For Evonne Lyn Lee and Sarah F C Lee, Asian Pies — their first cookbook — is an homage to beloved heritage flavours.
When did you start baking seriously and how did you hone your craft?
Evonne: I bought my first full-fledged oven when I moved into my flat in 2003. I started testing recipes for Chinese New Year cookies for my family in Kuala Lumpur. Contributing recipes to Food & Travel magazine Singapore from 2009 to 2014 boosted my confidence in baking. Meanwhile, I started conducting chicken pie-baking workshops with Sarah, who’s Malaysian and residing in Kluang Johor. (Sarah and I used to be primary school mates in Kluang.)
Sarah: I first tasted pie at my 11th birthday party and was hooked by the crisp buttery pastry. I told my late mum I wanted to learn how to bake it. It was difficult finding pie recipes as it’s not a typical Asian dish but I finally found a chicken pie recipe among some Nestle Test Kitchen recipes. I kept experimenting until I nailed it in terms of texture and taste.
What was the most challenging thing about putting Asian Pies together?
E: Replicating the taste of heritage dishes like Beef Rendang and Asam Laksa Puffs and keeping them authentic without robbing them of their Asian soul.
S: Tweaking the recipes from our late mothers and adapting curries, stews and dishes into fillings for pies. I also improvised the plain short crust pastry by adding different spices into the dough.
What Asian elements did you add to your creations?
E: We’ve adapted popular curries and stews as fillings in pies and tarts. The pairings are surprisingly delectable. For instance, we found that atta flour (often used in chapati pastry) goes very well with curry pies; yogurt pastry complements many types of fillings, for example, pork and pineapple curry pot pie; and cumin-spice shortcrust goes well with the Penang Asam pork stew pot pie.
What’s particularly unique about your ‘Beggar’s Chicken’ recipe?
S: We were thinking of paper-wrapped chicken that’s deep fried. Then the idea of Beggar’s Chicken wrapped in clay (originating from Hangzhou) came up. And I recalled my mother making Beggar’s Chicken by wrapping it in aluminum foil before baking it. I wanted a Beggar’s Chicken where the whole chicken, starting with the crust right down to the chicken inside, can be eaten. To enhance the flavour of the chicken, I used lotus leaf to wrap it.
In the cookbook, there are tips on making different kinds of pie crust pastries. Which is the most challenging type to master?
E: Our shortcrust pastries are not difficult to handle. We’ve shared one key technique: do not over knead the dough. For those with warm palms, use a knife to cut and mix the butter and shortening into the flour to form a ball with some water. Alternatively, use your fingertips to rub the butter and shortening into flour before forming a ball of dough. Yogurt shortcrust is a very soft and tender dough; it needs to be handled gently. If it gets too sticky to hold, adding a little more flour helps to firm up the dough.