Today is the first day of the Chinese Year of the Dragon! So Happy Chinese New Year! Or xīn nián kuài lè (I totally didn’t just dig out my old Mandarin book just for that), or if we’re going to be really fancy… 新年快樂! Doesn’t Chinese look rather awesome? Anyway, I digress. So it’s the year of the Dragon, isn’t that exciting? The correct answer is yes by the way, because I am a Dragon! As in, I was born in the year of the Dragon, I’m not actually a real dragon (in case you hadn’t guessed). I’m glad we’ve got that straight. I believe that 2012 is the Water Dragon, and in an incredible (mostly accidental) moment of forward-planning, here’s a (not very good) photo taken six and a half years ago in a shrine in Hong Kong:
rambling roaring Dragon right here decided that she should post something Chinese New Year-related today, because although it’s not exactly part of my cultural heritage, I have several friends who celebrate it, and I did take Mandarin lessons at school for a while (because I missed learning a language, though I don’t remember a great deal – frustrating!), and did I mention it’s the year of the Dragon?
There’s one minor flaw in my plan. Whilst I enjoy eating Chinese food, I’m not at all familiar with cooking it. Six and a half years ago, my mum and I visited one of her friends in Hong Kong and she’d signed us up to a baking class. I think we made mooncakes and possibly something else, but the only thing I can remember clearly about the entire class was that the woman who was assigned to help us was called Cactus Poo. Now I don’t know if she chose Cactus as her English name, or if her parents randomly picked a word out of an English dictionary without reading the definition, but either way, she was about as friendly as a Cactus, so the name definitely suited her. I’m fully aware that laughing at somebody’s name makes me a bad person, but I did spend several hours working very hard at keeping a straight face, which is no mean feat, particularly when you’re 16 and super immature (I’m still super immature). I hope you’re not expecting a mooncake recipe at the bottom of this post.
Now, of course, I could easily just search the internet for recipes, but as I announced yesterday, I’m moving to the other side of the world in a couple of weeks, so I didn’t really want to buy any special ingredients that I won’t use up between now and then. And I have one tried-and-tested vaguely Chinese recipe which my mum has been making since I was little, in the form of honey and lemon chicken. It doesn’t require any special ingredients, so I decided that I would make it yesterday to feature on my blog today… I had to abandon the plan pretty quickly when it turned out that we didn’t have any chicken. Minor detail. So I looked at what ingredients I actually had available and realised that I could make muffins. Because muffins are just so Chinese, obviously. Ahem.
I made honey muffins several months ago, and they were delicious, so I decided to adapt them into Chinese-inspired muffins for Chinese New Year. They were going to be just simple honey and lemon muffins, but then I noticed half a packet of chocolate chips that needed using up, so I decided to throw them in too (because I need to use up as many of my baking supplies as possible). Now, I realise that adding chocolate chips sort of negates the whole Chinese-themed thing, but well, they’re muffins, so it was already a pretty tenuous link. Plus by adding chocolate chips, I can submit these to this month’s We Should Cocoa, being hosted by Chele at Chocolate Teapot, who chose the theme of “health conscious“. Now, these might not sound all that healthy, but I reduced the added sugar by half and used rapeseed oil instead of butter, and honey is a natural sugar, so to me they sound pretty healthy (can you tell I’m not a health freak?). I could have used wholegrain flour if I wanted to go the whole hog, but since the flavours in these are very subtle, I was worried that it would affect the taste somehow. They came out perfectly delicious though, and the chocolate chips didn’t over-power the subtle flavours at all, which I was slightly worried might happen. I’ll definitely be making these again…
Honey, lemon & chocolate muffins
Adapted from CaffeIna
Makes 12 muffins
These are lovely and light, and the flavours blend together subtly. If you want to eat them on their own, they’re tastiest whilst still warm, served with a cup of tea, but when cooled, they’re delicious when sliced in half and spread with some butter or marmalade or lemon curd for breakfast. Don’t be tempted to add more than ¼ tsp of lemon extract as it will easily over-power the other flavours.
250g all-purpose flour
50g golden caster sugar
3 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
Zest of 1 large lemon
50g dark chocolate chips (at least 70%)
240 ml milk
60 ml organic rapeseed oil (make sure it’s an oil with very little taste)
¼ tsp lemon extract
1. Line a muffin tine with 12 muffin liners or set out 12 silicone liners. Pre-heat the oven to 205°C.
2. In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Stir in the lemon zest and chocolate chips.
3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg, then whisk in the milk, oil, honey and lemon extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined (slightly lumpy is fine).
4. Bake for 15-18 mins until the tops are golden and springy or a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly on a wire rack.
Happy Chinese New Year!!
PS – Apologies to any Chinese food connoisseurs or actual Chinese people for completely bulldozing your culinary traditions and flavour combinations!! Here’s a cute panda from Hong Kong Zoo to make up for it (everybody say “awwwww”):
PPS – The photos in this post that don’t involve food were all scanned in, hence the slightly dubious quality!