Monday, August 12, 2013

From Brussels: Pain à la Grecque

Vacation is over! After a three busy days in Brussels I was already back at home. It means I had to miss last weeks post like I noted on Facebook. But no worries: I brought a new recipe back from Brussels! It's a sort of sugar bread called Pain à la Grecque. The bread has nothing to do with Greece as Maison Dandoy explains on a note in front of their shop:


I really hope you can read it (click the picture to enlarge it!), but basically the word Grecque comes from the Dutch word 'Gracht', which is the name for canals through the city. When more and more French came to the city of Brussels the word 'Gracht' was poorly "translated" into 'Grecque'. With 'Pain' being the French word for bread, Pain à la Grecque translates to Bread of the Canals.


Funnily enough, I'm pretty sure I haven't seen any canals during my stay. Perhaps a river which I'd definitely call a river and not a canal. Also, all the recipes I found online claim it is a cookie even though the word 'pain' suggests this is a bread. I'm going to go with a version that looks a lot more like bread and a lot more like the Pain à la Grecque on the picture.


Pain à la Grecque
12-16 servings - adapted from Un Déjeuner de Soleil

250 grams flour
40 grams (fine/caster) sugar
5 grams instant yeast   
150 ml milk
60 grams salted butter*
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
100-150 grams sugar pearl**

1. Sift the flour with the yeast and the sugar.
2. Heat the milk in a small pan on low heat until it is slightly warm to the touch. Be careful not to let the milk turn too hot as it will destroy the yeast.
3. Add the milk to the dry ingredients and knead until you have an even dough.
4. Knead the butter into the dough in 4 additions. As soon as you add the butter the dough will become an impossible sticky bunch, but as you continue to knead it all comes together to a lovely wet but no longer impossibly sticky dough. So try not to add flour but continue to knead!
5. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Leave to rise in a warm place for about 1,5 hour till doubled in size.
6. Once the dough has risen knead the dough again to punch back the largest air bubbles. Fold in half of the sugar pearls.
7. Roll the dough into a tube shape and then flatten the dough with a rolling pin until about half a finger/a finger's thickness. You'll have one massive and possibly rectangular flat bread. Top with the remaining sugar pearls and roll or press those in firmly.
8. Place the bread on an oven tray, cover and leave to rise for another 30-45 minutes.
9. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius or 390 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the Pain à la Grecque in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes until brown and caramelized.
10. Cut into 12-16 serving-sized pieces once it has cooled down a bit and serve with lunch or tea!

* I still swear by using salted butter, but if you prefer to use unsalted butter add 1 teaspoon salt to the dry ingredients in the first step.
** I had the luck of finding sugar pearls at a windmill near my home, but if you don't have any you can crush sugar cubes into smaller pieces. Make sure to weigh and use only the chunks!

And there you have it: a traditional Brussels recipe!  The cinnamon and sugar makes me think of the Dutch sugar bread. I haven't been able to figure out if they're related.


Now back to Brussels! It's an amazingly busy, historic and quite lovely city. While walking through the city center you will notice that every 10 meters there is a bonbon shop, every 20 meters there is a shop with beer and every step you're bombarded with tourism. The whole city will speak French, but everything is translated into Dutch and the language you'll hear the most is probably English.


Although the city has a lot of lovely architecture, with hints of art nouveau, I was of course most interested in the food. I was hugely disappointed on that part though: bonbon's just aren't my thing. I don't like the alcohol and praline just doesn't do it for me. The next sort of food the city is overflowing with is beer. I don't drink alcohol. So then there's another sort of food that stood out: mussels. During dinner at a restaurant my sister described them as 'salty slimy goo' and as someone who doesn't like seafood to begin with, I politely passed. That leaves two Brussels dishes that could never disappoint: Belgium fries and waffles.


I really enjoyed my stay in Brussels: I got to see loads of new things and would definitely go again on any days but Sunday (when the shops are closed) and Monday (when all the musea are closed) and when they have everything on sale (I don't ever want to see a tiny box of cookies for 40 euro's again no matter how traditional or authentic).

On last thing I have to add: Thanks a millions grandma for letting me use your tin tableware! It is beautiful and next time I'm definitely going to bring more food to photograph and increase my skills while I'm at it. I can't explain how much I love the tin tableware, the contrast that they lend so perfectly for and the old and slightly dark feeling they give to pictures.

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