Monday, June 24, 2013

Bread Pudding the Dutch way

Latelatelate!! Look at the time! I wonder if I'll still be able to post on Monday. I made it!
So, desserts. Maybe you've seen the picture in the Index. Now, you're about to be amazed by the real thing.

I'm kidding really. This is a very simple bread pudding, which is apparently some worldwide 'national' dessert. The Dutch are known for bread pudding, but so are the English, the Italian, Spanish, French, Americans (somewhere) and and... I could go on. I imagine they're all slightly different. Or maybe they're very different and just all use bread. I know of only one and that is an 'Italian Bread Pudding' that has been made and adjusted so many times in this house that it's become Dutch.

Bread Pudding (the Dutch way)
Serves one ovendish - adapted from 'Kookgids - Italiaans'

2 apples
Sugar (about 75 grams)
bread (about half a baguette)
300 ml cream *
2 eggs
lemon or orange zest (optional)
 fruit or jam (optional)

1. Cut the apples into thin slices. If you wish, peel them as well. Lay these on the bottom of an oven tray or dish. You want something the size of a normal browniepan, but deeper.
2. Sprinkle sugar on top until all the apple slices have a bit of sugar on top (or a bit more if youre a sweettooth).
3. Slice the bread and line those on top of the apple.
4. Beat the eggs into the cream and add the lemon or orange zest. Pour a bit of the cream onto the bread until they are all wet and soaky.
5. If you wish, apply the layer of fruit or jam now. Then top with the remaining cream.
6. Pop the dish in a preheated oven of 180 degrees Celsius or 360 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes.
7. Serve warm or cold, plain or with a bit of cream on top.

* What you really need is 300 ml of 'stuff that looks creamy'. I have substituted the cream with different cream cheeses combined with milk. I believe one time I even used plain milk. Milk thickened with a bit of yogurt works fine as well. It's even a healthier option!

Like most of the recipes that I've made so many times that they're 'mine', it's more a guideline than an actual recipe. I'm sorry, I am really not a precise person. I add sugar until I like it. I add the fruits and jams in quantities I feel are appropriate and I leave out any flavouring to the cream according to my liking at that moment. It might be a bit vague, but you'll do just fine. The key is knowing what you like and tasting bits in between. Look at the pictures (my first step-by-step pictures!) and copy. You don't need more.

I caught myself fussing about whether my bread pudding looked good enough to post. Then I realised it is Bread Pudding and laughed at myself. Although I'm sure there are amazing and beautiful ways to make and present a bread pudding, in the end this was made by grandma's who wanted to serve a quick dessert or mothers who didn't know what to do with leftover bread. Maybe it comes from the days when throwing away bread was a waste and a sin. No matter how odd it looks once you're done, it will be real and honest food. That's what I think.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Strawberry Vanilla Syrup

Wauw, I just had the busiest week(end) I've had in quite a while. Now its all over and I nearly forgot it's Monday: time for a new recipe! Then I figured I have so many things I want to share I really don't know where to start. I'm going to settle for Strawberry Vanilla Syrup. I've made Lemonde and Lemon Syrup before (perhaps I'll share a recipe soon, but really anyone can do this), but I've never heard of making strawberry syrup yourself, so when I found the recipe I HAD to try it out. And the result was amazing! So here we go:

Strawberry Vanilla Syrup
Yields 1 large bottle (750ml) - adapted from À La Mère de Famille

500 grams strawberries
450 grams sugar
1/2 vanilla bean

1. Wash the strawberries and cut the leaves off. Purree them in a blender.
2. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Add the vanilla with the sugar to the blender and pulse a few times. Add the vanilla pods, cover with plastic wrap or a lid and leave in the fridge overnight.
3. Fish the vanilla pods out of your syrup and pour the Strawberry Vanilla Syrup into a pan. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the mixture boils at the sides, leave to boil for about 5 minutes, only stirring and scraping the sides to make sure the syrup doesn't burn.
4. In the meanwhile clean your large bottle -or several small ones. Once the syrup has boiled for 5 minutes, pour it into the bottle using a funnel to make things easier.
5. Keep in the Strawberry Vanilla Syrup in the fridge. I like to use 1 part syrup with 2-3 parts water. Enjoy!

Just reading the recipe again made me reach out for another glass. I love strawberries with a bit of sugar on top and this is that very thing but then in a drink! Really, you've got to try this. You'll only be missing the whipped cream. And the vanilla adds so much here.

Actually, now I want to share the Lemonade Syrup and Mint Syrup with you as well. The recipes are a bit different,but for now you'll have to do with the knowledge that you can make a whole lot of syrups with this one recipe. Like.. Raspberry Syrup, or Blueberry Syrup, oh and Cranberry Syrup! It might even work with Banana's. Do you think it would?

Monday, June 10, 2013

First stop: Schwarzwälder Kirsch

This classic cake originates from the Black Forest of Germany (or somewhere in Switzerland). It combines chocolate and cherries in one of the most mouth-watering ways possible: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. The idea to make it came from my grandma who needed cakes to share on her birthday. After some research it ended up being one of the most successful cakes I've ever made.

It's chocolate, it's cherries and a whole lot of whipped cream. Also, it should include some alcohol named Kirschwasser, but assuming you don't have this either, we'll just skip the most essential part of Schwarzwälder Kirsch.

Chocolate cake
Yields one 26 cm/10 inch cake - from Cakes & Cake Decorating

115 grams butter
115 grams flour
50 grams cacao powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 eggs
200 grams sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Melt the butter over low heat. You can leave it to melt while you continue the next steps, just remember to turn the heat off as soon as the butter has melted.
2. Sift the flour, cacao and baking powder together three times. Set aside.
3. Whisk the eggs with the sugar until thick. *
4. Add the vanilla and whisk until incorporated.
5. Add the dry ingredients in a few batches and fold carefully into the egg-fluff.
6. Lastly, fold in the butter.
7. Bake for around 25-30 minutes in a preheated oven of 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

* I have to add a note on this step. The original recipe specifies the eggs and sugar to be beaten over a pan with hot water. I tried this and my eggs failed to become fluffy even after 10 minutes, so I took them off the hot water, whisked them until thick and put them back on again for a few minutes. If you're unfamiliar with the process of whisking eggs above hot water, I suggest scratching the heat as well. From what I've seen this technique is only used to melt the sugar anyway and doesn't affect the fluffiness or recipe significantly.

Whipped cream

1 package (7 grams) vanilla sugar
500 ml whipping cream
2-6 spoons sugar
1-2 spoons agar-agar or gelatin powder (optional)

1. If you're planning on keeping the cake for at least 2 days and outside the fridge, or outside the fridge on a very hot summer, then use the gelatin or agar-agar. You can skip this step otherwise. Add 1 spoon hot water to the agar-agar or gelatin powder and set aside.
2. Whip the cream with a mixer until almost stiff, preferably on low speed.
3. Add the sugars and agar-agar/gelatin and whip until the cream is just stiff and peaks will stay in place. Don't over-beat or the whipping cream will form lumps and eventually turn to butter! If this does happen, you can add more cream and whisk again.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake)
Yields one 26 cm/10 inch cake

1 chocolate cake
Whipping cream
2 cans Cherry pie filling (430 grams each)
Chocolate shavings (about 1 chocolate bar)
Additional cherries for decoration

1. Cut the cake in 3 layers. If you choose more or less layers, you will have to adjust the other ingredients accordingly!
Optional: sprinkle the layers with Kirschwasser or cherryjuice for the original Schwarzwalder Kirsch feel!
2. Place the bottom cake layer on a cake board or plate. Fill a pastry bag with the whipped cream and create a circle of whipped cream around the edge of the cake. This will form a barrier to prevent the cherry filling from spilling out.
3. Now add the cherry filling!
4. Put the second layer of chocolate cake on top and repeat steps 2 and 3.
5. Place the last layer of chocolate cake on top and cover the whole cake in whipped cream.
6. Pipe whipped cream roses onto the cake, before you start adding the chocolate savings to the middle and the sides of the cake. (I went wrong here and my cream roses actually fell off the cake when I tilted the slices.)

And there you have it! So much post for just one recipe. Do keep it mind that this is my version of a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Considering I didn't use Kirschwasser, used an American (non-sponge) version of a chocolate cake and filled and decorated in a way I thought looked like a Black Forest cake, yes, it might not be anything like the original. But it's like the German classic is a bit closer to home now.
A lot of thanks to my grandma who gave me the opportunity to make this cake for her birthday! I would never have thought of it otherwise.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Salt in sweets: why?

It's the first Thursday of the month! Which hasn't been a special day up until now. Besides posting recipes every Monday, I will be posting a non-recipe post once every month starting with the purpose of our ingredients. I believe that the better we understand our ingredients and recipes, the better our creations will be.

Ever since the first time I started baking I've been convinced salt didn't belong in the ingredient lists of cakes, cupcakes, pies and all the other sweet things. It just sounded so wrong I would omit it altogether. But with that I've committed a crime over and over again. Surely there were times I'd reluctantly throw in the required salt and surely it's never tasted bad. But why on earth do sweets need salt?

To answer that question I searched my cookbooks and the Internet. Although I just can't find the exact how's and why, I've discovered salt enhances the texture and flavor of baked goods.

Salt is texture
Salt is essential in bread making. It controls the rising process in breads by slowing down the yeast's action. This slows down the rising process of the bread so it won't rise too much and collapse again. Instead, the bread will rise in a controlled and even way. Basically, we owe the fluffy feel of breads to salt. Also, by controlling the yeast and interacting with the flour, salt strengthens the gluten. Salt lines up gluten fibers and helps them hold more water so the dough becomes more elastic and the baked bread won't fall apart.
In sweet bakes there is a similar effect: by interacting with the flour and leavening agents, salt controls the rising process of cakes and helps creates a stronger and tighter crumb.

Salt is taste
Salt is essential in baked goods for the effect it has on flavor. Salt accentuates and enhances flavors. In sweet baked goods especially, salt provides balance. It contrasts with the sugar, giving your sweets an edge, which makes them taste so good.
Another reason to use salt in baking is it's absorbing properties. Salt absorbs water, oils and fats. Thus ridding our cakes, breads and other bakes from the oily taste and feel. This absorbent property of salt also enhances the texture of baked goods by binding the ingredients together.

Can you go wrong without salt?
Well, yes. I just explained that salt enhances both the texture and the taste of your baked good. Salt is considered essential to the recipes and chemistry of baking. Yet, still it is possible to make bread without salt altogether. My mom swears she's never used any salt in her breads and there's even a famous Tuscan saltless bread. The same goes for any other baked goods really. You might find a cake that doesn't require salt, or salted butter, and I've tried it enough times to be sure it can work. So if there is any reason you want to omit the salt, for instance for a diet, go right ahead. Just remember the taste and texture will be different from the original recipe. You will also be getting rid of the natural preservative, so your breads or cakes will go stale more quickly.

Can you go wrong with salt?
The same way salt enhances the texture and taste of your cakes it can destroy them completely. Adding too much will inhibit the rising process and result in a very tough and dry texture. The crust of the bread of cake will harden quickly and become a very dark colour. So yes, at a certain point you can go wrong by adding salt. Just follow the recipe's instructions and you shouldn't have any problems.

Which salt to use?
There are at least as many types of salt as there are oceans. There are table salts, sea salts, salts with additives and all come in various sizes. For baking you want a finer salt. A finer salt can incorporate better into the batter, rather than stick around in big chunks. This way it can do it's chemical effect on taste and texture effectively and will also prevent any 'salty bites'. Only when using salt as a topping a coarse grain will do better. The coarser grains will give a more sophisticated and prettier feeling than a fine salt as a topping. Salt as a topping gives breads a glossy and crunchy top.

My References:
Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter
Joy the Baker - What's the best salt for baking?
Culinate - Kitchen Chemistry
Piece of Cake - Why salt is important in baking
Food Reference - Functions of salt in food

Monday, June 3, 2013

Starting at home: Kwarkbollen

If we want to explore the whole world of recipes, what better place to start at then at home? It's the place where you start packing and planning. The place where, among the shirts and socks, you'll start thinking of snacks for on the road. Or maybe you're like me.. and the only things you really think of are the foods you'll have to bring.

These 'buns' are one of the things I packed on our vacation to France a few weeks ago. 'Kwarkbollen' roughly translates to 'Quark buns' in English. However, anything from quark to yoghurt or cottage cheese will do. In The Netherlands we eat this 'bread' mainly during easter. I think it's available the whole year round though and it's definitely delicious the whole year round! It looks like one big bread, kind of like panettone, and is the same kind of fluffy. This recipe though, focuses on a flat cake-breadthinggie or smaller buns.

Kwarkbollen (Quark buns)
1 'bread' of 28 cm - inspired by Okoko

250 grams flour
3 tablespoons milk powder
3 teaspoons baking powder
250 grams quark or (Greek) yogurt
2 tablespoons oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-4 tablespoons (vanilla) sugar
150 grams raisins

1. Sift the flour, milk and baking powder together into a large bowl.
2. In a smaller bowl, weigh the wet ingredients and the sugar. Mix them all together until smooth.
3. Make a well in the bowl with the flour and pour in your wet ingredients. Now mix those together - I like to use a fork and 'break down' the walls of flour at the sides as I go.
4. Lastly, add the raisins and roughly mix those in.
5. Line or grease a 28 cm (11 inch) cake tin. Spread the batter out thinly onto the cake tin. Don't worry about the 'bun' being very thin, it will double in size during baking. For small buns, line or grease a baking tray and drop little circles of dough onto it, leaving enough space for them to rise. Better yet, line a cupcake tin with cupcake wrappers and fill those for three quarters tops.
6.  Bake in a preheated oven of 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes. Spread milk over the cake-bread in the last 4-5 minutes for a slightly darker and softer crust.

Maybe you've noticed from the recipe I'm a bit confused about what to call the Kwarkbollen. It's not a bun, it's definitely not bread, it doesn't really go for cake either. This means it is a dutch version of scones. Scones are also these -admittedly delicious- things that are neither cake nor bread nor buns but everything in between. They both go very nice with jam and cream and they both include raisins. I think the kwarkbollen are slightly sweeter, slightly more moist and have a softer texture, but overall I'd say kwarkbollen are just a dutch version of scones.

Try it out and tell me if you disagree!