Monday, July 29, 2013

Cream puffs, profiteroles and banana éclairs (and Bossche bollen too)

It's the country of pastry and chocolates and lots of baked goodies and somehow I managed to miss it. I'm talking about France of course. For some miraculous reason which I'm sure has something to do with pixies I haven't posted any of the lovely French pastry yet. I'm ashamed! So I'm going to be catching up really quickly now: starting with profiteroles, cream puffs and éclairs. With that I'll almost have half the French cuisine covered. I swear I'm not just going easy on myself!

24 éclairs or 48 cream puffs - from Het Nederlands Bakboek

75 grams flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
50 grams butter
125 ml water
2 eggs

1. Sift the flour with the salt in a bowl (omit salt when using salted butter). Lightly beat the egg in a smaller bowl. Set both aside, but keep within reach.
2. Melt the butter with the water in a pan over medium heat.
3. Add the flour to the melted butter and stir with a spoon. With the heat on medium to low, keep stirring while a big doughball forms. Continue to stir for 2-3 minutes while taking care to not let the dough cook to the sides, then take off the heat. Cool for about 2-3 minutes.
4. Add the eggs to the pan in 3-4 additions. The eggs will not seem to be able to mix with the doughball at first, but it will come together as you keep stirring. Eventually you will have something between a very thick batter and a very sticky dough that is very hard to stir (but you can do it!).
5. Put the dough into a piping bag and pipe lines onto your baking sheet for éclairs. You can also go for little balls for profiteroles or make around 6 big lumps for the famous Dutch 'Bossche Bollen'.
6. Leave in a preheated oven of 180 degrees Celsius or 360 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25-30 minutes. Once they are golden brown (and a skewer will drag the whole profiterole out of the oven, but will still come out clean when shaken vigorously), turn off the oven and leave them to cool on a rack before use.

Let me teach you something about cream puffs. Cream puffs are also called profiteroles and are made of the same dough as éclairs. Both éclairs and profiteroles originate from France. Éclairs are the long cream puffs while the profiteroles have the shape of little balls. The Banana Cream Puffs (Bananensoezen) you see on the pictures however are a Dutch tradition. As are the Bossche Bollen I mentioned. To make a Bossche Bol: take one of the massive cream puffs, fill it up with cream through a hole in the bottom and dip it into chocolate. Chill before serving. Then watch people eat the massive cream puffs, which I can guarantee will be much more fun than making them! The Banana Cream Puffs need a little more work.

Banana Cream puffs
Yields 24

24 éclairs
Yellow food colouring
Powdered sugar (about 100 grams)
2-3 bananas
200 ml cream
2 tablespoons sugar
80 grams dark chocolate

1. Start by cutting the cream puffs in half and lay the halves next to eachother on a baking sheet.
2. Make a glaze by adding food colouring (and/or water) to powdered sugar. Mix them together until you have a thick and spreadable consistency. How much powdered sugar you need will depends on the amount of creampuffs you want to decorate and how liquid your food colouring is.
2. Dip the top half of every cream puff into the glaze and place back on a baking sheet to dry.
4. Cut 2-3 banana's in equal slices and place them on the bottom half of every cream puff.
5. Whip the cream with the sugar until stiff. (Do not let it turn to butter!)
6. Put the cream in a piping bag and pipe a line of whipped cream onto the banana's. Do not make the layer too thick or it will squeeze out when you place the top on.
7. Place the top on.
8. Melt your chocolate and drizzle it over the banana cream puffs with a spoon.
9. Chill until the chocolate has set before serving.

Despite the fact that these are very long recipes: they're quite easy to make. I also didn't think they took up an unreasonable amount of time. So don't let it put you down: it's just a lot of little steps to follow. Once you have all the ingredients lined up, you just have to put them together. Have your children help so they can get all the cream and sticky glaze and chocolate all over them. You can substitute with family or friends if you are short on children.

I hope you enjoy these French and Dutch recipes! Also: beware of pixies! Don't say I didn't warn you when suddenly all your éclairs or profiteroles are missing.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Greek side dishes

A whole new week full of Greek! I just had to say that because it rhymes, but also because it's true. With this suddenly and horribly hot weather outside we've been barbecuing almost every day, which means that every day we're enjoying lots of lovely summer side dishes. These two Greek dishes are our favorites: Grilled Feta and Tsatsiki.

When you scroll down to look at the recipes you'll notice the quantaties of the ingredients are missing or they're very variable. This is simply because the ingredients will vary every time. One day I'll be using a creamy thick yogurt for my tsatsiki and the next I only have 'normal' yoghurt. Another day altogether I'll feel like adding loads of garlic and practically omitting vinegar. Not only will the ingredients or my taste vary every time, but your taste and ingredients will vary greatly from mine. Or not so greatly but they'll vary either way. So I don't want to give you exact recipes to follow. I want to give you a guideline to follow and find your own taste. 

Ingredients for approx. 1 large bowl*

1 Cucumber
1 kilo (Greek) thick Yogurt
2-5 tablespoons Oil
1-3 tablespoons Vinegar
2-3 cloves Garlic

1. Peel the cucumber and then grate it. Squeeze the water out and pour that down the drain. (Or drink it, but it tastes as healthy as it is.)
2. Find balance between your cucumber and yogurt. I prefer a lot of cucumber, so I just eyeball it until there is about as much yogurt as cucumber.
3. Keep tasting while you add oil and vinegar. Stop the tasting and the adding when you believe it's right.
4. Finish by adding garlic and salt. Keep tasting until you like the flavour. Remember that the taste of garlic will become more profound over time, so unless you're serving it immediately always go for less garlic.

* I had to give you some sort of guideline so you know what you're up against. By all means do not follow it. Find your own balance!

And now for the recipe of the grilled feta. I found out about this from my boyfriend who lives in Greece and ever since my mom tagged along we've been eating it daily and recommending it everywhere.

Grilled Feta

Feta *

 1. Cut your feta until it is as thick as your finger. Or thinner, but definitely not more. It needs to be thin enough to melt quickly. The size doesn't actually matter.
2. Drizzle with oil.
3. Place a slice of tomato on top.
4. Top with oregano or another herb of choice.
5A. Grill: fold aluminum foil around the feta and place on the grill. Leave for about 15 minutes until the feta is softened.
5B. Microwave: Place the feta on a plate and microwave for around 2-3 minutes until the feta has softened and starts melting.

* Feta from goat's milk has a richer and saltier taste while cow's milk gives a much softer and creamer taste. Feta from sheep milk is also available, but I haven't tried it yet.

Once you get the hang of what you like you can start omitting and replacing ingredients. For example I personally dislike warm tomatoes, so I've scratched those and my sister dislikes the strong taste of oregano so we make one for her without herbs. Tsatsiki sometimes include herbs such as parsley or dill to enhance the taste. Both recipes are very easy to mess around with.

I really hope you enjoy your summer and all the lovely barbecues we can have meanwhile! Most of all I hope you don't die of heat or melt or evaporate or other things like that. Quite frankly I'm not sure I'll make it to the next post in the same state.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mπουγατσα (mpougatsa)

Don't worry, I can't pronounce that either. Written in the 'normal' alphabet it says: Mpougatsa. But to be honest I can't pronounce that either. So let's call it a cream pie. This traditional Greek sweet has a soft custard-like filling between crunchy layers of filo. It's served warm in bite-sized pieces with cinnamon and powdered sugar on top and eaten at practically any time of the day, but is most often sold in the very early all the way into the late mornings. When you go to Greece you'll find this in every shop at every corner at any point in time. It's one of the sweets I especially remember from my times in Greece.

1 brownie tin - from About and Squidoo

4 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup semolina
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10-14 sheets of filo dough
100 grams butter
Cinnamon and powdered sugar

1. Take a large pan and heat it on medium heat with the milk and the semolina. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens, then turn off the heat and cover.
2. Mix the sugar with the eggs until fluffy or thoroughly mixed.
3. Add the eggs and the vanilla to the milk and turn the heat back on to medium. Keep stirring until everything is fully incorporated and the cream starts to thicken. As soon as you have the consistency of a custard, take off the heat, cover and set aside to cool.
4. Grease a brownie tin and line the bottom and sides with a filo sheet. Generously cover in butter, then line with another sheet, which you generously cover in butter again. REpeat this process until you have around 6-8 sheets on the bottom and at least 4 layers to the sides. If your filo sheets, like mine, are smaller than the tin you can mess around with this a bit.
5. After you greased the last filo sheet cover with the custard-like filling. 
6. Top with another 4-6 sheets, each generously covered in butter. Do not brush the last filo sheet with butter, but spray water on it instead.
7. Bake in a preheated oven of 180 degrees Celsius or 360 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes.
8. Let the mpougatsa cool down for 10 minutes once out of the oven, then top generously with cinnamon and powdered sugar and cut into bite-sized pieces before serving. A pizza knife is very handy for cutting the mpougatsa.

This dessert is eaten warm with a generous amount of cinnamon and powdered sugar. It should be consumed within hours of baking. However, I found you can keep it for around 3-4 days and it still tastes fine when reheated in the microwave. You will have to top again with powdered sugar. It's a little like cheating, but if you're not a big eater or tend to make too much, you don't have to worry about throwing it out straight away!

Even though I quite liked this Greek cream pie, it's not as good as the real thing. Sitting in the shadow around a little table at the side of the street, watching busy people pass by while hiding from the hot Greek sun; to be honest it's not even comparable. Talking about the real thing, I've also seen mpougatsa filled with savory fillings like feta and spinach. Perhaps I can find a recipe for those too. Does anyone have one? This mpougatsa recipe was surprisingly hard to find even though it's quite popular in Greece.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Ricotta: a snow white, soft and fresh Italian cheese with a very mild taste. I don't even remember where I got the idea of making it myself, but I haven't regretted it for one moment. I've made it several times now and every time I'm surprised by how deliciously creamy and soft it is. On toast with a bit of oil and salt this stuff is like a slice of heaven.

One of the best things about this recipe is that it is so easy literally anyone could do it. It's so much healthier than what you find in the supermarket and it tastes great. What more can I do to convince you to try?

about 1 cup - adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Epicurious

3 cups whole milk
1 cup whipping or heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons (white wine) vinegar or 3 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Pour the milk and cream into a large pan and put over medium to high heat. Add the salt and stir occasionally while you wait for the creamy milk to start boiling.
2. Once the milk starts foaming or turns into a rolling boil stare at it for 10-30 seconds then turn off the heat. (You're allowed to stir.)
3. Add the juice or vinegar and stir it in. Take the pan off the heat and set aside, uncovered, for a 2-3 minutes.
4. Place a (cheese) cloth or towel in a sieve over a large bowl. Check if milk has curdled by sticking your finger in: it should come out with little 'lumps' of milk.
5. Pour the curdled milk onto the cloth and leave for about an hour, depending on how thick and 'dry' you want your ricotta to be.

Another thing you must try with ricotta is making several little spreads. They're amazing for a barbecue. Add a bit of oil and some salt and pepper to taste. Then take some herbs you have at hand: parsley, dill, thyme, basil or oregano and stir them into the ricotta (together or in seperate bowls). Serve them with sliced French baguette: everyone will love them!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sweet purpose of Sugar

I'll admit I thought this was easy. Why do we use sugar in our baking? Answer: to make it sweet. This seems a very good reason when making sweets. Although you're right, you're missing a few bits. I was missing quite a few bits myself, thinking it was only to make desserts and sweets.

When looking up the chemical properties of sugar you will find that sugar enhances flavour, colour and texture and works as a preservative. 

It's a dead giveaway, I know. But one of the main reasons we love sugar so much is because it is sweet. It's why we use it in our baked goodies. Different sugars give us different flavours: darker sugars or honey add a lot more flavour, while light sugars give a more soft, caramelized taste.

Colour - Bake it brown
Even in small amounts sugar enhances the colour of the crust of our bakes. Increasing the amount of sugar in a recipe will result in a darker baked good, while ommitting sugar altogether will result in a very pale loaf. Especially when using sugar as a glazing, breads and cakes will get a dark and very glossy finish. One might go so far to say that our lovely dark crusts are simply caramelized sugar. However, sugar burns easily as well, so you will notice pastry and cakes, as opposed to bread, will require a lower oven temperature.

Texture - Keeping it moist and fluffy
One of the main effects of sugar on the texture of baked goods is it's ability to attract moisture, which gives cakes and breads a tender texture. When you compare bread to cake the difference becomes obvious. Cake, with a high amount of sugar, is more moist and soft than the practically sugar-less bread. This absorbing property doesn't only affect baked goods, but also plays a vital role in the texture and form of candy and jams.
       Another effect of sugar on the texture of baked goods is it's ability to control the gluten formed in dough and thus the 'fluffiness' of the end result. The proteins glutenin and gliadin both bind to sugar, which prevents them from binding to each other to form gluten. Especially in bread sugar plays a big role in activating the rising agents. Modern yeasts no longer need sugar to work, but will still rise a lot faster when fed with sugar. Especially enriched 'heavier' breads will need this extra boost to create a good bread.

Sugar is a very unsuitable home for fermentation, rot and other bacteria. Thus, adding sugar will result in goods that stale less quickly. This preserving quality of sugar is easiest to imagine when you think of jams and candy. Just by adding sugar to fruits you can keep jam and candy for years (if stored properly!).

Raw Demerara sugar, granulated sugar and dark, caster sugar
Can I go wrong with too much sugar?
Certainly: when adding too much sugar a baked goods will become very dark and burn easily. The sugar will also decrease the amount of gluten formed, resulting in a very wet and compact texture. In bread sugar can also feed the yeast too much, resulting in a bread that will rise too much and collapse until barely anything is left. When making jams too much sugar can result in a very thick jam or even turn rock hard.

Can I go wrong with too little sugar?
Too little sugar is also a problem. When omitted altogether, bread dough will not rise or might take double the time to rise sufficiently. Baked goods will become pale and stale more quickly. On top of that they will become very tough and dry. You'll be getting rid of your sweetener and texture-enhancer, which you normally don't want.

Palm sugar, sugar cane and fine and coarse rock sugar
Now we have enough reasons to add even more sugar to our baked goods! Keep in mind there are millions of different products that count as 'sugar', each with their own aroma and texture. Think of liquid sugars, syrups and honey. Each type of sugar has a slightly different effect on baked goods. Dark sugars give a lot more taste to a cake than a granulated sugar, but it will also add more colour and acidity due to the higher molasses content. This means they cannot easily be used interchangeably. For instance, honey has a much stronger sweet taste and will be used in much smaller quantities than granulated sugar. A post on the different kinds of sugar and their uses, as well as how to substitute them, is something to look forward to in "Oven Info".

My References:
Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter 
Ik Kan Koken by P.J.S. van Rijn (1949)
What is white sugar? by
Kitchen Chemistry by Culinate

Monday, July 1, 2013

Chocolat Chaud

Also known as: Real Hot Chocolate. I mean none of the powdery stuff but actual chocolate melted into actual milk. It is so much better than chocolate milk powder with a bit of hot water in it. It's not even comparable.

A few years ago I saw the name 'chocolate chaud' pop up in a tv-series I followed back then. Chocolat Chaud was made with just milk and lots of chocolate and was said to be a traditional French drink. Now, after testing a few recipes for you, I found out that almost every European country has a tradition of serving real chocolate in milk as hot chocolate. Better yet: years before any of us Europeans started the tradition the Mayans knew how to make a real cup of cacao. By trying to find out where hot chocolate comes from, I dipped straight into the history of chocolate itself. I'm going to save all this newfound knowledge for an 'Oven Info' some time soon!

Chocolat Chaud
serves 1 person

1 cup milk
40 grams chocolate * 
1 tablespoon cream (optional)

1. Heat the milk in a small pan on medium fire. Make sure your milk doesn't boil.
2. Add the chocolate and keep stirring or whisking until the chocolate is fully incorporated.
2A. For Brownie Chocolat Chaud: Add 2 tablespoons of brownie mix to the chocolat chaud and set the fire to 'high'. Leave on high heat for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Adding brownie mix will give a very thick chocolate chaud.
2B. For Chestnut Coffee Chocolat Chaud: Add 3 small chestnuts or 1-2 tablespoons ground chestnuts and 2 teaspoons espresso to the chocolate chaud and leave on low fire for 2-3 minutes. Sieve the chocolate chaud before serving.
2C. For Banana Chocolat Chaud: Add 3-5 slices of banana and leave the chocolat chaud on low fire for 2-3 minutes until the banana becomes very mushy and practically dissolves into the milk. Sieve the chocolat chaud before serving. 
3. Add 1 tablespoon cream, stir one last time and serve! Preferably with a lot of whipped cream.

* I prefer half dark chocolate and half milk chocolate.

In case you are wondering why I'm posting a recipe of hot chocolate at the start of july: it cold here! With a sad 16-20 degrees Celsius, a lot of rain and wind and even more clouds I craved a cup of hot chocolate in what should have been summer.

So there you have it. We've gone from Dutch to German and back to Dutch and now we've arrived at the French. I'm really excited as to what traditions I'll be dipping into next!