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Asia Culture Culture Entertainment International Lifestyle Local Popular Review Singapore Sports THG Youth

Mythbusters: Unravelling the Vegan Lifestyle at Singapore Vegan Festival

Over the last weekend (21 and 22 November), EatRoamLive held the second iteration of the Singapore Vegan Festival (SVF). The two-day event saw the Singapore vegan community coming together to shop amazing deals on vegan products and services, attend workshops and talks, learn from one another, and share their journeys and experiences.

As someone who has always been curious about the vegan lifestyle, I went into the festival with an open mind to learn more about this community here in Singapore and beyond. Admittedly, there were some assumptions I held about veganism prior to this which had held me back from adopting a vegan lifestyle; some of these were that veganism is a difficult diet to maintain, that I would be heavily restricting my food options, and that I’ll have to take supplements to ensure my nutritional needs are met.

However, all these myths and misconceptions were quickly debunked during the festival! Do read on to learn more about what was shared during the festival, and how it has completely changed my perspective on a vegan lifestyle.

Vegan food is boring

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Asia Culture Culture Entertainment International Lifestyle Local Review Singapore Sports THG Youth Uncategorized@#

Mythbusters: Unravelling the Vegan Lifestyle at Singapore Vegan Festival

Over the last weekend (21 and 22 November), EatRoamLive held the second iteration of the Singapore Vegan Festival (SVF). The two-day event saw the Singapore vegan community coming together to shop amazing deals on vegan products and services, attend workshops and talks, learn from one another, and share their journeys and experiences.

As someone who has always been curious about the vegan lifestyle, I went into the festival with an open mind to learn more about this community here in Singapore and beyond. Admittedly, there were some assumptions I held about veganism prior to this which had held me back from adopting a vegan lifestyle; some of these were that veganism is a difficult diet to maintain, that I would be heavily restricting my food options, and that I’ll have to take supplements to ensure my nutritional needs are met.

However, all these myths and misconceptions were quickly debunked during the festival! Do read on to learn more about what was shared during the festival, and how it has completely changed my perspective on a vegan lifestyle.

Vegan food is boring

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Culture Featured Lifestyle Local Singapore

Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore, Explained

Growing up in Singapore, there was always a month in the year where respect to the dead was commissioned. The trail of incense and joss paper burning signaled the beginning; the flashy live performances (‘Ge Tai’) its peak.

The seventh month of the lunar calendar (July or August in the Western calendar) is known as ‘Ghost Month’ and the 15th day of the seventh month ‘Ghost Day’. A special custom to honour the spirits of the dead, it celebrates the Taoist (and Buddhist) belief in the afterlife. This year, the festival is held from 19 August to 16 September 2020, and as I’m writing, a familiar haze of smoke signals Ghost Day (2 September) is in full swing.

History

The festival’s origins come from a Buddhist tale of filial piety, where a Buddhist monk called Maudgalyayana (or Mulian) wanted to save his mother from perpetual hunger in the pits of hell. Buddha explained the only way was to make offerings to the monks returning from their annual retreat (15th day of the seventh month), as they could offer prayers that would bless his ancestors and relieve their suffering. As the story goes, Mulian’s mother was eventually raised from the status of hungry ghost to human being through this ritual, and thus, a new tradition was born.

Background

During Ghost Month, Chinese believe the Gates of Hell are opened, allowing spirits to roam the land of the living and visit their family members and descendants. These hungry ghouls are in constant search of food and entertainment, which is why all sorts of offerings are made — to keep the dead appeased and out of trouble.

While Taoists celebrate the festival as ‘Zhong Yuan Jie’ (or中元), the Buddhists name it ‘Yu Lan Pen Jie’ (or兰盆节’) — after the sutra from which the origin of this festival was derived. In Chinese tradition, deference and reverence to all ancestors is demanded; one of my earliest memories of Ghost Month was being instructed to say ‘excuse me’ whenever I passed offerings or prayer sticks, as an expression of respect.

Today, accidentally trampling on food, stepping on incense ashes, or kicking over joss sticks is still very much taboo, unless you’d like to suffer the wrath of angry spirits. The Chinese are a superstitious lot, but much of these special customs are centered around educating the next generation on proper decorum and the value of respecting the community’s elders and family members.

Offerings

Following that line of thought, making offerings are a significant part of Ghost month tradition — families burn joss paper replicas of anything their ancestors might need in the afterlife. Paper money is the most common offering, but believers also burn paper cars, luxury houses, clothes, even paper durian and pets.

Much of the joss paper burning now takes place within dark-coloured metal bins scattered around heartland estates and at temples where large furnaces facilitate mass prayer. The tradition of offering joss sticks or plates of food (often unpeeled fruits, cake or a cup of tea) still holds, and you’ll see these along pathways and public housing void decks as an aid to prayer.

travel_hungry-ghost-festival-singapore_1
kiawui/Instagram

Ge Tai

Because wandering ghouls need entertainment, flashy performances and raucous auctions are also a mainstay. Unique to Singapore and Malaysia, these live performances are called ‘Ge Tai’ (literally translated to be song stage), and it’s often thrown by religious affiliations and temples as a culmination of Ghost Day. Large tents are temporarily set up in open fields, or in my case, an open car park and crowds of heartlanders and believers gather to watch.

Auctions are part of the lively affair, during which dinner attendees (usually members of the hosting association) bid for items ranging from a fan to thousand-dollar liquors. Winning the bid is as much about saving ‘face’ (prestige and social standing in the Chinese context) as an ego boost; things can get heated as bidders try to one-up each other.

As the night wears on, the live performances take over — singers in flamboyant, glittery costumes take center stage to perform songs in dialects — Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Mandarin. The occasional Chinese opera performance and irreverent comedy dialogues intersperse the jazzed-up performances — it’s a heady mix of old and new that entertains with choreographed song numbers and technopop LED. Just be sure not to sit in the first row, as that is purely reserved for the ‘honoured guests’.

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Culture Lifestyle

Are Socially-Distanced Festivals Part of Our New Normal?

We live in strange, strange times. As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has crippled most of the world, we’ve had to struggle to adapt to what’s colloquially called the “new normal”. This translates to masks being a permanent face accessory, only being able to go out in groups of five, figuring out how to work remotely from home, and so on.

However, as various governments start to gain a stronger hold on the spread of the virus, countries around the world are starting to regain some sense of normalcy. So, what does the future look like or, at least, what can we expect in the conceivable days that lie ahead? 

Perhaps an answer to this question lies in the form of socially-distanced festivals, which might be the key in helping to get the badly-beaten entertainment and music industry back on its feet!

Sure, there have been various livestream gigs but nothing can compare to the experience of witnessing live music acts in the flesh. At the start of August, the United Kingdom’s first socially-distanced concert was held in Newcastle, where around 2,500 people were in attendance. They were segregated into groups of five, with each group having their own elevated platform. Each platform even came with its own table, chairs, and even a fridge! Cars had to be parked two metres apart, with food and drink ordered in advance via an app. 

These socially-distanced concerts also come in many forms such as a drive-in concert, where people can enjoy the live acts whilst being socially distanced in their cars. The vehicles are spaced around six metres apart, allowing people to tune into the music via their car radios. The duration of the event is also kept to the maximum of one hour, with security teams on constant patrol to prevent anyone from getting out of their cars.

Such concerts have been popping up in parts of Europe and the United States, with DJs and performers finding creative ways to interact with the passengers in their respective vehicles. For example, at DJ D-Nice’s drive-in concert in Miami, he asked people to press their car horns in unison — replicating, in a way, the energy of the audience’s cheers!

Tuk Tuk Fest/Facebook

And it seems as if event and concert organisers are not afraid to get creative — in Thailand, the Amazing Tuk Tuk Festival saw hundreds of tuk tuks at the Asiatique promenade, where passengers were treated to a slew of live acts. These tuk tuks stayed within their designated zones, which were clearly demarcated with tape. 

In the Philippines, a drive-in concert was held at the Laoag Sand Dunes, where each 4×4 vehicle had its own dedicated driver/tour guide. Each vehicle could only carry a maximum of four passengers, with sandboarding and an off-road tour thrown in as part of the experience. Measures such as wearing of face masks at all times and banning alcoholic beverage consumption were among some of the protocols implemented.

O.Torvald/Facebook

In Ukraine, the rock band O.Torvald even played their entire set on a building rooftop — where fans could watch the performance from the comfort of their own balconies! Booking of hotel rooms replaced the purchasing of tickets for this ‘vertical concert’, where they could sing and dance freely without being inhibited by a mask.

Tuk Tuk Fest/Facebook

No matter the event, stringent measures are implemented, such as only having outdoor live stages, temperature checks upon entry, the presence of multiple hand sanitising booths and water points, as well as social distancing enforced in areas like bars and campsites. The upcoming Stendhal Festival in Northern Ireland even goes as far as to implement a minimum age of 21, as they acknowledge the trickiness of mandating social distancing practices for younger individuals.

This is a far cry from events that seemed to have forgone safety measures altogether — the recent music festival at Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park shocked the world when photos and videos of its party-goers went viral. The crowds were seen in close proximity with no masks in sight, reminiscent of concerts pre-COVID.

The effectiveness and sustainability of socially-distanced events have been thrown into question. As stated by Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, such events are simply not financially viable. If he had his way, he would use compulsory coronavirus testing as an incentive for partygoers looking to attend acts that are performing at full capacity. However, with the high costs involved, it’s unlikely that this will materialise anytime soon.

There have been mixed reactions from performance attendees as well, with some declaring that such socially-distanced concerts simply don’t offer the same atmosphere as packed live acts. However, these events have generally been met with much acclaim, with some attendees even joking that there are now VIP seats available for anyone and everyone. In fact, these socially-distanced concerts are so popular that they draw attendees from all walks of life! 

For now, no matter the perspective, it looks like we’ve entered a reinvented new era where crowded mosh pits are a thing of the past, with socially segregated concerts indefinitely here to stay. Or at least, for the foreseeable future!

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Culture Lifestyle

A Cure For Cabin Fever: How You Can Travel Without Leaving The House

As the battle against a worldwide pandemic rages on, most of us with grand plans to travel for vacations have seen such plans evaporate as quickly as a squirt of 70% alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

Firmly grounded in Singapore, I know how it feels like to look at the inches of dust accumulating on our passports and to feel woefully out of practice with the enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System (eIACS) at the ICA checkpoints.

Thankfully, I have a solution to quench your wanderlust: YouTube! Here are 7 channels worth checking out that will help you vicariously live out those adventures.

Mark Wiens

For many people, trying out local cuisine and involving the use of our sense of smell and taste during our travels is a big reason why we love travelling. Enter Mark Wiens, a guy who absolutely travels because of food. While he is based in Thailand, Mark’s mission to share his love for food with the world through YouTube knows no limits as he travels extensively to several continents just to scour for food. Mark often takes his viewers to the kitchens to see how to see how food of these lesser-known cuisines are prepared locally and this adds a layer of authenticity to his videos. Most of his fans know him as a chilly addict and his iconic sway every time he eats something worth his foodie approval!

Kara and Nate

This adventurous couple made a goal to travel to 100 countries by 2020. They have since done so and are now living the “van life” across the United States. There are a multitude of reasons why you might never travel to certain places, ranging from some places being too far away or simply having doubts over one’s security and safety. Fret not, this couple have braved the muggings and exhausting 10 hour train journeys so you won’t have to! For those who love travelling off the beaten path, their channel might be worth checking out.

Lost LeBlanc

Beach-lovers and people who like chilling in remote, exotic tropical locations will not be disappointed with Lost LeBlanc. From Bali to Boracay, Christian LeBlanc combines his love for filmmaking with his passion for travelling. For the people that religiously head to Bali 3 times a year to unwind, this is the channel for you!

Sailing La Vagabonde

Maybe one day you would love to retire and sail around the world on a sailboat. Maybe you love the sea but often fall prone to seasickness. No previous sailing experience? Not a problem! Australian couple Elayna and Riley said goodbye to landlubbers and hopped on their boat to travel around the world. This seafaring couple even had a baby while being based on a boat! If you are hunting for glorious tropical sunsets or just wondering what living on a boat travelling around the world feels like, this channel is for you.

Garlen Lo

The events of history shape the world as it is today and travelling allows us to see the last vestiges of those events that still exist. A UK Vlogger of the Year finalist in 2019 and 2019, Garlen Lo‘s channel is a peculiar one on this list as it caters to the history and culture buffs of the world. While one might arguably describe this as more of an educational channel than a travel one, Garlen is an awesome presenter whose inclusion of animation in his videos means facts are always illustrated in an engaging manner. And yes, he may have less than a thousand subscribers on YouTube, but make no mistake, this is a gem of a channel with a ton of quality content.

Expedia

More known for their website and app that facilitates travel bookings, did you know that Expedia has its own YouTube channel with plenty of travel guides?

Look past their videos of popular destinations and you will find quite a trove of videos on places that are less likely to be tourist traps.

Travel Thirsty

For people who cannot stop looking at food, here is another channel dedicated to those who eat with their eyes and can resist the urge to fight their hunger pangs while watching. Travel Thirsty is an all-you-can-only-watch buffet with a focus on Asian cuisines.

It boggles my mind how much content there is on YouTube that combines the best of film making and travelling. Like a teleportation machine (albeit without the ability to touch and smell), I reckon it is an utterly unique way to vicariously discover new places and experiences that have never crossed your mind. Feel free to explore beyond these channels I shared, with YouTube your travel possibilities are only limited by what you can type in that search bar!

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Culture Lifestyle Singapore

Singlish: A Cornerstone of Singapore’s Culture

A ten-year-old boy once looked at his parents and his two siblings before proudly declaring with gusto: “I am English, not Chinese”. This boy was me many years ago, except if one were to look at my NRIC, one would clearly see that it reads “CHINESE” for race, and nobody in my line of ancestors have come from the United Kingdom. In truth, I was simply being a cheeky boy, trying my absolute best to avoid the Mandarin tuition classes which I found myself all too often in.

It took me until I reached adulthood before the intertwining relationship between our unique cultural identity and the languages we speak became salient. It is with this mindset that I came to appreciate our colloquially spoken language of Singlish as an important cornerstone of Singapore’s culture. So as a strong proponent of Singlish, let me give you several reasons why I think Singlish should not be abolished.

Singlish gives Singaporeans our identity

Singapore has all the trappings of a modern city and country with its glass skyscrapers, glitzy shopping malls, and world-class airport. Yet many of those elements can be found in other modern cities too and the real points of difference lie in the people themselves and the culture that characterises them.

When abroad, it is not uncommon for Singaporeans to recognise other Singaporeans instantly and unmistakably when we hear phrases like “can meh” or “cannot lah”. This is proof that Singlish as a language forms part of our identity as Singaporeans.

Singlish truly represents Singapore

Singapore’s multi-racial society means Singlish has become a melting pot for the different races that make up society. Singlish has been known to absorb and use the words of all the different races to adapt to the needs of its users. Singlish is one of those marvellous cultural icons because it is made from our multi-racial people into one united language and one unique cultural tapestry. Furthermore, one of the reasons why Singlish is commonly used in informal settings is because of its efficiency. We require simply require fewer words to communicate our intended message. We as a country pride ourselves by our efficiency in numerous fields, it is therefore extremely apt that our colloquial language of Singlish mirrors that same ethos of being efficient. Singlish simply embodies the Singapore spirit and represents us in a manner that not many other cultural landmarks can.

Singapore has few things which are unique to our cultural identity

While many countries have accumulated and formed distinct cultures surrounding food, art, music, sports, music, and beyond, Singapore is a young country with not many traits unique to its culture. Apart from local food and our pragmatic approach to governance, Singapore has very few cultural landmarks. Thus, it is even more critical that we hang on to Singlish as a national treasure.

The need to preserve national culture

One must bear in mind that Singapore is a highly cosmopolitan city with a diverse mix of people from all over the world. According to Statista, in 2019 there were about 2.16 million immigrants (classified as people living in a country in which they were not born in) in Singapore out of approximately 5.7 million. That is almost 40% of the total population in Singapore. Moreover, in a city state like Singapore, we do not have secondary cities with the population numbers to absorb the influx of new people and with them the cultures that they bring.  It is therefore even more critical that local languages unique to our cultural identity should be preserved.

A language worthy of celebration

I think of that young ten-year old boy I once was. Except for perhaps my still poor command of Mandarin, I could not be more different from that boy now. Today, when Singaporean friends of mine based overseas return to Singapore, I cannot be prouder to welcome them back home with a healthy dose of Singlish. I know a part of me knows that seeing someone dear will always be an elated moment, but part of me also knows that hearing Singlish, conversing in a familiar language after being away for so long, is just as poignant. Whether we consciously or subconsciously recognise them, it is in those moments where I strongly feel this language that binds all Singaporeans are worthy of celebration. Or as they say in Singlish: “This one confirm must celebrate lah”!

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Asia Culture Lifestyle Local

During The Circuit Breaker, I Chose To Make Ang Ku Kueh Instead Of Anything Viral. Here’s Why.

If you’ve been actively following the common Instagram hashtags such as #baking, #homemade, and #cookingathome, you’ll know that it’s mostly saturated with viral trends, such as the Basque burnt cheesecake, Levain cookies or Dalgona coffee. There is nothing wrong with attempting to make those, don’t get me wrong, but why aren’t Singaporean hobby bakers or chefs creating things that showcase our local culture and tradition? 

Singapore is a well-known foodie heaven because of its vast variety of food offerings. You can get a taste of every culture and cuisine in Singapore at any price range — from the very affordable hawker centres to three-starred Michelin restaurants that promises the spectacular view of the Singapore skyline as you wine and dine. 

This wouldn’t have been possible if not for globalisation. However, globalisation has eroded much of our local culture too. 

With the rise of the generation Zs, everyone is more interconnected on a global scale. Trends and culture from other regions gets washed up onto our sunny shores, and is adopted and recreated by local gen Zs, who then republish what they think would get them the highest views or most number of likes. 

And these trends and cultures are usually adaptations of what has gained popularity in the West. 

Think along the lines of Levain cookies, Basque cheesecake or even the classic cinnamon rolls. All these sweet treats emerged from the West. Even though many Singaporeans may not have tried what an actual Levain cookie or Basque burnt cheesecake may taste like, they start to emulate and recreate them, using shared recipes easily found with a quick Google search. 

I’m not against local Singaporeans baking stuff like cookies or cheesecake (I do bake crispy chocolate chip cookies whenever I have the time), nor am I against Singaporeans baking stuff that they find popular or trendy. I’m just curious why Singaporeans do not make anything that’s tied to our local culture. 

I am a hobby-cook and an avid baker. I do bake quite a bit of cookies, cakes, and scones, but I do like to indulge in making a good ol’ Ang Ku Kueh (red tortoise kueh) or Gao Ding Kueh (seven layer rainbow kueh) as an homage to my culture and tradition. 

Yes, comparing kuehs to cookies and cakes is akin to comparing apples with oranges. Furthermore it’s not hard to get a piece of kueh from the nearby hawker centre nor is it as expensive as compared to getting a cookie or cake from a cafe. However the effort required in making the kueh is almost as much or even more than whipping up a cookie dough.

I speak from experience as I’ve done both. Although I do enjoy eating cookies and cakes, the sense of satisfaction and gratification I get when making kuehs is definitely more. And I can’t pinpoint as to why that is so. 

Maybe it’s from the nods of approval I get from my grandparents and granduncles. Many of them lament that the kuehs done and sold commercially do not have the taste of nostalgia anymore, and I managed to recreate it at home. 

Or maybe it’s from the lack of ubiquity it has on social media. A quick search with the hashtag #homecookingsg shows the same old cookies and cakes, but my colourful rainbow Ang Ku Kueh stands out like a rose among the weeds. 

I think it’ll be great if more Singaporeans started venturing into recreating snacks that are a part of their culture. Many of us like to eat them, but don’t want to make them. We leave it to the older generations to make them, but if we don’t learn, how are we going to carry on such traditions? I guess my concern is that there will be a loss of such traditions in the near future, when the generations before us are long gone and where our culture would be remodelled into something that is reflective of what we are currently going through, and not what our past ancestors have brought down.

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Asia Culture Lifestyle Local

The Rise of The Brookie

When it comes to cookies, there are distinct lines you can’t cross. You can either be team crispy and crunch, or team soft and chewy. I’ve never met anyone who is on the fence (do let me know if you know of someone like this) about their cookie texture preferences, but I do know that whenever this discussion gets brought up amongst my friends, things start to get heated.

But that story is for another day.

Today, we’re going to be talking about Brookies, a new frankenpastry that has made everyone go gaga. A brookie is a cross between a brownie and cookie. Because of the soft, brownie texture, it requires a soft and chewy cookie dough (sorry, my crispy and crunchy fans) to give the entire brookie a better mouthfeel.

There are many recipes out there for brookies, and can be customised to suit personal taste or even to incorporate local ingredients or flavours, but a classic, never-go-wrong brookie would be a hybrid between a chocolate brownie and chocolate chip cookie.

Pixabay

According to a few sites, a traditional Brookie is made with a layering method, i.e., having a cookie dough ‘sit’ on top of the brownie batter. Depending on how you eat it, you’d still be able to get the two distinct cookie and brownie texture, but the charm is in the middle, that sweet spot where the cookie dough and brownie batter meet and blend together. I guess theoretically, that is the only part of the bake that you can call a brookie.

When I first heard of the term ‘brookie’ and how it was a frankenpastry, my immediate thought was that it was something that would require way too much effort to make. Just like the cronut and other frankenpastries that came before this, it pleasantly surprised me that it does not require much effort to hone the art of making a brookie; in fact, if you’ve been a regular hobby baker, you most probably already know how to make a brookie — it’s just a combination of two recipes with a few little tweaks!

Comparing brookies to its parental counterpart, the cookie, it is also relatively easier to make. Since they are bar cookies, you can omit the labour-intensive process of shaping them into circles, which between me and you, takes up quite a lot of time and isn’t the most fun part of baking. A brookie cuts all of that away since everything is just tossed into a baking pan prior to baking. Although if you still prefer having your brookies circular, it is possible to be done too.

I always told myself not to buy into the allure of these kinds of viral bakes, mainly because I think that they’re not authentic or artisanal enough to be considered a baked work of art. However, the brookies have been an exception. I blame it on not being able to choose between brownies and cookies. So thank you, to whoever that created this holy treat, I no longer have to choose.

Here’s my favourite brookie recipe, as shared by Delish magazine.

INGREDIENTS

For the brownie:

  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) melted butter
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

For the chocolate chip cookie:

  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 c. chocolate chips
  • Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C) and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Make brownie cookie: In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter, sugar, and cocoa powder. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until glossy. Add flour and salt and whisk until just combined. Refrigerate while you make chocolate chip cookie dough.
  3. Make chocolate chip cookie: In another large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add flour, baking soda, and salt and beat until just combined, then fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Make brookie: Using a small cookie scoop, form a heaping scoop of each dough into balls. Take one brownie ball and one cookie dough ball and roll them together. Repeat with remaining doughs.
  5. Place on prepared baking sheet 2″ apart, then flatten slightly and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake until golden around the edges and just set, 10 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack, then let cool completely.
Categories
Culture Lifestyle Local Spain

All You Need to Know About the Basque Burnt Cheesecake That’s Going Viral

Move aside, Levain-style cookies. There’s a new viral bake that’s taking the digital world by storm. Introducing the Basque cheesecake.

But before we delve into the magical qualities that made this cheesecake go viral, we’ve got to answer the most important question: What in the world is a Basque cheesecake?

The Basque cheesecake originated from the city of San Sebastián, the capital city in the Basque region in Spain. The city sits on the Spain-France border, which has led to a cultural mish-mash, that pays homage to the two countries.

A quick Google search revealed that this unusual form of burnt cheesecake comes from La Viña Restaurante, helmed by 60-year-old head chef Santiago Rivera. The cake was first created back in the 1990s but gained its virality only 30 years later — I guess the saying ‘great things take time to develop’ is highly apt in such context.

Pixabay

The cake is no looker with its burnt top and irregular circular shape. Its looks hold a candle to none when compared with the classic New York style cheesecake. So what makes this burnt cheesecake so popular?

Its appeal lies not in its looks, but its simple recipe that is honestly harder to mess up than expected. Thus, this burnt cheesecake makes for a really good recipe for beginner bakers who want to dip their toes in the world of hobby-baking, with a foolproof, sure-achievable recipe.

And that explains how it has gained virality only in this decade.

The COVID-19 pandemic has consigned us to stay indoors, forcing us to find new hobbies or rekindle old passions that we never had the time to do with a busy 9-to-5 job. People have been picking up home baking worldwide, and what better way to restart the baking engines than to bake a good ol’ cheesecake, one that’s literally foolproof and impossible to mess up?

The cheesecake is to be cooked at a high heat. You are expected to burn the surface (as with its name), giving it its signature brown sheen. You dump the cheesecake into a baking tin, haphazardly lined with parchment paper sticking out from every corner. The cheesecake is supposed to sink-in in the centre, a sight that promises the creamy and gooey centre that is achieved only through underbaking. Hearing these terms without any context would make a professional baker go ballistic, but hey, that’s the beauty of what makes the Basque burnt cheesecake so unique.

dcberan/Instagram

Despite the lack of attention and subpar job in making the cake, the results would astound you. The cheesecake, just like it’s New York cousin, retains its light, fluffy, and pillowy texture, with a beautiful pasty pale yellow hue beneath its brown surface. The charring on the top gives it an extra burst of flavour, a combination of caramel and molasses, achieved only through the successful charring of sugar. For some bakers, who prefer living on the edge, push the char to the extreme, which gives off a toasty bitterness, that oddly complements and cuts the sweetness of the cream cheese. But the star of the entire cheesecake would be its viscous cream centre, accomplished only through (proper) underbaking. The gooey centre is reminiscent of a lava cake, and gives a delightfully unctuous mouthfeel that wraps up the whole eating experience.

The Basque burnt cheesecake has made its mark globally, popping up in both high-end and off-the-street bakeries worldwide. Although you can’t directly compare it with the richness and more sophisticated taste with its New York counterpart, the Basque burnt cheesecake still has its appeal. A rustic appeal, that is. Its shabby ‘plating’ gives off a sense of warmth and homeliness, as if it was done with the purest intentions of a mother feeding her kids. The cheesecake is usually styled with a more austere theme in mind, where simple is more, and appearances are secondary to taste.

As with many other viral dishes, bakers enjoy creating alternate flavours of the classic, and the Basque burnt cheesecake is no exception. A speculoos rendition seems to be a favourite among home bakers, probably because its nutty and toasty flavour compliments the char of the cheesecake. More posh bakeries are experimenting with using beurre noisette, or commonly known as brown butter, to give the already flavourful cheesecake an extra oomph to its profile.

Singaporeans are not short on imaginativity as well. Local bakeries have been giving a local twist on the otherwise exotic offering. GRUB Burger Bistro, located in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, offers a kaya rendition ($9/slice) alongside the classic burnt cheesecake ($9/slice), that is dyed a minty pastel green and filled with coconut and pandan flavours. Brown sugar bubble tea fanatics would go crazy over the Da Hong Pao Burnt Cheesecake ($51.90/7-inch cake) offered at Teaspoon of Love, an online bakery offering a myriad of imported tea leaves and baked goods. However nothing spells out a quintessential Singapore flavour than the Mao Shan Wang Burnt Cheesecake ($86/7-inch cake), offered at Keong Saik Bakery.

Whether you are craving for a classic Basque burnt cheesecake or one that is peppered with our local culture, one thing’s for sure: this easy-to-make cheesecake has won the hearts of everyone worldwide and is most probably here to stay for the long-run.

Categories
Asia Culture Lifestyle Local New York City USA

I Tried Making The Famous No-Knead Bread. Here Are The Results.

I’m a self-professed baker. I do enjoy hobby baking, usually trying out new bakes that spark my interest. There is always a sense of satisfaction when I see my baked goods come to life, a finished product conjured out of basic, raw ingredients. But what is more fulfilling from the entire baking process is that special allure of being able to create something from scratch, putting in my blood sweat and tears (metaphorically) to produce something that I can proudly say I made on my own.

One thing that I’ve always wanted to try baking is bread, but the thought of having to use my strength and effort to knead the dough is off-putting.

Every time I lament to my friends about my laziness when it comes to baking, they would chide me for a bit, before offering recommendations on a good stand mixer that I could use to have the dough kneaded out for me. Well, that would work, but I wouldn’t feel that sense of accomplishment of actually making the bread — utilising help from a stand mixer would mean that my only job is to measure out the ingredients, pour everything in, and pop it in the oven.

Just only in the recent months during the circuit breaker did I stumble upon the (in)famous no-knead bread recipe by The Times. A quick search on Google revealed the recipe had a full, 5-star rating by nearly 12,000 readers who have put the recipe to the test.

This bread recipe was the answer to my oxymoronic nature. A no-knead bread recipe meant that I could do the entire preparation and execution by hand, without having to break a sweat. There was no need for a machine, neither was there a chance for me to feel that lack of accomplishment — I’m literally doing all the steps of the recipe, by my own two hands, to a tee.

I started preparing the ingredients the night before since the recipe stated that the dough had to rise for more than 12 hours. This recipe calls for only four very basic ingredients — flour, yeast, salt, and water — and everything can be prepared in one mixing bowl.

I first weighed out the flour, yeast, and salt in a large mixing bowl. I then added water, and mixed the mixture with a wooden spatula. You’ll know it’s ready when the mixture turns homogeneous and resembles a wet and sticky dough. I then use a plastic bench scraper to scrape the excess dough off the sides and on my wooden spatula, tossing them back into the large mixture. There is no room for waste here! I then covered the mixing bowl with some cling wrap and left it on the kitchen counter to ferment.

The next morning, I was greeted with a beautiful sight — a foamy mixture with a distinct sour aroma — only given off when yeast cells are active and happy. I was told that the longer the dough is allowed to ferment, the more texturised the bread will be. I resisted the temptation to immediately bake the bread and continued letting the mixture ferment for another three hours.

I then excitedly poured my still foamy dough mixture on a well-floured surface, used my bench scrapers to pull it over itself, and covered it back with the cling wrap again for another 15 minutes. My hands still have not touched the dough, and I’ve not even broken a single drop of perspiration at all.

Apart from having to knead dough, the other thing I don’t like about making bread is when I am required to come into contact with soft and sticky dough. There’s just something about that stickiness that I abhor. Nevertheless, I’ve come too far to give up at this point, and I reluctantly followed the instructions to (generously) coat my hands with flour before shaping the dough into a ball.

I then tossed the dough ball back into the mixing bowl, this time lined with a well-floured tea towel on the bottom. The dough had to rest for another two hours before baking. It really takes THAT long.

After what felt like eternity, I preheated my oven and baking dish, coated the base and lid with some oil and tossed the dough ball in, setting the temperature to 230°C for 30 minutes. Once that was done, I continued baking for another 15 minutes with the lid off till the bread was golden brown. At this point of baking, I already felt that sense of gratification. The whole kitchen was filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread (I bet my neighbours caught a whiff of it and were filled with jealousy).

Alas, I could take the bread out of the oven and allowed it to cool for another 15 minutes on a wire rack. I spent that 15 minutes observing its beautiful crust, ever so slightly using my finger to poke the bread to see if it was ready to be sliced, bread knife on the ready at the side. And there it was. A delicious slice of homemade, no knead bread. It had a crusty, almost crispy exterior, and a soft, fluffy interior filled with beautiful pock-marks — signs of a well-fermented dough. The bread was slightly on the sour side, but went perfectly with some butter spread and sprinkle of sea salt.

I now have a pretty picture to upload on my Instagram, a proud sense of accomplishment, and a huge loaf of bread for me (and my family) to consume within the next two days.

No Knead Bread Recipe

INGREDIENTS

  • 430 g bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons table salt
  • 390 ml water
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil, for coating baking pan

METHOD

  1. In a large mixing bowl combine flour, yeast and salt and mix well.
  2. Add in water and continue stirring, until dough is a homogeneous sticky mixture.
  3. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and let the dough rest for at least 12 to 18 hours at room temperature.
  4. After resting, the dough should be foamy and rose a little.
  5. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice.
  6. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
  7. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball.
  8. Generously coat a tea towel with flour, toss the dough ball in and dust with more flour.
  9. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
  10. Preheat oven to 230°C. Heat an 8 inch baking pan in oven while preheating. Remove baking pan from oven when heated, place dough inside, cover and bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove cover and bake for remaining 15 minutes, or until bread turns golden brown. Cool on a rack before slicing and serving.