Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Relovution

On the short stretch of street between here and the nearest supermarket, there are numerous (now) living quarters, bearing the remnants of a more commercial past. Big (shop) windows suggest small businesses; grocer's, bakers, plumbers, furniture makers. Little details give away their history. Neighborhood shops, catering to the locals. Very few have survived. Most turned into hip studios.

The world decided it was not a good idea to have neighborhood shops any more.

In Amsterdam, as in other European and American cities, there were times, a shop would be where it was needed . Your baker was around the corner. You would smell his bread waking up in the morning. The veggies were local, as was the meat from the butcher. The milkman made his rounds. Pretty much enough fare going around close by to cater for the basic human needs. If you throw in a local watering hole, or two.

In the times the world decided we didn't want all of that in our back yards any more, things tended to burn a lot easier, fish was stinky, and garbage was collected only once a week. So who wouldn't want to move forward on that new concept going around;  the supermarket!

Supermarket & the Internet

The supermarket was a glorious idea; instead of having to rummage around the neighborhood scrambling together bits and pieces of the daily necessities in life and getting rained on doing so, we could push around a cart, get our stuff in a jiffy, look really classy doing it, go home, and spend the rest of the day smoking cigarettes, watching TV-shows with people smoking cigarettes. Perfect!

A supermarket is like the Internet. They have gone through the same motion. They both are promising advances in civilization. Everything we are looking for in one place and at our fingertips (be it a pork sausage or information on how the birds fly).

Both inventions are now reading us like a book, and rather than them giving us what we're looking for, we are providing them with all the information on how they can come up with yet another run on our money, privacy or open sources of information, or all of the above.

The concept remains equally promising, and maybe it helps to realize that the power, in the end, is completely with the consumer.

New Year's Relovution

This afternoon, arriving in that dreaded supermarket in my neighborhood, I imagined the space empty. Then I imagined it fill up again; with a (micro) bakery, veggies,  the milk- cheese- and butter- man, a butcher shop, a fish monger and anything any one could ever need really.

It was almost like a market... with a roof on it... a super market...

Marqt in Amsterdam works pretty much on this premise, and all around the world initiatives like this find solid ground. Reclaiming good ideas works, apparently.

My New Year's resolution for 2012 is going to be more like a "relovution"; renewing my vows, proclaiming, once more, the need to divert towards more sustainability. Let's continue to give our food a face.

Bakers or Bankers

None of the bankers will tell us what to do in the difficult times ahead of us. They most certainly won't tell us it might be a good idea to stop shopping at multinationals. Let us turn to the bakers instead. Not so much the actual guy, but all what a baker represents; providing a community daily with honest real bread, caring for and guarding the most basic of foods, helping each other ahead rather than have your money sucked out of you by a faceless corporation.

I was at my oldskool supermarket to get myself some of the flour that I use a lot. It normally sells for 0.59 € per 2 kg.  Now, with all the world wanting flour for their oliebollen in this country, it was of course, on sale! Now for €0,79 per 1 kg! Yes people, Happy New Year! Give me a baker over a banker any time.

Wishing you health, wisdom, strength, love, friendship in a 2012 that isn't going to be half as bad as they want to make us believe!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Taste of Happiness


Look at it and most of you will probably know what it tastes like. It's a flavor that is strongly connected to a geographical place for me. And it's not the second biggest city in Croatia. This "split" is a combination of creamy vanilla ice cream, covered with a layer of orange sherbet. The place my brain immediately takes me to is the house of the guy with the freezer in the shed, just over the railroad track, passing the soccer fields, about halfway the street where my aunt and grandfather are living, on the far corner.

I'm coming in from the railroad tracks. Best bet is that I've visited my middle class grandmother who gave me some money.

I had the privilege to grow up on a cross section in society. My mother's parents were plain and simple people who worked the land. My father's parents were middle class and had a butcher shop. After a visit to my "poor" grandmother, I would come home with flowers from the garden, eggs, beets, or a peacock feather. The "rich" Gran would give me money.

And money meant being able to choose to spend it on stuff for yourself instead of sharing let's say... the beets!, or oh, why not, you can have ALL of the eggs dear mother...

Thus my mind and body are somehow conditioned; the "split" ice cream, even if now dangling somewhere in the nether regions of what the ice cream industry has to offer, was, is and always will be the most luxurious taste in the world for me.

Mind you, not necessarily because it IS the most luxurious taste in the world. But that first time (oh yes, food and fair maiden, they are so alike), it was the ultimate; I would have married that ice cream if I could have, right there on the field where the gypsies always come and put up their camp.

Fiori di Sicilia

To take a BreadLab-project a step further, I was curious what flavor combinations of macarons my readers would prefer, and one of them commented about "Fiori di Sicilia", flowers of Sicily. I had no clue what it was. You can imagine my utter delight when I read the following description, given by our trusted friends at King Arthur Flour:

"You know that wonderful marriage of flavors you taste when you combine vanilla ice cream and orange sherbet in the same bowl? That’s what Fiori di Sicilia tastes like."

Upon further perusal, there seems to be a hint of orange blossom in there as well.

Reasoning with myself that I need at least a sample of something if I was going to possibly recreate it, I ordered a small bottle of boldly prized essence, that promises to taste like what some consider to be "the taste of happiness".

The taste of happiness

Chasing down one's own satisfaction, or bringing home a dozen of eggs freshly plucked from a chicken's cloaca...

Tough choice for a kid, huh?

Both grandmothers were gateways to different destinations in my little universe. I guarded my "poor granny's" peacock feathers as treasures. Rummaging around in my grandfather's garden and mysterious shed, with all the feathers, cages and unknown tools, sparked creativity and imagination in me. Their most precious possession, a pink bathtub set up in the garage, that connected to the kitchen tap by way of a garden hose, always remained off limits for me. I saw it only the one time, when it was wheeled into the garage by slightly puzzled delivery guys.

My other grandmother had paintings. They never failed to fascinate me. And yes, the money came in handy in exploring beyond the obvious. I'm quite sure we all get used to the practice of getting "free money" as a kid quite soon, but I remember feeling rather guilty at first with that coin clenched in my fist on my way to some form of "taste of happiness".

I already feel rice pudding, apricots, pandoros (!) and probably another order of this stuff coming up if it is only half of what I expect it to be. Thanks Ria, for pointing out something that I didn't know yet!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pan de Jamón

 A crappy bike and 6.4 ft of pink flesh

A long time ago we were working on a movie in Bogor, Java, Indonesia. Our hotel was up on a hill, the set down in the valley. There were guys, with bicycles, that would take you up and down for a nominal fee. A very nominal fee for Western standards.

We were very happy the guys were there; they were part of the local infra structure and knew their way around like no one else; perfect! So, we decided to reward them for their services with a fee, three times the amount they were used to.

The next morning, depending on our cyclists to get to set on time, we found they had gone. And we didn't see them again until we were almost done shooting on that specific location, about three days later.

When I saw one of them, swinging in his hammock on the porch of his house, and asked him why he didn't come back, and make more money, he seemed puzzled and answered: "Why? I have enough for 3 days".

Suddenly I realized the crossed looks that I thought we had been getting from the other locals using the cyclists' services were very much reality. We had seriously interfered with the town's mobility, and our incentive backfired, or rather... just didn't work.

These guys didn't want to gather capital, they didn't go out to buy a bigger bike, or another one and rent it out, like you and me probably would have done. They just worked as much money together as they needed to support themselves and their loved ones, and were happy they could spend time with them instead of dragging 6.4 ft of slightly pink young Dutch adult flesh up on a hill on the back of a crappy bike.

Take as much as you need

Pan de Jamón is a traditional Venezuelan bread served around Xmas and New Year's Eve. It originates from the times of slavery and was made with the plantation owner's Xmas dinner left overs. Another Venezuelan dish, hallacas, stems from the same tradition and can also be found on many a dinner table around this time of the year.

Pretty much every family in Venezuela has their own Pan de Jamón recipe that they cherish. Being married to a Venezuelan myself for almost two years now, I have been making my share of Pan de Jamóns. It is still pretty much a work in progress and light years away of ever becoming as legendary as Granny's, but I'll get there over the years, I guess.

There are beautiful specimen of Pan de Jamón floating around out there, intricately shaped, upgraded to fit the festive dinner table of the 21st century. It's a basic white dough with a nice filling of ham, olives, raisins and sometimes smoked bacon. The bread in the picture is made by Nelson Alfonso Suarez Navarro, from Venezuela.

Eating Pan de Jamón always reminds me of the cyclists in Indonesia. This bread, lovingly put together from bits and pieces by people who owned nothing. Those cyclist guys that didn't even bother trying to get the concept of taking more than you need.

And, oh yes! It also reminds me of the little girl in Benin, Africa, a few years ago. On the back of a moped this time on the way home from a shoot, my "driver", who had been speaking the local language to me for the last two weeks and hadn't showed the slightest sign of being bothered about the fact I couldn't understand a thing he was saying, suddenly hit the brakes.

There was a little girl, walking home from school. And my driver decided to give her a lift. The girl was smiling from ear to ear and handed to me on the back of the moped. I gave her back, because I had no clue what to do with a smiling African child on the back of a moped at 45 miles an hour.

When she eventually found her space, standing between the legs of the driver, barely looking over the steering wheel, and holding on with dear life, all the time with that full blown smile over her face, she started humming. The driver finally shut up and started humming with her, and I've never felt more content than with those two on that moped on the "Route de Pêches" in Cotonou now 6 years ago.

Pan de Jamón

1 loaf (4 to 6 people)


    •    3/4 cup (185 gr.) warm milk
    •    4 tablespoons (60 gr.) unsalted butter
    •    2 tablespoons (25 gr.) sugar
    •    1 teaspoon (6 gr.) salt
    •    1 (1/4-ounce) package (7 gr.) active dry yeast
    •    1/4 cup (60 gr.) lukewarm (110°F/43°C) water
    •    3 1/2 cups (450 gr.) all purpose flour
    •    1 beaten egg
    •    2 tablespoons (30 gr.) melted butter 
    •    1/2 pound (225 gr.) ham, thinly sliced
    •    1/2 cup (80 gr.) raisins
    •    1/2 cup (225 gr.) Pimento-stuffed olives 
    •    2 egg yolks


1.    Add the milk, 4 tablespoons butter, sugar and salt to a saucepan and heat, stirring until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to lukewarm.

2.    Mix the warm water and yeast together in a small bowl and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes to activate the yeast.

3.    Add 3 cups of the flour to large mixing bowl. Add the yeast mixture, warm milk and beaten egg. Mix and bring the dough together. Knead by machine or hand until it's elastic and silky and doesn't stick to your hands any more.

4.     Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm corner until about doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

5.     Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C. Roll the dough out into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 15 inches long. Brush the top surface of the dough with the 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Spread the the ham, raisins and olives evenly over the dough, leaving a margin of about 1 inch/2½ cm around the edges. Starting from the bottom, roll the dough up into a loaf. Pinch the seam and fold under the ends to seal.

6.     Place the loaf seam-side down on a baking sheet and cover it lightly with a clean towel. Set aside to rise for another 30 to 45 minutes.

7.     Beat the egg yolks with a tablespoon of water. Brush the top of the loaf all over with the egg  wash. Place the bread in the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on top and has a hollow sound when you tap on it. Remove and cool before serving.


    •    Some recipes include smoked bacon in the filling.
    •    Try adding some sliced Cheddar, Old Amsterdam or Swiss cheese to the filling.

Enjoy! Please endorse my BreadLab initiative on Facebook

Friday, December 9, 2011

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.


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;

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

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


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.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

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.

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


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.


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.


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!

Monday, November 28, 2011

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:
all spice
100 gr. confectioners sugar
a little water.


Warm the honey on a low heat together with the sugar, the eggs, hartshorn salt and all the spices, until 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.


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Thursday, November 10, 2011

I bake so I am; kanelbullar


When asked where, or who, or what I would turn to when in need of comfort, I blurted out:

"I bake"

All around the table there were people nodding in agreement. Comfort, food, baking. A no-brainer.

My answer caused a growing feeling of unease within myself though.

As the rest of us came up with their ideas (books, photo albums from the attic, secret benches at water fronts) I counted the number of times a week I throw something into my oven, and started to get slightly worried.

I must be in need of an awful lot of comfort...

Ever since, every time I bake, I ask myself; why am I baking?

Sometimes the answer has indeed something to do with comfort. A missed job that had my name written all over it will spark a very comforting autumnal frangipani. Last week I found myself baking Dutch crust rolls after I shattered two (!) plates I really liked.

At times, it is about a passion for new things and learning. Croissants, ensaimadas, macarons, complicated sourdough breads that take up to 36 hours to make, bring it on!

Most of the time the answer seems way more trivial. All the bread eaten in this house come from our own oven. I bake because there needs to be bread on the table in the morning. Simple as that, or is it...

Sharing as a disease

The best part of baking, especially when baking bread, is eating it together. Sharing bread is right up there with the big boys when it comes to what is ingrained in our very genes from the start of humanity.

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the ground."

No sooner were we kicked out of paradise, or bread came into our existence... It is at the heart of what makes us human and has stayed with us till this very day!

I heard a wonderful story of a guy, here in Amsterdam, who has made it his mission to GIVE in life all that he can, without ever asking anything in return. He helps complete strangers to a new bike, finds lost photo albums and brings it back to the rightful owners, things like that.

One of the people, a radio journalist, who was touched by all this - he himself got a new bicycle after complaining on a radio show that it was stolen from him - dug around a little and found out the guy was operating... from a mental institution.

He was diagnosed mentally ill. His own words; "over here they consider sharing a disease".

The disease that is called sharing... Personally I hope it is airborne and viral, very contagious and practically incurable!

This recipe for Swedish Kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls) came to me by way of a baking friend. She got it from a new food channel, who got it from somewhere else, etc. Along the way tweaks were made in the recipe, and what you end up with are some really stunning, very tasty cinnamon rolls that are real easy to make. Maybe something for at the coffee table on Thanksgiving? For me, any old day will do to make them; they have become very popular quite fast in this household.

Swedish Kanelbullar

For the filling:
  • 150 g almonds
  • 150 g sugar
  • 100 g unsalted butter
  • 8 TS cinnamon
  • 4 TBS water
For the dough
  • 500 ml milk
  • 150 g butter
  • 12 g instant yeast
  • 120 g sugar
  • 13 gr. salt
  • 1 TS cardamom
  • 850 gr. bread flour
  • 1 egg
  • (pearl) sugar for decorating
Warm the milk and melt the butter into it. Add the yeast, sugar, salt, cardamom and bread flour. Make sure the milk has cooled enough before adding the yeast. 35° C is okay. Mix on low speed until the dough is nice and stretchy, around 10 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the filling. Pulse the almonds together with the sugar and the cinnamon in a processor until fine. Add the water and the butter to it and mix until well incorporated.
Leave your dough in an oiled container until almost doubled in size. The warmer it is the quicker it goes. About one hour or so.
Next, roll out the dough to a big rectangle on a lightly floured work surface. Make sure it doesn't stick, it makes working this dough much easier.
Put the cinnamon paste on half of the dough and fold it onto itself. Roll out again to even it out and cut the dough into strips.
Form the rolls by stretching and winding the strip of dough, loosely, around your hand twice, go over the width of the roll and tuck in the end. No matter how you do it, it will always look lovely, so don't get too over zealous in trying to get them to look all the same!
Let the rolls proof until they are nice and plump, about 45 minutes. In a warm kitchen they might be ready within 30 minutes or so.
Preheat the oven to 200° C. Take out all the racks and prepare to bake on the second lowest rack. Give the rolls an egg wash with the slightly beaten egg (use only egg yolk for a deeper, richer shine and a more dramatic contrast) and sprinkle with small sugar pearls if you have them. Normal sugar works as well, but won't look as classy.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes with convection until they turn a deep golden brown. Let them cool on a rack and.... SHARE!
please like my BreadLab page on Facebook, you will help me realize a 6 episode documentary on the best bread in the world.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

French Macarons

BreadLab goes epic

The macaron is a puzzling piece of confectionery. It can either be a good day for it or not. Some days, macarons are just in the air, those egg whites all ready to be whipped to the ceiling and back. But not any dull old day will do for the dainty lady to make her appearance.
She prefers a dry and sunny day over humid dampness, and, however unfair it seems at times, that is her prerogative. She'll only get off her feet and grant you a glance at how her skirt falls perfect over her calves when she is ready and feels like it.

Even if the French method of making her is said to be superior, nothing beats the Italian embrace when it comes to the meringue; little danger of beating your beloved confectionery to death. And with the added bonus of a nice chewy macaron at the end of the roller coaster ride that is called 'macaronage'.

Here we go. BreadLab goes epic recipe

The Recipe

Ingredients for a 'standard batch' of macarons;

200 gr. almond powder
200 gr. confectionery sugar
2 x 80 gr. egg whites
200 gr. fine table sugar
about 5 TBS water.

Put the fine table sugar in a pan with 5½ TBS of water. Use a thermometer to prevent the sugar going over 110̊C. Resist the urge to stir the water/sugar mixture for the best result.

At the same time, start making the meringue; whip two egg whites (80 gr.) to the point where it has soft peaks (see video for a visual). Have your sugar-syrup ready at this stage, and add it to the meringue on high speed.

Keep mixing on high speed until the meringue has cooled back to about 45̊ to 50̊ C. This can take quite some time; don't worry, you can't really over beat Italian meringue.

While the meringue is cooling, combine the almond/sugar mix with the other 2 egg whites (=80 gr.). When making colored or spiced macarons, incorporate them now without having to worry about deflating your meringue too much.

Tip: Split the eggs up to a day before you whip them up. Just split them and leave them (covered) out of the fridge. Eggs on room temp always do a better meringue than stone cold ones.

If you are going out of your way to use fresh eggs for macarons; DON'T! 'old' eggs work better. If you live somewhere with high humidity, chances are you won't produce a meringue as enthusiastic as in dry and sunny places. And of course; always make sure you work with properly washed and thus grease free utensils for the best result.

When the egg whites are incorporated in the 'flour' and the meringue has cooled sufficiently, work in the meringue in two halves. This is what is called 'macaronage'. You will loose some volume. Don't worry too much about that, it's logic. Just try and be as consistent as you can in working in the almond paste with the meringue.

This is the most difficult part to get right in making macarons; mix too little and the macarons won't be shiny, look quite coarse, and probably won't 'ooze' into the right shape. Mix it too long and you will loose too much air in your mix and the batter will become too runny and will produce flat macarons.

Practice makes perfect! Use a flexible rubber spatula to mix without loosing too much of your volume. Look at the video again and get the basic movement right; you go around the bowl, and then, with the flat end of your spatula, 'smear' what you have accumulated onto the center.

You are just about done when the mixture gets a bit of a gloss to it and the sugar and almonds are completely incorporated . When folded back onto itself, the mix should keep its shape. If it immediately disappears into the rest of the mix, you have gone too far and your mix might be too runny to produce a macaron that will look like what you are dreaming of.

Remember that, after putting the mix into the piping bag, the last macarons you squeeze out of the bag tend to be more runny than when you started; this is because you have been squeezing out some of the air in the process of piping. Nothing to worry about; just realize it when you are piping your macarons, and try to be gentle. If your batter is a little too thick, tap the baking sheet on the table to force the macarons into shape.

Pipe the macarons onto a quality silicone baking sheet. Make 3 cm dollops about 2 cm apart. Try to be as consistent as you can, but don't worry too much about getting it right; when baked you will pair up 'matching' halves to make perfect macarons. Baking paper can be used as well, but a silicone is worth investing in if you don't want to bother with a hundred ways to keep your macarons from sticking, and they WILL stick on paper. Another advantage of silicone is that it 'holds' the batter in shape much better than paper. Your macarons will be rounder and won't ooze out as much as on paper.

If you are baking on silicone there is a nice trick to see if your macarons are ready after baking; Take the macarons out of the oven; if you can pick them off the baking sheet really easy you have either produced the perfect macaron, or you have over baked them. When they still stick when you give them a careful quart twist on the baking mat, put them back in the oven for a few more minutes.

After piping you need to be patient. In order to get the elusive 'feet' on your macaron, leave them to dry, uncovered. The skin of your macaron should be dry to the touch before they can go into the oven. It can take anywhere between 30 minutes and a few hours, depending on humidity and general conditions in your kitchen. On a dry and sunny summer day, it will go the fastest, on dreary damp days, or when it is really humid, you might have to be patient for what seems like an eternity. Only when there has formed a proper 'skin' on your macaron, will it produce the characteristic 'feet' while baking.

Preheat the oven to 145̊ C. Bake the macarons for about 13 to 15 minutes with convection if possible.

Let them cool on a rack after baking, make the filling of your choice (there is hundreds of them!), pipe it onto one half, and carefully put the other macaron half in place.

They keep for quite some time. Some people like to eat them after at least one night of refrigeration, others prefer to eat them as fresh as possible.


You can really do me a big favor by endorsing the BreadLab initiative. Every 'like' will get us closer to funding a 6 episode documentary on 'the best bread in the world'. Thank you in advance!

The BreadLab

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Stroopwafels; the Dutch macarons

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 Macaron" 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 macaron 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 Macarons

Browsing the story of the French Macaron, 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 macaron" 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 macarons 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 Macaron! 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 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.


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!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Baking versus Banking; World Bread Day


Today is "World Bread Day". Not because some official institution like the UN or a Global Bakers Association (if there would be such a thing) says it is, but simply because someone somewhere decided it would be a good idea to bake a bread, blog about it and send off a picture to a central hub where we can all see and share what we have baked. The idea caught on and voilà; at the end of today, Sunday the 16th of October 2011, all participants will see what they have baked in honor of that greatest of all foods; our daily bread!

Here is The BreadLab's contribution: a Pain aux Céréales! The recipe, very loosely based on Erick Kayser's famous loaf, can be found here!

As you probably have noticed, regardless of where you are in the world, this year's "World Bread Day" is coinciding with heated protests in the U.S., Europe and many countries in the world against the way our government leaders are handling the financial crisis that's weighing on all our shoulders for way too long already without anything essential being changed in the (banking) system that caused it. Governments pump tax payer's money into banks and - in Europe - in entire countries, to keep them from going bust, dragging the rest of the world with them.


Bread baking is a straightforward thing to do. Water and flour, together with some time and heat, is all you need to produce a tasty and wholesome loaf. It's been done that way since the Egyptians, and nothing much has changed since then.

Banking used to be just as straightforward: You had some valuables you didn't want to carry around with you when, for instance, on the road. So there was the wonderful option to trade in your valuables for a piece of worthless paper (go ahead, rob me!), go where you needed to go, and then change it back at the local branch of your "bank" to get (most of) your valuables back and go about your business.

Today's situation is a far cry from how it all started. All around the globe, money (in essence still the same worthless piece of paper it used to be) is now being used to make more money and any sort of logical compensation seems to have vanished; nowadays there are even financial institutions that bet (for instance) on the fall of Greece just to make their "free money".


Honest bakeries were omnipresent not too long ago. Every morning our communities would wake up to the smell of bread, freshly baked just a few steps away from home. Most of those bakeries have disappeared and are replaced by multinationals that have somehow convinced us we need to spend less time on feeding ourselves properly and more time on making them richer than they already are. After all; money makes the world go round! Wagon loads of industrially produced cheap breads that taste as lifeless as the multinationals producing it, are shipped to the supermarkets.

Bread is too important in our lives to give up for money though. There will be a time in our world we wonder what on earth we were thinking to achieve, making money with money. There will however never, ever, be a time we will be wondering why on earth we were ever eating bread...

It is bread that makes the world go round!

Bake Bread for World Bread Day 2011

Happy World Bread Day; Join the Bread Revolution and support your local bakers by NOT buying at the supermarkets! Or bake your own of course!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

beechnut buckwheat bâtards (first ever?)

After spending a weekend at my sister's beautiful house up North, I came home with these:

Beechnuts! As a kid I would spend half the autumn crawling around the base of the beech tree behind our school, looking for beechnuts, peeling them on the spot and eating them raw. Quite disgusting actually. Later on in life it became apparent that it wasn't all that healthy either; there is a minute dose of cyanide present in the raw nut. I never suffered any ill effects, and no one ever did probably, because to get really ill you'd need to eat quite a lot of them.
The beauty of it all is that when dried and roasted, all those bad elements evaporate. This afternoon I roasted the batch of nuts that I collected, and was instantly taken back to my childhood.
I told my better half about the "Fabeltjeskrant" children show I grew up on, here in the Netherlands. That was my first encounter with beechnuts, and most likely the reason why, for a number of autumns we would be collecting them whenever we could. Beechnuts were sort of a running gag in this puppet show, set in a forest, with a wide variety of animals that all seemed to love "beukennootjes" (e.g. beechnuts) They ate beechnut cakes, -pies, drank beechnut drinks, I think they even paid each other in "beukennootjes"
Putting two and two together, I decided to google for breads made with these forgotten tiny nuts. It came back with almost zilch (there was one "recipe" that classified itself as "total fail", so I didn't pursue that one...). Slightly puzzled I went to the TFL search bar... surely here I would find...something? Nope, nada, nothing! So, I went where no one went before, or so it seems... Since I didn't have a whole lot of beechnuts, I toasted them, and used them as soon as I could in the final dough. They were wonderfully fragrant. I decided to mix the nuts into a buckwheat bâtard (with buckwheat levain).

The levain was a little sluggish, for my schedule forced me to retard it, and it wasn't really back on track when my "baking window" came up, but nevertheless, they turned out quite nice. The outside is hardly spectacular, nor is the crumb, but the taste combination of buckwheat and beechnut is enchanting! The "blander" nuttiness of the buckwheat formed a perfect stage for the very specific beechnut to shine. Even with only two hands full they came through in all their glory.

My sister has received strict orders to save as many beechnuts as she can; I want to make this bread better than it is. I hope you want to help me get it really right! The taste is there, but I think the bread itself... I don't know,'s just not right yet.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Parker House Rolls

An American classic in the European BreadLab. Just as the Boston Cream Pie, this roll originated in the Parker House Hotel in Boston Massachusetts back in the 1870ies. Small and dainty, probably all the style back then. A buttery crust, fluffy inside.

It was probably Miss Fannie Farmer who made it into the American classic it is today. She had to pay upfront to have her "Boston Cooking-School Cookbook" published, and triumphed instantly. The original publication is now online as part of The Historic American Cookbook project and makes great reading for bake crazy people.

The Parker House Rolls in this video are loosely based on the recipe in that great American classic that still goes strong today. The only twist; a few spoons of wholewheat and rye to give the roll more depth of flavor. It's one of the many great tips that Dan Lepard gives in his new book "Short & Sweet". It's quickly becoming The BreadLab's favorite pounds to drag around.

Don't be alarmed by the use of fresh yeast; the recipe works perfectly fine with instant yeast as well.

The video shows all easy steps
to bake your own Parker House Rolls at home.

Friday, October 7, 2011


The Dutch radio show Mangiare visited the BreadLab a few weeks ago, and tonight the item aired. 33 Minutes into the show! Hear passion for bread, straight through the language barrier. Find the episode here

Happy Baking!

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Other than showing an obsession with dough and video, there is absolutely no purpose whatsoever to this timelapse video of rising dough and oven spring from the BreadLab kitchen.

Join the bread revolution! Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

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.


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.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Laminator Returns; tips and tricks

Butter lock

Locking in the butter correctly is a key step in getting croissants to puff up just the way you like it. A previous post in the BreadLab showed you one way of going about business, but there are more ways that lead to Rome, (or rather Paris, in this case).

There is the "diamond butter block" for instance, demonstrated here by Andrew Meltzer on the Kneading Conference West 2011 in Mount Vernon. This method is also known as "the French method".

An alternative way of working in the butter is the English lock-in:

The French method is traditionally used for doughs with high amounts of butter. A typical croissant, at 50% butter, is more than happy with three half turns (27 layers) and the English way of locking in the butter will suffice. Achieving more layers using the English method is also possible. In general the rule is: the higher the butter-dough ratio, the more turns the dough will need to fully 'puff". The maximum amount of 6 half turns, for a pâte feuilletée fine, yields 729 layers.

One word of warning; try and keep your butter in one piece, regardless of what method you are using. This video shows both lock-in methods using slices of butter. Unless you are an experienced "laminator", try to avoid cutting up your butter; you will be able to distribute the butter more evenly.

Consistency is key

Any one who has made croissants knows the mantra "the dough and butter should be of the same consistency". But how on earth do you know if they really are!?

In general, in my experience at least, people tend to make the butter block way too hard in comparison to the dough. Afraid their butter will otherwise ooze out of the dough, they lock it in as solid as a rock. The result is an uneven balance in consistency. The butter will break rather than smooth out during rolling.

To get it right is a fickle business. One very important step that I advise any aspiring croissant baker to follow is to soften up your butter in this manner:

Think twice before you lock in the butter. Check, check and double check again! When your butter is locked in at the right consistency compared to the dough things will go so much smoother down the road; If properly done, every time you need to put the laminated dough in the fridge in between folds, it will by definition have the same consistency. If you have done something wrong at "lock in", that mistake will follow you all the way to the end of the bake, which can be quite frustrating.

Remember that and you will be doing great!

Shaping the Eiffel Tower

Another step in the process that can be tricky is the actual size and shape of your triangles of dough. Numerous recipes give different "ideal sizes". Ideal size is a personal preference though, paired with with some firm determination when it comes to stretching the triangles after the initial cutting.

If you like your croissant with a lot of "stands", you really need to stretch the triangle to its limit. 6 Stands are very acceptable for a typical French croissant. If you cut your triangles with "long sides" you can squeeze in 2 or 3 more stands and your croissant gets nice and bulky/flaky.

Think of the Eiffel tower. That is the shape you are looking for. Gently stretch the dough to it's limits, widening the base, and most of all lengthening the dough for optimum stands;

A tip for all you bakers who are wondering what to do with the left over bits of laminated dough after cutting your triangles; You can use them to make your croissants look even puffier than they are! Cut off a little piece of left over dough, put it right above the little cut you make in the middle of the base of the triangle and roll it in with the rest. Your croissant's "tummy will bulge even more after baking, and you will not have to throw away a single piece of dough!

Come back for more tips and tricks in the near future. I have been baking my way through a whole lot of recipes and formulas, but I'm not even halfway. My favorite recipe by far (up to this point of time in my research) are the sourdough croissants that are in Daniel Leader's "Local Breads" His formula is based on Erick Kayser's croissants. The liquid levain used in this formula gives the croissants the "real Parisian taste" (as far as I am concerned). They are by no means "in your face sour" but rather subtly

Friday, September 23, 2011

Baker's Babylon


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.


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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

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.


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!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Croissants; single fold

The BreadLab is trying to put together a comprehensive list of terms and techniques used in laminated doughs.

Baking terminology can be quite confusing at times. One formula calls for "a simple fold", another one for a "single fold" or "business letter fold" or a "two-fold". It can take you quite some time to figure out that it's all the same thing...

The number of layers in laminated dough and puff pastry is calculated with the equation:

= (f + 1)n

l represents the number of finished layers, f the number of folds, and n the number of times the dough has been folded.

So, for example, when you do 4 single folds, you end up with

l = (2 + 1)⁴

A "single fold" (in three) means 2 folds

l = (3)⁴

so that means that

l = 3 x 3 x 3 x 3

After 4 "single folds" you end up with 81 layers.

As for the number of folds for a specific pastry; it can range from anywhere between
27 layers (a croissant can be made with 3 single folds) up to 730 for pâte feuilletée fine.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Croissants: forming

Croissants have the reputation of being time consuming and complicated to make. Many a home baker shies away from laminated doughs at first, dismissing it as "too difficult".

My initial reaction wasn't very different.

After a visit to Paris, where I can find the best croissants with my eyes closed, I decided to be brave and give it a try, and I have been hooked ever since. It really isn't all that difficult, nor time consuming!

Time to find the perfect formula for perfect flaky buttery croissants.

What technique is the best to use? Do you work in the butter and then proof the dough, or does it yield better results working the butter in after the first proof?

What flour works best for croissants, and why?

The coming episodes of BreadLab will try and answer those questions and inspire home bakers to overcome their croissantophobia.

Are you one of those secret sufferers, longing to bake those golden brown, melt-in-your-mouth French Crown bread jewels, but are afraid to take the plunge... Come out of the closet, face your fears, be brave!

I'd be happy to answer any of your questions.

Happy Baking!

Have a look at my baking gallery!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sugar bread

Today in the BreadLab, a regional specialty from the province of Friesland in the Netherlands; sugar bread. Spiced with heartwarming cinnamon and safron, loaded with butter and most of all sugar pearls. Not for the fainthearted as you can see from the list of ingredients, but very satisfying to make and very festive, especially when served in individual cupcakes.

Sugar pearls are not easy to come by in some places around the world (if not most). They are really easy to make from scratch though.

Have a look at my photo gallery to see what sort of bread and pastry I make!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ensaimadas (with time lapse)

With no possible way of leaving the house because of continuous rain and thunder... what better to do than to see your bread rise in the oven!
In this episode I revisit the ensaimada, that I got to know this spring when visiting Ibiza for a week (where it was, without a doubt completely by coincidence, also pouring with rain for the biggest part of my stay). It's a nice challenge for all of you out there who like to have a go at laminated dough, Mallorca-style! Interesting technique, and ingredients as well!
Have a look and let me know what you think!
I'm trying to teach myself and find a format to make these short 7 minute instructional videos work, for me as well as for the viewer. My aim is to, within reasonable time, be able to make at least 2 or 3 of these a week (weather and working schedule permitting of course). I love to get feedback on what you guys notice, miss, feel, what your associations are, whether it is clear enough, all those things :-)
I hope you enjoy watching BREADLAB - ENSAIMADAS as much as I loved making it,