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.