Sunday, August 28, 2016

Christmas Pastries in August

I love Marzipan. Peter loves Marzipan. And everyone (even my sister who insists she does not like Marzipan) likes the Dutch cookies  called "Amandel Koek", that contain a very marzipan-like filling. So when I found a Dutch recipe for a similar pastry I just had to try it. They turned out delicious, and even though they are supposed to be a enjoyed during the Christmas season, I don't feel very bad for making them in August:

The Dutch pastry "Banket", slightly modified with a home-made almond filling

The recipe I found was for something called "Banket", which traditionally consists of a flaky crust similar to puff pastry, and a filling made with almond paste. Since buying almond paste here is quite expensive I decided to use almond meal and make my own almond paste variation:

  • 1 cup butter (230g)
  • 2 cups flour (480g)
  • 1/2 cup cold water (115ml)
To make the crust, cut small pieces of butter in the flour and mix with a fork until you have many little crumbs. Then add the water and mix until everything forms a ball. It is perfectly fine if you can still see little flecks of butter in your dough, I read this makes the dough nice and flaky. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge.

  • 3 eggs
  • almond meal and powdered sugar: slightly more almond meal than powdered sugar (I am guessing I used around 1 3/4 cups almond meal and 1 1/4 cups sugar)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar (150g)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • a splash of lemon juice
I mixed 1 cup almond meal, 1 cup powdered sugar, and the 3/4 cup white sugar. I then added the eggs and mixed everything with a mixer until the eggs are beaten and combined with the almond-sugar mixture. After adding the lemon juice, almond extract and salt, I deemed the mixture too soft and added more almond flour and powdered sugar. After mixing again, the consistency seemed better, but not perfect for spreading on dough, but I resolved to put it in the fridge and it got considerably more solid.

I left both the filling and the dough in the fridge overnight and baked the pastries the next morning. To form the pastries, divide the dough in 4 pieces. Each piece is eventually formed into a long rectangle that is then filled and closed to a long, oval log. To form the rectangles I rolled the dough to logs using floured hands, and the flattened it length and width-wise with a rolling pin. The resulting rectangle was about as long as my baking sheet (~50 cm) and maybe 10-15 cm wide. Put the filling in the middle and flip the ends and sides over the filling. If you wet the edges with water, the dough sticks nicely and you can close the logs easily. Move all logs to the baking sheet covered with parchment paper and brush them with milk. The original recipe calls for sprinkling sugar on top which I left out. Cut small slits in the top of the logs since the filling will expand and the logs will burst if left closed. Then bake at 400F (205C) for 25 minutes.
The uncut, baked Banket

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Bread Baking Made Simple

Buying bread that is not soft and squishy, has a decent crust, not only white flour, and does not need to be toasted to be edible is not as easy as one would assume, so I was delighted when I was pointed to the bread in 5 minutes video. It is an easy, no-knead bread recipe that only takes 5 minutes! The bread turned out great and I have been baking my own bread for the last few weeks.

Flaxseed & whole wheat bread
Whole wheat rye bread

The "master" recipe is super simple:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1.5 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 3 1/4 cups flour

Dump everything in a mixing bowl, stir with a large spoon until the ingredients are combined (no need to knead the dough), and let rise for 2 - 3 hours. After that, cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight or until read to use. The recipe says the dough can be in the fridge for several weeks, but I have never managed to keep mine longer than 5 days so far.

When ready to bake, take about half of the dough out with floured hands and stretch the dough from the top around the sides to the bottom to form a loaf shape. I usually do this approximately 5 times to get a nice loaf. Put the loaf on a dusted pizza peel and let rest for 40 minutes. I use cornmeal to dust the pizza peel, but I think regular flour or parchment paper will work as well. The pizza peel is used to later slide the bread onto the hot pizza stone. If you do not have a pizza stone and pizza peel, simply try baking the bread on parchment paper on a regular baking sheet. Place the pizza stone on the middle rack and an old baking form (I am using a pie pan) on the bottom rack of your oven and preheat it to 450F (232C). Once the 40 minute rest of the loaf is over and the oven is preheated, it is time to bake the bread. Dust the top of the bread with some flour and use a knife with a serrated edge to make one or several cuts in the top of your bread. The cuts should be rather deep (1-2 cm) to avoid the bread from braking when it rises in the oven. Put the bread in the oven and add 1 cup of cold water to the hot pan at the bottom of your oven. The humidity from the evaporating water will create a nicer crust. Be careful not to burn yourself when adding the water! Bake for 40 minutes and voilĂ  - there is your bread!

For the rye bread I used 1 cup rye, 1 cup whole wheat, and 1 1/4 cups regular flour. 1 cup = 236 ml, so if you are baking in Germany use any measuring cup with 250 ml and fill it to the line with flour (or water) to get approximately one cup. Probably any larger coffee cup would also work.

The flaxseed bread contains about 1/2 cup flaxseeds and half whole wheat and half white flour. Sunflower seeds also taste really well in this, and I just picked up some quinoa and chia seeds to try some new variations.