The names for this pastry are many - puff biscuits, fragrant biscuits (biskut wangi), Hiong Peah, pong peah or beh teh saw (not sure of correct spelling). What’s not so common though, is information on how to make this snack.
Believe me, I googled my little heart out, and couldn’t find a proper recipe anywhere. Not even a reference that would lead to a cookbook or print resource. Well, not in the English language media anyway.
What I did find however, were many reviews, other fans looking for recipes and an ingredient list on the side of a packet. Based on this list (for a halal version of the biscuit), I knew that I should start with wheat flour, maltose, sesame, margarine, vegetable oil, sugar and shallots. However, my first attempt at the pastry using butter and oil, instead of margarine, yielded unsatisfactory results. The pastry just wasn’t flaky enough, in fact it was verging on tough.
Maltose. I remember eating maltose "lollipops" bought from the travelling sweet (lolly) man. He used to come round on his bicycle.
I knew I had to bite the bullet and use lard instead. (Lard, being a pork product, is unsuitable for Malaysians of the Muslim faith. Which is why the halal version of the biscuit doesn’t include this ingredient).
This time, I think I got very, very close to what I was after. The only trouble was, every single biscuit lost its filling during the baking process. The sugar just ooozed out, no matter how tightly I sealed the dough, leaving a beautiful flaky biscuit filled with a whole lot of nothing! (I think I now know how to remedy the situation though, so stay tuned for another attempt).
Sugar crusted bottoms!
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the steps of how I conducted my biscuit trial. If you give it a go and succeed in making the perfect biscuit, please share, I will be very grateful :)
And just to show you that I’m not the only biscuit tragic, here are links to some other fans:
At Think Food Thoughts, you can find a review comparing the different brands of biscuit. The post is aptly titled battle of the fragrant biscuit.
Biscuit fanciers say that the best tasting ones come from Ipoh, in Malaysia. Motormouth hunted down and reviewed biscuits from two locations in this state. One from Gunung Rapat and the other from Taiping.
Puff biscuit attempt number 1
My biscuit trial was based on information and a pastry recipe found on this forum thread.
For the pastry, I referred to this post at Corner Cafe. The post is full of information about Chinese flaky pastry, including brilliant step by step photos about the various layering methods. I used the “hidden layering” method for this attempt.
Based on the ratios mentioned in the Corner Cafe post, I used 250g plain flour, 100g hot water, 50g lard and a pinch of salt for the water dough. I melted the lard in the hot water, then mixed this into the flour. When cool enough to handle, I kneaded the dough until pliant (about 3 or 4 minutes). Then I left the dough to rest for an hour, wrapped in clingfilm. I’m actually not sure how hot water affects pastry, but I thought I’d give it a go as I make tortillas this way (recipe here) and they turn out lovely and soft.
For the oil dough, I used 200g flour, 50g softened butter and 50g lard. I just mixed it all together using a spatula. The resulting dough is very buttery and melts very easily in the hand. It feels a little like sable pastry. This pastry was also left to rest wrapped in clingfilm.
To roll out, I divided each type of dough into 16 pieces (this makes very small biscuits. Divide into 8 or 10 for bigger biscuits). Wrap and roll the dough as shown in the Corner Cafe post mentioned above.
For the filling, first I made some shallot oil. I sliced a shallot finely and fried this in about 2 tablespoonfuls of sunflower oil (any plain vegetable oil can be used). I removed the pan from the heat just as the shallots were turning brown and crisp. The residual heat will cook the shallots further. When cool, I drained and reserved the oil.
Then I placed 110g liquid maltose in a heatproof jug, and added a pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon of the shallot oil and a teaspoon of sesame oil. I put the jug in microwave for a few seconds to heat up the maltose, and when runny, I stirred the oils in. This resulted in a bit of an emulsion. I stored this mixture in a glass jar in the fridge, and when I needed to use it, brought it back to room temperature. Some of the oil does float to the top, but can be stirred back in.
The flavour of this filling is pretty spot on to what I remembered, but as I mentioned above, this filling won’t stay in the biscuit. I think I need to add some flour to this mix, possibly some cooked glutinous rice flour (koh fun). Also, I think I need to add some caramelised sugar too. That’s on the cards for the next experiment. Wish me luck!
Have a great week and if you can spare some time to make something Malaysian, send it to my friend Suresh (sureshchong(at)yahoo(dot)com) for Muhibbah Malaysian Monday.