Monday, November 14, 2005

Passing On The Torch

It took me a while to get back to the swing of things after the long holiday including of course this neglected blog. I finally got some time today to jot my thoughts down.

Other than visiting some of my relatives up in Sungai Besar, Selangor and PJ, most of my Aidil Fitri holidays were spent at my parents house in Selayang. Since we all decided to have Hari Raya in KL instead of making the trip to Johor to be with relatives on my father’s side, we decide to get all the relatives on my mother’s side together at our house. Since that branch of the family were much smaller than my father’s side, it was quite manageable.

The few days leading up to Hari Raya, every one came to our house to make preparations for the day. Being the eldest male around, my father acted as coordinator of the whole thing. Everyone had their own thing to do from making finishing touches to the new window treatments, weaving both ketupat nasi and ketupat palas, baking cakes and cookies, prepping the ingredients for the special dishes that we would always have on Hari Raya morning and cleaning up all the houses.

My job this year was to make the dodol that has not been made in my family since my grandfather passed away a few years back. It was his tradition that his grandchildren would always have a little of his dodol every Hari Raya when he was alive. I remember getting it even while I was studying in the US. He made my father mail me a small container of dodol through express mail the 2 years I had to celebrate Hari Raya overseas. Having it was a piece of home while I was trying to get into the spirit of Aidil Fitri while freezing my behind off in the deep cold of Wisconsin winter.

No one in my father’s family took up the tradition after he passed on. While I don’t blame them for not wanting to since it is back breaking work but I always had a deep appreciation of the thought behind the tradition. It meant a lot for me to get that little piece of home and hearth from him and I missed it now that he’s gone. When I told my family that I wanted to revive the tradition again, while not everyone was particularly enthusiastic about it, they all supported me because it would be wasteful if the old recipe was lost to the younger generation of the family.

The first thing that I had to do was to get together all the equipment needed to cook the dodol with. Since most of my late grandfather’s original cooking equipments are back in Johor, we had to buy new ones to use here in KL. Most of the items I had to buy at a store in Chow Kit that I have never back to in ages. Not only was I surprised to see how much things have changed in that area but I was also astounded by the number of people in the streets in the days leading to Aidil Fitri. It was as if the whole of Kuala Lumpur was there all at once and it was breathless to behold.

Once I get all the cooking utensils together, it was time to get the ingredients together. There are some tips and tricks that my grandfather used and I note them down in the recipe below.

Dodol (makes about 1 kg more or less)

1 Kg Glutinous rice flour
2 Kg Palm sugar (Gula Melaka)
2 Liters Coconut milk (1st extract from about 4 large coconuts)
5 Pandan (screw pine) leaves
1/2 Table spoon salt
Water as required


Tip/Trick: The choice of sugar used in the recipe does influence the outcome of the dodol. Palm sugar will make a dodol with a mellower flavor and color. Brown sugar/molasses will darken the dodol considerably. Processed white sugar will result in a dodol that is much sweeter with a sharper after taste. His perfect combination was the secret of my grandfather’s dodol that he didn’t tell anyone. I guess that I would have to experiment with the combination to find out.

Arrange the palm sugar in a pot and fill the pot with water until it covers the top of the palm sugar blocks. Knot the pandan leaves together so they could be easily be removed later and place them into the pot. Place the pot on a medium heat and let the palm sugar dissolve into the hot water. Stir occasionally to make sure that it doesn’t boil over and that all the palm sugar blocks have been dissolved. Once all the sugar has dissolved, let the syrup cool down before the next step.

Sieve the glutinous rice flour finely into a appropriate size mixing bowl. Dissolve the salt into the coconut milk and add to it the cooled sugar syrup after removing the knotted pandan leave from it. Sieve the whole mixture into a container to remove any tiny bits of the coconut shell that may have been scraped along and bits that did not dissolve. Add the liquid mixture little by little to the glutinous rice flour and stopping to mix the mixture thoroughly in each step until all the coconut milk has been added. Add plain water into the mixture as needed so it has a smooth milk consistency but not too watery.

Tip/Trick: I found that working the mixture with my bare hands was the easiest way to make sure that there were no lumpy bits. I didn’t use a hand mixer but I guess that it could help here as well. Sieve the mixture through a few times if necessary but I found that I didn’t have to do that at all when I use my hands.

Tip/Trick: Some dodol recipes recommend mixing only the syrup and water with the glutinous rice flour at this point and to cook the coconut milk on a medium fire first until it starts to release the coconut oil (pecah minyak) before adding the mixture to it. I was told that this method cuts down the cooking time and makes the dodol much easier to handle as it starts to thicken. I didn’t try this tip since I wanted to do it the way my grandfather used to do it to see if I could recapture the same taste.

After making sure that there are no lumpy bits of flour left in the mixture, pour it into a heavy bottom cast iron wok before it is placed on to a medium high fire. My grandfather used to insist on cooking his dodol on a wood and coconut shell fire but I used a gas stove instead which helped to cut the cooking time from his usual 10 hours down to about 4. The mixture has to be stirred constantly using a wooden cooking paddle to ensure that it does not stick to the bottom of the wok. Having a constant flame helps in making sure that the dodol doesn’t burn so you need to watch the heat even when using a gas stove.

The first 2 hours will go fairly easily as the mixture start to thicken and grow darker in appearance. Once it thicken, it’s very important that none of it sticks to the wok surface or you will end up with dodol with hard bits in it. The best way to stir the dodol at this point is with 2 people folding the bottom half of the mix from each end of the wok up. It would be too hard for one person to cope alone at this point. My grandfather’s dodol making has always been about family, community and cooperation as well as making the delicacy every year.

If all goes well, the dodol mixture will thicken to consistency of chewing gum or warm taffy. I’ve noted that dodol continue to harden even after it taken off the heat so take it off earlier if you like to have softer dodol. The dodol is ready when you could pull off a bit from the wooden cooking paddle without burning your fingers and roll it into a small ball that doesn’t stick to your fingers. It should feel smooth and slick from the coconut oil.

Once taken off from the fire, the dodol should be poured into a flat tray to cool off before being cut into bite sized strips and served. If prepared correctly, the dodol could last for at least a month if placed into an air tight container. That is if no one finishes it earlier.

My attempt at dodol making this year didn’t come out as well as I had hoped it would since it was not as sweet or as dark as I remember my late grandfather made it. It was also a bit more chewy than I would have liked it since I over cooked it instead of stopping when I should. I guess for a first timer I could have done worse but at least that now I have the mistakes that I know I will correct the next time I try the recipe again which might be much earlier than I would expect now that I’m the bearer of this tradition in the family.

I’ve always been very big on family traditions and for me to honor this particular one was something that made the Aidil Fitri this year more memorable.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What's In Store Post Holidays?


I’m finally back to work today after a long stretch of holidays and will be updating this blog with new entries soon. Other than the obligatory entry for my Hari Raya holidays, look forward to my review of the latest Ricky Martin’s album “Life” coming within this week. I have that CD ripped on my laptop and have been on a looping playback since I got it last Sunday.

It’s that good, folks.

The music video for the first single from the new album, "I Don't Care", is available here curtesy of Yahoo! Music.