread of a creamy, sweet glaze on the surface of the toast. I have never forgotten that first biscocho, delicious and the best for me, and I never forget to buy Wewyn's to bring home.

During my last trip I did not have the time to drop by Wewyn's big outlet near the new humongous SM Iloilo, but good thing there is an outlet at the airport. As I was checking out the contents of the counter for other things to buy (got some good chocolate rolls - tsokolate tablea, too), the saleslady offered piaya - the original muscovado one.

It tasted great and was so fragrant, crunchy and crispy thin, the thick muscovado filling chewy and not overly-sweet. It was even better at home toasted and eaten warm. I think I had been munching on hybrid piayas for too long. The original is almost always the best, eh?

[Wewyn's Squid Rings]

My self-appointed, very generous and food-enamored host in Iloilo happens to be friends with Wewyn's owners, and he went to the factory to get packs of newly-cooked squid rings for me to insert in my luggage, which was already bursting at the seams that I was told to check it in at the airport and pay the corresponding fee (I was travelling on a no-check-in-baggage status).

He went all the way to the factory so he could have it discounted (Php75 per pack, while it sells at Php100 at the airport). The price difference is significant, because it is a must that these squid rings, lots and lots of them, be included in one's loot from Iloilo.

Made with real squid that peep out when you take a bite, it is one of those things that you put into your mouth then automatically reach for another, and another, until the plastic pack is empty and you open another one.

At the airport I opened one pack, and it was perfectly crunchy. If there had been vinegar to dip them in (there was none provided) I could have finished all the five packs I was given before I had even boarded my plane.

And when I arrived home? My son opened one pack, and was begging for another one a few minutes after. I told him to reserve one pack for his dad, who was due to arrive the next week.

But remember that TV ad where you leave a child with food (marshmallows) but admonish him not to touch it? I guess my son's emotional quotient had not been high enough. And I guess five packs of Wewyn's squid rings is not enough to take back home to the family.

Wewin’s (633) 3376041, 5099311

Related Post
Panaderia de Molo

Bacolod Pastries
Mango Tartlets/Barquillos
Modern Piaya/Quan

What else to eat in Iloilo
Public Market
Lunch: Nora's
Dinner: Breakthrough
Roberto's Siopao