Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sorry! -again-

I'm sorry to say guys, but I'm going to delay today's yesterday's the day before yesterdays post again! With all the work I have for my thesis and other assignments I barely have time to do anything else. On top of that I just came back from vacation yesterday. I could just use a post I have on hold, but I prefer to rant about my vacation tomorrow.. So please look forward to a bit of Barcelona! 

Okay, so if I don't HAVE time, I'll just MAKE time.. 

I give up.

No really, I've been trying a whole week long now! But working on my thesis research took up all my time. We're in the few most important weeks of the research process now, so I spend every moment I can on it. Maybe I have an hour or two this weekend in which I can share what I wanted. Until then: I'm really sorry again!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Brown Betty

After another busy day I get 45 minutes to write a post and then get back to work. I didn't make it. Really, if I had to describe myself now and the past few weeks the only thing that comes to mind is "busy". Too busy to do chores at home, too busy to go Christmas shopping, too busy to sit down and quite frankly, too busy to run a blog. Although I'll be damned if I give up on the one thing that keeps me sane! (Admittedly that's debatable, but at least it keeps me fed.)

I spent a part of my weekend baking up some pumpkin scones, which I thought would be lovely for Thanksgiving or Christmas. And they do go perfect both with soups or with jam and cream, but what I really wanted to share was a Brown Betty. Sounds nice already doesn't it? Basically it's a bread pudding, although I've also seen it described as an apple pie. I tasted it and I don't think it's either although if I had to describe it, it'll be exactly in the middle of both.

A Brown Betty
from Miss Leslie's New Cookery Book [1857]

"Pare, core, and slice thin some fine juicy apples. Cover with the apples the bottom of a large deep white-ware dish. Sweeten them well with plenty of brown sugar; adding grated lemon or orange peel. Strew over them a thick layer of bread-crumbs, and add to the crumbs a very few bits of fresh butter. The put in another layer of cut apples and sugar, followed by a second layer of bread-crumbs and butter. Next more apples and sugar; then more bread-crumbs and butter; repeat this till the dish is full, finishing it with bread-crumbs. Bake it till the apples are entirely done and quite soft. Send it to table hot."

Brown Betty is a recipe that is way older than the oldest person you know right now. That, and then times 2 or 3. It dates all the way back to 1849, but it's quite a bit older considering this is only one of the first times it's written down as a recipe. By then, it was already known throughout the whole of America and even reached as far as England!

Although the recipe above is lovely, some of you might want to have measurements to hold on to. You know, in case you need to go shopping or wonder how much bread you'll have to leave to stale. So just for you I've tested the recipe a few times, and these measurements should definitely work! 

Brown Betty
4 crème brûlée dishes

2 cups (/2 large) apples or pears
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup bread/cake/biscuit crumbs
around 2 tablespoons butter

1. Chop the apples or pears in chunks. Toss in the juice, sugar and cinnamon and set aside for a moment.
2. Crumble the bread to a coarse crumb about as large as or smaller than your apple chunks.
3. Cut the butter into small chunks as well. 
4. Line up your different ingredients, butter a pie (or other) dish and start layering your ingredients. Start with a layer of apples, then a layer of crumbs, then a layer of butter and then back to apple, crumbs, butter etc. until you have filled up the dish. A small crème brûlée dish will have about 2 layers. Try to fill the dish till over the top, as the apple chunks tend to shrink when heated.
5. Put the dish in a preheated oven of 180 degrees Celsius or 360 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25-30 minutes. After 15 minutes the smell of apples and cinnamon will start to fill the room, at this point you might want to check your Brown Betty. If the top looks dark cover the dish with a bit of aluminum foil to prevent it from burning or drying out. 
6. Serve with a dollop of (cinnamon ice) cream on top!

Or another nice serving idea if you've made them in crème brûlée dishes as well: turn them over onto a plate. If it manages to stay in shape (mine did!) then it looks so cute! If it falls apart instead you can call it a hot mess. I doubt anyone will mind the looks of it once they dig in!

Oh yes! Before I forget, you have to check out this link. It's a food time line with a whole lot of American foods and some of their earliest recipe documentation. I've completely fallen in love with all those ancient recipes. Did you ever think of the enormous amount of slightly different versions of Brown Betty? Or that cake pops date back to 1963? Or how about carrot cake: did you know it was imported to America by European settlers, but possibly 'invented' by the Arabians? Amazing!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Now that I mentioned butter, let's try a cookie that relies on butter shall we? Actually I hadn't really thought about it. With Sinterklaas coming up I just had to make 'Speculaas'. Can you still follow me? Saint Nicolas -or Sinterklaas- is a Dutch holiday, in which 'the saint' delivers presents through the chimney on the night of 5 December. It sounds a bit like Christmas doesn't it? And it is actually, the Dutch version of Christmas!

And during that Dutch Christmas people hand out 'speculaas' (among a lot -LOTS- of other sweet stuff). And now I have to explain what it is right? *drums* It's a cookie! Stuffed with all the winter spices you can think of! Most of the time its crunchy, its buttery and it uses dark brown sugar and the combination is amazing. Every year again this whole country goes crazy about speculaas; you're missing out if you haven't tasted it before!

around 30 cookies - adapted from Het etna ovenboek

200 grams flour
100 grams dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons spices
125 butter *
2 tablespoons milk
almonds (optional)

1. Mix the flour with the brown sugar and spices.
2. Add the butter and the milk and knead until an even dough forms. Wrap the dough in foil and leave it in the fridge overnight if you want the flavour to really develop. Feel free to skip that part if you're as impatient as me!
3. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius or 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Shape the cookies into any shape you want. Traditionally the speculaas is sold as one large piece with almonds on top or small windmill shapes, sometimes with almonds as well. If you're using molds like mine, make sure to use a lot of (rice) flour to stop them from sticking to your mold! Once you've shaped them place them on a greased or lined oven tray.
5. Bake for around 15-20 minutes until they turn dry and slightly darker.

* Using cold butter will give a crunchier and flakier effect than using room temperature butter.

So, what do you think? Originally self-raising flour is used, but simply flour seemed to work better for me. According to the bakery museum I visited a while back, cookies like these were made two months or so beforehand, so the bakeries could keep up with the demand of these during Sinterklaas. The dough was left to rest for around 2 days before being shaped and baked and in stead of milk they used buttermilk.The cookies were made in such pretty shapes that it was custom to put them on display in the house throughout December. Eventually the speculaas became so tough that it could only be eaten after it was cooked and turned to porridge.

If I were you I wouldn't wait till you can only use this for porridge. Just eat them straight out of the oven! When they're still warm they give off such a lovely smell and they'll still be soft. If you're patient enough for them to cool down you'll find they're really crunchy in stead. Don't forget to add the almonds and oh, what are you waiting for?

Just curious actually, has any of you heard of Sinterklaas through the news now? According to the dutch newspapers we've become famous all over the world for it now, but somewhere I'm seriously doubting people have bothered with it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Beauty of Butter

I'm late! I know last Thursday was the first Thursday of the month, which should've been my deadline for a new Oven Info post. But I've been juggling too many deadlines and I couldn't make it. (I didn't make any in the end actually) Anyway, a new post! This time I felt like butter! Are you with me?
One thing that surprised me -yet shouldn't have!- is the fact the effects of butter looks so much like milk! When you think about it, butter is made of milk, so you'll find a lot of similarities with the post on Milk.

Who doesn't love the flavour of butter? It gives a certain rich, sometimes sweet or nutty flavour to our baked goods. Most likely you will have thought of this already and I really don't need to explain the effects butter has on the flavour of our cakes, breads, cookies and other bakes.

To understand the effects of butter it is important to know the different components of butter. Butter is mainly just milk fat and water. Most commercially sold butters will contain around 80% fat and 15% water. The last 5% consists out of milk solids (proteins and lactose) and sometimes a whole lot of other stuff (like salt, vitamins and colouring). The fat in the butter coats the flour proteins en thus inhibits the formation of gluten. This process results in a soft and tender baked good. Just like in milk, lactose is also responsible for the inhibition of gluten formation. At the same time the small amount of milk proteins will form and toughen the gluten, thus giving a strong crumb to the end product.
          Another effect of butter on texture is its ability to moisturize. Think of the water in  butter, but also the fat can play a large role in binding the dry ingredients together to form a batter or dough. Some cookies rely solemnly on butter to moisturize and combine all the ingredients.
          Lastly, perhaps most importantly, butter also has an effect on the leavening process. Remember leaveners like baking powder and baking soda need a batter that is already aerated? By creaming the butter you beat air into the batter. These captured little air bubbles are later expanded by leaveners, creating the fluffy texture of a baked good. 

Let's again look at the components of butter. Lactose, being a sugar, will give a baked good a lovely dark golden colour. At the same time the fat in the butter prevents burning. The effects of butter on colouring can most easily be seen when you brush a bit of butter on top of a loaf. It will give a dark golden shine to it (as well as softening the crust and adding an extra dimension in flavour).

Anything else, dear?
There's one last thing that I have to mention: butter helps preserving the freshness of a baked good and helps extending the shelf life.

Butter vs. Margarine and Shortening
These are three different types of solid fats and can be used interchangeably. But the effect on the flavour is large. While (a solid) margarine might not be too bad, shortening will definitely not compare to the sweet, slightly nutty taste of butter. Substituting butter for margarine or shortening will also have an effect on texture. For instance, margarine and shortening cannot be creamed as easily as butter. When creamed they will create denser cakes and cookies that may dome or collapse after baking. Shortening is more easily distributed through a dough or batter and can more effectively coat the flour particles, thus minimizing gluten formation and maximizing the tenderness of the baked good. Shortening usually doesn't contain water and does not contain milk solids, so it has a different effect on colouring and moisturizing a baked good. Margarine does contain both fat, water and milk solids and can be more easily interchanged with butter. Yet, even though they can be substituted for one another without too many problems, neither will give the same results as a good butter. So if a recipe asks for a large quantity of butter or asks you to cream the butter, try to stick to real butter.

Other fats
Fats are generally divided into two categories: solid fats and liquid fats. The fats within each category can de used interchangeably. Substituting fats from one category with a fat from another is more difficult, especially when the amount exceeds 1-2 tablespoons. The main reason for this is the creaming process: solid fats can trap bubbles in the batter which is needed for leavening. On top of that a solid butter will return to its solid state after being baked. Even a melted butter will eventually solidify again, while a liquid fat can't provide the same strength and texture after baking. Even when these two components don't play a role, the results will be different. For instance, olive oil is better at coating the flour to prevent gluten formation and will thus give a moister result than butter does. At the same time olive oil as a glaze does not soften the crust, but gives more colour instead. Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, an olive oil or sunflower oil has a completely different taste than butter.

Butter, shortening and margarine (and a pack of frying-fat)
Salted or Unsalted?
Sometimes I feel like there's a debate going on about which butter is best. The salted butter-users vs. the unsalted butter-users. There is however no answer to the question which is better, so let me explain the difference to you instead. One of the most obvious differences between the two butters is the taste. Unsalted butter tends to have a sweeter and creamier taste than does salted butter. However, salted butter has double the shelf life of unsalted butter (5 months). Salted butter is less likely to pick up odors from other nearby products and the salt can mask any off-smells. On the other hand, salted butter burns more easily than unsalted butter. Salted butter often contains more water. Which of the two to use depends on personal preference and experience, just do not forget the importance of salt and add or omit salt accordingly!

You know, it's really hard to try and fit everything you want to say into a short article. There are so many things I've missed now! Yet I still think I've written so much already. Are you even still with me at this point? If you're not, don't worry! I'll summon it all up for you:
So basically butter has an effect on taste (you knew this right?), texture and colour. It tenderizes and moisturizes and aids in the leavening process of our baked goodies. It gives a nice golden colour while at the same time preventing burning!
Next, there are different kinds of fats, divided into solid fats and liquid fats. Solid fats can be used interchangeably, but substituting with a liquid fat will be harder. Obviously, every single fat product will have different effects on taste, texture and colour. Salted and unsalted butter can also be substituted for one another, just remember to adjust the salt content accordingly!

My References:
Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter 
Bakken met plezier by H. Halverhout
Culinate - Kitchen Chemistry
Grondstof Belicht - Slagroom
Joy of Baking - Butter
baking911 - Fats

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Wentelteefjes (French toast)

I don't know what to do! I have whole lists of recipes I'd love to share, but just yesterday I realized there's seven weeks left till Christmas. SEVEN?! Which means I can only share seven recipes and there is no way that I can travel the whole world full of traditional Christmas recipes in just a few weeks. My big plan suddenly seems doomed to fail.. But most importantly, I don't feel Christmas yet. I'm caught up in my research, school projects and classes. We still need to celebrate Saint Nicolas (5 December) first before we can start thinking about Christmas!

So while I'm debating and stressing and wondering what to do with this horrible life-threatening problem, I still figured a recipe to share. In Holland it's a traditional way to use up old bread. But many more countries have their (also traditional) own version of this way too easy recipe!

When I think of recipes as traditional, I always have to do a bit of background on how traditional exactly the recipe is. And how much more traditional I can make it. You won't notice by my post, but sometimes theres hours of working trying to find the right ingredients or the little bit of history I wanted to know. For this recipe the exact history seems to be unknown. The idea was to use up old bread in a creative way and this idea has spread throughout the whole world (at least the parts that eat bread). The interesting part is the names people have thought up for it. The dutch word wentelteefje supposedly translates to 'turning it quickly'. Another few creative names: from Belgium the verloren of gewonnen brood (the lost or found bread) or the French pain perdu (lost bread). Or even more brilliant: the German Arme Ritter (poor knight). Or the less creative ones: the American French toast or the Spanish torrija (toast), the Greek γαλλικό τοστ (French toast). And then theres a whole lot of funny pronounciations for the same 'french toast'.

French toast (Wentelteefjes)
makes 10-20 slices- inspired by Grootmoeders Grote Keukenboek

3 eggs
30 grams sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
100 ml milk 
10 slices of (old) bread

1. Lightly whisk the eggs with the sugar. Add the cinnamon and the milk and whisk until you have an even mixture.
2. Melt a bit of butter in a pan. Dip one of the slices of bread into the egg-mixture and into the pan. Fry for a few minutes until golden brown (or starting to burn) on both sides. Serve immediately!

Because it's so simple to make, this recipe just begs for creativity. Think of adding fruits, a bit of cream and cutting them into triangles for a fancy brunch. Or how about turning them savory with a bit of cheese on top and bit of pepper and leek through the egg? Or think of a Christmas dessert: serve with whipped cream and warm cherries. How about a simple breakfast: adding some nutella/chocolate chips and banana? Really the possibilities for varying shapes, taste and accompaniments is endless!

Lastly, I'm really curious about what you think: should I start posting Christmas recipes? Or stick to other things until December? And more importantly: what Christmas traditions do you want to see? Any countries that spring to mind?