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Furnace Brownies

Today I wanted to show some evidence that cooking does actually occur at my place, as well as all the eating. Voila…..chocolate brownies!

Now before you go saying ‘chocolate brownies? We’re meant to be impressed by that?’ I want you to read this and reconsider. Because although my Chinese cooking is coming along nicely, especially with all the fantastic fresh food on offer from the wet market ,if I try cooking anything western I feel like I’m on some bizarre treasure hunt in The Amazing Race, trying to gather all the ingredients together in the allotted timeframe whilst dealing with unforeseen adverse circumstances. 

Get-togethers with other foreigners often sound strangely mundane: ‘Pine nuts?! You found pine nuts??? Do you have the shop’s address in Chinese?’ We get together and swap cocoa war stories and valuable gems of information on the whereabouts of icing sugar. I once came home with eight jars of capers in my handbag, just because that’s how many the shop had, and they wouldn’t give me a carry bag. 

Baking is particularly challenging – self-raising flour is non-existent, Chinese sugar is just plain weird, half the ingredients are probably tainted with melamine, and most houses don’t have any sort of oven at all. My house does have an oven, although when I light it I have to use a very long taper otherwise the ignition fireball will singe my little eyebrows off. The oven in reality has only  two settings – FURNACE and OFF. When I used my handy oven thermometer to test it I discovered its lowest temperature is 270 degrees. Celsius.I didn’t try for a highest temperature because a) the knobs on the front of the oven panel began to melt and b) I’m not planning on setting up a home aluminium smelter. 

(For you non-cooks, most ovens have a low setting of 60 degrees, and a maximum of 250 degrees).

So here’s how the brownies panned out. Chocolate – purchased from Ikea Shanghai. Pretty good too. Hazelnuts – smuggled into the country by a kind friend visiting from home. Sour cream – forget it. Substitute UHT cream. Oven – place on lowest setting. Leave the door open until the temperature drops to 180. Put brownies in and shut the door. When temperature rises to 290 degrees within 3 minutes, open the door again until it drops. Repeat 16 times over 45 minutes. Do not leave the room.

So thank you. These are the results of my Shanghai Brownie Challenge. Just spit out the burnt bits.

Shanghai Street Food #6 Bāozi 包子

This is my friend Mr Pork Bun. I’guessing that’s not his real name (although given the variety of ‘English’ Chinese names I’ve encountered – Fancy, Echo, Green Leaf,  – Pork Bun is not that far-fetched) but that’s how I think of him. He is a champion steamed bun maker and he has very plump hands and a face that reminds me of the soft doughy baozi themselves. 

Bāozi 包子 are surprisingly easy to make at home – the dough is a simple mixture of flour, water, yeast and a little sugar, and the filling is as diverse as you’d like to make it – fragrant pork mince, a delicious savoury tofu and green herb combination, red bean paste (possibly not to everyone’s taste), and custard (definitely not to everyone’s taste). Red pork buns, char siu bao, beloved of every Australian child I know, are Cantonese and 
therefore not as easily available in Shanghai. This has been a major disappointment for some of our smaller visitors, until they taste the Shanghainese pork bun – it is less sweet, juicier and more meaty than it’s Cantonese counterpart.

As Mr Pork Bun lifts the lid of the steamer clouds of billowing steam envelop him temporarily. His hand reaches through the steam with the tongs and plucks the plump bun off the bamboo tray, and into a handy bag. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love a steamed pork bun, I mean, what’s not to love? Thank you Mr Pork Bun, see you next week!

For more on street foods in Shanghai, click on any of the links below. Deliciousness guaranteed. I’m working my way through all of Shanghai’s street foods, one by one. This is Number 6 in the Shanghai Street Food series. Enjoy tasting them all!

Number 1   Roast Sweet Potatoes
Number 2   Snack-on-a-stick 
Number 3   Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4   Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5   Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6   Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7   Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 8   Dan Gao – street cakes
Number 9   Shao mai – sticky rice treats
Number 10  Summer on a Stick – fresh fruits

Number 11  You Tiao – deep-fried breadsticks
Number 12  Dan Juan – egg rolls
Number 13  Shao Kao – street barbecue
Number 14  Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 15  Chou Doufu – stinky tofu
Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 17  Mutton Polo
Number 18  Yumi Bang – puffed corn sticks
Number 19  Mian Hua Tang – cotton candy
Number 20  You Dunzi – fried radish cakes

Number 21  Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes 
Number 22  Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23  Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
Number 24  Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25  Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Number 26  Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27  Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28  Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29  Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
Number 30  Shengjianbao – pan-fried dumplings

Number 31  Mala Tang – DIY spicy soup