Sunday, December 23, 2012

Forest Floor

A Forest Floor dessert with Frangelico Parfait rolled in Hazelnut Praline served with two Bitter Orange & Cream cheese macarons


Festive dessert for 6

for the soil:
80 gr. self raising flour
70 gr. brown sugar
70 gr. ground roasted hazelnuts
1 tea spoon cinnamon
50 gr. cold diced butter
25 gr. cocoa powder
berries for decoration

Preheat the oven to 170° C. Roast the hazelnuts for 15 minutes. Let them cool completely. Grind the nuts and divide in two equal portions. Add the cocoa powder to one of the portions to make two tones of soil. Add half of the dry ingredients to each of the portion of nuts. Stir and then put in the butter. Rub the butter in with your finger tips, just like with a crumble.

Spread the crumble on a baking sheet with paper and bake for avout 20 minutes. Use a fork to loosen up the crumble a little if necessary. Leave to cool completely after baking and break large chunks into smaller ones. Turn your oven to 140°C.

for the moss:
2 egg whites
115gr.fine caster sugar
green food coloring

Whip up the egg whites in a (stand) mixer. Add the sugar, little by little and mix until all the sugar has properly melted, 5 minutes or so. Add the food coloring. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake to up to one hour. Leave to cool when the meringue is completely dry and break into smaller chunks. Pulse to dust in a kitchen machine. 

for the green:
spray dill with a little oil and dust with sugar
for the twigs:
150 gr. chocolate
little cocoa
little cinnamon

Melt the chocolate over a pot of simmering water. Pour the chocolate over a smooth work surface and spread to about 5 mm thick. Let it set until it is starting to lose its shine (don't refridgerate!) Make chocolate curls by shaving the chocolate with a knife at a 30° angle

Mix together some cocoa and cinnamon and powder the twigs.

for the praline:
125 gr. roasted hazelnuts
20 gr. water
½ vanilla pod
75 gr. fine caster sugar

Preheat the oven to170° C. Roast thethe hazelnuts (also the ones that go into the parfait) for about 15 minutes. Leave them to cool.

Bring 75 gr. of sugar to the boil with 20 gr. water and the vanilla. Add the hazelnuts when the syrup has reached 121° C  and remove from the heat. Mix with a spoon until the sugar starts to resemble sand. Put it back on the fire, let the sugar caramelize. Spread out onto a baking sheet and leave to cool completely. Break into smaller pieces, put them into a plastic bag and hammer them to tiny pieces with a dough pin.

for the parfait:
6 egg yolks
85 gr. fine caster sugar
150 gr. Frangelico liqueur
300 gr. whipped cream
75 gr. roasted hazelnuts
100 gr. 70% chocolate

Mix the egg yolks with the sugar and the Frangelico over a pot of barely simmering water. Constantly whisking, when the the mixture gets thicker, take it off the heat and use a mixer at high speed until the mixture has doubled in volume and has cooled down to room temperature.

Melt the chocolate over simmering water, then fold the chocolate into the egg mixture. Beat the cream and add. Finally add the hazelnuts.

Wrap the inside of a small baking tin (1 liter) with plastic wrap. Pour in the mixture en put in the freezer for at least 4 hours. Overnight is better. Put the tin into hot water for 30 seconds or so to make it come out easy. Cut the block into 6 individual squares, round the edges a little, making it more into a rough ball. Roll the parfait through the praline. Put in the fridge until ready to use.

for the macarons (batch of ± 30) :

the shells:
150 gr. ground almonds
150 gr. confectioners sugar
110 gr. egg whites
150 gr. fine caster sugar
40 gr water
yellow food coloring

Sift the almonds together with the confectioner's sugar and divide into two portions. Take 55 gr. of the egg whites, divide this in two portions. Add (a little!) food coloring to one of the portions. Throw the portions of egg whites in the portions of almond meal, but don't stir!

Whip up the remaining 55 gr. of egg whites. At the same time bring the water and the sugar to a boil. When the syrup reaches 118° C and you have achieved soft peaks, drizzle the syrup into the egg whites. Mix at high speed until the meringue is shiny and has cooled back to about 50° C. Divide the meringue into two portions and fold into the almonds.

Fold until its starting to get shiny, and isn't too thick or too thin (when you pull a ribbon of the dough with a spoon it should fall back and disappear within 5 seconds) Put the mix into piping bags and pipe onto a silicone mat or baking paper in 3½ cm diameter circles. Keep them apart with at least 2 cm.

Preheat the oven to180° C

Leave the macarons to dry and form a crust for at least 30 minutes. When you lightly touch them, your finger should remain dry.

Bake the macarons for about 12 minutes on180° C.

Turn them half way.

Take them from the baking sheet and leave them to cool.

for the filling:
50 gr fine caster sugar
15 gr. water
40 gr. egg
25 gr. egg yolk
80 gr. soft butter
150 gr cream cheese
40 gr. good marmalade
10 gr. fresh passion fruit juice

Bring the sugar and the water to a boil. Heat the syrup  to 120° C. Whip up the egg and the egg yolk until it has become lighter in color. Add the boiling syrup. Keep beating until the mixture has completely cooled.

Beat the very soft butter (not melted!) until it thickens. Then add the cooled egg mixture and incorporate on low speed. Mix carefully! Finally, add the cream cheese that you have loosened up with the marmalade and the passion fruit juice.

Pipe the cream onto the shells and pair them. Put them in an airtight container in the fridge until use.

Start with the soil. Arrange some twigs. Place the parfait and the macarons. Finish with accents of moss-meringue, the dill, and dehydrated cocoa for patches of snow. Put some red berries for contrast.

Breadlab wishes all of you a wonderful holiday season. Made and shared with love!

Sources: Hermé en Citrus & Candy

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Transylvanian Treats; Chimney Cakes

Tubular Treats

Some of us buy with our eyes, others with their noses. Amsterdam's famous Albert Cuyp-Market always lives up to its reputation to throw something new and exciting at you. "Hungarian Chimney Cakes" for example. Any one care for some bread from the land of Dracula?

When walking down the market, I usually brace myself halfway through. A seductive smell of bubbling caramel wafts through the air at that point. It even manages to overwhelm the smell of the nearby fish stands, at least in my nose, and all I can do is zombie my way to the stall to part with my money in exchange for a genuine and ultra fresh Dutch 'stroopwafel'.

Except... this time around I am hit by the smell of cinnamon instead, and, if I am right, freshly baked yeasted dough, and caramelized sugar. 

Because the smells are equally pleasing, I decide to follow it to the source. Could it be that the one guy on this market, who has been baking the same cookies for as long as I live in Amsterdam has suddenly changed his game? My better half sighs and follows; he knows there is no way back when I smell anything bread.

Chimney Cakes
When we get there, I see a young Eastern European guy rummaging around with a grill, in which there are rotating wooden dowels, wrapped in dough and coated with cinnamon-sugar. My curiosity is definitely tickled by now. Grilling my bread before baking is new to me!

The guy is taking some of the dowels out and rolls it through a plate of cinnamon sugar. Then he takes the dough off the dowel. What remains is a perfect helix-shaped cylinder of dough; crispy caramelized sugar and cinnamon on the outside, steaming with bready goodness from within. The dough swirls around, forming what looks like a chimney.

Turns out they are called exactly that; Chimney Cakes. The guy tells me they are supposedly the oldest Hungarian pastry, originating from Transylvania. Of course I buy one and try in on the spot. It tastes like a cross over between a pretzel and a cinnamon bun. It comes with a variety of toppings; crushed walnuts, coconut flakes, almonds, chocolate chips and poppy seeds. In Hungary, they are celebration cakes for weddings and christenings, or just when you have some guests over you want to impress. By now it is clear to me, I need to make these myself!

Grilled Chimney Cakes
After some research on the net I realize that these beauties originally were baked over smoldering charcoal (e.g. a BBQ). If you have the opportunity, you should definitely try that.

The rather specialized equipment  to make these cakes (a rotating grill and the dowels) can be bypassed with some creative DIY with existing kitchen- and some office-materials . This is what you need, if you are going to make them in your oven grill:

DIY equipment:
A rolling-pin with handles (cover the handles with foil)
A big roasting pan
Four binder clips

Clamp the binding clips on the rim of the roasting pan two on each side, in such a way that the handles of your rolling pin fit snugly in between them, leaving enough room to rotate the pin.

Ingredients (for about 5 or 6 cakes): 

for the dough:
750 gr. bread flour 
300 ml lukewarm milk
2 eggs
7 gr. instant yeast 
65 gr. sugar 
100g melted butter 
oil for brushing the pin

for the topping:
melted butter
sugar with cinnamon
(or any topping of your choice)

Combine the flour with the instant yeast.
Mix the egg, sugar, butter and milk and add this to the flour. 
Mix and knead until the dough is well developed, either by hand or in a stand mixer. To test if the dough is ready, pinch off a small piece of dough and gently stretch it as thin as possible. When it doesn't break and you can almost see through the dough, it is ready.
Form the dough into a ball, cover and leave to rest at room temperature for about one hour, until the volume has almost doubled.

Punch down the risen dough. Roll out the dough into a rectangle of about ½ a centimeter thick and cut lengthwise into strips of about 3 cm wide. Roll one end into a little point. Take your rolling pin, brush it with oil to make it easier to take off the chimney cake when it's done. Take the pointy end of the dough and start rolling the dough onto the rolling pin, making sure each wind slightly overlaps the previous. Go until almost half way the rolling pin. Pinch off the dough and tuck it in securely, to make sure it won't spring back during grilling. When done, gently roll the rolling pin on your work surface to make sure the dough adheres.

Take a second strip of dough and do the same, starting from the other end of the rolling pin.

Make sure to cover the remaining dough to prevent it from drying out.

Set the grill to 250° C. Place the rolling pin in between the clips on the rim of your prepared roasting pan. Put the pan in the middle of the oven. Make sure you have covered both handles with foil to prevent them from burning!

Grill the chimney cake for about 10 minutes, turning the rolling pin slowly to ensure even browning. After 10 minutes, take the pin off the roasting pan and butter the dough all around. Roll the dough in sugar and put them back in the oven. Continue to turn and grill for another 5 to 10 minutes until the sugar has fully caramelized. Take it out of the oven and roll in cinnamon sugar, or another topping of your choice, like crushed roasted walnuts, coconut flakes, chocolate chips or poppy seeds.

Let them cool for about 10 minutes before carefully sliding off the cakes from the rolling pin.

Repeat with the remainder of the dough.

If you can, bake the rolls over smoldering charcoal on the BBQ! 

Best eaten when still warm. Easy to revive in the oven! Enjoy!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Logline - Have your cake and eat your veggies too

"A skinny man sells his soul to the devil in order to protect the love of his life, and then wins it back  by becoming  the best obese king that walks this earth  (and lives happily ever after, once he figures out his midlife crisis)"

"Are we really going to do this?"

My protest falls on deaf ears. A split second later I realize I am sitting in the first chair to the left of the honorable writer friend who has just proposed to do a round of what he casually calls "what have you been up to for the last 20 years".  I'm a clockwise person and thus first in line to put my head on the block in my book.

I'm not particularly keen on impromptu reviews of extensive periods of my life time. Especially not with 1, 2, 3, 3½ writers at the table.

20 years. Can we have your logline, please!


Luck has it I am dealing with a counter-clock person. Looking around the extensive table, I realize this also means I am going to be second last. That is, if I put aside my suspicion that the instigator won't be doing too much sharing himself and concentrate on watching and listening instead. Either way, knowing this bunch of people so well, it means they will be utterly bored and restless by the time we get to the last story.

I wonder what is the better deal: making a fool of myself while every one is listening attentively, or doing the same thing with all of them  dozing off.

Half way through the thing I notice the women and the men have somehow ended up sitting at opposite sides of the table. How does that happen so often? The social dynamics of picking your chair at a table. A potpourri of strategy, luck, insight, and apparently also sheer gender preference. I wonder whether this is initiated by the men or the women, or both, and decide the second option to be the most viable.

I usually stink at choosing chairs, but this time I had picked a good one upon arrival. Just right of center with a good view on all guests at the table and within conversation range with all of them, including the hosts at both ends of the table.

After a quick visit to the bathroom I find my seat taken.

I don't want to make a fuss about getting my chair back, so I end up in the aforementioned chair at the far right of the table that makes me 'last in line'.

When I see who the chair-thief is, I smile. He would have done the same thing 20 years ago. "People never change", I think.

Midlife crisis

Being 47 years of age, there is no denying I'm midlife. Being the youngest of three children, I have seen both my sister and my brother go in before me, so I kind of knew what was coming my way. 

In essence, a midlife crisis is nothing more than turning on your heels and looking back instead of eagerly stretching out your neck to see what is coming at you from the horizon. It is seeing a multitude of moments in the past suddenly add up to a story. Your story.

Being smack in the middle of it myself at the moment, and at the same time dealing with the very real financial crisis, gracefully provided by a failing European Union, I don't really understand the full extent of this transition yet, but it's starting to look like it is going to be just about as impressive as the time that, as a child, I started piecing things together and Santa became a guy in a costume with a beard. I remember keeping it to myself that I  saw two Santas almost bump into each other in the streets. Could it be you didn't get  presents any longer, once you where in on this dirty little secret? I didn't want to take the chance, and waited to confront my parents until after the holidays.

My mother used to say: "There are people who give and there are people who take". As a youngster I never really knew what she meant, but now, a couple of decades later, I look around the table and make a quick assessment. Giver, taker, taker, taker, giver, taker, taker, taker, giver, giver. 

I am shocked about how easy that was.

Only the good...

Listening to the stories of the others, I wonder what I will be going to say when it is my turn. 

Some of us have turned into writers or directors, some have remained actors, most of us are still working with the talents and skills we so eagerly accumulated and developed over the four years we spent together in school. 

Except for one, whose picture is on the table, frozen in time. Only the good die young.

He was an amazing guy, and an even more amazing actor. A few years after we graduated we ended up all working together. It took him two rehearsals to find his rather complicated character. He dived in deep and invariably came to the surface with pearls, the likes of which you rarely see. 

Together with his best bud at the time I'm trying to remember the details of his solo project. 'Fragments from the dark' it was appropriately called. Neither of us can come up with a story. All we remember is we both were crying like babies when it was over. I make a mental note to contact the director who probably still has a copy on file for me to read.

When it finally is my turn, and most attention spans have indeed far exceeded their limits, my logline even surprises myself.

I'm talking about my marriage, now two years ago. And just when I want to go into how grateful I am to live in a country that supports same sex marriage, the most successful writer at the table interrupts.

"But you are not saying where he is from. He's not really local, is he?"

It never even crossed my mind.

"No, indeed he isn't. He's Venezuelan"

Realizing this is probably a lot more important to the world than it is to me, I deliberate on the absurdities of love found on strange shores. How I needed to go on my knees for the national government to be able to be with the one I loved, whilst any random European citizen, under another set of rules could quietly settle in my city with his overseas partner without as much as a question asked.

"And now, with the crisis around, how do you provide for him?" another writer asks.

In a way this table of people is quickly becoming a nice illustration of the rampant confusion about a unified Europe, I can't help thinking.

"Well, he works his ass off.... As a matter of fact, without him I would be in serious trouble."

 Bonus Points

To be able to be together, I needed to proof that I could provide for my partner. Fair enough. In legal terms that means showing a so called 'steady contract'. Actors rarely work on steady contracts. So I set out and found a way to make it work: a commercial campaign that was going to be running for a year. Instead of cashing in one go, I arranged for the client to put me on their pay roll. I had my 'steady contract' and the love of my life by my side.

The campaign was the most surreal period in my life, in retrospect. I became the face of a bank that went belly up. Acclaimed (well...) comedians virtually killed me on stage. There were games on the net in which you could throw me around a room. Putting my head in the fire place would yield bonus points.

Hiding in a puppet

I  had to hide my face from TV for a while after that, and was put in touch with a wonderful Dutch director in charge of making and developing a  popular children's show, involving... puppets. I spent a good two years melting away in a full body suit. And I loved every second of it.

People tend to start displaying Teletubby-behavior whenever this subject comes up. Today was no exception.

"So, just to be sure, you don't see your face?"

No. And I didn't see nothing much either. Skinny assed me spent two years as an obese friendly father,  finding my way on set through the left nostril of my equally obese nose. But what a blast it  was. There is something deeply gratifying about being the anonymous center of attention of an entire generation of toddlers. Especially when your head is put into fire places for bonus points on a regular virtual basis...

Unusual Ingredients

A skinny man sells his soul to the devil in order to protect the love of his life, and then wins it back  by becoming  the best obese king that walks this earth  (and lives happily ever after, once he figures out his midlife crisis)

Good stories usually have unusual ingredients. And, to end this on a culinary note; that is also the case with some recipes. Sometimes that one ingredient you never thought could work, does work in a way you could not possibly have imagined or anticipated...

Nigel Slater's (extremely moist) Chocolate, Beet & Espresso Cake

This is by far the earthiest, moistest cake I have ever devoured, and the combination of ingredients is indeed a tad unusual. But let that not put you off. Keep an open mind: remember, good stories....

I baked this Bundt, together with a dozen muffin-style cakes. I had them devoured by my test panel at the Hard Rock Café Amsterdam. None of them identified the beet root and all of them praised the amazing depth of flavor this recipe produces. Have your cake and eat your veggies too!

The recipe came to me by means of the ever watchful Dutch baking Diva Levine. It was made by Nigel Slater, and here is where you can find it! Enjoy!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sweat, Bread and Returning to the Ground

Bread came into the picture the instant paradise was lost.

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

Clear message.

For the last few years, my passion for bread has ripened, proofed and risen to the point where I am starting to be puzzled with myself. What is this. Why is this?

There are some obvious reasons that don't really matter. I like to eat bread, just like the rest of the world. I like to make it myself, like millions of other home bakers. It is soothing, relaxing, healthy and all of that. But that's not it.

Vincent Talleu - Ready for Battle
Blind Spot
It has to do with the times we live in. Bread is a constant symbol in a changing world. It is the modest constant around which we hurl our immodest lives. Throughout history, looking at the bread we eat, will tell us who we are. No matter where we are; bread even transcends culture. It is so close to us, that we tend to overlook its impact and importance, and take it for granted.

For some time now, I have been sharing recipes and how-to videos. Judging from the feedback and the number of readers, they are well appreciated. From now on you can also occasionally find snippets of content that are not immediately geared towards getting your mixer out and taking your oven for a spin. 

This material serves, deo volente, as the basis for a documentary on bread I am developing. My hope is to engage you as an avid fan of bread and help me find the best places on this globe to tell this amazing story of bread. I hope I will succeed in getting you to share your story.

Why do you like/love/lust bread? What loaf most tickles your fancy? Did your mom do her own baking ? Do you have a special memory or a deep thought on bread you would like to share? Feel free to let me know; reading your stories will definitely help in finding this global story on bread and making it as real as it should be!

Biblical Bread
In effect, 'bread' was the first word given to all the food items containing  "farinaceous vegetable substances". In plain English; stuff you can eat and that, if you have any concept of how to do it, can be ground into what we generally call "flour".

Poor Adam and Eve. The farinaceous vegetable substances around in their days were hearty nuts, seeds, roots and grains...
With the low hanging fruit out of the way pretty soon, and without as much as a concept of milling or grinding, folks were pretty much relying on their moulders and jaws to chew the goodies out of anything edible.

Ever tried to chew away a handful of wheat berries? I don't blame Eve going for the apple!

The human family increased. With it, the crude art of domestic life refined and brought about fundamental changes.

Although there was little talk of it when the door to paradise was slammed shut on our heels, water proved to be just as essential as all the nuts put together. So, people settled close to a water source.
The domesticated farinaceous vegetable substances were in the back yard now, rather than half a walkabout away. And some one, somewhere, came up with these;

Grinding stones!

And there was fire. Always useful, once you know how to use it to your advantage.

Three elements came together: grain, water and fire. Add the notion that a ton of rock is better at crushing a nut than your own moulders and everything is in place for a small miracle to happen.

It's not hard to imagine water coming together with the ground grain or nuts. Eating either dust or a slurry that goes down a lot easier; no tough choice there! As a matter of fact, eons later, the Romans were nicknamed 'porridge eaters', because of exactly this habit.

The Romans were a bit late in discovering the real miracle that must have happened somewhere in Egypt long before the Romans butted in and took over.

Put some water and ground wheat berries together, forget about it for a while and see what you end up with. With time the dough will ferment and magically grow bigger. If you pick it up, add some more flour and slap it around a little, the dough actually starts to tighten up and come together. Then; throw it in the fire, or, if you are a bit picky about grit and charcoal, wrap it up before you throw it in, and lo and behold, it puffs up and looks like it is going to explode after a while.

The result is a leavened bread, and that meant a whole lot less sweat on thy face before thou return to the ground!

To be continued!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

silent battles - the flour moth

A few months back I purchased some flour straight from the mill. It didn't take long before I realized that I had brought home more than I bargained for.

One night, sitting at my computer, a moth flew itself to smithereens on my desk lamp. This has happened on many a summer night before, but this moth.... was different... It didn't look anything like the variety in your walk-in closet that eats favorite lambswool sweaters beyond the point of repair.

Within a day of not giving it another thought, there were a dozen of them and my moth terror alert shot from green to defcon1-red. Didn't I read about these some where? 

Comparing a fresh, crisply burnt corpse to the mighty array of disgusting pictures to be found on the Internet, I realized I was under attack by the Mediterranean Flour Moth!

Life Cycle

The moth is pale grey and about a ¼ up to ½ an inch long. On its wings it has two zig-zag lines. They are not the brightest bugs of the bunch; it's very easy to catch them when they are 'resting'. They have a very characteristic pose: it extends its forelegs, and with their little heads raised up in the air it gives the whole creepy bug a sort of sloping appearance. It actually looks like they are 'on alert', but if you are ever unfortunate enough to make your acquaintance with this pest, you will find they can be picked from the ceiling or the wall without them ever seeing you come. Be careful though, especially on white walls, because they are quite 'dusty' and will leave a gray smudge.

Their life cycle takes about 10 weeks. The female moth lays between a 100 and 700 (!) little eggs. Here it starts to get disgusting; they lay their eggs in your flour. But make no mistake about it (I did!); these little rascals may be called 'flour moths', there is a lot more they fancy than flour alone. They also love dried fruits, nuts, chocolate (!), beans, breakfast cereals and grains. The eggs will hatch in the right circumstances within a few days. The larvae will immediately start spinning a cocoon right there in your flour. They remain there until fully developed, which can take up to more than a month.

Little white strands of silk in your flour is a tell tale sign of your flour being 'infected'.

When they are fully grown larvae, they head away from the place they were born to look for a good place to turn into a moth. At sun up or sun down they will venture out to find themselves a nice location, typically a crevice or a little hole in your cupboard or in a tiny crack in the wall or on your ceiling. They stay there for another two weeks or so before emerging  a full fledged flour moth.

make moth flour out of your flour moths!

Make no mistake about it; it is not easy to get rid of them without radical measures. When you notice the little strands of silk in your flour, there is basically just one thing left to do; throw it out!

The next thing to do is making sure the flour that isn't affected remains that way. Don't be tempted to leave a bag of flour out in the open, because they will hone in on it like... well, like flour moths I suppose. Make sure you transfer all of your flours into airtight (and I mean AIRTIGHT) containers as soon as you bring them into your house.

There are a number of non toxic pheromone based moth traps out there that will assist you in exterminating them, but quite frankly; it takes quite some time to trap them all, since they are only effective on fully grown moths and not so much on the larvae.


If you want to get rid of them (relatively) fast, like I did, you will need to be drastic. Thoroughly check all of your food items, and I mean ALL,  for signs of infection. If in doubt, throw it out. And don't only check the content, be sure to check all the folds and crevices on the outside of any bag in your pantry as well; this is where they love to hide!

Clean out your entire pantry and check every nook and cranny for signs of larvae. Check, check and double check; these creatures are very creative in finding the places you hadn't thought of. For example: I found one larvae in each tiny pre-drilled hole of my cupboard used to move around my shelves! Use a skewer to poke around in any hole big enough to house the little buggers.

With your cupboard thoroughly inspected and your pantry or kitchen spic and span you might think you have conquered the pest. Think again, because you will only need one male and one female survivor to start the whole pest cycle all over again.

I ended up repainting my entire kitchen after finding a few more nifty hiding places in the walls of my kitchen, far away from any food source. This finally did the trick.

After this whole operation, make sure to keep checking for at least 40 more days to nip any possible survivors in the bud before calling it a victory, but I'll assure you; you WILL, if this ever happens to you! A moth trap is most efficient in this stage. Just make sure not to put too many moth traps in, because it tends to confuse the moths. One or two traps make a distinctive source of pheromones that they will come and check out!

The most important lesson to be learned here is to not let anything enter your kitchen from a source that you could call risky. Check all flour before it enters the house, especially when it comes from a 'non industrial' source like organic mills and the likes. Invest in a nice array of airtight containers,  immediately transfer your flours into them and you should be safe!

I hope you never have to come and visit this page, but if you ever have to, I hope the tips will help you get rid of them fast!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bitterkoekjes -Bitter Cookies?

Black Sheep

Bitter is kind of like the awkwardly loud uncle you don't learn to appreciate until at a later age. As a baby, any of bitter's attempts to entertain your palate is met with projectile spitting and a variety of grimaces only babies can produce. As a toddler you quickly learn to simply avoid him. That attitude usually persists, and works fine apart from the occasional unexpected run in. Until that tender age, when a royal dash of adolescent disgust is added to the equation, and, -in all honesty- it is starting to look like bitter and you will never get to know each other.

But after all them sweet cheerleaders and salty jocks, and after fooling around with all shades of sour, and who knows even some umami here and there, sooner or later bitter is likely to catch your attention again.

Ear wax
Who didn't accidentally and thoughtlessly put his finger in his mouth after a good ear poke as a kid?
For a lot of us, our first taste of bitter comes straight from our own body. Let's not digress, but what I mean is this; bitter seems a lost cause from the get go with that sort of advertising!

When booze enters our lives, just around the same age as when you start driving a car (...), it turns out the weird uncle might have been the best thing that never happened to us. Time to catch up! Bitter is here to stay. Cheers.


These crackled almond cookies are a Dutch classic. In flavor they are very much related to Italian amaretti, with a more chewy interior. The very specific and pleasant bitter undertone comes from the use of bitter almonds. Nowadays apricot pits are used, don't ask me why, it's probably cheaper. They are also related to the 'macarons de Nancy', the precursor to the now so fashionable French macaron.

The ingredients and technique used are very basic, but you will find yourself operating within very narrow parameters when it comes to moisture in the dough and getting them baked just right. They are fickle, but very rewarding when you get it right. Be prepared to produce some very tasty duds before you find the 'soft spot' for this great classic Dutch cookie.

Bitter almonds have had a bad rep for a while. But they are back with a vengeance! The minute traces of amygdalin, yielding glucose and cyanide when ingested, easily evaporate  when the bitter almonds are heated in the oven. If you feel uncomfortable working with bitter almonds you can substitute it with some bitter almond oil. Working only with sweet almonds is also a possibility, but your cookie will be devoid of that very specific bitter undertone.

(makes about 30 cookies)

125 gr. blanched almonds
  25 gr. bitter almonds
150 gr. fine sugar
   2  egg whites (more or less)
edible wafer paper (optional and highly recommended)


First off, heat your oven to 200° C and put in the bitter almonds for about 60 minutes to get rid of the amygdalin. Towards the end of that hour, boil water in a small saucepan. Throw in and blanch the bitter almonds for about a minute to easily peel off the skins. Make sure to dry them after you have skinned them. 

Preheat your oven to 185° C.

Put all almonds in a kitchen machine and grind them as fine as your machine can manage. Put the sugar and the almonds in a stand mixer and mix well. If you are working with almond oil, mix in a few drops with the egg whites. Add the egg whites a bit at the time and mix on low speed with a paddle until the dough smooths out (a few minutes). The consistency should be so stiff that piping it is quite a challenge. If piping is a breeze, you can bet your sweet **s your cookie will ooze to a flat disk.

To make life easier you can use edible wafers to pipe onto. You will find your dough will tend to stand taller, for moisture is being sucked towards the wafer instead of oozing over your baking sheet. Pipe the dough in 2 cm rounds onto the wafer paper. After baking and cooling,  breaking off the excess paper is a breeze.

After piping the rounds, use a damp towel or the palm of your hand to gently push down the cookies into a nice round shape. 
Bake in the middle of the oven on 185° C for about 15 minutes. Turn the tray halfway the bake for even browning. Keep a close eye on them for the last few minutes. They are very easy to over bake. Bake until golden brown.

Let the cookies cool completely on a rack and break off the excess wafer paper if using.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

roti durian belanda- breakfast rolls with soursop jelly

Blu d'a Mare


For the last leg of my recent holiday in Indonesia, I was in Lombok, or to be more specific; the Gili Islands; a threesome of small coral islands north-west of Lombok, with Gili Trawangang being the most developed island of the three.

The locals are descendants of Sulawesi fishermen (Bugis) mixed in with the 'local' Sasak from nearby Lombok.

There are no cars, no police and no dogs on Gili Trawangang, and all (!) cats have funny tails.

The art of snorkeling is practiced here by simply sticking your head under any water you can find.

Donkeys rule the streets by local ordinance, no motorized vehicles are allowed on land.

I spent my time at Blu d'Amare. A wonderful  small resort with trattoria, right on the beach, run by an Italian couple. Moreno, the man about the house, takes out his boat early in the morning to go fishing. The same tuna he wrestles out of the water bare handed, is in the carpaccio on your plate that same afternoon.

On top of that they bake their own bread, which was the reason I decided to book with them in the first place!

 Foto's van Blu d'aMare, Gili Trawangan
Deze foto van Blu d'aMare is beschikbaar gesteld door TripAdvisor

To thank the lady of the manor Sandra, her hubby Moreno and their staff, I have been busy coming up with a sweet breakfast roll in their honor. I made my version of 'Roti Maros' from Sulawesi - basically an enriched sweet jam-filled bun - and replaced the durian filling with soursop jelly. The 'durian belanda' (=soursop) is considered to be a for whimps by the locals, so if you want to be brave, use the real thing :-) But don't say I didn't warn you when you do! It also works well with any other jam or fruit in season.

Durian Belanda 

A Dutch person is called a 'Belanda' in Indonesia. It literally means "Holland". But just like with the word 'Bakra' in Surinam, another former Dutch colony,  it has a teasingly derogatory connotation when used by the locals.

That probably explains why there is a fruit named after the Dutch in Indonesia. The 'Durian Belanda', also known to the rest of the world as soursop is a fruit that more or less tastes and looks like the Durian, but doesn't come with that one thing this 'king of fruits' is known for and probably cursed over by many a Dutch colonizer when the time of the year would come around that the (up to 3 kg!) ripe durians would fall to the ground...


Low hanging fruit

In the middle of the night a man travels from Makassar all the way to Tana Toraja, Sulawesi. After about half an hour on the road, the bus comes to a screeching halt. The driver shuts off the engine, and, turning on his chair, faces his passengers with the same blank stare he has been using to negotiate the treacherous moonlit Indonesian roads. 

Without discussion the passengers start drawing their wallets. Some throw it at the driver. He picks them out of the air like low hanging fruit. A few walk to the front, fork out some rupiahs, and go back to their seats without muttering as much as a word. 

The driver squints in the dark and scans the bus. The man has instinctively reached for his wallet by now, albeit with an overtly puzzled look on his face. By the time he gets it out, the driver has slammed the door of the bus shut on his way out, leaving the man startled. Is this a stick up? Or just more government officials to be paid for services never rendered? 

Daniel from Makale 

Daniel from Makale, who has been fast asleep with his mouth wide open at the window seat next to the man, wakes up. "Ah, Maros?" he mutters, with sleepy disappointment. He tugs on his make shift pillow, closes his eyes, opens his mouth and dozes off again. 

The man watches the sleeping Daniel as if to find some sort of proof in the features of this young man's face that he has been making this journey many times before. Then he carefully leans over to try and see what is going on outside. 

The door hisses open. The driver is back and carries a stack of white boxes. He is throwing the same blank stare around. He squints at the man leaning over Daniel. 

The sweet smell of freshly baked bread rolls through the bus. Wafts of warm sweet dough, butter, caramelized sugar together with something... undefined. By the look on the man's face it is beyond disturbing. The slow smell with a pungent punch makes the man's nose curl up, adding horror to the bewilderment already present in his eyes. 

Just about when that nasty, remotely fruity overtone of odor curls itself around the pleasant smell of freshly baked bread and starts choking it to death, Daniel from Makale wakes up with a jolt.

"Roti Maros!" he shouts into the man's armpit. 

He aptly wriggles his way out of the chair before the man even gets a chance to get out of his way  and starts pleading with the driver. Passengers come to the front to collect their white boxes. Daniel gets off the bus, pointing his finger at the driver, not to go anywhere without him. 

By now, the evil stench, clearly emanating from the white boxes being passed around, has squeezed the life out of any association with freshly baked goods. Instead the entire bus smells of almonds, turpentine, rotten onion and size 15 gym socks after Polish Jesus' protégé Klecko and his treadmill are done with them, all at the same time.

Roti Maros 

Daniel from Makale comes back with a white box of his own. The driver shouts at him. Daniel from Makale shouts back and sits down next to the man with a big grin on his face. 

He opens the box. There are ten soft sweet white buns in there. Neatly stacked in two rows of five. A snug fit. Daniel from Makale takes out two buns, shreds them apart and offers one to the man. 

The man has managed to take control of his curling nose by now. No one in the bus seems phased by the horrid smell but him. Instead, big grins have appeared on all sleepy travelers' faces, and there is animated chatter as every one digs into their 'Roti Maros'. The man takes the offer.

 "Apa yang bau?" The man asks Daniel. What is that smell? 

Daniel from Makale laughs. He takes a big bite from his roll. A brown glob of jam oozes out. 


"Ah!" The man says. "That explains a lot"

Roti Durian Belanda
(sweet breakfast rolls with a soursop jelly filling)

for the dough

375 gr / 13.2 oz lukewarm milk
115 / 4 oz gr butter
100 gr / 3.5 oz sugar
12 gr / 0.4 salt
2 eggs
± 812 gr / 28.6 oz all purpose flour
7 gr / 0.2 oz yeast

for the soursop jelly

370 ml soursop juice (can)
425 gr / 15 oz jam sugar (with pectin)

for decoration (optional)
powdered sugar
a little water
maple sugar


making the dough
Put the dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer; the flour, the yeast, the salt and the sugar. Mix well. Slightly beat the two eggs and add them to the flour, together with the lukewarm milk and the soft butter. Mix on low speed until the dough is well developed and passes the window pane test, about 9 to 12 minutes.

Oil a container and put in the dough. Cover the container tightly with cling film and let the dough rise at room temperature until it is just about doubled in bulk (±1½ hours).

making the soursop jelly
To make the soursop jelly; heat up one can of soursop juice (about 370 ml) and add 425 gram of jam sugar to it. Bring to a boil, let it simmer for a few minutes, and then take the jelly of the heat. Give it a good stir and let it cool until it sets.

If jam-sugar isn't available, use normal sugar and add the appropriate amount of pectin. If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh soursop fruits, you might find this link to make your own soursop nectar useful!

Preheat the oven to  190° C / 375° F

forming the rolls
When the dough has doubled, turn it out on a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in pieces of about 80 grams and then shape them into balls. Cover and leave them to rest for about 10 minutes.

Make a deep dimple in the ball using your thumb.Put a moderate blob of soursop jelly in the middle and carefully wrap the dough around it, making sure to close the rolls properly, so as little as possible jelly oozes out during baking.

Cover and proof the rolls seam side down on a baking tray until they are puffy and ready for the oven, for about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Bake the rolls for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown on top, making sure to rotate the trays halfway through the bake to ensure even browning.

Dilute a little water into 3 TBS of powdered sugar and brush the tops of the rolls twice right after they come out of the oven. Dunk them in maple sugar and leave them on a rack to cool.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Boxty, Irish Poor Man's bread

Gullible Geek
The geeky Caucasian male in line behind me at the cash register in my dreary neighborhood supermarket moves with me towards check out aisle #2, in anticipation of the arrival of the supermarket manager, jumping in to slash the queue in half.

I've seen the geek's face before. Like Pavlov's dog we both respond to the manager's rattling key chain approaching from some distance. The store has just opened, and against all logic, it invariably is the worst time to come here for my quick breakfast fix: coffee and croissants. The kids working here, pretty much process customers the way I suspect they have been ripping open cardboard boxes and flinging their contents onto the shelves before opening hours. The store still belongs to them, and it will be at least another hour before they'll even be willing to pretend we could be anything else than deaf, mute walking pieces of meat.

The manager, a tiny overweight woman in her thirties, snugly filling the cashier's cubicle, routinely opens up cash register #2. She has changed her hair to platinum blond. It was black before. She dyed it December 5th 2011. The Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas that day, a precursor to  modern day Christmas, that is why I remember.

That day she was walking around the store fully dressed like 'Zwarte Piet'; a somewhat questionable, character appearing in the festivities at hand. She trotted around wearing a colorful hat with a contrasting feather and matching knickerbockers. Her face (and hair) painted black, her lips painted red. Think minstrel show.

Weary looks from all of us were her part. The rest of the staff, all Muslim girls, didn't dress up.  She clearly didn't bother about this; she was going to have her fun, whether her subordinates liked it or not.

Blind Finches
The geek has one item, and as I am still struggling to put my stuff on the moving belt, I signal him to go ahead and jump the line.

After he pays the manager asks him if she can have a look into his shopping bag. He refuses. Immediately the fuzzy, just-out-of-bed attitude of all people waiting in line focuses on the geek. "There is nothing in there" he mutters. The obligatory "so if there's nothing in it, I can have a peek?" is met with a cornered look from the geek, whose voice goes into a whisper as he says: "okay, I'll pay for it".

When the manager's hand comes out of the linen shopping bag, it contains the loot. It is meat. To be more precise it is two "blinde vinken" ("blind finches"), basically two meatballs with a piece of bacon wrapped around it. The cheapest meat product on the shelf.

Being so close to all that is happening I start feeling embarrassed. It is nothing compared to the shame that is emanating from every pore in the geek's sorry body by now. "Why are you doing this?" the manager shrieks, realizing there is no way back now any more and she will have to sit with the geek in the employer's canteen, holding him until the law arrives.

I am still with the meat. Maybe it is because I am an actor and always look for the story behind the story. The only thing I'm thinking now is: "why on earth did he go for mince meat, and not for the fattest steak he could find?" Something along the lines of: 'if you gonna do it, do it right'.

The manager screams a girl's name into the intercom system and wanders off with the very docile culprit. We, the other customers, don't seem to exist any more by now. 

After a few minutes the girl whose name was shouted arrives. She sits down and takes over where her manager left off. 

"Could I...." I start asking, but the newly arrived interrupts."Who's been stealing?" she shouts. She hasn't acknowledged my existence yet, so I'm not really sure who this question is directed at. The girl at check out #1 responds; "some white guy"

Her blank gaze turns to where her manager just left with the thief as she hisses "whore mother"... It takes a few baffled seconds before I realize she is talking about the manager.

I pay for my coffee and croissants, by now making sure to mirror the girl's behavior, by far the best way to confront people with their own, I find. So, I do not acknowledge her existence and instead of answering her robot question "do you want a printed receipt with that" I make sure to turn away from her and start talking to the customer behind me, smack in the middle of her question. Sometimes it pays to be an actor.

Walking out of the supermarket, there is a guy standing there with two cans of beer. He asks: "I'm waiting for the guy that was in front of you in line, where did he go?"

I tell him it will take a while before his friend will be done, and from his reaction I can tell he is in on it.

I'm confused. The 2€ thief is the bad guy, but "whore mother"-girl is cramping my style way beyond my tolerance levels. The guy at the door looks like the kind of guy the gullible geek would wrongly put his trust in. The manager is probably the reason why her staff take so much pleasure in ignoring their customers.

Walking home I think back to the most successful shoplift I ever witnessed. In this same supermarket in fact. Scrupulous, yet genius in its manipulation of human behavior and prejudice. Even though I saw it happening right in front of my eyes I decided not to act on it. Maybe when you read the story you'll understand why.

Successful Shoplifting
Enter 2 mothers and 5 little kids. They are doing serious groceries. Two big shopping carts,  filled to the hilt with hundreds of items arrive at the register. The cashier girl sighs at the prospect of this daunting task. The kids of course, are running around, screaming, shouting, playing and being obnoxious.

One of them isn't, though. The oldest kid, around 5 years of age, is dragging along a trolley, and positions himself at the end of the conveyor belt. The groceries are starting to pile up. The mothers make the cashier work hard. The amount of groceries is going to surpass the capacity at the end of the conveyor belt. Chaos is every where, most of all with the cashier.

The oldest kid helps out. He has put four cardboard boxes next to his trolley and starts loading. Cheeses and meats, coffee and more meat are carefully wrapped and placed into the trolley. The cashier gives him a thankful smile. With the end in sight, the cashier has to get up to scan the beer crates on the shopping cart. All went well. The job has been done. A hefty 350 € worth of groceries is rung up.

The mothers start squabbling in a foreign language, pointing at each other. Even the kids seem impressed. The cashier looks on blankly, not sure what is going to happen next.

Then the finale. "Ever so sorry, but we forgot to take our wallet". The cashier is not happy. What do they want? If it is okay to pack the groceries, leave them here and come back in 20 minutes to pay?

Yes, that is okay to the reluctant cashier (and a growing line of impatient customers). The mothers set the kids to work to get the last of the stuff out of the way. 4 Kids do as they are told.

The 5th one has already left the building, taking the trolley with the most expensive groceries with him...

I guess this one is for all the kids who wonder whether they maybe shouldn't be doing what their parents tell them to do

Boxty (Irish Potato Bread)

350 gr / 12.3 oz potatoes, peeled & grated
350 gr / 12.3 oz potatoes, boiled & mashed
350 gr / 12.3 oz AP flour
10 gr / 0.3 oz baking powder
1 egg
6 gr / 0.2 oz salt
pinch of white pepper
Preheat your oven to 190°C / 375°F

Boil half of the potatoes, mash them and leave them to cool. Grate the other half raw and squeeze as much moisture out of them as you can with the help of a tea towel or cotton cloth.

Combine the flour, the baking powder, salt, pepper,  grated - and mashed potatoes. Add the egg and knead by hand for a short time to make the dough come together. If the dough seems very dry, add a little (butter)milk. Form into a loaf and make a nice deep slash at a 45° angle to make the loaf open up nicely on top.

Bake in a preheated oven for about 40 - 45 minutes until golden brown. Make sure to rotate the loaf halfway through the bake for even browning.

Right after the Boxty comes out of the oven, I like to brush it with butter. That must have been considered an ultimate luxury, back in the days. This bread performs particularly well under the grill or on the griddle. The coarser you grate your potatoes, the closer you get to a perfect cross over between a potato bread and a hash brown.

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