Monday, October 19, 2009

Broas, Osang's and Mango Icebox Dessert

Broas, Osang's and Mango Icebox Dessert

I grew up snacking on broas.  My mom would get cans of them from Quezon, Sariaya if I remember right.  I would have play afternoons with cousins and friends, gathering around the table for merienda, kneeling rather than sitting on our dining chairs, grabbing for broas, slathering them with Cheese Wiz, taking in bites alternately with Vienna sausage and gulps of Tang!  Horrors to me now but definitely not then.  Maturity, sophistication and all this hoopla about health ruined it for me.  The broas I still like but until fairly recently, I only ate the ones from Quezon.

Broas can be likened to lady fingers.  They are shaped the same and both have that thin sugar glaze on top.  However, the latter is tender and soft with just a little bite to it, more cakey than crisp.  The broas, on the other hand, are crisp and toasted at the bottom, fragile if done right.

Two years ago, I discovered Osang’s broas in Baclayon, Bohol.  A local told me that they were the best.  I arrogantly clung to the belief that the ones from Quezon couldn’t be equaled but I was desperate to take home some pasalubong.  I nonchalantly bought a bag, just one bag, took it home and left it on the kitchen counter.  Days later, I finally got around to trying them.  I fell in love at first bite. They were crisp, delicate with the right amount of sweetness, perfect paired with a steaming hot mug of coffee for me and a demitasse of thick dark tsokolate for my husband, sweet juxtaposed with bitter.  The bag went quickly and I realized that I made a mistake in buying only one bag.  On my next trip, I over compensated as I usually do when it comes to regrets in my life; I bought too much.  I gave away bags of broas to the people that I thought would truly appreciate them, my family mostly but I still ended up with more than we could eat in a month.  I had to figure out what to do with them.  I decided to tweak my sister's Mango Icebox Dessert recipe, using Tiramisu as an inspiration.  I came up with my own version, which has turned out to be quite a hit at potluck parties.

The recipe I have below is my personal recipe and it lists brands that I think work very well together.  I don't mean to advertise but yes, I am definitely endorsing them because I consider them to be the best available locally.  This dessert is full of natural sweetness from the mangoes.  It also makes a wonderful refreshing dessert for the summer, when mangoes are at their best.

Frozen Mango Dessert
1 can Milkmaid full cream condensed milk
2 bricks Nestle cream, whipped
pinch of salt
1 kg ripe Batungbacal mangoes
1/2 package Osang's broas
2 cans Philippines Best mango nectar

Cook the condensed milk into dulce de leche by peeling label off can and placing unopened can at the bottom of a pressure cooker.  Fill pot with water till it reaches an inch above the can.  Cook over medium high heat, timing it 1 hour after you hear the hiss of pressure.  Do not open pressure cooker until it is completely cooled.  If you do not have a pressure cooker, cook the can of condensed milk in a pot of simmering water for 3 to 4 hours.

Fold together dulce de leche, cream and salt.  Set aside.

Slice mangoes into 1/4" thick pieces.  Set aside.

Dip broas briefly one at a time in the mango nectar and layer in a square Pyrex dish.  Follow with cream mixture then arrange mango slices on top.  Continue to layer with broas, then cream, then mangoes ending with cream on top.  Sprinkle with broas crumbs.  Cover with foil or plastic film and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Serve frozen.

I just got back from a short trip to Bohol, at the behest of a good friend.  A visit always inspires such peace.  Maybe it's all that green of the fields and trees, crystal clear waters and simple lives; where life can be lived in moments, where days are long and the air is languid.  There are many places to visit where it feels like time stands still, charming and disarming.  You wish it stays that way but you realize that nothing ever stops, no matter how hard you try.

Bohol is at the crossroads of development, moving forward while holding on to its past, one foot in the future and the other in yesterday.  Its history and its natural beauty are its treasures.  A good friend and his partner are working with local communities to build lives and livelihood that work towards enlightened progress.  Programs that instill pride of place; preserve historical, cultural and natural heritage; respect the environment while making an honest living are in place.  Tourism is its anchor and Baclayon one of its enclaves.  Efforts at developing activities that will make people visit are currently taking place.

A walking cultural heritage tour of Baclayon is evolving and I had the opportunity to experience a run-through.  It starts at the baluarte, a lover's promenade of sorts, romance inspired by the sea; moves on to the market for some retail therapy, basket paradise to the uninitiated; segues to the historic Baclayon Church and grounds, a mainstay of all Bohol tours; and ends at Osang's where my story begins.

Osang's is right behind the church, accessible through an old wooden gate by the ruins of the stables when the ladies, the keepers of the  Church, say it is okay to pass.  Otherwise, mere mortals have to go through the street, at the periphery of the fence, an extra 100 meters or so.  It is in its original location, the old home and bakery of Osang, now bequeathed together with her secret recipe to her granddaughter Sylvia Maristela.  She cannot remember the year that her grandmother opened the bakery, only that she was still a little girl when her Lola Osang started to teach her how to make broas.

Sylvia continues to make the broas in the traditional manner, mixed by hand and baked in her grandmother's clay oven.  She begins by making the batter, a mixture of whole eggs, flour and sugar, in proportions that are the family's best kept secret.  No machines are used in preparing the batter to a consistency that only years of knowing intuitively can be achieved.  She pipes the batter by hand into aluminum trays that hold 10, using her index finger to keep them uniform in shape and size.

The tray of unbaked broas are then dusted with powdered sugar and baked in a charcoal fueled clay oven for a few minutes.

Once done, they are slow toasted over charcoal embers until they are perfectly crisp, bagged by  hand and kept in a large tin box ready to be sold.  How much does all this painstaking labor go for?  A mere Php100.00 per bag at the source.

Sylvia graciously offered a taste, straight from the coconut leaf spine racks, warm, toasty and slightly smoky from the ashen embers.  Delightfully irresistible I just had to ask for a second piece.

Maybe I will have that cheesy salty taste with the sweet broas again.  But this time, I'll go up a notch and use Imperial Cheese instead of Cheese Wiz. If you don't know what I'm talking about, ask your Canadian friends.