Dear Mr. Cohen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Humble Rusk

I’ve never been much of a political animal. But ever since you, Mr. Job Cohen, former mayor of Amsterdam, were called upon by national politics and gave up your position, there has been a growing unease within me.

Sometimes things are as futile as they are; you just happen to be the man in charge for the biggest stretch of time in the city that I live in and love so much. And quite frankly: I miss you here. Even though your successor is doing just fine, I’d rather have you back tomorrow if that would be possible, which it probably isn’t.

Strolls
You are in my heart for all the times I have seen you rushing past through the streets and for all your strolls with your wife on a sunny afternoon along the canals. Might I have lived a little further away from your residence, I probably would not have crossed your path as many times as I did, but in the end that doesn’t matter. For me you were simply there, like all the rest of us. Visible, down to earth and devoted as much to our city as to your wife. As we say in Dutch; “kom er nog maar es om”

You were called onto the national political stage to find an answer to the populist politics that are quickly gaining ground in The Netherlands. The political game is changing fast in troubled times. Scaring people into believing almost anything has never been easier.

Now you are there, and not here.

The plan was to have you lead the country, you ended up in the opposition instead. The government that was formed has all the characteristics you would expect from a political field that is jolted by something new and unexpected; the populist was put on a special bench where he was thought to do the least harm.

That hasn’t turned out to be quite the case. As a matter of fact the opposite was happening; the populist knew his game quite well and found out he could simply shout some populist doo dah, draw the curtains whenever he felt it like it and become invisible.

Whilst Trying
It’s been said that populist politics can’t be beaten without joining them, and there, my friend, (for even if I have not spoken to you in person I hope you will allow me to call you just that) you stand out from the crowd.

Time and time again, also on the occasions where you were reportedly “slashed” in a public debate, I have never ever seen you make one populist move.

My guess is some milder forms of populism are inherent to politics, and maybe you are just doing quite well at hiding it from me, but even if that is the case, it doesn’t really matter.

For every time I see you struggle to find an alternative to this apparent new set of rules in politics, I like you a little more, even if you “lose” the argument whilst trying.

I don’t think things are as simple as left and right or black and white. Regardless of the polarizing times we live in, the only right thing to do is what you are doing; refusing to play THAT game, even though I suspect you could be quite good at it, I can’t really imagine you ever giving into the temptation. Ah, well, maybe when you were younger.

Something Good
If you ask me (but then again don’t!) the populist’s game is nearing its end. That seems to be inherent to populist politics: its effects peter out quite fast if not fed regularly by tangible results.

This blog you are (probably not) reading is about bread. So, as much as I like you, I have to come up with something BREAD in this letter to you for it to have any sense whatsoever. I have been forgiven before for making rather odd connections between bread and…. well, almost all other stuff in life :-), I hope I have enough credit left to throw around a lot of words before sharing what I’m here for; a straightforward recipe for something good!

I could be really corny and say; well people, here is your recipe; Do as Mr. Job Cohen, the former mayor of Amsterdam; Don’t pay too much attention to squeaking wheels that get all the oil; after a while they get so slippery, they will derail themselves!

That wouldn’t work though… because they can’t eat it!

So instead I will dedicate my latest bake to you; the humble rusk, or “beschuiten” as you and I would call them. It’s hardly the sexiest bread in the world, and it doesn’t shout at you. We all keep a roll of them in our cupboard though. For when we need them; for comfort, for joy and when it is the only thing our sometimes sick bodies will accept. Straightforward, simple, honest, reliable and here to stay!

The Humble Rusk


The Romans called it “biscotum”; it was the sort of bread that was great when you were conquering the world. “”Baked twice” is what it means. With most moisture baked out of the bread it will keep almost indefinitely! Nowadays that same word still reverberates in the French “biscuit” and the Italian “biscotti”.

In the “Golden Age” (that period in the Netherlands between 1600-1700 where at a certain time a tulip bulb would sell for the price of a house…) the merchant ships, leaving all from an area just above Amsterdam, took the “beschuit” on board as their preferred bread. In no time there were 150 bakeries in the area, all dedicated to baking “scheepsbeschuit”.

Around the 18th century, the rusk started to look like the airy biscuit it is today. Bakers started using yeast to make the rather tough biscuit lighter. Later on they added eggs as an emulsifier, and sugar. Around this time as well, the “Zwieback” started to gain popularity. The baked biscuit was cut in half, baked again to dry it out, and lightly toasted.

Beschuit met Muisjes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tradition to serve “beschuit” at the birth of a child started in the same region. When the “beschuit” was still a luxury item that was eaten on festive days, the rich would buy them to celebrate child birth in the community. The “beschuit” was (and still is nowadays) sprinkled with pink, white or blue sugarcoated aniseeds, an echo of the ancient tradition to sprinkle the baby with rye kernels for blessing.

The sugarcoated aniseeds are called “mice” in Dutch. The coated kernels resemble a mouse (symbol of fertility) with a little tail. The aniseeds were said to have a wholesome effect on breast milk production.

The beschuit can be found in literally every cupboard in the Netherlands. Even those who are not too crazy for them will keep a roll on their shelf for when they need them. When ill it is the perfect comfort food, dunked in some sweet pudding. When you feel queezy and nothing else goes down; the beschuit is there to help. It is reliable, it is no nonsense, it is here to stay! Enjoy!

A note on Rusk Jelly and Baking Shells

In this recipe I use “rusk jelly”. An ingredient not really easy to obtain when you are not living in the Netherlands. Here is where you can buy it if you are eager to give it a try. Rusk Jelly emulsifies by making your dough more alkaline (the opposite of acid). All that is in there is sugar, glucose, vegetable fat, water, emulgator and an alkaline agent. The rusk can be made without the jelly as well by replacing the jelly with the equal amount of corn syrup and egg yolk. Your rusk will be a little less brittle, but still way better than anything you have ever eaten from the supermarket.

The baking shells are essential to get a good shape on your rusk. If you don’t have baking shells and want to invest in buying some, here is a place that sells them for a very reasonable price. If you are in the States it might be harder to find them. No worries though, because 9,5 cm baking rings will also work. Provided you have a baking sheet, or even a silpat mat to cover them with, you will do just fine!

Ingredients
for about 24 rusks

210 gr. AP flour
17 gr. fresh yeast
84 gr. water
34 gr. corn syrup
5 gr. sugar
5 gr. milk powder
25 gr. egg yolk
30 gr. rusk jelly (optional)
1½ gr. salt
4½ gr. anise powder

I bake this recipe in two batches. When the time comes to divide the dough I put half of the formed balls in the fridge and start processing the first batch. By the time the first batch goes in the oven, you can take out the slightly chilled dough to prepare them for the second batch.

Equipment
6 round baking shells with a diameter of 9½ cm. Baking rings of that size, covered with a baking sheet will also work!

Method

The Soaker

Mix together ⅔ (140 gr.) of the flour with the water, the yeast, milk powder and ½ (17 gr.) of the corn syrup. Cover and leave to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

The Final Dough

Mix in the eggs and the remaining corn syrup with a few tablespoons of the remaining flour. When incorporated add half of the rusk jelly. When that is mixed in add the remaining flour and salt. Finally add the remaining jelly, sugar and anise powder.

Mix on low speed for about 20 to 30 minutes until the dough is very well developed. The ideal dough temperature is 25°C.

Preheat the oven to 240°C

The First Bake

Cover and let the dough rise for about 10 minutes. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces of about 30-35 gr. each. Leave them to relax for 10 minutes and then form tight balls and place them on a baking sheet. Cover and leave them to rise for 10 minutes. Flatten and round the pieces to roughly the diameter of your baking shell 2 times during this short rise. Place the well oiled baking shells over the dough and leave them to rise until you can see the dough peep through the little holes on top. Alternatively, place oiled baking rings over the dough and cover with an equally well oiled baking sheet. Bake when almost fully proofed for about 8 minutes on 240°C, turning the tray halfway through the bake to ensure even browning. Take the golden biscuits out of the molds and let them cool completely on a rack.

The Second Bake

Preheat the oven to 50°C. Slice the biscuits in half and put them cut side up in the oven for about 30 to 45 minutes, until they are completely dry and crisp. Place the biscuits under a hot grill until the tops are nice and golden. This will go very fast, only a few seconds!

Leave the rusks to cool completely before eating.

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Luctor et Emergo; Zeeuwse Bolussen

Managing the Water

Secretly I enjoy the way all of us here in the Low Lands are stumbling into 2012. After days of continuous rainfall and storms coming in, the water levels are rapidly rising. A small stretch of dike in the North has broken, but much worse has been avoided so far by doing what the Dutch were born to do, or so it seems; managing the water.

In some parts of the country dikes are broken on purpose to give way to the water in a controlled way. Storm barriers are lowered, risen, unfolded, or whatever which genius technical way they have come up with to protect us from the ever hungry rising water.

Don’t you love it when a system works? These are the moments that your hard-earned tax money is worth every cent you paid, and more! For instead of huffing and puffing and dragging sacks of sand around, I can sit here behind my computer, with dry feet and not worry about a thing. ‘Cause I got some one watching out for me, and all of us out here!

The Dutch province of Zeeland (“Sealand”) is, when it comes to water, the “epitome” of what it means to be living at or under sea level. Looking at this map, I guess you can figure out why.

Luctor et Emergo

The slogan on their weapon shield reads “Luctor et Emergo”, translating into “I struggle and emerge”. Even though that slogan goes back a long time and actually refers to the struggle against Spanish occupation in the 16th century, the average Dutchman will associate Zeeland with the biggest disaster ever to hit the province on the 1st of February 1953. In a big storm and the flooding that followed, almost 2000 people drowned and 100.000 people lost everything they owned; their houses, their livestock, everything…

They struggled, together with the rest of the country and did indeed “emerge”. I an epic mission never to let this sort of thing happen again, they constructed this little baby;

Zeeuwse Bolussen

Brought to Zeeland by the bakers of the Portuguese Sephardic Jews who were forced to flee north at the end of the 15th century, these sticky sweet rolls, traditionally shaped in a spiral, quickly became popular with the locals as well, to such an extent that the “Zeeuwse Bolus” has become the signature bake of the province in modern days.

That is another thing the Dutch are quite good at; all through history the Netherlands has been a refuge and safe haven for people on the run. Or should I say; another thing the Dutch WERE good at, because nowadays, even though the biggest part of the world still thinks of The Netherlands as a liberal and tolerant place, the Dutch authorities are sending kids who were raised here out of the country just to set an example.

Let this recipe for “zeeuwse bolussen” remind us all how something really good can come from opening up to “strangers” in dire need! Luctor et Emergo indeed…

Ingredients

500 gr. All Purpose Flour
7 gr. Salt
5 gr. Instant Yeast
320 gr. Lukewarm Milk
75 gr. Unsalted Butter
250 gr. Brown Sugar
2 TBS cinnamon
zest of one lemon

Method

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Work in the softened butter with the tips of your fingers. Add the lukewarm milk. Depending on your flour, you may have to add a little more milk or need to hold a little back. Start with 300 gr. of milk and add more if needed; what you are looking for is a slightly slack dough that will be easy to roll out in strands.

Mix until the dough is well-developed, it should pass the window pane test; approximately 10-15 minutes on medium low-speed.

Lightly oil a container, transfer the dough and coat all around with the oil for a first rise of about 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, divide the dough into equal pieces of about 45 grams. You should end up with 14-16 dough pieces.

Form the dough pieces into balls and let them rest for 20 minutes, so the dough will be slack enough to form into strands.

First roll out all the balls into short strands of about 20 cm.

Mix the brown sugar with the cinnamon and cover your work surface with it .

Then roll out the strands in the sugar mixture to a length of about 40 cm.

If the dough really resists, you might have to go for a third round of rolling strands after giving it another 10 minutes to relax.

Shape the strands into spirals or knots. The spiral is the more traditional way of shaping, but since the rolls come out of the oven really dark brown, I prefer to knot them, just to avoid associations that I won’t go into here and now 🙂

For spirals: start in the middle and just drape the dough in circles. It is okay to make it look a little rustic and not too neat!

For knots: Place a strand horizontally in front of you. Take the ends and form two loops, leaving some space in the middle for proofing. Make a knot on each side of the loop. Place the formed bolus on a baking sheet, cover and let them proof until puffed and doubled in size, for about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F.

Bake the “Zeeuwse Bolussen” for about 8 minutes. You want them to be just done, so keep a close eye on your oven. Too long and they will be crusty, too short and they will be gooey.

Christmas Squared

Chestnut-Mincemeat Monkey Bread

Baking is getting more festive by the day. The BreadLab is a mess after a trial bake for the X-mas specials that are up for the coming two weeks.

Chestnuts

The flavor and texture of chestnut can really lift a dish, when used in moderation. The other week, running through Amsterdam’s hottest local produce supermarket Marqt, there were some fresh chestnuts available. They would look real rustic, together with the red onions and roseval potatoes in the basket on the kitchen table…

They have been screaming not be wasted for looking pretty ever since, and today, when the sour cherries on syrup started their siren song, things started coming together. The theme clearly being nuts and fruits, let’s cross the channel and ponder on that typical British dish;

Mincemeat

Something allegedly edible that I managed to avoid for its name alone in the first two decades of my life. To the foreign ear it sounds like something with mutton sausage and a lot of gravy in it, that has been sitting in the cellar for three months. There is a lot of that where I come from. No need to explore.

Only to find out in the next decade that there is actually no meat involved at all, well… suet. But that was way back when. I do sometimes use lard and suet and the likes, but this sweet bread needs to go down easy with every one.

After making a basic mincemeat, boil the fresh chestnuts in their skins until tender, but still chewy. Chopping them up I decided to just chuck them in with the mincemeat, and that worked wonderfully well.

Sour cherries

Sour cherries belong to New Year’s Eve for me. I never knew that until I rediscovered the taste of them recently, the syrupy variety. I was immediately taken back; in my young years, when the adults would be seriously boozing in the New Year, the kids were allowed to drink something that was called “children’s-liquor” (No, I kid you not). It came in a bottle that vaguely resembled the grown-ups’ version. It was a deep red, sweet as hell and… without alcohol (I guess the marketing guys drew their lines somewhere in the sixties…). But that didn’t seem to matter to us, as I remember. For me it was one of the high lights; that entire day, going around the neighborhood to wish every one a Happy New Year, and every house I entered had a glass of that stuff waiting. My Italian shop around the corner carries some nice jars with sour cherries on syrup, the blue one;

Raisins, apples, lemon zest, currants. Take whatever you have lying around to whip together a fruity, spicy layer of mincemeat that will ooze through the monkey bread during the bake. The chestnuts are optional if you are an avid hater (there seem to be quite a few out there), but it does give the flavor a nice twist, and, if chopped coarsely and not boiled to pieces, a different texture that works well with all the sticky caramel and the soft buns.

Since my first monkey bread, traditionally round, was rising all over the place, out of its baking tin, I decided the second bake would have to be in the biggest tin around… and that happened to be a square one. A happy accident, I would say!

Square Chestnut-Mincemeat Monkey Bread

For the (mini portion) mincemeat:

1 small apple
100 gr. boiled chestnut, coarsely chopped
30 gr. raisins
25 gr. currants
30 gr. prunes
20 gr. sour cherries (on syrup)
dark beer, about 60 ml.
75 gr. brown sugar
pinch of lemon zest
dash of lemon juice
a nob of butter
pumpkin pie spice to taste, about ¾ tsp
rum

If you like your apple firm, leave them out, while you bring the beer and all the other ingredients to a slow boil. When everything comes together and the butter is mixed in, add the apple and turn off the gas. Stir and cool.

You can find some good tips over here on how to boil your chestnuts, if you chose to go DIY all the way.

For the dough:

500 gr. bread flour
14 gr. instant yeast
150-175 ml lukewarm whole milk
2 beaten eggs
50 gr. butter
2 tbs honey
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1½ tsp salt

to sugar the monkey dough:

100 gr. caster sugar
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

For the caramel sauce:

100 gr. butter
50 gr. dark brown sugar

Method

Mix the dry ingredients together in a stand mixer. Add just enough milk for the dough to come together. Add the eggs and the butter little by little after about 4 minutes. Mix on low speed for about 15 minutes to develop an elastic dough. Transfer to an oiled container, cover and rest until double in size, for about an hour to one hour and a half at room temp.

Mix together the fine caster sugar with the spices. When the dough has risen, deflate it gently and shape into a cylinder. When the dough resists, give it a few minutes rest before you continue. Cut up the doughroll in small pieces, deliberately uneven in size and shape. Toss the dough pieces in the sugar and place in the oiled tin. They will expand considerably; loosely spread the first layer around your BIG (improv) monkey bread pan.

Scoop the cooled down chestnut-mincemeat over the first layer of dough, and then cover with a second layer of sugared dough bits. Cover and let proof untill the dough has puffed up.

Preheat the oven to 180° C. Heat the butter with the brown sugar and gently pour this over the proofed dough.

Bake for about 35 minutes, turning it halfway into the bake to ensure even browning. Be careful with the top; don’t let it burn!

After the bake, let the bread cool for about 10 minutes before inverting the monkey bread onto a rack. Leave to cool completely before slicing.

Enjoy!

Levine’s Divine Speculaas Rolls

Craving Speculaas

Why do we crave certain foods or ingredients on particular moments in time? A turkey tastes like a turkey in July, but still we prefer to eat the lot of them towards the end of November. A raspberry, for instance, is best eaten when it is around, of course… I understand my craving when that time comes, but why have we made a turkey seasonal?

Here in Amsterdam, the shops are filled to the hilt with speculaas in all sorts, shapes and sizes the year round. Yet, it is when winter rolls in that the Dutch start to consume it by the bucket full. On occasion I will treat myself to a nice box of speculaas cookies in the middle of summer (from a real bakery rather than from the supermarket of course), but it’s not until the “oliebollenkraam” has appeared on the bridge around the corner and in our back yard the “winter tree” (as I call it, ’cause I have no clue what sort of tree it is) starts to bloom, that my speculaas consumption suddenly goes through the roof.

“Tradition” I hear you say; we eat turkey for Thanksgiving, speculaas when winter is upon us and Pan de Jamón for Christmas (if you would be Venezuelan or married to one).

So… we are okay with more “summer” in our food in winter, even if that means the strawberries need to be shipped in from halfway around the globe. But we don’t want to be remembered of winter in the middle of summertime, even if all ingredients are readily available. I mean; I eat summery salads in December, but never oliebollen in full blown spring…. hmm.

We all have that bottle of liquor in the cabinet that tasted so exquisite on that little terrace in Rome, but didn’t quite hit the spot on a dreary autumn afternoon back home. I guess it is indeed tradition, or maybe more accurate; a ritual.

Speculaas spices are very much comparable to allspice in the U.K., or Pumpkin Pie Spice in the U.S. It’s warm, brown, comforting and forgiving. Eating it is almost a message to our bodies to be prepared for things to come. Smelling it coming into the kitchen, makes you forgive the hailstorm that just spat its icy daggers in your face on the way home.

This recipe is put together by my much admired baking friend Levine. It shot straight to my comfort baking top 3 because of its original flower shape and the great taste combination of almond paste with a royal zing of lemon zest. It makes the end result less sweet than a lot of speculaas/almond paste recipes that are floating around. All of you Dutch readers, please follow the link for the Dutch recipe on Levine’s blog, after watching the video of course 🙂

Levine’s Divine Speculaas Rolls

The dough:

500 gr. bread flour
50 gr. sugar
10 gr. speculaas spices (or a bit more for a stronger taste, formula below)
10 gr. instant yeast
185 gr. lukewarm milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
55 gr. unsalted softened butter
2 big eggs, whisked
8 gr. salt

The filling
300 gr. almond paste
± 2 TBS egg
± 30 gr. lemon zest

Method

Described is the method using a stand mixer, but the dough can of course also be mixed using a bread machine, as well as kneaded by hand. If using a bread machine; follow the recipe from the first rise after the machine kneading.

Put the flour, sugar, speculaas spices, yeast, salt and the clumps of softened butter in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Add milk and eggs, mix together, and knead with a dough hook for 10-15 minutes to develop a supple dough. The dough can be a little sticky.

First Rise

Transfer the dough to an oiled container, making sure it is covered all over. Cover and let the dough rise until doubled in about one hour.

Meanwhile, mix together the almond paste, egg and lemon zest. Shape into 15 equal balls.

Forming

Turn out the dough on a lightly oiled work surface. Divide the dough in 15 equal pieces and shape them into tight balls. Leave them to rest for 15 minutes.
Flatten the balls of dough in the palm of your hand or with your rolling pin. Put a ball of almond paste in the center and fold in the almond paste, making sure to pinch the seams well.

Put the ball seam down on your working space and roll out again carefully, making sure it keeps its circular shape and the almond paste is spread out evenly. With a dough cutter make eight slits in the dough, leaving the center in tact. Then pair up two petals, twist them so that their sides touch and the almond paste is showing as a swirl. Pinch them together on the bottom.

Divide the rolls on 2 baking sheets, placing them with enough space in between. Carefully flatten the rolls on the baking paper or baking mat. Cover well with oiled cling film and leave to proof until almost doubled in size, in almost an hour.

Baking

Bake the rolls in the middle of a preheated oven for about 15 minutes until golden on 180° C. Put them on a rack to cool.

Speculaas Spices; home made

30 g cinnamon
10 g cloves
10 g nutmeg
5 g white pepper
5 g aniseed
5 g coriander seed

Mix all ground spices together and store in a small airtight container.
There are many varieties and tweaks out there, I really like this one. As long as the base is the same, you can tweak your speculaas spices, just the way you like it.

Enjoy! Please feel free to comment and subscribe if you want me to keep you updated. Also I want to ask you to endorse my growing BreadLab initiative on Facebook; every like gets me closer to realizing a 6 episode “breadomentary”, chasing the beast bread the world has to offer. Thanks in advance!

Rudolph’s antlers: Pepernoten versus Kruidnoten


Each year, here up North,
a man comes forth from Spain.
Train nor plane he uses;
a boat is what he chooses,
as well as a white horse,
and (to make matters worse)
travels together with guys
(I tell you no lies)
who paint their faces…

The Dutch embrace it all
and make their way to the mall
to shop till they drop
and return home with many a gift,
that plenty a spirit will lift.

Does this tradition ring a bell?
Well, maybe if you hear his name
your X-masses will never be the same;

Sinterklaas is what he’s called…

Please don’t be too appalled
Dear Santa and elves
When you see yourselves
reflected in this feast
that is politically incorrect to say the least.

For Sinterklaas – indeed- is the reason why
A guy who goes “ho ho” stops by
on your shores; his boat is now a sled,
the horse became reindeer with noses red.
All devoid of that annoyed
“black Pete”, made obsolete by elves
who can show themselves
without any accidental tourist dropping jaws
’cause they see their Santa Claus
fretting in such an anachronistic setting.

Here in the old world, tradition reigns
and black Pete, alas, remains…
However racist it may seem;
rest assured the theme
at the root of all of this, is equal
and Santa is just a better sequel
to a storm of giving and sharing,
so let that be your bearing!

Give and share, share and give,
and live a full life void of strife!

Rudolph’s antlers

There are many traditional baking goods associated with Sinterklaas. Butter fondant, chocolate letters, chocolate fondant frogs and mice (nobody seems to know where they came from) and pepernoten. There are three varieties of them floating around, going from rather chewy and lebkuchen-like, to crunchy and easy to eat. The traditional pepernoot is right in the middle and made with hartshorn salt (yes, we use Rudolf’s antlers to make cookies). This is the king of all rising agents when it comes to strength.

Since baking with hartshorn salt involves a chemical reaction to cause your kitchen to smell like ammonia for about a minute during the bake, many people are a bit wary to use it. Rest assured that there is no harm done; open your kitchen window to get rid of this volatile gas even faster. No traces of it will be left in the pepernoten. For those interested in trying it; King Arthur sells Hartshorn salt as “baker’s ammonia” on their site.

Here’s the video recipe.

Traditional Pepernoten (big batch)

1 kg. all purpose flour
500 gr. honey
300 gr. sugar
3 eggs
15 gr. hartshorn salt
1½ ts cinnamon
¾ ts cloves
1 ts white pepper
pinch of:
nutmeg
coriander
ginger
all spice
cardamom
100 gr. confectioners sugar
a little water.

Method

Warm the honey on a low heat together with the sugar, the eggs, hartshorn salt and all the spices, untill the sugar has melted. Mix well. Sift through the flour in parts and mix well until the stiff dough comes together (be careful not to wreck your KitchenAid on this dough!).

Preheat the oven to 190° C and grease two sheet pans. Form 2 cm balls out of the dough, place them on the sheet pan, keeping enough space between them (at least 1 cm). Bake the pepernoten for about  15 – 20 minutes in the middle rack of your oven until golden brown.

Right after baking let them cool on a rack. Bring some confectioners sugar diluted in a little water to the boil, mix until smooth and brush the pepernoten with it to give them a nice finish.

Enjoy.

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stroopwafels; dutch macaroons…

Shaken Baking Confidence

There was some strong verbal abuse to be heard in the BreadLab kitchen this morning. The air trembled with ancient Dutch strong language when that elusive and downright arrogant confectionery that calls itself “French Macaroon” failed in the oven… yet again!

Four failed bakes in a row is a hard blow to take, but: Back to the drawing board! Retreat and start from scratch, learn from your mistakes and have another go! The battle is lost, but the macaroon war is definitely on! The BreadLab vows to tame this fickle French “petite mandigotte” one day soon!

Meanwhile, to boost baking confidence, go back to what you know best. Let your genes take over and bake what is ingrained somewhere deep inside your memory. Something you know so well, you could reproduce its smell, taste and texture with your eyes closed, simply because it has been with you your entire life.

Dutch Macaroons

Browsing the story of the French Macaroon, it seems the intricate colorful variety we love so much today, hasn’t been around in its present form all that long. In 1830 they were still served as two separate halves, spiked with liqueurs, jam or spices. It was Pierre Desfontaines of the French patisserie Ladurée who, at the start of the 20th century gave us the “Paris macaroon” that is so “en vogue” today:

Around the same time, here in Holland things were hardly as gay as in Paris, where slums were taken down, the Grands Boulevards were taking shape, and the Paris we know today came into being. The industrial revolution brought a lot of money to the city.

Meanwhile, in Gouda (where the famous cheese is produced), a Dutch baker was at the other end of the wealth spectrum, and probably could only dream of colorful macaroons in his shop window just like the ones in Paris.

Instead, he was wondering, in good old fashioned Dutch Calvinist spirit, if all those left over scraps of dough at the end of the baking day could still serve some purpose. He whisked up some molasses with brown sugar and cinnamon, put all the scraps of dough together, baked it into a wafer, sliced it in half, put in a big dollop of syrup in between the two layers, slapped them back together and sold them as “stroopwafels” (syrup wafers).

Two layers with a filling in between… Let’s call it a Dutch Macaroon! Not nearly as dainty and intricate as the French variety, but just as satisfying in the end ! And a perfect way to boost shaken baking confidence, since they are pretty much fail safe.

The stroopwafel took The Netherlands by storm, and the rest of the world is falling for it as well, or so it seems. In New York City they are dipped in chocolate and called Dutch Moon Cookies. For unknown reasons to men they are considered valuable bounty in a cartoon involving wolves (note the small dutch flag on the side of the treasure chest!)

There is an Association of Stroopwafel Addicts, and even the fashion world has succumbed to this Dutch cookie, although wearing a stroopwafel waist coat sounds like a sticky undertaking! Lady Gaga goes Dutch?

And what about this tutorial on how to properly eat a stroopwafel?

The Recipe

All in all enough reason to get your waffle iron out and make your own stroopwafels! If you love these cookies, you will love them even more home made. Nothing can beat eating it fresh, crunchy and warm.

Here is the video recipe from the BreadLab.

Stroopwafels

for the dough:
4 cups (500 gr.) low gluten flour
1/2 TS cinnamon
1 cup (250 gr.) softened butter
1/2 cup (100 gr.) white caster sugar
2 large eggs
0.25 ounce/7 grams instant yeast
1/2 cup/118 gr. warm water

for the syrup:
1 1/2 cup (300 gr.) brown sugar
1 cup (250 gr.) butter
1 TS  cinnamon
6 TBS dark corn syrup

Dissolve the yeast in the water and add to the flour together with the softened butter, the eggs, sugar and cinnamon. Combine all ingredients well, form into a ball and let it rest for about 45 minutes. It will have slightly risen by that time and the dough feels silky to the touch, but doesn’t stick.

In the meantime, prepare the syrup mixture by gently heating up and dissolving the ingredients over a medium low heat, stirring in the butter and making sure the sugar doesn’t burn. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn off the heat and stir every once in a while for a smooth consistency while it cools.

Heat up your iron to a medium high heat and form ping pong ball sized balls out of the dough. Put them in your iron and bake for about 30 seconds per cookie. Use a cookie cutter to cut out a perfect circle. Slice the cookie in two layers while it is still warm and use a thin sharp knife.

All that is left to do now, is put the syrup between the two halves and slap them together. The syrup might have cooled too much to work with; simply return it to the heat and gently warm it through again. Don’t let the sugar burn!

Pan de Reina

Fit for a queen

BreadLab is honouring all mothers; Pan de Reina, a coffee bread fit for a queen Crownshaped and sprinkled with maple diamonds for extra oohs! and aahs! at the coffee table. Loaded with freshly crushed cardamom, coriander seeds and cinnamon, this bread is dressed to impress on Mother’s Day, or any other given day of the year mothers need impressing.

Enjoy!

For all of you who can’t find the pause button to write things down:

550 gr./19.4 oz. bread flour
250 gr./8.8 oz. whole milk
57 gr./2 oz. unsalted butter
3 eggs (1 for egg wash!)
7 gr./0.2 oz. instant yeast
65 gr./2.2 oz. white caster sugar
1 heaped Tbs coriander seeds
crushed seeds of 5 cardamom pods
2 heaped Tsp of cinnamon
pinch of salt & pepper
maple sugar for sprinkling

Beat the eggs and set aside. Heat the milk until it forms bubbles around the edges of the pan (scalding the milk). Cool back to 40°C/100°F. Combine the eggs with the milk (make sure the milk is not too warm!) Melt the butter into the mixture.

Stir in the yeast and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.

In a separate bowl combine 3 cups of the flour with the other dry ingredients; cinnamon, coriander seeds, sugar, salt, pepper, cardamom.

Pour in the egg-milk-yeast mixture little by little and make the dough come together. Mix for about 5 minutes on low speed until well combined. The dough is very sticky and won’t clear the bowl!.

Put the remainder of your flour on the table, take out your dough and knead in enough of the remaining flour for the dough not to be sticky any more. Don’t overwork your dough at this point.

When the dough is smooth and silky, let it proof until almost doubled in size (about one hour at room temp).

Divide the dough in half. Divide one half in two, and the other half in three equal pieces. Preshape the pieces of dough to be rolled into strands after a short rest.

Roll out the two biggest pieces of dough into strands. Make a twist-braid and place it carefully in your well oiled pan.

Roll out the three smaller strands into a three-braid. Make it nice and even for extra oohs! and aahs! at the coffee table. Place the braid on top of the twist. If you have baking rings or anything that could serve as baking rings (an empty tin will do just fine), use them for support.

Cover the dough to prevent drying out, and proof it at room temp until again doubled in size
(about one hour on room temp).

Half an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F.

When fully proofed, give the dough an egg wash and royally sprinkle it with maple sugar.

Bake for about 35 minutes until golden brown. Don’t forget to rotate halfway the bake for even browning.

Enjoy!

Baker’s Babylon

PROCEDURE OVER FOLD

In Breadland there are many different words for the same thing, which, in a growing international home baking community, can be quite frustrating at times.

A single fold, a simple fold, the two-fold, trifold, bookfold, N-fold, G-fold are all, in essence, very acceptable names for the same thing.

A highly respected baker from The Fresh Loaf names the procedure, rather than “classifying” the fold. He speaks about “giving the dough a half turn”. You roll, you fold in three and end off with turning the dough to be ready for the next half turn.

BUTTERLOCK AND HALF TURN

Rather see it than read about it? Here you go; a video showing not only a half turn, but also explaining how to successfully lock your butter in the dough. There’s a lot of different ways of doing this, this one works just fine in the BreadLab so far.

Julia doing it one more time

The Croissant Weeks

Putting the word out here and on The Fresh Loaf that the BreadLab is scrutinizing croissants for the coming weeks has resulted in a nice batch of suggestions, pointers and “what-definitely-not-to-do’s in the BreadLab’s inbox. Thank you so much for that input.

Combine all those with what’s here on the kitchen bookshelf and you have mixed together a virtual bake-off between established formulas by well respected bakers. Go get it!

Hitz, Kayser/Leader and Child are in the first heat.

Media

Last Friday, Dutch NTR radio-cooking show Mangiare was visiting the BreadLab kitchen. Just in time to see a batch of truly humongous croissants going into the oven. To give you an idea; there were only 6 croissants on a sheet, and still they were in each other’s way. They were luscious, with a smooth and silky crumb and a flaky buttery crust. Hitz’s formula works! (duh) Next time a less dramatic flour than manitoba, and they might turn out just perfect.

One successful bake is by no means an early end to the Croissant Project though.

Paris – Amsterdam

To make a croissant is to feel and taste Paris. So let’s go to Paris! To taste M. Eric Kayser’s famous sourdough croissants, and see what else is baking in the ovens of bakers like Poilâne, Cohier and Boulangepicier.

But; in true European spirit (yes, it does exist!) France, and the wonders of their bread baking has come to Amsterdam some years ago. Le Fournil de Sebastién has quickly become the best bakery in Amsterdam, and when you see this video it is easy to understand why.

Check out the latest uploaded video’s here, if you haven’t already, and come back for more on croissant techniques soon!

And just because it’s always a joy seeing her doing her thing; the godmother of American Baking doing it one more time.

Happy Baking!

Sidestepping – Forming a Couronne Bordelaise

Although up to my knees in sour dough starters and liquid levains and with a whole bunch of formulas to scrutinize for my croissant project that is going to be unfolding (as it were) the coming weeks, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to share this video on how to form a “couronne bordelaise“.

I like this shape a lot, because it doesn’t involve slashing and usually yields a nice ear.

It’s a bit of extra work to form the crown, but the effect at the dinner table more than makes up for that.

The dough traditionally used for this form is a pain de campagne but I used a 10% rye sourdough, which works just as well.

To add extra effect to the loaf; dust it with rye flour right before putting it into the oven; the rye flour stays nice and white and contrasts with the dark crust. After cooling the individual rolls can be easily broken of the couronne.

Back to the formulas and my belching and farting sourdoughs for the croissants!

Happy Baking!