Tag Archives: dessert

Lemon Curd

13 Mar

Lemon curd.

It’s not exactly an attractive sounding name, is it? Who reads that and goes “oh yum, I must have some C.U.R.D…!”. Unless you’re British and scones make up 70% of your daily dietary intake, I don’t think anyone gets super-hyped over curd. It just doesn’t excite like Javier Bardem chocolate does, does it?

Nonetheless, lemon curd has been on my list of “things to give a go” for a while now. I love lemon flavored things, but I never really grasped the vast deliciousness of curd until I made it last Sunday morning. Somehow, I always thought of making curd as a complicated ‘fancy’ thing. And somehow, I always thought the effort wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t have hit further off the mark if I was a 10-yr old boy in a public urinal. I was so wrong. Wrong-er than Richard Simmons’ aerobic outfits, and that is a whole other dimension of wrong, folks!

It all started with a trip to Underwood Family Farms with my fiery Latina colleague Maritza. If you’re in the greater Los Angeles area, you must visit some time. If you don’t have a fiery Latina colleague named Maritza, bring your kids to achieve the same level of vivaciousness & spunk. Being a full-fledged operational farm, complete with muddied farm workers & equipment that looks like it could be featured in a Halloween horror movie. The farm has brilliantly married its day-to-day operations with modern society’s obsession with Instagram, selfie-taking and a reconnect with Mother Earth. Opening a portion of their farm to the public, the owners’ genius created a farm fun-land for city slickers like yours truly. Beside a petting zoo, a playground, farm-themed kids’ entertainment and a fairly large farm stand for those who do not ‘dirt & sweat’ well, you also have endless…endless!… fields of U-pick deliciousness which rotate with the seasons. They are, after all, a real farm. Not a Disneyland farm.

Forget the quality of the produce for a minute… If you’ve already swan-dived into farm-fresh produce, carry on. For all others, sit down next to me and read on: picking your own produce is fun & therapeutic.  I never knew that snapping broccoli off its mother-stem had addictive qualities. The very moment you know it’s going to snap off, is incredibly satisfying. Or the wet, almost muted swooshing sound a beet makes as its roots leave the ground… Not to mention the suspense of not knowing how large that sucker is going to be? Right?  Then there’s the incredible aroma that fills the air when you yank a bunch of fresh cilantro out of the dirt. I have no words for that. Or, the delicateness with which you carefully harvest raspberries, making sure you’re as gentle with them as you are with your grandmother’s porcelain. Or cupping a handful of blueberries and watching them happily dart into your basket as they release… And, last but not least, the heroic courage you find within yourself to boldly reach into a cobwebbed cluster of branches to pick the ‘perfect’ lemon, only to then frantically fling your hand a Mach 3 speed to ensure all you got was the lemon… I find it all extraordinarily relaxing and rewarding.

And then there’s the flavor… It’s the stuff of fairytales. The thing is, one day you’re eating the flavorless fruits and produce you’ve always liked and you wouldn’t change a single thing. And then, one day, the triple-threat crunch/sweet/juicy punch of a fresh vegetable gets under your skin and suddenly, the grocery store landscape is a bleak, depressing place without these fresh beauties.

Dirty, sweaty and tired – I came home with the mother-ship of Meyer lemons. Funny enough, curd wasn’t even on my mind at the time. I figured that with the Farklepants’ brothers battling a nasty head cold, I would just juice them (the lemons, not the brothers) with some ginger… but then Bobby Flay ate a scone with lemon curd on Sunday morning. All bets were off.

The recipe below makes approx. 2 cups. You’re going to want to eat this sweet tangyness straight out of the jar, so I suggest you get your spoon ready.

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LEMON CURD

(per a recipe form Life Currents)

– 0.5 cup of Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)

– 1 stick of butter (4 oz), cubed

– 0.5 cups of granulated sugar (add an extra tablespoon if using regular lemon juice)

– 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or ‘a pinch’

– 4 large egg yolks + 3 whole large eggs  (use 3+3 for extra large eggs)

In small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, sugar, butter & salt. Heat over low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

In a medium size bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks and 3 whole eggs together until well-combined.

Here’s the tricky part: gently & slowly incorporate half of the hot lemon/butter mixture into your eggs, all the while whisking. This is called ‘tempering’ your eggs and forming an emulsion, so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.

Place the bowl with the tempered egg mixture over a gently simmering pot of water (au bain marie) and incorporate the remainder of the lemon/butter mixture until it thickens. The thickening starts around 150F and will have the right consistency around 180F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just look for the consistency of custard. It will take approx. 5 min of constant gentle whisking (do not stop whisking, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!)

Also make sure to NOT boil the mixture.

Run the custard through a mesh sieve to get rid of any potential egg bits, and place the curd into a jar. Chill for at least 3 hours in the fridge.

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Bourbon Pecan Pumpkin Butter

29 Aug

With pumpkin season lurking right around the corner, I can’t contain my excitement any longer. If I had to name one thing that I absolutely love about Fall, it’s that for 8-12 weeks out of the year you can find pretty much find anything with the comforting aroma of warm spiced pumpkin.

Pumpkin was not a big thing in Belgium when I grew up. It was mostly used in soups, but I hear from friends that nowadays Halloween celebrations are popular too. As a child, I can’t remember a single fun Halloween celebration. My only memories of ‘All Hallows Eve’ are that it was a solemn Catholic affair, and not the commercial circus it is today. Instead of happily hanging orange or purple-glowing pumpkin- & bat-shaped porch lights, mom would dress us to the nines and we’d be picked up in my dad’s old Ford to attend a full blown Catholic mass with his side of the family. If a 60-min Catholic mass in Latin wasn’t enough to sit through as a young child, especially hearing all the happy ding-ding-dong’s from the fair rides echoing over the town square, we’d also had to gather outside in the icy cold October air after mass and stroll the cobblestone pilgrimage path around the grey stone church building 3x, with the adults reflected in deep prayer. After that ordeal, we’d then swing by the graveyard to ‘visit’ people I had never even heard of and place potted chrysanthemum bushes on their gravestones, and finally, when the blood in my young veins was adequately congealed and my cold hands just the right shade of bluish pink, we were allowed to get in the car and drive to someone’s house for sandwiches and soup… followed by hot ‘oliebollen’ at the fair!

Nowadays, I actually enjoy the atmosphere Halloween brings along. I’ll come right out saying that I’m very wimpy and as such not a fan of the various scary haunts you find across town (*), but I love seeing the pumpkin patches appear and the fact that Halloween sort of rings in the pumpkin-flavored ‘anything’ season. I never knew pumpkin butter was so tasty, until I saw it at the store one time and decided to try it for the sake of culinary progress. I can literally ssschhhhmear pumpkin butter on anything from bread to yogurt, and in the dead of night on occasion, I can be seen spooning it straight out of the jar… Because let’s be honest, whatever I put it on, is really nothing more than a vessel to get that deliciousness in my mouth. A few years ago, when perusing Williams-Sonoma, I willy-nilly picked up one of their recipe cards for pumpkin pie. If you think the jarred stuff is good, wait until you make your own! It’s so easy and tasty, you’ll allow none to touch it until they pry it out of your dead hands. Let ye all souls be warned!
(*) I once bravely accepted an invitation from a friend to go to ‘Shipwreck Queen Mary’ in Long Beach, CA… where I may or may not have screeched at the top of my lungs and spontaneously slapped a blood-covered ax-wielding actor in the face out of fear for my life. I plead the fifth… but I did apologize profusely. Oh dear.

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BOURBON PECAN PUMPKIN BUTTER
(Inspired by a recipe for pumpkin pie)
– 1 29 oz can pumpkin puree, approx. 3 1/2 cups (not the pie filling kind)
– 1/2 cup apple juice
– 1/3 cup of good quality Bourbon
– 2 tsp ground ginger
– 1/2 tsp ground cloves
– 1 1/3 cups brown sugar
– 1.5 Tbsp ground cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
– 1 tsp of ground cardamom
– juice of 1/2 lemon
– 1 cup of pecans

Reserve lemon juice, pecans & bourbon, and combine all other ingredients in a medium Dutch oven or large sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cook without lid over low heat for approx. 45min until thick. Stir occasionally.

In the meantime, preheat oven to 400F and toast pecans for 10-15 min. Allow to cool and grind them into a powder with a food processor… Or crush them with a hand mixer for a chunky butter.

Pour bourbon into warm pumpkin mixture during the last 30 min, and simmer until liquid is evaporated.

Fold pecans & lemon juice into the warm pumpkin mixture and allow pumpkin butter to cool completely. Adjust spices as needed, to your taste.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for approx. a month… Not that it’ll last that long!

Flemish Beignets

7 Aug

‘Oliebollen’ or ‘smoutebollen’, Belgium’s answer to American donuts, are firmly planted in youth sentiment for me. They bring back lots of teenage memories, of spending hour upon hour parading up & down the snowy fairgrounds with my friends, often in sub-zero temperatures, in hopes the cute fair hands would notice us and score us a free paper cone of hot beignets or a free ride.

When the weather gets dreary or downright mean, there’s nothing more comforting than to bite into a crispy hot ball of freshly fried dough, dusted with powdered sugar. The sugar instantly melts on the hot surface and forms a crackling coating on the outside of this deep fried dream. I’m telling you now, oliebollen are a ‘must have’ when the temps drop and your nose hairs are starting to congeal.

You can buy yourself some sugary warmth at the many quaint stalls that line the town squares in Holland & Belgium, and waft invitingly through the cold Fall & Winter air. Especially during the times the ‘kermis’ or fair is in town, or the annual Christmas Markets that start showing up in late November, both of which add much needed light & coziness to the short, dark evenings. I mean, just look at it:

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Doesn’t it look all warm and beckoning?

I figured that if I wanted ‘oliebollen’, I would have to learn to make them at home since Los Angeles is short on this kind of campy quaintness… and who can wait for the county fair to arrive… in July! No. I needed to have access to this greasy happiness in Fall & Winter, when evening temperatures drop well below 65F. Don’t judge.

I’ve probably spent too much time browsing the Internet for the perfect recipe, but the winning recipe came from a former colleague of mine, who was tasked by yours truly with the impossible mission of seducing prying the recipe out of our favorite ‘oliebollen‘ baker from the city fair in Ghent. I completely forgot about these, until I recently found her grease-stained email folded neatly in a cookbook of mine… Enjoy!

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OLIEBOLLEN
(aka Flemish beignets… per Marktkramer De Kuijper‘s recipe)
– 1.5 oz of good quality unsalted butter
– 10.5 oz of self-rising flour (or pastry flour or all purpose flour, if you can’t find self-rising flour)
– 1 oz of fresh yeast (or 0.5 oz of dry active yeast)
– 8 oz of whole milk
– 1 tsp of natural vanilla extract
– a pinch of salt
– 1.5 eggs (2 whites + 1 yolk)

Make sure to use room-temperature ingredients, and measure everything precisely!

In a large bowl, sift flour. In a small bowl, crumble fresh yeast into milk, and stir until dissolved. Add yeasted milk & vanilla extract to flour, and stir to create a batter.

Melt butter in the microwave on medium power, and add egg yolk and butter to batter. Stir until well combined.

Beat egg whites in a grease-free bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the batter, and also add a pinch of salt.
The batter should be fairly loose, so if it feels a bit too stiff, add a splash more milk.

Let the batter rest for 20-25 minutes while you fill a large Dutch oven with peanut oil and heat it to 375F. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the oil doesn’t overheat, which causes uneven cooking.

Use an ice cream scoop to drop 2-3 scoops of batter into the hot oil at a time. Cook each side until golden brown. Doughnuts will cook very quickly in the right temperature oil, so check them quickly after you place them in the oil. Flip and cook the other side. Don’t crowd your pot, as this will cause the temperature to drop too rapidly, causing uneven cooking and can potentially cause your pot to overflow, which is dangerous!

Use a spatula to take the beignets out of the oil and let them sit on a paper towel lined plate for a minute or so, to absorb the excess oil. Transfer to a plate in a warm oven while you cook the rest of them.

When done, dust with powdered sugar and prepare to eat more than one!

Pink Grapefruit & Limoncello Mousse

6 Aug

Last time my mom visited from Belgium, I randomly asked her if she still remembered those little cups of yogurt mousse she used to buy for us by the dozen. We were on our way to ‘Surfas’ kitchen supply store in Culver City, in search of organic black squid ink – don’t ask! There was nothing in particular that sparked my question, so it is entirely possible that I overwhelmed her with the randomness of it, but mom firmly stated that she had no idea what I was talking about and quickly concluded that I must be remember things wrong, because mom is always right… even when she’s wrong. It’s a Flemish miracle, really, and one that should be recognized by a ribbon from the Pope and possible sainthood.

I know that I didn’t dream up this deliciousness, because I still remember exactly what the packaging looked like and I remember that this fluffy delight came in lemon, strawberry and blueberry flavor. The tart, sweet lemon flavor was by far my favorite, and I recall I would secretly re-shuffle the containers in the fridge so that the lemon ones were always hidden from plain sight in the back of the fridge, thusly, increasing the odds of saving them for yours truly by 200%. I was stealth like that.

Besides custards, mousses are my next favorite dessert things. I love their airy, light fluffiness. It was only recently that the idea of a pink grapefruit mousse slapped me in the face, when I read an article about how incorporating this fruit into your daily diet promotes weight loss… and what better way to do it than with dessert? Right?

Yeah.

I’m sure this is not what the author had in mind, but whatever. Don’t rain on my culinary parade, please.

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PINK GRAPEFRUIT & LIMONCELLO MOUSSE
(Adapted from a variety of mousse recipes)
– 2 ruby red or pink grapefruit
– 6 oz of thick Greek yogurt
– 7 oz of heavy whipping cream
– 2 Tbsp of limoncello (or another citrus-flavored liquor)
– 3 egg whites
– a pinch of salt
– 4 sheets of gelatin
– 2 Tbsp of sugar

Place gelatin sheets into a bowl of cold water and allow it to swell. When gelatin is soft, pour cold water out of the bowl and add 2-3 Tbsp of very hot/boiling water and allow swollen gelatin to melt. Let cool slightly while you prepare the other ingredients.

Juice both grapefruits and strain juice so all fleshy bits and pits stay behind. Combine clear grapefruit juice with limoncello. Fold sugar into yogurt, and add juice. Beat yogurt mixture with handheld mixer until well-combined and somewhat fluffy. Taste for sweetness, if it’s too tart, add a bit more sugar.

Beat heavy whipping cream until it is firm & fluffy, but not super stiff. Fold it gently into the yogurt mixture, together with the lukewarm melted gelatin.

Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form, and gently fold these into the yogurt/cream mixture. Try to keep the air in the egg whites, as this will give your mousse a light, fluffy texture.

Divide mousse over 6 ramekins or small glasses, and allow to set in the refrigerator for at least 2-4 hours.

Rose Water & Lemon Turkish Delight

4 Aug

Yesterday evening, I drifted into a beautiful Pinterest dream and stumbled upon picture after picture of gorgeous Polish and Turkish pottery.

There are times where I reminisce about my life in Belgium with somewhat of a pang of homesickness in the pit of my stomach, and seeing that beautiful pottery made me miss the Turkish markets in my town there. Compared to so much cultural history and ‘couleur locale’ (local ‘color’), California seems sterile at times, despite the Hispanic and Asian influence we’re inundated with over here. It’s not the same. I miss the public open-air markets in Belgium. They usually run once a week and are set up like our farmers markets over here, just with a lot more variety in goods and tremendously more local color. They bring together a variety of people, from the old bitties to the young hipsters, all in search of hot waffles and exciting market finds. The many vendors or ‘markt kramers’ are celebrities on their own turf, luring customers by loudly broadcasting their wares in a thundering voice and colorful language, or blatantly flattering the female population in hopes of piquing their interest. Market days were fun, even when temperatures dropped to single digits and rain puddles formed alongside the cobblestone streets.

One of the things I would regularly indulge in whilst browsing around on market days, was delicious ‘lokum’ or Turkish Delight. Sweet, gooey & soft, it was the perfect kind of treat to reward yourself with after a busy morning at the market, or to make you forget you’re entering your fifth week of nonstop pounding rain & howling wind. Paired with a hot cup of mint tea, it brings a bit of Oriental flair into your home and you can pretend you went shopping at the ‘casbah’ or Turkish bazaar.

Turkish delight is easy to make. It’s traditionally flavored with rose water, like marzipan, but you can add whichever flavoring you prefer. I prefer the authentic rose water flavor, but I add in some fresh lemon juice as well. You could even add in some pistachio nuts, fresh mint leaves or a pinch of saffron. The possibilities for these gelees are endless.

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ROSE WATER & LEMON TURKISH DELIGHT
(Makes approx. 60 pieces)
– 1 2/3 cups of cold water
– 7 tsp of unflavored gelatin (approx. 4 packages)
– 2 1/3 cups of sugar
– 3 Tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained
– 4 tsp of rose water
– 2 drops of red food coloring
– corn starch
– vegetable oil

Brush a 8x8x2-inch non-stick metal pan with the oil. Place 2/3 cup of water in a small bowl, and sprinkle gelatin in it. Set aside until gelatin softens, approx. 15 minutes.

Combine remaining 1 cup of water, sugar and lemon juice in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and syrup boils. Cover, increase the heat and boil 3 more minutes.

Uncover, attach a candy thermometer, and boil until temperature reaches 238F, which should be about 5 min.

Remove pan from the heat and add in gelatin mixture, store until completely dissolved. Mix in the rose water and food coloring (*), and pour into oil-brushed prepared pan. Let stand at room temperature until set, about 4 hours. Cover and chill overnight.

Cut candy into small squares and completely coat with corn starch. You can keep these in the fridge in an airtight container for approx. 1-2 weeks.

(*) Food coloring is strictly for color only and you can leave this out or add as much as little if you desire. You can also play around with different colors.

Mama’s Tiramisu

3 Aug

In my post about lasagna, I’ve hinted before that mom was mystifyingly Italian, for a Belgian. While she not only was is a passionate believer in enhancing verbal communication with dramatic facial expressions and/or hand gestures, she also prepared certain Italian staples like a real ‘Mama Gina’, with ‘passione’ and the prerequisite matriarchal dominance of the kitchen quarters.

As a child, I recall there were many times I’d be perched on the kitchen counters, intrigued by the tantalizing smells and mom’s busy activity, but there were an equal number of times where our mere presence in the kitchen would catapult her into a peppered tizzy and we instinctively knew to keep our distance. On ‘tiramisu-days’, we’d be lucky if we were even allowed to stand in the doorframe and watch… And even then, the sight of us would often result in an annoyed hand gesture and a quick dismissal, as though tiramisu was top secret and you needed special Governmental clearance before you could watch.

I’m not even sure where mom got the recipe below from, but if you’ve ever had the opportunity to savor the ‘real thing’ from a sun-drenched patio in Napoli, you’d instantly recognize that mom was on to something with this recipe. It’s so creamy and velvety, that the first bite of this deliciousness sends you straight to a cobblestone piazza somewhere in Rome. Furthermore, tiramisu is so easy to make, it should be a mortal sin, really.

While it takes some advance planning since tiramisu needs 8-10 hours in the refrigerator, it’s a ‘no bake’, foolproof dessert that is a real show-stopper. Heck, even your teenage daughter may briefly forget about your ‘lameness’ and kiss you on the cheek for this one. And wouldn’t that be worth it???

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MAMA’S TIRAMISU
(As per my mom’s top secret instructions… Sshhh!!!)
– 10.5 oz of ladyfinger cookies (*)
– 9 oz of mascarpone
– 3 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3.5 oz Amaretto liquor
– 7 oz of very strong cold coffee (coffee that is so strong, you can’t drink it!)
– 2 Tbsp of golden brown sugar
– 1/3 cup of sweetened cocoa powder (Nesquick works great!)
(*) The trick to a great tiramisu is using ‘real’ ladyfinger cookies like they sell in most of Europe. They are crunchy and light, and dusted with a bit of crystal sugar on the outside. The American ladyfinger cookies are too ‘cakey’ and not crunchy at all. If you can’t find Italian ladyfinger cookies or ‘savoiarde’, use Nilla wafers instead.If you don’t know what ladyfinger cookies look like, you can see some of them in the picture of my chocolate mousse post.

Beat egg yolks, mascarpone and sugar into a smooth consistency with your electric, handheld mixer.
In a clean, oil free bowl, beat egg whites into stiff peaks and gently fold into the egg/mascarpone mixture by hand.

Combine coffee and Amaretto liquor.

Take a 9×13 oven dish (or similar in size). No need to butter or flour, because this is a no-bake dessert!

Dip ladyfinger cookies quickly in coffee mixture one-by-one, and place in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Don’t make the mistake I made once and drop your entire package of cookies all at once in the coffee, as you will not have enough time to take them out and they’ll disintegrate into a sloppy coffee mess before your thy very eyes. You need to really do this one by one, and dunk ’em, don’t let them ‘sit’ for too long in the liquid, as they will start to fall apart.

When you’ve completed a layer of coffee-dunked cookies, spread a 1/4 thick layer of the mascarpone mixture over the top with a spatula. Place another layer of coffee-dipped cookies on the top, and repeat this process until you reach the top of your pan. Finish with a layer of the mascarpone mixture.

Dust the top layer of the mascarpone mixture liberally with the powdered cocoa, cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8-10 hours. This will allow the cookies to soften and absorb the creaminess of the mascarpone. In the morning, the cocoa on the top will have melted into a shimmering layer of chocolatey goodness. If you like, you can sprinkle some shaved milk chocolate over the top right before serving.

Now go and make this. Do it now. Really, your family will love you.

Jozefa’s Chocolate Mousse

2 Aug

Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Blech!

Not to trample on an American staple, but telling me that this overly sweet and unnaturally flavored syrup tastes like ‘chocolate’, is like telling me that fried pork rinds are wholesome. I fully comprehend the nostalgia behind Hershey’s syrup and, just like Velveeta, I believe there’s a place for it in our culinary repertoire, but let chocolate mousse not be part if it. OK?

Alright. I’ll come right out saying that I’m a bona fide chocolate snob. I’m Belgian, you can’t hold it against me, really. I’ll take Swiss chocolate as a close second, and San Francisco’s Ghirardelli as a third, if all else fails and I’m at imminent risk of turning into a brooding murderous harpy during that time of the month. If it’s any consolation, British Cadbury ranks right down there with Hershey’s as well in my book. Don’t get me wrong: I love America. I will defend America vehemently in cultural debates with my European friends. I love baseball, Texas BBQ and bull riding. Just not American chocolate.
I think one of the worst chocolate experiences I’ve had in this country was a chocolate mousse I ate at a little bistro in Morristown, NJ several years ago. It wasn’t per se horrible but it definitely wasn’t ‘chocolate’ what my taste buds were concerned. And it certainly wasn’t anything like the chocolate mousse my grandma used to make, but then again, Jozefa set the bar way high.

With my hips arbitrarily expanding from a size 12 to a size 16 at the mere sight of dessert in the blink of an eye, I try to watch what I eat but let me be clear: there’s a time and a place for everything, and dessert is no place to skimp on butter, cream and/or sugar. As a matter of fact, I’d rather not have dessert at all if I can’t have the full fat stuff. My grandma understood this too and her chocolate mousse would have earned her a ribbon from the Pope. It’s that good! So without further ado, I must bring her genius into this world and spread the love.

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JOZEFA’S CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
(My grandma’s recipe for a perfectly delicious chocolate mousse!)
– 8 oz of good quality semi-sweet dark chocolate (the higher the cacao %, the better!)
– 1.5 cups of heavy whipping cream
– 6 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3.5 oz of sugar

Melt chocolate ‘au bain marie’, aka a double boiler, until completely liquid. In the meantime, beat egg yolks and sugar into a firm, light pale foam. Add liquid chocolate to the yolks, and fold everything together by hand.

In a clean & oil-free bowl, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Then gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture by hand, making sure not to break the air bubbles in the egg whites too much. Do this slowly and gently, until everything is well combined.

In a bowl, beat cream until fluffy but still runny. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll end up with stiff whipped cream! You want the cream to be fluffy and somewhat airy, not stiff. Fold cream into chocolate mixture by hand. Divide over 6 bowls and place in refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours to stiffen.

HELGA’S GROWN-UP HAZELNUT AMARETTO MOUSSE
(Adapted from my grandma’s chocolate mousse recipe above)
– 4 oz of good quality dark chocolate
– 4 oz of gianduja chocolate (*)
– 1 cup of heavy cream
– 3 Tbsp of Amaretto liquor
– A splash of pure hazelnut extract (or hazelnut liquor like Frangelico)
– 6 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3 oz of sugar
(*) Gianduja is a firm, Italian chocolate bar made from ground hazelnuts and milk chocolate. You can usually find bars of gianduja chocolate at your local Italian delicatessen. If you cannot find gianduja chocolate, replace it with Nutella, but drop cream down to 3/4 cup.

Melt all chocolate ‘au bain marie’, aka in a double boiler, until completely liquid. In the meantime, beat egg yolks, amaretto, hazelnut extract and sugar into a firm, light pale foam. Add liquid chocolate to the yolks, and fold everything together by hand.

In a clean & oil-free bowl, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Then gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture by hand, making sure not to break the air bubbles in the egg whites too much. Do this slowly and gently, until everything is well combined.

In a bowl, beat cream until fluffy but still runny. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll end up with stiff whipped cream! You want the cream to be fluffy and somewhat airy, not stiff. Fold cream into chocolate mixture by hand. Divide over 6 bowls and place in refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours to stiffen.

Brussels’ Waffles

26 Jul

A thing that always makes me chuckle a bit inside and silently go pffft!, is when my American friends ask me about ‘Belgian’ waffles… It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that question, nor do I mock the inquisitor, it’s just that there’s many different kinds of waffles and for a Belgian, there’s no such thing as a ‘Belgian’ waffle. For starters, there’s the ‘Liege’ sugar waffle with crunchy bits of pearled sugar baked into them and usually served gooey & hot, then there’s the ‘vanilla’ variety which has more of a dry, crumbly tea cake consistency and is frequently sold pre-packaged in the grocery store, or the ‘Stroopwafels’ you find near the border with Holland, which are traditionally filled with a buttery caramel… just to name a few. But for the sake of good cross-cultural understanding, I can tell you that the traditional ‘Belgian’ waffle, adored by so many, is actually a yeast waffle from the city of Brussels.

Airy, fluffy and light on the inside, they’re browned to a buttery crisp on the outside, with just enough sweetness & crunch to please every palette. As a regular pitstop on our way home from the ‘Museum of Natural History’ or the ‘School Museum’, it’s exactly the kind of waffle my grandpa would look forward to when he’d ring the bell & we’d step off the busy tram. He’d eagerly grab it with both hands, skillfully balancing the sugared whipped cream on top, and bite into it with such gusto, that his custom-made pearly whites would cling to the deliciousness the minute he’d pull the waffle out of his mouth, and we’d snort with laughter. Not that that ever happened! Carry on.

‘Brusselse wafels’ rose to fame (pardon the pun) because of one special guest appearance: YEAST! Yeast dough is like the Ella Fitzgerald of all pastry doughs: jazzy, smooth and easy to digest. Think about it. It’s no surprise that doughnuts made with yeast are 10x more delicious than the ones who aren’t… Krispy Kreme? Anyone?

Here’s an homage to a true Belgian classic. (Fixodent not included…)

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BRUSSELS’ WAFFLES
(from grandma’s handwritten recipe booklet…)
– 3 farm fresh eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 12 oz of warmed milk, preferably whole
– 3/4 oz of fresh yeast (or 1 packet of dry active yeast)
– 12 oz of sparkling water, room temperature
– 16 3/4 oz of self-rising flour (approx. 3.5 cups), sifted
– 5.3 oz of good butter (approx. 10.5 Tbsp)
– a pinch of salt
– 1-2 Tbsp of sugar

Heat waffle iron until it’s piping hot!

Seperate egg whites and yolks in two bowls, and set aside.

Warm milk and combine with yeast and sugar. Allow to bloom for 10 min.

Lightly beat yolks and add warmed milk and yeast. Beat until incorporated, then add sparkling water and stir gently until well-combined. Sift flour directly into the milk mixture, beat with an electric mixer until all lumps are smoothed out.
Melt butter in a small sauce pan and beat egg whites into stiff peaks. Pour melted butter into batter and gently fold in stiffened egg whites by hand, and add a pinch of salt as well. Set batter aside for 20-30 minutes, so yeast can work and batter has time to rise.

When the batter shows bubbles an appears “alive”, you’re ready to start baking!

Make sure to butter all sides of your waffle iron, regardless of whether it is non-sticker not. Pour 1/3 cup of batter per waffle, and allow waffle to brown completely. Every waffle iron is different, so it’s a bit hard for me to say how long this will take with your machine. You want the waffles to be crisp and brown on the outside.

Serve with powdered sugar, brown sugar or whipped cream for an authentic Belgian treat… or go a bit crazy and add crisped bacon, ham or cheese to the batter for a hearty salty & sweet combination!

Vanilla Crepes

20 Jul

Who doesn’t like crepes? They’re a culinary hit no matter where you find yourself in the world. I believe crepes are originally French, but they’re very much a staple in Belgium as well. Millions of breakfast tables are adorned with a steaming stack of hot, buttery crepes every day, and an equal number of eager wee little fingers clumsily spread butter, jam or sugar on them as we speak. Crepes or ‘pannekoeken’ are not just for children, though. As a matter of fact, many Belgians will often gather with friends or family at their local coffee shop or ‘koffiehuis’ on dreary grey afternoons, and catch up on life and kids over a steaming hot cup of coffee and a freshly baked crepe or crispy waffle. It’s as much part of everyday life in Belgium as it is to run your car through any kind of drive-thru here in America.

Crepes are easy to bake, albeit a bit finicky and perhaps an acquired skill. Despite of what kitchen supply stores want you to believe, you actually do not need any sort of specialty crepe-making equipment. My grandma Jozefa used a regular pan, and her recipe has long been praised as the standard in crepe-baking.

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VANILLA CREPES
(adapted from a recipe by my omoe Jozefa)
– 7 oz of pastry flour or self-rising flour
– 4 eggs
– 2 cups of whole milk
– 3/4 oz of butter
– 2.5 oz of white sugar
– 2 vanilla beans

Melt the butter and combine with flour, eggs, milk & sugar. Split vanilla beans and with the tip of a knife scrape out the seeds. Add vanilla seeds to batter. The batter should be a thick liquid, that can easily be swirled or poured.

In a non-stick lightweight pan, heat a teaspoon of peanut oil until your pan is very hot. Depending on the size of your pan, pour about 1/3 cup of your batter in the pan and immediately swirl it around so you get an even, thin coating. Use a bit less for smaller pans, a bit more for larger pans. You want to achieve a thin pancake or crepe.

Crepes cook quickly, and you’ll notice tiny bubbles appear on the top within a matter of 1-2 minutes. When you see these tiny bubbles or air holes, it’s time to flip your crepe and cook the other size. Loosen the edges and use a spatula to flip your crepe, or go ‘pro’ and try to flip it in the air.
Don’t be alarmed if your first crepe came out a mess. Every Belgian knows the first one is always a dud!

Serve with butter, sugar, honey or jam. They’re delicious hot or cold.

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