Training consultant Sharon Mah is very much like her kesuri bun creation - warm and hearty, with a touch of spice.
The home cook packs sweet, sour and spicy flavours in a ring-shaped bun filled with kesuri curry, a Peranakan-style chicken curry.
Unlike the usual coconut milk- based curries, this one includes lime juice - part of the fiery rempah used to marinate the chicken.
She uses the bread recipe for making sandwiches and the curry recipe is from an aunt in church.
The marriage of bun and curry happened after the 41-year-old experimented with filling the bun with beef rendang. "We wanted something that wasn't too rich. So the kesuri is a lighter option."
She is one of 20 semi-finalists in Eat List Star, a search by Mediacorp for the best new culinary personalities from the Asia Pacific.
Contestants are from countries such as Singapore, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines, and the competition will air as a web series from Thursday.
After seeing the contest advertisement in the newspapers, Ms Mah's husband, Mr Poh Yu Khing,encouraged her to join.
The 43-year-old chief marketing officer is clearly his wife's biggest fan and a "very good kitchen assistant". They have no children.
While Ms Mah is preparing her dish, he helps out by tidying the kitchen and helping to check on the curry, as well as adjusting her hair for this photo shoot.
Since 2010, he has been taking photographs of her cooking and is full of praise for her culinary skills.
His favourite dishes include her red wine beef bolognese and four- layer lasagne - with layers of red wine meat sauce, cream sauce, cheese and lasagne sheets.
Ms Mah works up a sweat as she painstakingly kneads her bread dough by hand.
She says jokingly: "Making bread is a workout in itself. I have to keep cooking as it's my only form of exercise. I cannot be Nigella. This is how real women cook."
She may not have the glossy image of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, but she is an entertaining host as she regales The Sunday Times with plenty of foodie anecdotes.
She recalls making a grilled cheese sandwich from a Walt Disney cookbook at age eight, but her love affair with food began when she went to England for her studies.
"I missed my mother's kway teow soup and porridge. Then, in my third year there, I discovered celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on TV."
She has gone through cooking phases, such as embarking on a "no carb" diet, complete with special names for her dishes.
For example, Baa Baa Black Sheep Prancing In The Woods is a dish of garlic and olive-marinated lamb chops and nectarines with mushrooms sauteed with rosemary. And Mango Maddened Moo is steak with fresh sliced mango and deep- fried curry leaves.
The self-proclaimed "carb queen", who loves her pasta and rice, has also gone the dessert route with her versatile bun recipe.
She has used Nutella and Ferrero Rocher as part of the stuffing, which results in a gooey and molten filling, she says, licking her lips in glee.
And the best part about cooking? "I love it when I've laid everything on the table and nobody talks because they are all stuffing their faces," she says with a chuckle.
For the filling:
500g boneless chicken thigh, skin removed and cut into bite-sized chunks
3 tsp light soya sauce
1/2 tsp white pepper
3 tsp brown sugar
2 Tbs lime juice
6 dried chillies, soaked in hot water till soft
1cm piece of peeled fresh turmeric
10 peeled shallots
1 tsp Lee Kum Kee Fine Shrimp Sauce
1 Tbs oil
1 big onion, sliced into thick strips
2 cups mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheese
For the bun:
500g bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs caster sugar
11g dry yeast (Redman)
1 1/4 cup water, room temperature
1 egg mixed with 1 Tbs water (for egg wash)
Red chilli flakes (optional)
1. For the filling: Marinate the chicken with soya sauce, white pepper, brown sugar and limejuice. Set aside until ready to use or leave to marinate overnight.
2. With a mortar and pestle, pound the dried chillies, turmeric, and shallots.
3. Alternatively, you can use a food processor. Stir in the shrimp paste to get a thick rempah.
4. Heat oil in a wok and fry the rempah for a few minutes until fragrant.
5. Add the chicken, without the excess marinade, and fry on high heat for about five minutes. Pour in the remaining marinade, cover the wok and leave to simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked.
6. Check occasionally and add small amounts of water if the mixture becomes too dry.
7. Stir in the onion, then turn off the heat and set aside.
8. For the bread dough: In a large mixing bowl, mix the bread flour, salt, sugar and yeast with your hands.
9. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in a small amount of water. Use your hands to mix the flour with the water. Repeat until the flour and water are well mixed and you get a moist ball of dough.
10. Place the dough on a dry, unfloured surface. With the heel of your hand, push the dough downwards and forwards with a smooth stroke. Fold back the dough and repeat the kneading until it is smooth, wet and pliable. Dab small amounts of water on the dough if it gets too dry. The dough should feel slightly warm as the yeast starts to work.
11. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a rectangle that measures 1m by 15cm. 10. Mix in the cheese with the chicken and transfer the filling into a bowl.
12. Starting from the left, spoon the filling lengthwise, across the centre of the dough. Leave about 5cm of the right end of the dough empty. Do not overfill.
Gently pinch the two top and bottom edges of the dough together to form a long tube with the "seam" on top. Shift the dough such that the "seam" is turned towards you.
13. Bring the two ends together and slot the end which is filled into the end that is empty. Pinch the ends to form a doughnut shape.
14. Grease and sprinkle flour on a baking tray. Carefully transfer the dough to the tray and leave to proof for 20 minutes.
15. Preheat the oven to 200 deg C.
16. Before placing in the oven, brush the top of the dough with egg wash.
17. Sprinkle red chilli flakes on top.
18. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
19. Cut into thick slices and serve hot.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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