Saturday, January 14, 2012

Macarons Galore; help me choose!

To the Fullest

In the last couple of months I have taught myself to make a wicked macaron. They are hip, they are cool and every body will tell you how hard it is to make them, including me...

But guess what, it ain't half bad, once you get the hang of it!

And once making those macaron shells has become second nature to you... that is where things really become interesting!

It took me two batches to find out that in order for me to really like a macaron to the fullest, it needs to be not overtly sweet. Since the sugar parameters are practically set in stone in a macaron recipe, the only thing left to do is play with the flavors.

Another important factor to make the macaron live up to its expectation of utter exquisiteness, is to come up with a combination of flavors, rather than a single one. Eating it has to be like an adventure into unknown lands, or at times exactly those places you know your way around with your eyes closed.

Pierre Hermé

Pierre Hermé is a master at this, and this whole macaron "revival" can be directly credited to him. His book on macarons has quickly become a hit, and when you start baking out of it, you understand why.

From the "classics" to the "fetish", all the way through to the "exceptions" you never stop being amazed at what he comes up with; wasabe and grapefruit, chestnut and matcha green tea, there's even something in there involving Heinz Ketchup...

Help me choose!

Here are some takes on Hermé macarons from the BreadLab kitchen. You can really do me a favor by letting me know which one of these flavor combinations you would try first, or like best! There's a poll at the end of this post, to make it easier for you (well, there is some scrolling involved...), but if you like to; feel free to leave a comment, it's very much appreciated :-)

(You will help me put together a very special gift for a very special person! but shhhht about that!)

Enjoy, and happy baking.

Chestnut Matcha Green Tea Macarons (Hermé's recipe)
Wasabe Grapefruit (Hermé's recipe)
The Pietra, Hazelnut praline (Hermé)

Lemon and Flaky Hazelnut (Hermé)
Pumpkin Pie Spice (own creation)
Salted Caramel (own creation)
Sour Cherries (own creation)
Vanilla Buttercream (basic recipe)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Luctor et Emergo; Zeeuwse Bolussen

Managing the Water

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

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

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

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

Luctor et Emergo

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

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

Zeeuwse Bolussen

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then roll out the strands in the sugar mixture to a length of about 40 cm. Cover the work surface with a little oil to make it a lot easier!

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

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

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

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

Preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F.

Bake the "Zeeuwse Bolussen" for about 8 minutes. You want them to be just done, so keep a close eye on your oven. Too long and they will be crusty, too short and they will be gooey! Be careful with the brown sugar, it will burn quite sudden, and quite fast. Take out the rolls the moment the brown sugar is in the process of caramalizing, but don't let them go over the edge! Stop the baking proces immediately after taking the rolls out of the oven by placing the rolls on a rack to cool. 
Best eaten when still slightly warm!