Sunday, January 27, 2013

Daring Bakers - Speculaas!

Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! Delicious!

Since nothing is ever open on campus on Sundays anyway, I decided to find a cafe in town settle down and do some reading in. Y'know, cup of tea, some Charles Dickens, typical day in my classy, classy life.  I hopped off the bus and wandered into Fixx (they make beautiful latte art, by the way),  reveling in the rare opportunity to have the sun shine so bright I had to squint. 

Apologies for the bad phone pictures.

 The day was so full of possibility! The whole city was at my disposal. But then...the cloudless sky mysteriously disappeared and down came the rain. I hunched over, hands in my pockets. It was bound to pass soon. But it just came harder. And harder. I ran, looking desperately for shelter. Anywhere would do. I finally spotted a SPAR and burst inside. One of the guys working there looked at me with pity and handed me some paper towels, but they weren't enough to even dry my sleeve. I squeezed my hair out on the floormat, ordered a steamer from their coffee stand, and sat down with a stack of napkins, trying in vain to dry myself out


The rain finally let up enough for me to escape to the bus stop and finally get home, but I learned to never go out in Dublin without being prepared for any sort of weather. Thanks to the workers at SPAR for being so kind to me. I love Irish people.

This was one of the last recipes I made before I left the US for my extended stay in Ireland. I loved that it was unique and new to me but still easy enough to pull off in a short amount of time. Homemade almond paste is sandwiched between layers of spicy speculaas. Nom. I hope I can get creative enough to participate in the next challenge even though I don't have an oven. When there's a will, there's a way


Recipe Speculaas Spices
Speculaas spices can be bought in a store. But it's more fun to make your own mixture, so that you can adjust the flavor. Here is a representative recipe from the extensive Dutch tradition.

cinnamon 40 to 60 % of the total amount
ground cloves 1 or 2 parts
mace ½ or 1 part
ginger ½ or 1 part

white pepper ½ or 1 part
cardamom ½ or 1 part
coriander ½ or 1 part
anise ½ or 1 part
nutmeg 1 or 2 parts

A convenient way to mix the spices is as follows:
Take at least 1 or 2 teaspoons of ground cloves, ½ or 1 teaspoon of mace and ½ or 1 teaspoon of ginger.
Add to taste ½ or 1 teaspoon of white pepper, ½ or 1 teaspoon of cardamom, ½ or 1 teaspoon of coriander, ½ or 1 teaspoon of anise, and 1 or 2 teaspoons of nutmeg. Measure or weigh the amount of spices you have now, and add an equal amount of cinnamon.

Recipe Almond Paste
As we are going to make stuffed speculaas, we will need almond paste. You can buy it in a store, but homemade almond paste tastes better.

7/8 cup (210 ml)(125 gm)(4½ oz) raw almonds (or 1-1/3 cups (320 ml)(125 gm) (4½ oz) ground almonds)
5/8 cup (150 ml) (125 grams) (4½ oz) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) lemon zest

If the raw almonds still have their brown skins, remove them as follows (totally didn't do this, oops!). Bring water to a boil, add the almonds, cook them for one minute, drain immediately and let cool for a few minutes. Rub them between your fingers to remove the skins.
Grind the almonds for one or two minutes in a food processor, until you see nothing but very small pieces. (Or skip this step if you use ground almonds.)
Add the sugar, and grind for another one or two minutes. It must be very fine after this step.
Add the egg and let the food processor combine it - if it is powerful enough. Otherwise you will have to combine it with your fingers.

Store the almond paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Although the flavor gets better as days pass by, it is not wise to store the paste for too long, as it contains a raw egg. For the same reason you should not eat the paste unbaked. 

Recipe Speculaas Dough
1¾ cups (250 gm) (9 oz) all purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder
¾ cup (150 grams) (5-1/3 oz) brown sugar, firmly packed
a pinch salt
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) speculaas spices
3/4 cup (1½ stick) (175 gm) (6 oz) unsalted butter

Put flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices in a bowl.
Cut the butter in dices and add.
Knead until smooth.
Feel free to add a little milk if the dough is too dry.
Wrap in clingfoil and put in the refrigerator for two hours.

You can choose to make the dough a few days in advance, just like the almond paste, that will benefit the flavor. Freezing is no problem.

1. Grease the pan (I used a 9x9).
2. Preheat the oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas 4
3. Divide the dough into two portions.
4. Roll out both portions on a lightly floured surface, until they are exactly as big as the baking pan. 

5. Put one of the layers in the pan and press it lightly to fill the bottom.
6. Lightly beat the egg with a teaspoon cold water.
7. Smear 1/3 of the egg over the dough in the pan.
8. Roll out the almond paste between two sheets of clingfoil, until it is exactly as big as the pan, and put it on the dough in the pan. (If you chose to make the paste soft, you can smear the paste instead of rolling it.)
9. Press the paste lightly down to fit in the pan, and smear the next 1/3 of the egg over it.
10. Now put the second layer of dough on top of the paste, press it lightly, and make as smooth as possible.
11. Smear the last 1/3 of the egg over the dough.
12. Decorate the pastry with the almonds.
13. Bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven.
14. Let cool completely in the pan, then cut it in portions as you like.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Oreo Truffles

Life is moving so fast and I almost feel like I'm having a difficult time keeping up, but in a way I've never really experienced before. Every day there is a new party downtown, or an international student event, or day trip. I've been trying my best to attend everything I can, sort of against my nature. Today I started to feel it get to me. 

I've spent the last week or so walking through the constant drizzle (my attempts to avoid puddles futile) to classes, the bus stop, friends' apartments...back and forth. I've enjoyed it, don't get me wrong, I'm just not used to it. My incredibly strong sense of introversion causes me to tire out in social situations at a faster rate than many other people. But instead of retreating to my room like I normally would when I feel that I've had enough, I've been forcing myself to stay out, sacrificing my alone time, but other things like proper nutrition as well (promise I'm getting back on track). 

Today, even though I still have the feeling that I let my friends down, I decided not to go into the city to visit museums. It sounded like my ideal sort of day, but I knew that if I went I would be doing my body and mind a disservice. My anxiety was beginning to bubble up, and I couldn't let that control me. I'm currently sitting in my kitchen with a pot of pasta e fagioli simmering on the stove behind me. My mind is at ease. I think I made a good call. 

I made these oreo truffles in a spare moment during the week. They really do only take minutes to prepare, and they're surprisingly awesome. I can see myself making them again soon. 

Oreo Truffles

36 Oreos or something similar
8 oz cream cheese
16 oz melted semisweet chocolate

If you have a food processor, pull it out and grind the Oreos until they become find crumbs. Otherwise, crush them by hand. Mix in the cream cheese until no white streaks remain. Roll the mixture into balls. I froze mine on a foil lined baking sheet before dipping in chocolate, but it's your call. Dip each ball into the melted chocolate and place on parchment or foil lined sheet. Refrigerate until firm.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rice Pudding

Whew, what a week. From pub crawling to shivering on the beaches of Bray, I have been going out of my way to be much more social than is typical of me. Meeting new people from all over the world is fantastic, but I accidentally slept for 12 hours Saturday night, which I guess was my body's way of telling me to reign it in a bit? But there's no time for that! Classes have just begun, and next weekend I'll be taking a weekend trip to Cork (by the way, can we pause and think about how it's almost February? Sheesh). Time flies, and I have to do my best to keep up!

This is Wicklow Jail. It was cold and kinda spooky.

I've been surprisingly less homesick than I thought I would. Being able to Skype, facebook chat, and use Google Hangouts to make phone calls has been really helpful. It's kind of astounding that only 5 years ago I went to Europe and was totally fine without internet access, and the only way to call home was with a phone card that may or may not work with the temperamental Italian telephone at the front desk of a hotel. 

One thing I do miss? The oven. Oh man, I really, really do. But I'm trying my best here. The other night I made some rice pudding to relax. It turned out suuuuuper thick and creamy, which I attribute to the use of a bit of Irish cream. Country of magical dairy. This pudding is only slightly sweet, and best eaten hot, since when refrigerated, it becomes a solid chunk. Still delicious as a late night snack though! 

Rice Pudding 

580ml milk ( I used a mixture of milk and cream)
1 tsp vanilla paste (or extract, or a bean, whatever you have)
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
4 tbs basmati rice
1/8 tsp. cinnamon

In a pan, heat the milk. As the milk heats, split down in the middle vanilla pod, scrape the seeds and add to the warming milk. Just as the milk comes to the boil, turn off the heat.
In a large, wide saucepan, melt butter with sugar. As soon as the butter is melted and bubbling, add the rice and stir for 1 minute. Begin adding the milk to the rice, one ladle full at a time. Cook over medium-low heat, being careful not to scorch the rice. Stir constantly. As the milk is absorbed, add another ladle full of milk and continue cooking the rice, continue with adding milk.
After about 20-25 minutes, taste the rice. If it’s plump and soft, then you know it’s cooked. If not, continue adding milk and cooking until the rice is done. If you need more milk, warm up some more, sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve hot.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First Impressions...

Hello friends. It has been a long, long ten days since I have last spoken to all of you lovely people. I have since arrived in Dublin, and spent the past week going on all sorts of adventures with my mom. 

I love my moooom!

Would you like to see some other pictures? Yes? If you insist. 

Pretty, right? I love Dublin so far. People are incredibly friendly, helpful, and have a really dry sense of humor, which I can totally roll with. I'd almost call the city cozy. I already have found some favorite places and little shops, like the Chester Beatty Library, Avoca, and Queen of Tarts.
I am enamored with the food...fluffy scones with clotted cream, milky cups of tea...more scones. We'll talk about scones more in a second. Let me show you where I'm living:

Sorry for the mess, I'm still getting settled. 

Nice, right? Everything is brand new. But do you notice anything about the kitchen? Like...the lack of OVEN? That's right guys...the baker has no oven. Sigh. Double sigh. I know I can survive, but I can't make any meals except on the stovetop, cakes, no cookies, bars, scones. I can't try and perfect my Irish scone! I'm sad, I won't lie about that. But I'll obviously make due. I'll just have to be a little more creative. If any of you have recipes for no bake desserts, I'd love to have them, seriously, leave them in the comments. 

This'll be an interesting semester.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Salted Caramel Cupcakes

Oh my gosh guys, I'm almost there. Almost in Dublin. And alternating between incredibly nervous and incredibly excited. Hopefully the nerves will subside. It's just that...having to say those last goodbyes to friends, packing up all my clothes into two gallon ziploc bags (and body-slamming all the air out of them), looking around my kitchen and knowing that soon enough, I will have none of the convenience I'm used to...things are real. 

What if I get to Ireland and my kitchen is a disaster? What if I'm suuuuuuper awkward around new people and everyone is like "Nah, I'll pass on talking to that one". What if I get sad and I want to talk to someone from home but it's the middle of the night there? Breathe. It will be okay. Hopefully it will be not just okay, but fantastic. 

 I made these for a get together my sister had a few days after Christmas. I was not present (I was at Les Mis with my parents, and did not shed a single tear. Perhaps there is something wrong with me) for their reception, but I think it was a positive one. I've been wanting to try this recipe forever, and well, this seemed like as good an occasion as any. Sweet, buttery caramel is paired with sea salt to create an intriguing and incredibly awesome cupcake. I decided to go without the filling and the caramel halos cause I was running low on sugar and time, but feel free to go for it if you're feeling brave :) 

Salted Caramel Cupcakes
from Sprinkle Bakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 stick of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line muffin tins with papers. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Cream butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until pale fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated.  Add vanilla.  Mix and scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and beating until combined after each.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about halfway full.  Bake for about 25 minutes. When done, transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely.
Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting:

1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick salted butter
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

In a saucepan, stir together granulated sugar and water.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Cook without stirring until mixture turns a deep amber color.  Remove from heat and slowly add in cream and vanilla, stirring until very smooth.  Let caramel cool for about 20 minutes, until it is just barely warm and still pourable.

In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and salt together until lightened and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and add powdered sugar.  Mix until thoroughly combined.

Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the caramel.  Beat on medium high speed until light and airy, and completely mixed (about 2 minutes).  Mixture should be ready to use without refrigeration.  If your caramel was too hot when added, it will cause your icing to be runny.  If this happens refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.