Sunday, September 7, 2014

Moon Cakes - Prepare to be nutellanized!



"In the ancient past, there was a hero named Hou Yi who was excellent at shooting. His wife was Chang'e. One year, the ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang'e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang'e keep the elixir. But Feng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the lunar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Feng Meng broke into Yi's house and demanded Chang'e to give the elixir to him. Chang'e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved her husband very much and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang'e liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang'e they participated in these sacrifices with Yi."

It's harvest time! And this year a lot of goodies came our way. From family and friends' gardens as well as from my own balcony here in Amsterdam! Hail pummeled yet delicious tomatoes, mirabelle (marmelade), garlic, cherries (jam), carrots and walnuts from the house in France where my neighbour resides in summer, to name but a few.

traditional Cantonese mooncakes
September 8th 2014 is Mid-Autumn Festival in China. Families come together, by tradition to bring in the harvest. In a sort of Thanksgiving kind of way. Prayers are going up for a long, fertile, healthy and prosperous life. The object of worship is the moon. Offerings are made to the lunar deity Chang'e mentioned in the story.

The traditional moon cake can be a tough cookie for the western palette. The salted duck egg yolk going into the center of the cake -a symbol for the full moon-  is an acquired taste. The tasty and chewy thin pastry skin is made out of a sugar syrup, flour and oil. The dough is tenderised with a minute amount of lye water.

prepare to be be nutellanized!

jelly mooncake
spiral mooncake
The -traditional- fillings of the moon cake (lotus seeds paste, jujube, sweet bean paste) can be rather sweet. Over time, more and more alternative techniques, shapes and fillings have emerged. Like so many other traditional recipes, the moon cake won't escape 'nutellanisation'... There are Jelly Moon Cakes and Snow Skin Moon Cakes now, and the once innovative fillings like Taro Paste and Pineapple are taken over by chocolate, coffee, mixed nuts, durian, pandan etc. The possibilities are endless!

I've tried to make a traditional moon cake that would please both western and asian palettes. I stuck with the lotus seed paste as the main filling and took out as much sugar as possible. Replacing the salted egg yolk took some creativity. In the end I decided to go with candied orange.

lotus seeds paste

lotus flower with seeds
You can of course use a store bought version of this typical asian flavour, but making your own, if you have access to fresh or frozen lotus seeds, is really easy, and of course makes all the difference in the end product. Most Asian shops carry either dried, pre cooked or raw and frozen lotus seeds. This recipe gives you more than enough purée to use in the moon cake recipe

400 gr. /  14.1 oz. lotus seeds
200 gr. / 7.0 oz. fine sugar
200 gr. / 7.0 oz. peanut oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)

big pot

lotus seeds

If using dried seeds, rinse and soak the seeds overnight. If using frozen or fresh seeds, just rinse them. Remove any green bits, if any, from the cores of the seeds.

Bring the seeds to a boil and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and leave to cool a little. Grind the seeds to a
fine paste in a kitchen machine or food processor.

Pulse the sugar into the paste.

Transfer the paste to a frying pan. Cook the mass over a medium heat. When the sugar has completely dissolved add the oil in small quantities. Incorporate all the oil into the paste before adding more.

Continue cooking and stirring the paste until it thickens. Remove from the heat, and leave to cool completely.

Lotus and Candied Orange Moon Cakes

Depending on the size of your moon cake moulds, this recipe will make 4 or 5 big moon cakes or 8-10 smaller ones, or about 13-15 mini moon cakes.

100 gr. / 3.5 oz.  all purpose flour
60 gr. / 2.1 oz. golden syrup
½ teaspoon of lye water
30 gr. / 1.1 oz. peanut oil (or other vegetable oil)

470 gr. / 16.6 oz. lotus seed paste
35 gr. / 1.2 oz. candied orange peel
egg yellow food coloring (optional)
rice flour for coating

egg wash:
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon of water

In a big bowl, combine the golden syrup, lye water and oil. Knead into a supple dough. Leave to rest for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Divide the lotus seed paste into ⅓ and ⅔. Return the bigger portion to the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180° C / 355° F.

To make the moons; take the smaller portion of lotus paste and the candied orange and blitz them together in a kitchen machine or food processor. Add some egg yellow food colouring to make your moons shine brighter!

To make the moon paste easier to work with, chill it for an hour or so. Then divide and roll them into the number of balls matching the number of moon cakes you expect to make.

Roll the balls through the rice flour to prevent the yellow moons from bleeding into the rest of the paste during baking.

Roll the plain lotus seed paste into balls. Make a dent in the middle that fits the yellow ball. Carefully and evenly envelop it, making sure not to deform the sphere inside. Put a moon inside every ball of plain lotus seed paste.

Divide and roll the same number of balls out of the dough for the skin.  Cover a ball with a piece of cling film and flatten it into a thin circle.

Envelop all the balls with the filling in the thin dough circles and pinch them together on top to close them well.

Place the ball into a well oiled moon cake mould. Gently press down to transfer the imprint on top, making sure not to deform the moon inside too much.

Remove from the mould and put onto a baking tray covered with baking paper.

Prepare the egg wash. Whisk the water and yolk together.

Bake the moon cakes (without egg wash) until they color slightly around the edges and the imprint. Take them out of the oven and give them an egg wash. Place them back into the oven and bake until golden brown for just a few more minutes. Getting the right colour can be tricky. Keep a close eye on the cakes after the egg wash.

Place the cakes on a rack to cool completely.

Depending on the size of your moulds, baking takes from 10 to 20 minutes. 10 Minutes for the mini moon cakes, about 15 minutes for the medium sized ones, and up to 20 for big ones.

Store in an air tight container at room temperature for two days. The oil in the skin will make the moon cake glimmer with a nice shine! After a few days it is ready to eat.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

No Götz no Glory - Hot Blooded Buns

"Hearty, smokey rolls with a thin crust. With a swirl of spiced smoked paprika and dipped in a seed mix consisting of both brown and blond flax seeds, black and white sesame, black and white poppy seeds and millet." 

"Are you sure about this?"

That's never a good question to ask an adolescent. 

On the table is a pile of bulky, slightly dusty books. German plays and poetry. Goethe, Schiller and something Dutch I don't remember.

The high school librarian, a lovely blond woman, takes small strips of cardboard stamped with dates out of the sleeves of the books, swings her date stamping device into striking position and keeps it there. Hovering in mid air. She looks up at me, ready to strike. 

"Not a lot of people take out these books, you know." 

Languidly drifting away on waves of adolescence just seconds before, now suddenly a hovering stamp demands immediate attention. I quickly translate what the librarian just said into adolescent;

"Are you crazy? What are you reading dusty German poets for? Don't you read thin books, like the rest of your kind? 'Jonathan Livingstone Seagul' and such?"

"Yes, I'm sure" I respond. 

Down comes the stamp, with all it's force. 

I have a small date stamp like that, at home. Not a 'professional' one, like the librarian is using here, but the same principal. Mine runs until 2016. I got it as a kid and made a promise to myself to use it the 31st of December 2015. I still own it and will keep that promise and stamp something, anything, deo volente.

"I think it's a first for Götz here. It's never left the building" 

She stamps a blank strip of card board and puts it back in the sleeve of the copy of 'Götz Von Berlichingen'. And smiles.

I was very Sturm und Drang at the time. Actually, I still am. Happily suffering along with the likes of young Werther, Götz or any other romantic, hot blooded, ratio declining character in world literature trusting their guts, so to speak.

After six years of reading the school library to bits, I was ready to take my hot blooded romantic self out of my small hometown and move to Amsterdam for some serious coming of age.

Kiss my ass
I walked straight into a big life lesson. Something that I had never seen coming. As I stepped out into the world on my own, I found people didn't quite recognise me as a young Werther, or a Götz. I pretty much got stamped the opposite, whatever that meant.

It made me ask myself this question; What am I to do? Put my guts to rest and be who people expected me to be? Or stick with it?

Although 'Götz Von Berlichingen' somehow never made it to my personal library, the most famous line in it has become one of my life mottos. 

Any one of you who knows the work can guess that motto. For those who don't; please engage in an interactive blog moment and listen to this Mozart canon.

If you just thought that, although you don't speak a word of German, the first line in that Mozart song sounded quite familiar, you are right. Trust your instinct.

Leck mich im Arsch. Kiss my ass!

I stuck with myself, as you might have guessed. I am who I am, I gotta be me and all that. By now I have reached a  stage in life where I'm not too bothered about impressions and perceptions. My mooning days are over. I stopped shouting 'kiss my ass' long ago. Nowadays a confident glance works the same magic.

Castle Business

Now then. Down to business. What do we want? 


When do we want it?


My constant source of inspiration Karin Anderson lured me, quite effectively, into cooking up a nice little something for the Götz Von Berlichingen castle she recently visited. The magnificent surroundings deserved a better bread then what she was served. 

This is my suggestion;

If Götz first saw the world in that castle, it deserves a bread that reflects the Sturm und Drang movement his story ignited much later on in history. Goethe took Götz' story and made it his, I read Goethe and added my perception of Götz to it. And now you are reading this and adding yours. Poor Götz; drowning in perceptions. Or maybe he got away lucky, being remembered a hero he himself never really was...

Himmelhoch jauchzend oder zum Tode betrübt; a romantic hot blooded hero appreciates some heat in his buns, some Sturm und Drang! These are hearty, smokey rolls with a light thin crust. On top and inside they have a swirl of spiced smoked paprika , and after being formed they are dipped in a mix of seeds consisting of both brown and blond flax seeds, black and white sesame seeds, black and white poppy seeds and millet. Paprika was around in Götz's days, and he most certainly would have been familiar with smokey foods. 

The sturdy seeds  protect and envelop the swirl. Like the bark of a tree protecting its guts. Keeping the fire within alive.

It would work with anything meaty on the breakfast buffet. With salmon or a variety of cheeses they'd make a tasty bun. Or as an accompaniment to a nice salad or soup. With eggs and omelettes in all possible sunny side ups and downs! And the chicken itself would work as well.

I can only hope Karin, who is somehow reading over my shoulder while I write this, agrees with me on this; the slower you let your breads rise, the better it tastes. If however, you are adding a pronounced flavour to your dough, by enriching it with anything that isn't water or salt or yeast or flour, retarding your dough isn't really the trouble any more. The butter, the sugar or in this case the smoked paprika, will blow the flavour benefits of retarding right out of the water.

Nevertheless, I often retard an enriched dough to fit my schedule, or sometimes use a bit of fresh yeast together with the wild yeast to speed up the process. In this recipe I use a little fresh yeast. Feel free to leave it out and expect longer rising times.

Multiseed wild yeast smoked paprika buns

makes about 9 buns of 80 gr.


for the dough:
450 gr. bread flour
50 gr. white rye flour
50 gr. wheat levain (@100% hydration)
1 gr. fresh yeast (use 0.4 grams instant)
290 gr. water (60%)
8 gr. salt
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika powder
⅛ - ¼ teaspoon of chili powder

for the seeds:
3 tablespoons of each golden and brown flax seeds, black and white sesame, black and white poppy seeds and millet. Any other seeds like quinoa or chia work as well.


Mix together the flours and the salt. Stir the levain and the fresh yeast ino the water. You can also choose to leave out the fresh yeast, the rise will take longer then. Roughly stir the yeast mix into the flour. Knead on low speed for about 4 minutes, and then 3 more minutes on second speed. If you are kneading by hand; this dough should pass the window pane test. The dough should feel slightly tacky, but not sticky.

first rise
Form the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled container. Cover it and let it rise at room temperature for about 2½ hours or until it has risen sufficiently. One way to check if your first rise is ready, is to stick a floured finger into the dough. When the imprint keeps its shape, the dough is ready to move on to the next level. If it springs back, you might want to give it another 15 minutes or so. 

Lightly flour your work surface. Turn out the risen dough. Punch it back with the palms of your hands. Flatten the dough ball into a rough rectangle. Roll out the dough to 35 x 30 cm. If the dough resists, cover it and leave it for 5 minutes before going on. Brush or dust a thin and even layer of smoked paprika onto the dough. Then roll the dough as tight as possible into a log, starting on widest side. Pinch the seam shut.

Leave to rest for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the seeds onto a baking tray.

Cut the log into 8 or 9 pieces. Carefully close the seam  on one side of each piece of dough. Brush the sides with water, then gently place the dough in the tray to cover the lower half in seeds. Lift the dough pieces out and arrange them on a baking sheet covered with baking paper.

second rise
Cover the baking sheet and leave the dough to rise until nice and fluffy. For the second rise, the poking method also works, but slightly different. In the second rise, if you poke the dough and it doesn't spring back at all, you probably went a bit too far with the proofing. A second rise is done, and a bread ready for the oven, when the dough springs back slowly after being poked. If it springs back with enthusiasm, give it more time. Expect a rising time of about 1½ - 2 hours at room temperature.

Preheat your oven to 230°C. If you are using a baking stone, make sure to preheat your oven early enough to give your stone the heat it needs.

Just before putting your baking tray right on the stone in your oven, spray some water in your oven to steam it up.

Bake the buns at 230°C for about 12 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 200°C and bake for about 12 more minutes until the tops turn golden. This will fade the attractive paprika swirl to almost invisible as well, but it still hides inside, and will be a surprise when the bun is sliced open. If you are using a fan oven, turn the tray around halfway the bake for even browning. 


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Quesillo with Orange

It's a flan from Venezuela, and tastes great in itself. Infuse it with orange and it becomes a flavour bomb. Try it, you won't regret it. I love the texture just after cooling down. My better half likes it better the next day, when the flan has become a bit denser. The light caramel and orange go very well together. Try to get as much orange flavour in there as you can; juice, zest and liquor!


for the flan:
5 medium eggs
397 gr. / 14 oz. condensed milk (1 can)
230 gr. / 8.1 oz. whole milk
4 teaspoons milk powder
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange based liquor or orange extract

for the caramel:
200 gr. / 7 oz. sugar 
a few drops of lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 190° C / 375° F. Pour boiling water in a large roasting pan until half full and put it in the oven.

With a (stand)mixer, beat the eggs until they are fluffy. Add the whole milk, the condensed milk and the powdered milk, the liquor and the zests. Mix until well combined and set aside.

To make the caramel, put the sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add a few drops of lemon juice or water, and stir with a wooden spoon until all the sugar has melted and the liquid is amber coloured. Be aware that the caramel is very hot and handle it with care! Don't make the caramel too dark; you will lose the typical flavour of this dessert.

When the caramel is ready, cautiously pour it into a round or square cake tin (750 ml to 1 liter) and swirl the caramel around to coat the bottom and part of the sides. The cake tin will probably heat up so be careful. Keep swirling the caramel around until it thickens and sets. 

Give the egg mix another good beating to get the zests that have sunk to the bottom evenly distributed through the mixture again and pour it in the cake tin over the caramel.

Cover the top of the cake tin with foil and carefully place it in the water bath in the oven. Leave to bake for about 40 to 50 minutes. The flan should be set, but will still be wobbly.

Leave to cool completely. 

To get the flan out of the mould easily, leave it in the fridge overnight. The next day, dip the cake tin in hot water (careful!) for 30 to 45 seconds and turn it out onto a plate. 
Alternatively, when you are confident enough your flan has set, you can live on the dangerous side and turn out the flan when it has cooled to lukewarm and the caramel is just starting to thicken again. Or when your patience runs out.

To serve; slice with a sharp knife and ladle some caramel sauce over the top. If you want to add a crunch, go for maple sugar.