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

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!

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:
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, 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.

Enjoy.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

I bake so I am; kanelbullar

Comfort

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!
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