From Couch Potato To Decadent Dessert - Peanut Sticky Rice Dumplings with Chocolate Shortbread and Salted Caramel Sauce

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Does reality television kill off brain cells like a game of Space Invaders so that you stare slack-jawed at the accomplishment of others while sitting glued to the couch, shovelling down fast food? Or does it inspire you to leap forth, conquering new frontiers you would never have imagined? The truth is probably somewhere in between, but that would never make the news...


Last week, Marty Wilson wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald about what else people could accomplish in the time they spend watching reality shows and the artificial emotions experienced from vicariously living through the contestants. As a population, we watch more TV than ever before, we get bigger by creeping increments, we move less. But the (increasing) weight of statistics conceals the quiet minority, gobbling it up like a packet of salt and vinegar chips without pausing to brush the crumbs from its Snuggie.

Sticky Penguin's sticky rice dumplings with peanut filling, chocolate shortbread and salted caramel sauce
From reality TV inspiration to the sticky reality of dessert... 

Because some people are out there, writing their novels or working as lifeguards on the weekend or renovating the house. And some of them (especially, perhaps, the ones doing all those things) collapse in a heap at the end of the day and watch some TV to relax and switch off from whirling thoughts of chapter structures, training drills, how they’re going to fit the microwave into the redesigned kitchen or whatever else has been occupying their attention.

Others see people on TV doing something that looks like fun and think “Wow, I’d like to try that!”. In the place where that brain cell was killed off, a seed gets planted instead. That’s partly why I’m writing a food blog. Watching the enthusiastic amateurs on MasterChef make a huge range of dishes (and, sometimes, a hell of a mess as well), push their limits in the kitchen and visibly improve their skills was so much more approachable and motivating than watching a well-prepared and tightly edited chef make the same recipes. And into the kitchen I went. Tentatively at first, and then with increasing confidence (punctuated with regular baking fails, but also lots of things devoured happily by friends, workmates and the Other Penguin (who has infinite patience with a cinnamon-sprinkled and chocolate-daubed blur dashing between bowls and saucepans in the wee small hours, and even with the ensuing mountain of washing up).

This season, still watching MasterChef (go Team Billy!), I turn over ideas of what I’d make if faced with that particular range of ingredients. I look at the techniques and think of other places I could apply them. And, on a good day (and there are more and more of those), looking at a recipe gives me an idea for an adaptation of my own, or even a completely different dish. And, just this week, this led to sticky peanut dumplings with chocolate shortbread and salted caramel sauce…

Sticky Penguin's sticky rice dumplings with peanut filling, chocolate shortbread and salted caramel sauce
Crunchy peanut filling

Alvin Quah was one of my favourite contestants on the second series of MasterChef – owing to a wonderfully sly sense of humour and a range of recipes that looked evocative and delicious in equal measure. He returned to the current series as a guest on last Friday’s masterclass, where he made black sesame dumplings in ginger syrup with wonton wafers. It looked like a perfect winter dessert – warming but not too stodgy. I’ve often enjoyed sweet, sticky dumplings with a peanut paste filling at yum cha, and this provided a starting idea. But, rather than pairing them with other Asian flavours, I took inspiration from the likes of Dan Hong and David Chang, and decided on the combination of peanuts, chocolate and caramel for a different twist.

I started out with such a vivid impression of the dessert I was aiming to create that I was a little apprehensive that it might’ve all been a little premature. Perhaps I’d bitten off more than I could chew – as those glutinous dumplings can be very chewy indeed. As the components gradually came together, I started to relax a bit more and felt quite proud when it was completed, as it was more elaborate than a lot of my usual baking inventions...

Sticky Penguin's sticky rice dumplings with peanut filling, chocolate shortbread and salted caramel sauce
Can you have too much caramel sauce...?

This is how it was made:
Sticky Penguin’s Peanut Sticky Rice Dumplings with Chocolate Shortbread and Salted Caramel Sauce
What you need
For the shortbread
125 g (1 US cup) plain flour
63 g (¼ US cup) white sugar
32 g (¼ US cup) icing sugar
3 tbsp Dutch cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
113 g (½ US cup) butter
Cold water as required (I used about 3 tsp)

For the dumpling filling
75 g peanuts (unshelled and unsalted)
37 g butter
37 g sugar

For the dumplings
250 g glutinous rice flour
240 ml water (approximate)

For the salted caramel sauce
115 g butter
200 g white sugar
300 ml heavy cream
Salt to taste

What to do
For the chocolate shortbread
(adapted from a previously adapted recipe)
1. Combine the flour, white sugar, icing sugar, cocoa powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until evenly combined.
2. Add the vanilla extract and butter, and pulse to combine until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
3. Add the water, a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture comes together into a dough that rumbles round the bowl leaving just a few sticky traces behind.
4. Turn out the dough onto a piece of kitchen wrap or baking paper and roll into an even sausage (I made mine about 30 cm long and as wide as the circle formed when you join your thumb to your middle finger). Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Note: if you’re trying to be efficient (and in a sticky penguin’s case, trying is usually the operative word), the dumplings can be made and filled while the shortbread dough chills and firms up.
5. Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F and line two baking sheets with non-stick paper. 
6. Using a serrated knife, cut the chilled dough in slices around 3-4 mm thick and place on the baking sheets. As the dough warms up a little, the cookies can be reshaped slightly if needed (if you're being fussy and want to make them completely round).
7. Bake the shortbread for around 12 minutes. The cookies will be firm around the edges but still a little soft in the middle when they are ready - they firm up as they cool. Cooking them longer will make them more of a brittle consistency.
8. Allow the shortbread to cool on a wire rack so they're barely warm before using them in the dessert. Leftover cookies (as the recipe makes more than you'll need for 16 dumplings) are great with a cup of tea (or, with the rich chocolate flavour, an espresso).

For the dumpling filling
1. Grind the peanuts until they are reduced to very small pieces (just a little finer than the consistency coarse breadcrumbs or sea salt flakes). I used a food processor to do this (a stick blender attachment would be more efficient with this small quantity, but, alas, mine has recently died).
2. Melt the butter and sugar in a small saucepan, and then stir in the crushed peanuts. Stir to combine thoroughly, and continue cooking for a minute or two. Set the resulting crunchy peanut paste aside to cool. 

For the dumplings
(made using the recipe  from Alvin Quah, with my notes on what I discovered in the process of making dumplings for the first time)
1. Place the glutinous rice flour in a medium sized mixing bowl (the texture was loose enough that I opted not to sieve my flour, and didn’t end up with lumpy dumplings) and make a well in the centre.
2. Gradually add the water into the centre, mixing with one hand (or with a small metal spoon). Keep adding the water until the mixture comes together into a firm paste,  which doesn't stick to your fingers (at least, not more than a tiny bit - I'm incapable of working dough without ending up in a bit of a sticky mess!). 
Note: I made my dumplings  in advance and left them for around half an hour while I pottered onto other kitchen experiments... when I came back to  fill them, the dough had dried out and cracked when I tried to work it. I made a second batch of dumplings and used a tiny bit more water to make the dough more malleable, and rolled and filled the dumplings straight away, which was much more successful. I also followed rolled and filled the dumplings, as per the following three steps, one at a time, so that the dough didn't dry out quicker from sitting there in smaller pieces. 
3. Divide the dough into 15-16 even pieces (they will weigh around 30 g each, if you're being fussy and want them all the same size), and roll each piece into a ball.
4. Gently flatten each dumpling a little, and press an indentation into it to contain the filling. Scoop a small amount of peanut filling into the centre of each dumpling (I found a measuring teaspoon was the ideal shape and size for this).
5.  Fold the edges of the dumpling over the filling and press them together to seal the join. Roll the dumpling lightly between the palms of your hands to achieve a uniform shape and remove the sign of the join.
Note: When folding and sealing the dumplings, it is preferable for the filling to remain centred inside them, rather than off to one side. Next time I make these, I will roll the dumplings a little thinner and squeeze in more filling for a better squish-to-crunch ratio. 
6. The dumplings can now be set aside until you're ready to start assembling the dessert.
7. To cook the dumplings, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Carefully add the dumplings (I lowered each one into the water using a quarter cup measure) and use a metal spoon to separate any that cluster together (I cooked the dumplings in two batches to avoid overcrowding). The dumplings are cooked when they float to the surface of the water (this took about 5 minutes).
8. Remove the dumplings from the boiling water (I used the cup measure again) and drain on a plate. I was very wary of using a sieve or kitchen paper to drain the dumplings, in case they stuck.

Sticky Penguin's sticky rice dumplings with peanut filling, chocolate shortbread and salted caramel sauce

For the salted caramel sauce
(adapted, just a little, from Ready for Dessert, by David Lebovitz)
1. Place the butter and sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan (it's important to use a big saucepan, as the sauce will bubble up when the cream is added) and cook over a medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar has dissolved. Stir occasionally.
2. Continue cooking until the melted butter and sugar caramelise to a deep, rich golden colour. For quite a lot of the cooking process, the melted butter didn't emulsify with the sugar and floated as a separate layer on top. This will be resolved as it continues to cook and thicken, and a bit of a stir with a silicone spatula also helps.
3. Once you've boiled the caramel until it is as dark as you'd like, making sure you don't let it burn, remove it from the heat and, standing well back as it bubbles, add the cream and whisk like mad. Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth.
4. Add salt to taste (I used just under a teaspoonful).
5. Sieve the sauce into a container - it will keep for over a week in the fridge, and the recipe makes more than you will need for the dessert (though it is utterly delectable, so having some on hand for top ups might also be an option!).

To assemble the dessert
1. Place several spoonfuls of the salted caramel sauce in a flat bowl and swirl to evenly coat the bottom.
2. Put a shortbread biscuit in the centre of the caramel sauce.
3. Balance a dumpling on the shortbread, and sprinkle lightly with some of the leftover peanut filling.

Sticky Penguin's sticky rice dumplings with peanut filling, chocolate shortbread and salted caramel sauce

The finished dessert was much more glamorous anything that's eventuated on a Sunday night at home before. It turned out very close to my imagining, and the mix of flavours and textures made the overall dish better than the sum of the parts. The silky caramel sauce unites the sleekly chewy dumpling with the crunchy crumble of the shortbread. The saltiness of the nuts and caramel, the slight bitterness of the dark chocolate just balance out the overall sweetness of the dish. I also liked that the dumpling, rather than making the dish heavy, was a simple contrast with the other flavours.

The Other Penguin, not typically a dumpling fan, polished it off, pronouncing the caramel sauce his favourite part. This is definitely a recipe I will return to – it would be ideal for dinner parties, as the components can be made in advance, and the dumplings cooked in a few minutes before serving.

Sticky Penguin's sticky rice dumplings with peanut filling, chocolate shortbread and salted caramel sauce

After my first attempt at making sticky rice dumplings, I've decided that I’d far rather be one of the people who does stuff and then watches crap TV shows to unwind, rather than somebody with impeccable taste and nothing to show for it. Now, I’m off to knock up a batch of scones in the ad break...

muppy on July 14, 2011 at 8:47 AM

Oh my goodness.....

Phuoc'n Delicious on August 3, 2011 at 1:13 AM

Totally agree! You can never have too much caramel sauce, especially if it's salted caramel! *drools* Last weekend I actually made Alvin's black sesame dumplings and it was a hit.

This creation of yours looks so decadent!

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