Tag Archives: sweet

Chocolate Brioche Buns

1 Dec

Truthfully, I am not a baking wonder. I actually don’t really like baking, but I felt compelled to bake these buns out of desperation. With nothing but whole grain bread in our bread basket, the house was completely void of anything that could even remotely satisfy the side effects of my bleeding uterus (oh crap, now I’ve said it!!!), and I already devoured anything that was readily available for eating days ago… So what is a girl to do but bake something, right?! Sigh.

I saw a recipe for chocolate brioche in ‘Bon Appetit’ months ago, and dismissed it almost as instantly as I saw it. However, I’ve been thinking about it for months now and, given the sudden dip in my hormonal landscape, I felt the time was now. A notion that was re-enforced by divine intervention the fact that I actually had all the ingredients in my pantry. Because let’s face it, for baking grinches like yours truly, even a quick trip to the market derails the whole idea of baking something.

Once I got past having to measure everything out ‘just so’, a major ugh in baking, I actually enjoyed putting this dough together by hand because I don’t own a mixer with dough hook. Dear Santa… These buns turned out delicious, albeit a bit dense and ‘doughy’. Considering my hands don’t have a 3K RPM speed, I think they were a bit dense due to the lack of mechanical kneading, and next time, when my brain is not lame, I might just let my bread machine do the kneading for me. Full stop.

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Chocolate Brioche Buns
(Adapted from ‘Bon Appetit’)
– 2 cups of bread flour
– 2 cups of all purpose flour
– 1 Tbsp of baking powder
– 2 oz of butter, melted & slightly cooled
– 1/2 cup of chocolate shavings or sprinkles (or small chips)
– 3/4 cup of lukewarm milk
– 2 tsp of instant dry yeast
– small pinch of salt
– 2 eggs
– 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp of granulated sugar
– 1/3 cup of milk, to brush the buns before baking
– 1/4 cup of melted butter, to brush the buns after baking

Preheat oven to 115F, and turn off immediately after temperature is reached. Leave door closed.

Heat milk until it’s lukewarm. Add a pinch of sugar to the milk and let the yeast dissolve into the milk. Allow to sit and culture for 10-15 min.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar & 2oz of melted butter. Knead by hand or with a mixer for approx 5 min. until well combined. Add eggs and knead 5 more min until well combined.

Slowly pour yeast/milk mixture into dough, and knead 5 min to combine well. You should have a smooth dough when this is done. If the dough is still sticky, add a bit more flour.

Turn out onto a flour surfaced, and hand-knead a few more minutes. Oil the inside of the bowl, and let dough rise in the warm oven for 90-120 min.

After the dough has rested and is almost doubled in size, take it out the warm oven and cut dough ball in half.

Crank oven to 375F.

Roll each half of the dough into a broad rectangle until 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle chocolate shavings all over the top and roll dough into a cylinder.

Cut cylinder into 4 equal parts. Slice deep slits into each part across the top, then pinch left & right end together. This will make each slit fan out a bit, which is what we want. Repeat with the other parts.

Place each bun on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Repeat the process with the other half of the dough.

Cover unbaked buns with a clean damp cloth and allow to rise another 30 min. Then lightly brush buns with milk.

Place baking sheet in the oven and bake buns at 375F for 15-18 min until the top is golden brown.

Immediately after taking out of the oven, brush buns with melted butter.

Bon Appetit!

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.

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!

Banana Butter

24 Jul

It is no secret that there was a lot of banana-love to go around in our humble, ranch-style country home. As a matter of fact, my brother & I loved them so much that – to this day – we both vividly recall a traumatic very unfortunate episode from our youth in which mom decided to stock up on canned bananas, in an effort to meet basic supply & demand on a teacher’s budget. Since our mother was of the ‘no-nonsense’ type breed, she didn’t just buy a single can or two to give them a try. NO! She went ahead and bought a Costco-size pallet of them, to ensure she’d get us through the banana-famine that were our harsh Belgian Winters back in the day. Her heart was in the right place, but seriously mom?! Canned bananas???

If you’ve never heard of ‘canned’ bananas, go hug your mom now and thank her for not crossing over to the dark side. They were, for lack of better wording, nasty! Mom Tootsie Farklepants didn’t help the matter by maintaining a strict zero-tolerance policy in wasting food so… There you have it. I’ll spare you the gory detail, but let’s just say that for several months later, you would find partially-chewed canned bananas stuffed in the most peculiar places. Including our lawnmower.

None of this was enough to kill my banana-love, though. Nothing makes me happier in the morning than a warm, toasted English muffin, schmeared with butter and topped with honey-drizzled sliced bananas. Yum!

I have to include a moment here to thank ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’ for feeding me that delicious apple-butter that comes with their sweet, warm biscuits. The recipe below was totally inspired by that genius, so I owe them at least an honorable mentioning.

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BANANA BUTTER
(Inspired by ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’)
– 1 stick of room-temperature butter
– 1/2 of a very ripe banana
– 1/3 of a small, sweet apple, grated
– 1/4 cup of agave syrup (or honey)
– 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
– a pinch of grated nutmeg
– a pinch of ground clove

In the bowl of a food processor or mixer, combine all the inredients until well-combined & blended. Scoop mixture onto parchment paper and make a 1-1.5 inch roll out of it. Twist ends of the parchment to press butter roll together. Place roll in the refrigerator and allow to firm up for a few hours.

Coincidentally, this sweet butter goes great with the crepes I posted the other day, or melt a slice of the butter into some warm dark rum for a tasty hot buttered rum beverage!

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