Hi everyone! In case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to since my last post, let me just say things got pretty crazy for a while! I was really busy with work in March, and even more so in April. On top of that, I had to get ready to leave for Malaysia at the end of April to take care of some personal matters. Boy, you wouldn’t believe all the things I needed to do to prepare for my trip! I most definitely wouldn’t have travelled if I didn’t have to. Gone are the days when I could just book a flight, pack and hop on a plane. Travelling during this pandemic is no joke. You’ve got to be willing to spend some money, stay on top of the latest entry requirements, and expect sudden changes (flight cancellations, lockdowns and border closures). I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed!
Fortunately, about 6 months prior, I had discovered and joined a Facebook support group for travellers going to Malaysia. I don’t know what I would’ve done without the help from this group! For months, I regularly read members’ posts of their experiences. I took note of feedback and advice on everything from how to apply for permission to enter Malaysia to the best airline/route to take and hotel recommendations for quarantine. I set reminders for myself so I’d know when to submit my letter of undertaking, when to download and register on the mandatory government app prior to departure, and when to get the PCR test. I familiarized myself with all the procedures, from airport check-in all the way to landing at my final destination and check-in at the hotel. In order to minimize flight changes and cancellations, I booked Qatar Airways, which meant going the long way around the world (Vancouver – Montreal – Doha – Kuala Lumpur) and a total journey time of over 32 hours!
However, even if you think you’re well-prepared, you have to expect the unexpected. On the Friday before my departure on Sunday, I still hadn’t received my travel note (permission to travel letter) from the Malaysian consulate (this was after I’d already followed up on Tuesday and was told to just wait). I’d been anxious all week, but when I couldn’t get a hold of anyone that Friday morning, my worry turned to sheer panic. I immediately left work and rushed to their office, and got there with less than 30 minutes to spare! As it turned out, they hadn’t received my application that I’d sent 3 times! I don’t know what happened, but I was just happy that I made it in the nick of time. As I waited for my letter, I got confirmation of my negative PCR test result from the day before. Yay…another thing done!
Just as I was starting to breathe a sigh of relief, I received an email from Air Canada (the airline for the domestic portion of my trip), stating that Qatar had implemented new rules, effective immediately, that would require all travellers arriving in Doha (including transit passengers) to show proof of a negative PCR test, taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival. Because of my long travel time, it meant my test result wasn’t going to be valid…aargh!!! Yet another last minute thing to deal with! This was getting so ridiculous that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. As soon as I got my travel note from the consulate, I immediately went online to book another PCR test, but their booking system was down! So I called the clinic, and luckily they were able to get me in the next day, Saturday. I left Vancouver early Sunday morning, and got confirmation of my 2nd negative test result while I was in transit in Montreal. And guess what? I then got another email from Air Canada saying that Qatar had just clarified that transit passengers do not in fact need proof of a negative test! Unbelievable!! $255 wasted and the added stress of it all…I was speechless.
Fortunately, everything went smoothly on my journey. Oddly enough, the whole trip didn’t even seem to take that long (maybe I was just so exhausted by then that I didn’t care). It was my first time flying Qatar Airways, and I had no complaints. They’ve really been the most reliable airline during the pandemic, continuing regular service on lower volume routes, even with near-empty planes (there were maybe 50 passengers in total on the Doha to KL leg, which is actually more than than twice the number that others have reported on that same flight in the past year). Would you believe, the weeks leading up to my departure were so stressful that I was actually looking forward to quarantining!
In the midst of all the craziness, I was also cooking and baking a lot before I left! Back in March, I was trying to find a way to use up some frozen freshly grated coconut. Inti kelapa is shredded coconut sweetened with gula melaka, or palm sugar. It’s commonly used as a filling in kuih-muih, which are traditional Malaysian desserts/snacks. Honestly, I didn’t know what I was going to do with inti kelapa. I just knew I also wanted to finish my gula melaka so I could restock my pantry with a fresh supply from Malaysia.
After I’d prepared the coconut filling, I remembered about the fresh yeast in the freezer, and that’s how I decided to make these coconut swirl buns. I guess you could say the idea for these buns was born of the need to clear out my freezer! But don’t think for a second that you can’t make really yummy food with leftover ingredients, because these buns are irresistibly good!! So good that I wouldn’t change a thing with the recipe, and I’d specially go out and buy the ingredients to make this again!
These swirl buns are a twist on cinnamon buns, and a lot better, in my opinion! You know me, I’m not fond of excessively sugary foods, and I find cinnamon buns – especially the ones with icing – to be cloyingly sweet. Having said that, inti kelapa can be pretty sweet. But I decreased the amount of gula melaka, so that even with a generous brushing of the coconut sugar syrup on top of the buns, the sweetness is still just very subtle. The bread is made of an enriched dough, with milk, butter and eggs, which is my favourite because it means soft and fluffy buns! I recommend that you eat these freshly baked because they’re best when still warm! Be careful though, because you probably won’t be able to just have one!
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COCONUT SWIRL BUNS (Makes 12)
Inti Kelapa (Coconut filling):
350 grams fresh grated coconut
175 grams gula melaka, roughly chopped
3 pandan leaves, cut into 3-inch sections
125 ml water
1 tsp cornstarch, mixed with 3 Tbsp water
1/8 teaspoon salt
170 ml water
26 grams fresh yeast
360 grams bread flour
90 grams cake flour
20 grams whole milk powder
5 grams salt
90 grams sugar
2 large eggs
90 grams + 40 grams unsalted butter, softened
50 grams coconut sugar
3 tablespoons water
1. Prepare the coconut filling by combining the gula melaka, pandan leaves and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add coconut and salt, and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Then mix in the cornstarch mixture and cook for a couple more minutes. Remove from heat and discard the pandan leaves. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
2. Place all the ingredients (except for the butter) into the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix on low speed for about 6 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Dough will be soft and sticky.
3. Add 90 grams softened butter and mix on low speed to incorporate the butter. Scrape the sides of bowl and continue mixing for 6 to 8 minutes, until dough leaves the sides of the bowl fairly clean (dough will still be quite soft and sticky). Scrape any remaining dough from the sides of the bowl.
4. Cover the dough and leave in a warm place to proof until double in size (1.5 to 2 hours).
5. Grease two 9″ round baking pans and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper (I used 1 9″ round pan and 1 8″ square pan).
6. Punch down the dough. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangular shape (about 12″ x 14″). Sprinkle some flour on the dough sparingly, just so the rolling pin doesn’t stick.
7. Using an offset spatula, spread the 40 grams of softened butter all over the surface of the dough, leaving about a 1/2″ border on one end of the short (12″ side).
8. Sprinkle the coconut filling over the butter, using the offset spatula to spread it, leaving the 1/2″ border.
9. From the short side opposite from the side with the 1/2″ border, gently start rolling the dough tightly and when done, it should be resting with the seam on the bottom. Use your hands to gently even out any thicker sections of the rolled dough so that the whole roll is uniform in thickness.
10. Using an approximately 12″ long piece of dental floss, slide it in, about 1 to 1.5 inches under the roll, bring it up above the dough, and cross the ends to cut off each piece. Place, swirl side up, in the prepared pan.
11. Continue this process to cut up the rest of the dough. You should get about 12 buns. They can be placed gently touching each other in the pan, which will still give them room to rise (don’t squeeze them in too tightly).
12. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to proof for about 45 minutes.
13. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 F (177 C). Prepare the sugar syrup for the glaze by dissolving the coconut sugar in water, let it boil for about a minute, then remove from heat, and set aside to cool.
14. Bake buns for 25 minutes, until the tops and edges are a golden brown. (If the tops are browning too quickly, loosely place a piece of foil paper over the top while they continue baking).
15. Remove from oven and immediately brush the syrup liberally all over the tops of the buns. The heat from the buns will cause the water in the syrup to evaporate, leaving a thin, glossy, sticky glaze.
Note: The coconut filling can be prepared a day or two in advance, stored in a tightly sealed container and kept in the refrigerator until ready to use.