Monday, January 09, 2006

Adventures in Dodol – Making

I am very proud to report that my second attempt at making dodol has been a resounding success. Taking the lessons from my previous attempt, I think that I’ve corrected all the things that I did wrong the last time. Since I gave the recipe for the dodol I made the last time, I guess I should put down the corrected one here as well.

For those who are not familiar with dodol, the closest foreign equivalent that I could think of is soft taffy.

Dodol (Malaysian Soft Taffy - makes about 5 kilos)

1 kg glutinous rice flour
100 g plain rice flour
750 g palm sugar
750 g brown molasses sugar
Thick coconut milk/cream from 10 coconuts
Salt to taste
Pandan (screwpine leaves)

Preparation (prep time: 5 hrs)

Place both palm sugar blocks and brown sugar in a pan and pour in water until it covers all the sugar. Knot about 5 pandan leaves and place into the pot with the sugar for aroma. Boil on a medium heat setting until all of the sugar has dissolved into a thick dark syrup. Remove syrup from heat and let it cool to room temperature.

Add a tablespoon of salt to half of the coconut milk and pour the coconut into a large heavy bottom cast iron wok (the “kawah” in Malay). Knot another handful of pandan leaves and put it in with the coconut milk. Heat the coconut milk on a medium heat and stir continuously to avoid burning the milk. After a hour or so, a thin layer of coconut oil will start raising to the surface and bits of the coconut milk will start to clump together.

Strain in the room-temperature syrup mixture to the boiling coconut milk and continue to stir. Mixture must be continuously stirred at this point to incorporate the syrup and the coconut milk together without burning them. In about half an hour, the coconut milk clumps will dissolve again into the syrup mixture and a thin layer of coconut oil can be seen rising to the surface again. Remove the knotted pandan leaves from the mixture.

While the syrup and coconut milk is being heated, mix the glutinous and plain rice flours with the remaining half of the coconut milk. Mix well and make sure that there are no clumps of flour in the mixture. Once mixed well, strain the mixture through a fine sieve and pour into the hot syrup and coconut milk mixture cooking in the kawah. Take care not to splash the hot mixture when pouring the flour mix in. Stir the mixture well with a wooden cooking paddle to ensure that everything is evenly mixed.

The resulting mixture will almost immediately start to thicken as it is continuously stirred on a medium heat. The sides of the wok should be scraped for the bits that get stuck there as the mixture is stirred. Take care not to let any bits of the mixture to burn as it will leave hard bits in what is suppose to be a smooth texture candy. A “lift and fold over” technique seems to work best in making sure that the resulting dodol is cooked evenly and the texture remains smooth.

The dodol will darken considerably during the cooking process changing from a light mocha color to dark espresso color. The aroma of the dodol should be a mellow sweet smell instead of a sharp burnt sugar smell. The dodol is fully cooked once it can be easily scraped from the sides of the kawah without leaving any bits behind, the dodol mixture can be pulled up from the kawah without breaking and can be rolled between the fingers without burning them. The cooked dodol would also feel slick to the touch and looks shiny to the eyes with the coconut oil that is the by product of cooking the coconut milk for hours. A thin layer of coconut oil should start to pool around the dodol to signal that the dodol was now cooked and ready to be taken off the fire.

Transfer the cooked dodol from the kawah to a flat shallow tray to cool. Remember to spread the transferred dodol evenly in the tray to ensure that it cools evenly and that it would have almost the same thickness when cut. The cooling dodol will also start to release the coconut oil that would pool on the surface. Tilt the tray a bit to drain the excess coconut oil but do not remove too much of the oil as the dodol could be too dry without it.

Cut into bite sized pieces to serve.

Personal observations

Learning from the last time I tried to make dodol, I knew that I had to increase the amount of coconut milk that I used this time around. I also reduced the sugar that I used as I wanted a less sweet version of this Malaysian favorite candy. I guess a good way of remembering the recipe would be 1 part flour, 2 parts sugar and 10 coconuts for 5 parts dodol. It should be the same proportions if you scale them up but I’m not too sure if the same works when you scale down the recipe.

The addition of the plain rice flour to the flour mix was new this time around and was something that was suggested by my mother. By adding the plain rice flour, the resulting dodol was easier to cut and was not as chewy to the bite as it was before. Just a little bit of the plain rice flour really made the difference.

Cooking of half the coconut milk until it started to release the coconut oil also made a big difference in the final result. The dodol that I made this time around was much darker, softer and smoother in taste and touch. I was a bit apprehensive about the growing pool of coconut oil that was coming out of the cooking dodol but after learning that it was how it was suppose to be and that the excess oil would be drained away then it was a welcomed sight indeed.

I can now safely say that I have made the dodol dish that is a close approximation of what my late grandfather used to make. Of our extended family, we are the only one of the family branch living outside of Johor who would still be carrying the tradition of making the dodol for festive occasions. It’s a tradition that I am now very proud to shoulder and carry on knowing that it has a long history behind it. While it might not be the true recipe for the dodol that he used to make, I like to think that somewhere my late grandfather is looking down and approving the way that I choose to honor his memory.

Next traditional dish that I’ll be tackling next would be my maternal grandmother’s recipe for “dodol pulut hitam” (black glutinous rice dodol).

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