A few weeks ago, my friend Teresa came to visit, and brought with her some yummy little treats for Damien. Her family is Filipino, and she said this was something that her father remembers eating when he lived in the Philippines. They are little pastries called hopia, and the ones she brought were stuffed with a sweet yam paste (ube). The outside is similar to a puff pastry, and they are formed into little round disks, a bit like a thick cookie. I was curious to know how they were made, so I did a little research.
The thing I found really cool about the dough recipe is that the final product is in fact similar to puff pastry but is much easier to make. In case you are not familiar with it, puff pastry, or pâte feuilletée, which means leafy pastry in French, is a type of pastry that bakes into crisp, buttery layers. It is very commonly used in both savory and sweet tarts and pastries in France, where most people buy it packaged in the grocery store.
The refrigerated pastry aisle is well stocked in French grocery stores, and all-butter pastries are pretty much the norm. Here, however, most of them are made with partially hydrogenated blah blah blah, and an all-butter pastry is a specialty product that will cost you somewhere around $10 at Whole Foods. But making your own puff pastry is a somewhat daunting process, since it involves folding chilled butter into a dough layer by layer to achieve the final product with all its mille feuilles (a thousand layers, which is the French term for the puff pastry-based dessert that Americans call Napoleon).
Hopia, however, are made with a neat technique that produces a similar, if slightly less flaky, result. The way it’s done is by making two separate dough mixtures. One is the main dough, which uses a lot of flour with some vegetable oil added, and the other, with a reversed fat to flour ratio, is mostly butter with a smaller amount of flour. You roll out the first dough and then spread the second on top. This is rolled into a jelly roll-type snake, cut into pieces, and each piece is then re-rolled. This creates a kind of faux puff pastry that is really delicious when baked and, despite sounding a bit involved, is actually very quick and easy.
Here I tried to recreate the Hopia Ube (yam) that Teresa brought, but you could also use other fillings. I tried a couple of them with a square of chocolate to see if they could pass for the ubiquitous French pain au chocolat. Verdict: not as light and flaky but they were very good all the same. Just make sure your filling is not wet as it will be much harder to manage and will leak out during baking.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cups vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup water
- pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup slightly softened butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes or yams (not pumpkin, it’s much more watery)
- 1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
- One egg yolk
Preheat oven to 375 F. Pierce sweet potatoes, place on a plate in the microwave, and cook on high until soft, about 6 or 7 minutes. Set aside to cool. When cool, place the potato flesh in a mixing bowl and add sweetened condensed milk. Whisk until well-blended.
In the meantime, mix up the first dough and knead briefly until smooth. Set aside and mix the second dough.
On a piece of parchment, roll out the first dough using a rolling pin until about 1/8 inch thick. Next, spread the second dough on top using a butter knife.
Next, roll the dough to make a snake and cut into 1 inch pieces.
Take each piece separately and roll again into a circle about 3 inches wide. Place filling into the center of the dough. Pinch the edges to the center, making a ball that you press slightly into a disk. Transfer balls to a cookie sheet. Brush with a lightly beaten egg yolk and bake until golden.
I did a little research into other popular Filipino foods and found some interesting things! One creation that is apparently the star of the kids’ food scene in the Philippines is a spaghetti dish that resembles spaghetti and meatballs but has a distinctly different spin. They even serve it at McDonalds in the Philippines! I suppose it’s a bit…over the top, and reminds me of when Anthony Bourdain ordered his Swedish Tunnbrödsrulle, a flatbread stuffed with a hotdog, mashed potatoes, ketchup, mustard, onions, and… shrimp salad! So it’s a mixture of spaghetti, ground beef, hot dogs (because, really, why not?) tomato sauce, banana ketchup, brown sugar, and Velveeta cheese! Wait, banana ketchup? What, pray tell, is that?
Banana ketchup is popular condiment in the Phillipines that came about when tomatoes became scarce during World War II.
I tried making my own version of this stuff so I could get the full effect of the Filipino spaghetti. I found a recipe that called for plantains instead of bananas, since they are supposed to be closer to the type of bananas used in the original. The final product is sweet, vinegary, and a bit spicy.
Banana Ketchup (credit goes to Adora’s Box- http://www.adorasbox.net)
- 1 semi-ripe plantain
- 1 3/4 c. water
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. cider vinegar
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 red chilli, chopped (or hot sauce to taste)
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- food colouring (optional)
Slice the plantain and put in a saucepan. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until all of the ingredients are cooked. Puree with a hand blender until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Add food colouring if you wish. (I did not) Leave to cool then transfer to a wide mouth jar and store in the refrigerator.
If you wanted to make Filipino-style spaghetti, you would add a couple tablespoons of this to tomato meat sauce to which chopped hotdogs have also been added. Finish with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese. I found that the condiment adds a tangy sweetness to tomato sauce that is quite pleasant.
We also tried Banana ketchup-spiked salsa spooned over a piece of fish and that was very good too!
From these recipes, it seems like Filipino cuisine is more Western-influenced than many Asian cuisines, thanks no doubt to many years of Spanish rule and a period of U.S. involvement that only ended officially in the 1940s. I am now very interested to learn more about it and I plan to start by getting the new Adobo Road Cookbook by Marvin Gapultos.