Bedok Mian Fen Guo (Singapore): Perfect Peanut Pancakes

Bedok Mian Fen GuoMy mother rarely let us have sweets in the house when I was a child — something I have a great appreciation for now. (I realize I have her to thank for my lifelong aversion to soda and overly sugary pastries.)

There was one treat that she shared — rather, showered us with, however: Bee chian kueh.

Magically, this spongey Singaporean pancake — filled with crushed sweet peanuts — would appear in our kitchen, usually following a trip she’d made to the wet market for groceries. It’s typically eaten for breakfast, with strong coffee, or as a late morning snack. When done well, the pancake’s firm sponginess encased in a crispy crust, combined with the crunchy peanut filling, is just delicious. And if you bite into it while it’s still hot, it’s simply divine.

I hadn’t had this pancake in many years — it’s not something I’ve found in the Chinatown haunts of my adopted home, New York, and when I’ve visited Singapore, I’ve tended to focus on crossing off the meals I miss, not snacks I somewhat dimly remember.

In recent years, however, this pancake has started magically appearing in my Singapore kitchen again. One day, my mother took me to a nearby hawker center so I could see why …

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Casatiello: A Marvel of Meat & Melted Cheese


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In my family’s Singapore kitchen this week, my mother carefully brought out a prized discovery from her fridge, nudging me to try it.

Inside the box was a lovingly swaddled loaf of bread, filled with slivers of ham and dappled with bits of melted and crusty cheese. A friend had given it to her and my mother had decided it was the best bread she’d ever tasted.

“Hey, I think I recently made something like this,” I said. 

“You DID?” came her incredulous response. 

Her disbelief was completely understandable — I rarely set foot in the kitchen as a child. And when I finally did start cooking in my 20s, I was initially more known for inedible cheesecakes than Julia Child creations.

As for baking bread, it’s something that seemed so difficult that I never considered trying it until I joined the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge in May. But baking a bread every week along with more than 200 bakers around the world has been a surprisingly empowering and therapeutic thing.

In a piece that I wrote for the Washington Post Food section about the proliferation of online cooking and baking groups, Jeff of Culinary Disasters talks about learning to be patient from baking bread for the challenge. Wendy of Pink Stripes says she’s become such a brave cook that she’s applied that confidence outside of the kitchen, too. (Wendy, who had always wanted to learn to scuba dive, took the plunge in December.)

As for me, I’ve learned gobs — about time management, the need for enough sleep, the importance of simply trying. Above all, through the exhilarating successes and occasional clouds of smoke, I’ve grown increasingly sure of one thing: If you set your mind to doing something — even if it seems impossible — you’re going to be able to do it. (And, if you’re lucky like I’ve been, you’ll have the fist-bumps of fellow bakers, pushing you along the way.)

And that’s intoxicating knowledge to have.

So, yes, Mum, I really did make casatiello, an Italian bread filled with cured meat and melted cheese that tastes just divine. And it was actually pretty simple …

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