Monday, November 25, 2013

Jamaican Allspice, Cranberry & Pecan Apfelstrudel

Three for One
(to the dutch version) Unlike the name suggests, allspice is not a mix of several different spices. It's a spice in its own right. It got its name because the flavour resembles a blend of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. It is mildly peppery and pleasingly aromatic. Native to Middle America and the Caribbean, it is now produced wherever it will grow. 

Jamaican Allspice is just like any other allspice. Of all varieties however, it has the highest content of eugenol in the essential oil that determines the taste. Eugenol is also the flavouring element in cloves. So the Jamaican Allspice is quite 'clovey'.

Jamaican Jerk
Locally, the stuff is known under a wide variety of names; pimento or pimiento being the most wide spread. Freshly ground allspice is one of the essential spices to use in the celebrated Jamaican Jerk Seasoning. In Caribbean cuisine it is used in a variety of savoury dishes. The rest of the world for some reason prefers to use it mainly in desserts.

Bass Solo
Allspice can really transform a dish, when used in the right quantities. A couple of whole berries in your stew are enough to lift it to a completely new level. Be moderate is my device, although the recipe that I'm about to share with you shouldn't be considered as a lesson in moderation. In a lot of dishes allspice is the base tone around which all the other flavours curl and whirl and take their spotlight. This phyllo pastry is more like a bass solo...

Jamaican Allspice Cranberry & Pecan Apfelstrudel

2 big tart apples, diced into small cubes
± 16 sheets of frozen phyllo dough (or ± 8 big ones)
25 grams of dried cranberries
150 grams of finely chopped pecan nuts
150 grams dark brown sugar
50 gram light brown sugar (plain sugar is okay as well)
80 grams melted butter
1 teaspoon of Jamaican Allspice


Preheat your oven to 190° C / 375° F

Take the frozen phyllo sheets, wrap them in a moist kitchen towel and leave them to thaw gently.

In the meantime, peel, core and dice your apples. Sprinkle a little lemon juice over them to keep them from turning brown.

Chop the pecans together with the dark brown sugar and the Jamaican Allspice.

Gently melt your butter.

Assemble the strudel on a baking sheet. Take the thawing phyllo sheets and gently peel off 4 (or 2 big) sheets. Cover the remaining phyllo sheets with the moist towel. Lay out your first layer and brush it with the melted butter. Spread out ⅓ of the brown sugar-pecan mix evenly. Peel off the next batch of sheets to create another layer of phyllo. Brush it with the butter again and spread another third of the pecan mix evenly. Repeat this one more time for the third layer.

Brush the fourth and final layer with butter. Toss the apples with the light brown sugar and the cranberries and divide it over the phyllo.

Roll up the layers into a sausage.

Place in the middle of the oven and bake until golden. Depending on your oven that will take between 20 and 30 minutes. If you are baking with convection, make sure to rotate the strudel halfway through the bake.

Leave the strudel to cool on a wire rack to make sure the bottom will be crispy as well.

Generously powder the strudel with confectioners sugar.


Friday, November 1, 2013


All Saints Day

(to the dutch version) Today is All Saints Day here in Catalunya. I've been residing in Barcelona for about a week now, accompanying my partner who's working abroad for a while. The recipe I'm sharing is a typical Catalan treat that is associated with All Saints. All around town they have been staring me in the face all week; round little balls covered in pine nuts, shiny with a royal egg wash. 

Yesterday I stumbled upon a most amazing little store here, next to a bakery by the same name; Forn Baltá (calle de Carrer 115-119, for those visiting  Barcelona in the future). They have an amazing array of flours on sale; Spanish, French and German wheat, rye, wholewheat, bio... you name it, they sell it. Needless to say I stocked up on some flour that I just had to get. I'm especially curious about the Navarra-flour that I got. They also had a kit that came with everything you need to make your very own panellets. Go figure! 

Dutch Oven within a Dutch oven
My plan was to bake some serious bread while I was here, but the oven in the apartment we were dealt with, turned out to be a microwave with the tiniest grill function... No bread to be made in that thing! 

Being a creative mind I set out to put together a little make shift oven that WOULD do the job. With the few things found in the poorly equipped kitchenette I constructed something that actually worked. I call it my Dutch oven within a Dutch oven-system!

Setting my standards as low as possible I even managed to get some nice buns on the breakfast table; simple white rolls sprinkled with lemon salt flakes. They were a bit on the crusty side but hit the spot anyhow!

I doubt that I'm going to do any serious bakes here, but the panellets turned out to be easy baking. So here you go! They are traditionally eaten with roasted chestnuts, roasted sweet potatoes and a accompanied by a nice sweet wine like moscatellmistelavi de missa or vi ranci.



250 gr. confectioners sugar
500 gr. almond flour
about 75 gr. water
250 gr. pine nuts
1 egg


Mix the sugar, flour and water into a paste. Use just enough water to form a paste. Knead it until smooth, cover it with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours but preferably 24 hours. The more it matures the better the result is going to taste! 

Preheat your oven to about 180C. 

Take the almond paste out of the fridge and roll balls out of them, about the size of a walnut. Beat an egg until foamy and roll the balls in it. Put the pine nuts on a plate and roll the balls through it until covered. This is a bit of a messy affair at first, but once covered you can roll the little balls between your hands to make the pine nuts really stick and 'line up' with the dough. 

If you want to make them extra shiny, give them a royal egg-white wash after they are assembled. Put them in the oven and bake them until the pine nuts are coloring golden, about 10 minutes, but keep a close eye on them; you don't want your almond paste to get too hot and sag into semi-spheres!

Leave them to cool, store in an air tight container until ready to eat. You can also cover them in crushed almonds or grated coconut ( I did!)

Enjoy! Make sure to visit 'The Breadlab' on Facebook, if you haven't already.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Butterscotch Chocolate Flan Cake - the last will be first

Is it a cake? Is it a flan? It's a flancake!

(naar de nederlandse versie) A flan is nothing new to me, I make them all the time. With a latin better half that is hardly surprising. It is a first that I'm making a flan with a cake base. And in this recipe it is kind of cool how it gets there.

The flan is baked (au bain marie) in the oven. First you put your caramel sauce in a reversed Bundt pan. On top of that you spread the batter and then you pour in the flan mixture...

The last will be first

Whilst running over to the computer one more time to ensure that I read this right, I remembered this was the reason I bookmarked and saved this recipe in the first place. To see if it really does what it promises; the cake batter you pour in first will float up to the surface while baking, and after unmoulding ends up as the base layer of the cake.

I can tell you: it works! Despite my suspicion that batter should be heavier than a runny flan mix, the cake layer rose indeed to the surface of the Bundt pan, trading places with the sinking flan. Quite a journey, when you come to think of it. The caramel sauce however, snuggly stays where it's supposed to be; on top!

The original recipe is huge. I've toned it down to a Bundt-pan of about 1½ liters. To add some crunch and extra caramel flavor, I chose to use butterscotch chocolate.

Butterscotch Chocolate Flan Cake


the cake:
75 gram / 2.6 oz caramel sauce
40 gram / 1.4 oz all purpose flour
20 gram / 0.7 oz cocoa
¼ teaspoon baking soda
⅛ teaspoon salt
60 gram / 2.1 oz butterscotch chocolate
45 gram / 1.6 oz unsalted butter 
60 gram / 2.1 oz buttermilk
60 gram / 2.1 oz sugar
1 egg
½ (good) scraped vanilla pod

the flan:
480 gram / 17 oz condensed milk
300 gram / 10.6 oz whole milk
85 gram / 3 oz cream cheese
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
½ (good) scraped vanilla pod


Preheat your oven to 175°C / 350°F. Fill a big roasting tin halfway with boiling water. Place the tin in the oven.

Thoroughly grease the 1½ liter Bundt pan.

In a glass bowl, melt the chocolate and butter over a pan of barely simmering water. Combine until smooth.

Take the bowl off the heat. Add buttermilk, sugar, the egg and the vanilla to the chocolate mixture. Stir until well combined. 

In another bowl, mix the flour, the cocoa, the salt and the baking soda. Add these dry ingredients to the wet and mix until it combines and smooths out.  

Pour the caramel sauce in the Bundt pan first.

Carefully spread the chocolate batter on top of the caramel. 

In a food processor or a blender, mix the condensed milk, the whole milk, the cream cheese,  the eggs, the yolks and the vanilla. Process for about one minute. 

Pour the flan mixture carefully on the chocolate batter. 

Place the Bundt pan in the roasting tin with boiling water in the oven and bake the flancake for about one hour on 175° C / 350°F. Test with a skewer to see if the cake is fully done. If you have a core thermometer; the temperature should register about 82° C.

Take the flan out of the oven and leave it to cool to room temperature in the mould on a cooling rack. Then transfer the flan to the fridge to let it set completely, preferably overnight. 

To unmold, place the pan for about 30 seconds in boiling water. The outer layer of flan will melt and make unmolding a breeze. Serve cold. 

               Baked Bree

Friday, August 16, 2013

the perfect buttercream

The Perfect Butter Cream

(to the dutch version) When it comes to fillings, I've always been a bit reluctant about butter cream.

An epic fail in the reward-center of a child's developing brain stays with you for life.

Standing just outside of the supermarket. Holding a bottle of pop we just bought. Me and my friends. We are all thirsty. It's hot. God knows where we got the money. What we thought was refreshing, sparkly and sweet lemonade, turns out to be tonic water. Bitter. Unsatisfying. Disappointing. I've never come near it again in my life.

The same goes, to a certain extent, for butter cream. My first encounter with it was in Germany. I had participated in a balloon contest. In those days, knotting a little piece of paper with your name and address to a helium balloon and letting go of it was still a worthy pastime. People would send back the card they found. The balloon that got the furthest got the prize.

Mine landed 200 km away, in Germany (Hülsen, if I remember well). A correspondence ensued between me and the German girl that found it. One day, my whole family got into a car and drove to Hülsen. We were met, on a Sunday, with a table filled with cakes, pies, pastries, cookies and whipped cream; the famous German 'Kaffee und Kuchen'. Never had I seen anything like it.

I was in awe with the center piece cake. It had a brownish cream neatly piped all over it. And hazel nuts. I loved hazelnuts. It looked intricate and intriguing and I longed for that cake all through the meeting and greeting rituals that usually come with these visits.

When I finally sank my teeth into it, I was shocked to taste butter. Fat. Slippery. I diverted to the copious amount of freshly whipped cream that was passed around. It seemed a perfect plug for my disappointment. It had no sugar in it. What sort of Tantalus torment was this!

Nowadays I prefer sugarless whipped cream, and thank my German friends for teaching me that less is more. The butter cream however, has always remained a bit of a problem.

This is the one I make whenever I can't come up with a viable alternative filling. It's a lot lighter and fluffier than your average butter cream. And the eggs in it are cooked by the sugar syrup, so it's salmonella safe. 

It takes some practice to get this one right, but once you have it on your repertoire, I dare say it will stay with you for the rest of your baking career!

the perfect butter cream

150 gram / 5.3 oz whole eggs
80 gram / 2.8 oz egg yolk
200 gram / 7.1 oz fine sugar
75 gram / 2.6 oz water
400 gram / 14.1 very soft butter

special tools: kitchen thermometer

Make a sugar syrup; Put the sugar and the water in a super clean small or medium saucepan (avoid non stick) and gently bring it to a boil. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature.

At the same time, whip up the eggs and the yolks until they go all fluffy and light.

Heat the sugar syrup to 120° C and (careful, this syrup is very hot!) slowly pour it into the egg mix, and continue to beat until it cools down to ambient temperature.

In a separate bowl, first cream the butter with the paddle attachment and then whisk it until it gets thicker. Make sure your butter is very soft, but not 'oily'. Let your butter come to ambient temperature slowly. Melting the butter will give a poor result in texture in the end product.

Add the egg mixture to the fluffy butter and mix until well incorporated and the mixture smooths out. Make sure not to over beat at this stage.

The butter cream is ready to use now. You can add flavor and or color to it to your liking. Perfect for filling your home made macarons

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Add caption
All the noble Baker's loaves
by definition
track back 
to their master's true ambition.

Droves of cooling breads
spread their 
unison tell tale song
of what went well and what went wrong;

"The world around us hurls and changes, but we sing!
Hail to our king, who arranges each and every day
the tweaks we need to live and rise.
Not a thing escapes his heart, his soul, his eyes;

A drop of water here,
a freeing slash, an ear.
There a firm yet gentle hand.
carefully planned and executed."

Deeply rooted in the here and now,
at days against all odds,
lots of Bakers weigh their knowledge,
play college with the world around.

Pound your dough, mix your rye
shape that greatest symbol of mankind.
And for your humble peace of mind
don't ask why we think it's but simple what you do.

Know your work is an anchor
in a world full of bankers and takers.
Make us share your loaves one after the other,
dear father, dear mother, dear friend and dear brother.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fresh Watermelon Cake - boating, waving & failed jumps starts

failed jump starts
(to the Dutch version) Summer has possibly started. Possibly, because this year, around the globe, we seem to be experiencing a summer that could be best qualified as a string of failed jumpstarts. The few days with the promise of summer weather in Amsterdam are met with a frenzy of activities.

The last two days in Amsterdam were tropical. So tropical in fact, that even my visiting tropical mother in law took off her winter coat.

We experienced some severe weather in Paris a few days earlier. The sky went dark at 11 in the morning. To a jaw dropping point. On our way home, the storm followed us north.

The Louvre just before a hellish storm
Today it swooshed over the east of the Netherlands.

boating and waving

When it's hot, Amsterdam goes a little crazy. Boating has always been a popular pastime with the locals, and with all the canals around here, you can imagine a lot of them have a small boat. Or a big one. And some a very very big one.

Once a year, somehow all of the city decides to take all these boats for a spin.

Today is that day.

Sitting on a bench by the canal, watching the boats glide by, taking it all in with my better half, I wonder out loud why it is that people start waving at each other as soon as they are on the water.

"Because they are having fun"

"I meet a lot of people in the street having fun. They never wave."

It is like a switch is flipped: people on boats wave to people on other boats. People on boats wave to people in the street. People in the street wave to the people on the boat.

Sometimes the people in the street start to wave. Sometimes it's the people on the boat. Rarely ever is it a synchronized wave.

We spot a few of them, usually being exchanged between captains. Their casual waves serve another purpose than all the other waves. In keeping boat and passengers out of harms way, it pays to acknowledge your obstacles.

"It is about acknowledging."

"Acknowledging what?"


A man on a very big boat, filled with what appears to be his family, waves at us. We wave back.

"His wave, for instance, could mean; hey look at me, I'm special, I'm on a boat."

People in the street, probably tourists, start waving back as well.

"Now we are saying; Yes, look at you, you're on a boat. We acknowledge you are special!"

"You're such a mood killer. Just wave back and have fun!"

"I'm sorry. It's second nature to me to ask questions about behavior. Call it an occupational deviation."

improper conduct

At the other side of the canal a boy and a girl get ready to unlock their bikes and move elsewhere. The magic of summer is happening right in front of our eyes. There is an embrace, a tentative kiss, and soon a full blown display of improper conduct in a public place.

It silences us both. And makes us smile. The sun is finally defeated behind the horizon. Under the cover of the last bit of twilight the couple goes unseen by the occasional boat that is still going strong.

A young man walks past the kissing couple. He knows he'd be best of just ignoring them. But I see the slight drop in walking rhythm. I see him pushing his peripheral vision to the limit. And I see him decide to glance back at the couple, a split second before he actually goes ahead and does it.

He keeps on walking and looks back, swinging his head back low, stealing a glance from behind his own left shoulder. Just a split second. Then he turns back. He sees us, at the other side of the canal.

I can't help it; I wave at him. He waves back. A short, discrete little wave. A 'I know you saw what I just did and I feel a bit awkward now'-wave, accompanied by a smile that communicates the same.

"How warm is it now?"

"still 28° C."

"And tomorrow? What is tomorrow's forecast?"

"16° C."

"Guess we'll have to create our own summer this year..."

Fresh Watermelon Cake

1 ripe watermelon
any other fresh fruits available
1 or 2 cans of full fat coconut milk
3-5 TBSP of confectionery sugar
½ vanilla pod

The only time the oven isn't fired up in this house is when it gets really, really warm. To nevertheless meet any baking expectations on those days, you have to think out of the box. On the Internet, you can always find some one who did that for or before you. So, when I decided I wanted something cake and watermelon without turning on the oven,  Google came up with this, and after some rummaging around I went along with this. Notice how I search for recipes using pictures instead of text? You want to know why? It saves the hassle of clicking through a lot of recipes from conglomerate food sites that aren't always helpful. And pictures often speak louder than words, so I find researching and sourcing recipe ideas a lot less time consuming!

The recipe is simple. You take your watermelon, cut of the rounded ends, and shape yourself a nice cake base. The watermelon should be just about ripe so it won't leak too much liquid. I got a seedless one to make it easier to eat.

From here on there are two ways to go. You can either simply cut the rest of your seasonal fruits and dress up a colorful fresh-fruit-cake. Or you can start with whipping up a can of coconut milk that you have chilled overnight in the fridge and 'frost' your melon. Whipping cream out of coconut milk, can that be done?

Yes it can! You are going to need full fat coconut milk. The best way to ensure success is to avoid any liquid left in the can after refrigeration. Use two cans if you have a big cake, and just scoop out the solids, add some sugar to taste and some vanilla, and whip it up as you would with normal cream. It doesn't quite behave like the real thing, but you'll be surprised how good it holds on a watermelon.  Dab the melon as dry as you can manage and  cover with coconut. Make a nice decoration of other fruits on top and around the base of the cake. Here is a recipe for coconut whipped cream.

If you really want to go all 'you'll never guess there is a REAL watermelon inside of this', you can toast some almond slivers and sprinkle them on the frosting. No one will see it coming....

All in all it is a great 'cake' for various reasons: it is dairy free, gluten free, there's just some sugar in the coconut cream (that could even be left out if you really wanted to) and, most and foremost it is bake free, and that makes this a perfect option for a hot summer day!


Friday, June 7, 2013

Bread for the slashing impaired

After asking the question "would the technique that I'm using on the pain cordon work on a baguette"  out loud on the net, the answer came back with the speed of light in the shape of this video.  5.14 minutes into the vid you can see how these Cuban bakers (in Florida) are using what looks like strips of leaf to let the dough rise on. Make sure to watch the rest of the video as well. It's worth the 7 minutes of your life, in case you are a dough head that is. Enjoy!


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Date, Chocolate & Orange Entremet

For the first time in years my better half celebrated his birthday without me. While I guarded the fort, he has taken his mother on a trip to Spain, where she'd never been before. She saw Barcelona, was in awe with Alhambra, found out how hip Valencia actually is, saw Guru's baby, who just happened to be in Torre Viejo, and ended up in the Hilton in Sevilla.

I like Sevilla, the land of oranges. I was there with my partner long ago. We took this picture there, in the days before there was anything like digital photography. It later became the picture on our customised wedding-invitation stamps.

He took another picture when he passed the same spot again this time around. With one click, he made it, shared it, I got it and had to laugh. I love the 21st century.

Tonight they're coming home. And of course I had to make him a belated birthday cake. It's an entremet to be exact, not a cake. A base layer of sponge with dates, covered with home made marmalade, topped with a dark chocolate mousse, then a layer of orange mousse, and finishing with an orange jelly. And orange tuiles for decoration and crunch. I've tasted all the separate parts, and that was wonderful. I will have to wait until the travellers find their way home late tonight.

date chocolate & orange entremet

I made it straight from a recipe on the net. The recipe works like a jiffy. The only warning: use the smallest bowls in the house to mix your ingredients. Because of the many different layers, you end up mixing tiny amounts for this one cake. Next time I'm making it, I'll make it easy on myself, and make two in one go!

Thank you Silvia and Ivan from mushitza for sharing this great dessert. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pain Cordon de Bourgogne

The Cord of Poverty

(switch to dutch) This loaf has it all. Great dough, great flavor, and; slashing not required! A rope of twisted dough, placed parallel on top of the loaf, magically takes care of that. And it has great visual appeal. The long twisted strand of dough is like an umbilical cord. Where it touches the dough, it folds open. It's almost hard not to have associations with life, birth and fertility when looking at it.

The origins of the bread go way back to the time of the crusades, to Vézelay, France. It was from this Christian enclave that people left for the 2nd and 3rd crusades. Among the many monastic orders around Vézelay, there were the 'cordeliers', followers of Francis of Assisi. They were called that because of the simple rope they knotted around their robes, as a symbol of poverty. They also used the rope for bread making. They marked the bread with it, and proofed the dough, draping it lengthwise over the cord, thus achieving a nice 'grigne' without any actual slashing of the dough. What would they use to hold up their robes while baking...

Somewhere along the line the actual rope was replaced with the doughy version. I think we all know why...

Pain Cordon de Bourgogne; crust

Pain Cordon de Bourgogne

300 gr. bread flour
125 gr. high extraction flour
75 gr. rye flour

First make the flour mix; weigh out all the flours accurately and sift all of them together


150 gr. active wheat starter (100% hydration)
100 gr. flour mix
90 gr. lukewarm water
20 gr. buttermilk
4 gr. fresh yeast (or 1½ gr. dry active yeast)

Pain Cordon de Bourgogne; crumb & crust

Dissolve the (fresh) yeast into the lukewarm water and leave to rest for 15 minutes. If using dry yeast, you can continue to the next step right after the yeast has dissolved.

Add the yeasted water and the buttermilk to the 150 gr. of active starter. Stir until it goes all frothy. Add the flour mix and stir it all together into a mushy porridge. Leave this, covered, at room temperature for about 1½ hours. It will be ready when it goes all bubbly and has doubled, or even tripled in volume.


the poolish
400 gr. flour mix
40 gr. buttermilk
170 gr. water
12.8 gr salt

Stir the water and buttermilk through the poolish. Add the flour and mix it into a rough dough with the back of a wooden spoon. Cover and leave to autolyse for about 30 minutes.

Knead the salt through the dough, either by hand or in a stand mixer. About three minutes. Cover and leave for 15 minutes.

Knead the dough for another minute or so and cover and rest for 15 more minutes.

Knead the dough one last time for about a minute, or 2 minutes by hand. Form into a ball, cover and let the dough rest for another hour or until the dough has more or less doubled in bulk.

Put a baking stone in the lower third of your oven and preheat it to 240°C

Turn out the dough on your work surface and cut about 75 grams of dough off the dough, shape it into a small ball and leave to rest for 5 minutes. 

Flatten the dough into a rectangle, and shape it into a 'batard'.

Dust your proofing basket royally with rye flour.

Roll the small ball out into two strands of dough, flour them lightly and twist them around each other. The cord should cover the entire length of the dough.

Place the cord in your proofing basket, centered and hanging over the far ends. Place the dough, seam side up on the cord. Cover and rest until doubled in bulk, about 1½-2 hours.

Pain Cordon de Bourgogne; proofing
When you poke the dough with your finger, and it returns slowly, your bread is ready to go into the oven. If it springs back within a few seconds, leave it to rest a little longer. When you poke your dough and the dent doesn't spring back at all.... you have over proofed your dough. Keep an eye on it, and remember; under proofing is a more common occurrence than over proofing.

Spray the walls of your oven with some water.

Transfer the loaf from the basket onto a peel. Bake it on the stone for 15 minutes on 240°C, then lower the temperature to 210°C, and bake for a further 30 minutes until the crust is nice and dark.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Garlic Bread with Fresh Herbs & Argan Oil

Track & Trace

Just after mixing this recipe together, when I am about to jump into the shower, the doorbell rings. Since it is 08.05 AM I decide whoever it is deserves to be confronted with my bright fuchsia bathrobe and ditto slippers. I don't care if it's not a manly color, it was the only soft and fluffy bathrobe available. And fluffy trumps color in my book.

It's the mail man.

I ordered a book. Online. A book on Dutch baking, written by a woman with Indian roots, translated and updated from a book aimed at the British market. You understand that I had to have that. So I ordered it. And I got it, though not from where I ordered it.

Two days earlier

So there you are at your computer, punching in the numbers to see where the eagerly awaited package is. It has been *delivered* *delivered* *delivered*, flashes the happy crappy GIF-animation, and would I be willing to participate in a survey to make future client contact even more agreeable...

I don't have it! The postman never rang.

Staring at my computer screen I decide to take action before the sense memory of previous customer service encounters kick in.

Pressing a deluge of ones and twos and sometimes even threes, I switch my tool set to 'customer service mode'. Low voice, both in pitch as in volume (make them listen), focus on the introduction. If it's a man, level out your voice to match his. If it's a woman... well, that somehow always works better, for me at least.

I level my voice with the guy, make sure to note his name, and throw all the necessities at him. More numbers. Yes, the package has been delivered....

But it hasn't.

The guy is good and tells me exactly what I need to know. The sender (a big online book store) has negotiated the lowest possible price for delivery. That means that they, as a sender, give permission to cut the costs (in case a recipient isn't there to receive the package) by, for instance, leaving your package at your neighbor and putting a note in your mail box telling you where it is.

I didn't get any note in my mail box.

"I can only see that it has been scanned, so that means it has been on your doorstep. That means the driver didn't bring the package back with him, because then he should have un-scanned it There is something more though....."

Always listen attentively when customer care people say this. It means you're in for an insider info treat.

"The sender's policy, in regard to this matter is to give you a full refund if your mail gets lost."

Okay, so I'll get a refund, that is something. But can you back up there a little. Did you just say that, rather than making sure their customers get what they order and have payed for, their policy is to throw it in my general direction and HOPE it gets there? And, if that goes wrong, they pay for it and are very happy to give it another try?

"Yes Sir, it's cheaper for them. They take it as collateral damage that an X percentage of transactions go wrong.

Repo mission

I suppose it all makes sense on an economical level, but boy, does it NOT make ANY sense for a customer who thought he was embarking on a simple  and cheap transaction in order to get the product he really wanted and needed. Instead I now have embarked on a repo mission.

So there is the mail man at my door. He clearly hasn't come with my lost book. He is empty handed. His cap says he works for PostNL. The rest of his uniform says TNT. It's confusing from the get go.

"There has been a complaint" he says.

I expect the good man to go on with whatever it is he rang my door bell for.

He is finished though.

"Yes, my package hasn't been delivered"

The man is trying to ask a question. His Dutch is too bad to make any sense. I tell him I don't understand. After a back and forth it becomes clear that he wants to know whether the item was sent with TNT or with PostNL.

By now, I'm thinking the guy should have read his brief before he disturbed my morning shower. Is he here to contest my complaint?

I point at his cap. Then I point at the logo on his chest, and make a universal "same difference" gesture.

No no, I should not be looking at the uniform, that's old. The cap says who he works for. And who the carrier is makes a big difference.

I try explaining him it really doesn't. Whoever he works for and whatever carrier I sent my package with; customer service has sent you to my door after punching in the numbers of a package that went missing that you should be holding in your hands right now to humbly hand over to me, mumbling excuses.

If he understands anything at all of what I am trying to explain doesn't even really matter any more. There is a point where I realize both of us have ended up in this situation because of some corporate protocol-spitting software. Customer service is out sourcing their customer care to... the customer itself! Brilliant move, I have to say. Bring the complaint straight to the customer to solve it there on the spot. Cheap and easy. So here we are; a tall skinny guy in a fuchsia bathrobe, talking to a friendly yet under qualified mailman who speaks as much Dutch as E.T.

The mail man is throwing me friendly stares for a few minutes now.

This is pointless.

I decide to force an ending to this awkwardness. I put on my friendly face as well, slap the guy on the shoulder and tell him I'll be really happy to see him again, when he has found my book. He doesn't have a clue as to what I'm saying, but with the back slapping, the smiling, and the hand shaking he realizes that it is a 'good bye, see you next time'- sort of situation.

As he walks down the flight of stairs, I suddenly remember it is the same guy who, a few months earlier, handed me his handheld computer to sign for the delivered goods. The handheld was dead as a mouse. So I gave it back, saying; "this thing is as dead as a mouse". But he wouldn't take it back. Instead he told me, in that same E.T one syllable way of communicating, to "make it work again".

Garlic Bread with Fresh Herbs & Argan Oil
(based on the recipe found here)

the dough:
160 gr / 5.6 oz corn flour
250 gr / 8.8 oz bread flour
237 gr / 8.4 oz warm water
10 gr / 0.4 oz cake yeast (or ⅓ of that in active dry yeast)
5.6 gr / 0.2 oz salt
4.2 gr / 0.14 oz sugar
42 gr / 1.5 oz olive oil

the filling:
42 gr / 1.5 oz olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
fresh basil, parsley, rosemary
pine nuts

suggested toppings:
3 sun dried tomatoes in oil
2 TBS of argan oil

Dissolve the yeast into the warm water. Mix the flour, sugar and salt together. Add the dry ingredients to the water, followed by the olive oil. Mix the dough on low speed until well developed, for about 10 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, cover it and let it rest in a warm, draft free place until it has doubled in bulk. Depending on the ambient temperature in your kitchen and the temperature of your dough, this will take 45-70 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the olive oil with the chopped fresh herbs, pine nuts and minced garlic. Season with pepper and salt. Don't be tempted to use argan oil for this; it does not tolerate high temperatures!

Preheat your oven to 200° C / 392° F

When the dough has risen, roll it out into a disk of about 1 cm / ½ inch thick. After a short rest, brush the oil mixture onto the dough and cut it into strips of about 2½ cm / 1 inch wide. Starting with the smallest strips, drape them in circles in a well oiled pan of around 23 cm / 9 inches ⌀. Leave to rest for about 30 minutes until the dough has plumped up nicely.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is a nice golden brown. If you want to add sun dried tomatoes, add them 10 minutes in the last ten minutes of baking. When done, take the pan out of the oven and leave to cool for about 10 minutes.

Use the argan oil to brush the loaf after it comes out of the oven to give it that special flavor.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Making Macarons with Breadlab

Breadlab made a new video showing you how to make macarons:


Basic macaron recipe: (for about 50 macarons)

(smaller batches are possible, but are more troublesome to mix)

300 gr. blanched finely ground almonds
300 gr. confectioners sugar
220 gr. egg whites
300 gr. fine sugar 
75   gr. water

candy thermometer
baking paper or silicon mats
baking sheets
piping bag, plain nozzle #10

Separate the egg whites up to 4 days in advance. Have them on room temp when you start working with them.

The Almond Mixture

Grind the blanched almonds together with the confectioners sugar as fine as you can manage. Divide the egg whites in half. If you are using coloring, mix it into one portion of the egg whites, and pour it over the almond & sugar mix. Do not stir it in!

Italian Meringue

Pour the other 110 gr. of egg whites in a bowl of a (stand) mixer. Start mixing on low to medium speed to form nice tiny bubbles.

At the same time start preparing your sugar syrup. Put 300 gr. of fine sugar with about 75 gr. of water in a small saucepan (avoid non stick). Heat this up, without stirring, until the syrup reaches a temp of 115° C. At that point, increase the speed to max on your mixer, and whip the egg whites to form soft peaks. When the sugar reaches 118° C, take it off the heat (be careful!) and drizzle it into the egg whites, beating at high speed.

The meringue should at least double in volume and go thick and glossy after a while. Keep beating at medium speed until the mixture has cooled to 50° C.

Preheat your oven to 180° C with fan.


Add about ⅓ of the cooled meringue to the almonds. With a flexible spatula fold the meringue into the almonds. Then, carefully fold in the remaining ⅔ of the meringue. Don't overbeat. The mixture will get shiny after a while. Pulling the spatula out of the bowl, the ribbons that fall back should disappear into the rest of the batter after 4 to 5 seconds.

Transfer the meringue to a piping bag. Pipe onto silicon baking sheets or onto paper. Pipe 2½ cm circles. Keep a good distance between the shells, for they will ooze out a little.

Drying the Shells

Let the shells dry for at least 30 minutes. When you touch the skin of the shell with a dry finger and it doesn't smudge, the shells are ready for the oven.

Bake the shells for 12 minutes on 180° C with fan, in the lower part of your oven. Rotate them to ensure even browning after 8 minutes.

After taking them out of the oven, take the shells off the baking sheet to stop further baking. Let them cool completely before taking them off the paper/silicone.

There is a multitude of possible fillings in a macaron. Once you get the hang of making the shells, the possibilities are endless; chocolate ganache, buttercream, marmelades, you name it and you can put in into a macaron!

For the lovers of history: here is Breadlab's first macaron movie. Epic! Enjoy.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Windmills in my Oven

Some time ago I picked up this baking book because of the intriguing title-author combination. A book on Dutch baking, written by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, whose roots are in British Guyana, India as well as The Netherlands, where she married and settled down with her Dutch husband.

The story behind the book is remarkable. Once moved to the Netherlands, and very much interested in anything food, Gaitra started asking around for the culinary highlights of her new home. Invariably her friends would respond that no such a thing exists in The Netherlands. A bit startled by this collective expression of low self-esteem, she set out to prove them wrong.

In her quest she found out her friends were right. In cooking there is hardly anything worthwhile to be found in The Netherlands. There are some national dishes that involve mashed potatoes and veggies with a big sausage (stamppot) and sure, there is a Dutch pea soup we all eat whilst ice-skating around the windmill, on wooden shoes of course, throwing cheese and tulip bulbs at each other. But that's it.

Being as thorough as she comes across in her book, Gaitra looked further. Probably further than the average native Dutch ever has. She found the treasure trove of culinary goodies she was looking for, when she turned to baking instead of cooking.

Initially the book was written for the British market under the title 'Windmills in my Oven'. Ten years later (!) it has been re-edited and published in Dutch under the title 'Het Nederlands Bakboek'. It was elected cookbook of the year in 2012. And rightfully so.

This book is all about connecting the recipe to its origins. Every recipe is put in historical and cultural context. For me, as a born and bred Dutch country boy, the book reads like a parade of dear memories coming back to me. Knieperties, Bossche bollen, Zeeuwse bolussen, chipolata cake, cookies, everything is in there, and it is indeed  as Dutch as it gets.

almond rondos
The look and feel of the book are great. The art work is honest and plain. No bells and whistles, just the way the Dutch are supposed to like it. It makes the book accessible to both beginners and more experienced home bakers. The latter will probably pimp up their cakes, the beginner is getting exactly what the pictures promise.

So far all the recipes I have tried from this book, have delivered wonderfully. My personal favorite so far is the 'Rondo', a small cake filled with almond paste. It is one of these very Dutch baking goods that no one makes themselves any more. The difference in taste between the supermarket version and the home made version is, of course, phenomenal. Nothing better than home made almond paste!

almond paste
And it's is the easiest thing to make! Just take equal parts of ground blanched almonds and sugar. Add lemon zest to taste and make the mixture come together with just a little bit of well beaten egg to make it smooth out. Use fine sugar and finely ground almonds for a smoother paste. For the intermediate bakers: try and get your hands on some bitter almonds, or bitter almond oil, to dramatically increase the  depth of flavor of your almond paste. Just add a few drops of oil, or a small handful of bitter almonds. Leave the paste to ripe for a few days before using, it will have a more developed taste to it, especially with added bitter almonds.