The Feast of Feasting
Posted by Dirck on 23 December, 2013
As the sun huddles by the horizon with its shoulders up by its ears, asking all above 45ºN “What is wrong with you people?” and leaning upon its parihelia for support, we prepare for the long creep back to easily-endured weather by cramming unnecessary calories in us. Those south of 45ºN with the exception of Antarctic explorers suffer under the compulsion of the calendar and the spread of European traditions, I’m sure, but for we of the north it’s very nearly worth the long-term artery damage. In keeping with that spirit (and don’t I make it sound glamorous?) I’m offering a couple of recipes that I spent the weekend working on.
To keep pens in the mix– a client dropped off a sage green Snorkel Sentinel off while I was preparing for the rolling out of some dough. Because I’d spent the day working valiantly to lovingly poison all my friends and family, the dropping-off found me as yet in my pyjamas. Mild embarrassment all-round.
Now, on to the recipes. The first is a little out of date, being more attached to Sinterklaasje than Kirstmis in the paternal homeland, but since the whole of December is more or less Christmas/Saint Nick-flavoured in Canada it lies easily enough on a platter beside my maternal grandmother’s shortbread:
Speculaas (being a Dutch spice cookie)
- 1 cup Butter, softened (the recipe I base myself on suggests unsalted; I find the saltiness balances the sugars better)
- 1 tablespoon Vanilla
- 1 cup White Sugar
- 1.25 cups Brown Sugar (Demerara for preference)
- 2 large Eggs
- 3.5 cups Flour
- 2 teaspoons Baking Soda
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 2.5 tablespoons Spice Blend (all ingredients ground or powdered):
- 8 parts cinnamon
- 2 parts nutmeg
- 2 parts cloves
- 1 part white pepper
- 1 part ground ginger
- 1 part cardamon
- Combine spices well ahead of cookie-making; I used a tablespoon as my measure, and keep the resulting quantity of mix in a marmalade jar.
- Start at least eight hours before you want to eat cookies; instruction 7 is not a frivolous one.
- Cream butter, sugars and vanilla until light coloured and relatively fluffy.
- Add eggs and blend well.
- Combine flour, soda, salt and spice in a separate bowl.
- Slowly add dry ingredients to wet while mixing. Keep going until dough begins to pull away from the bowl.
- Divide dough in half (or thirds; this is for ease in step 9), wrap in cling film and leave to sit in the refrigerator overnight.
- Heat oven to 350F/175C.
- Roll dough to 2.5 to 5 mm thickness.
- Apply speculaas molds, cookie cutters, or just render into decent cookie sizes with a pizza cutter, and arrange on a pan lined with parchment.
- Bake for 9 to 12 minutes. Thick and brief cooking produce a relatively soft cookie, thin and long make more of a sweet cracker.
Also inspired by the Netherlands, the other recipe I want to inflict upon you is much more a work in progress. I’m trying, like a daft mad fool, to recreate the results produced by Smits Ambachtelijke Chocolaterie at Wilhelminastraat 50, Breda; if you can get there by foot, car, or bus, you might as well go and get a superior product. The trial nature of the recipe leads to furious annotation.
Slagroomtruffels (cream truffles)
- 200 g fine Sugar (Berry Sugar for Canadian readers; I think in the UK you’d want extra finer or even caster)
- 500 ml whipping Cream (about 30% milk fat)
- 2 tablespoons Vanilla 1
- pinch of Salt
- 180 g Butter2
- 1 kg dark chocolate
- Cocoa powder (used for dusting, but you end up going through about a half-cup)
- Loads of plates
- Combine cream and salt in a pot and carefully bring to a boil (medium heat or less), then remove from heat.
- Add vanilla and sugar, stirring until sugar is entirely dissolved.
- Leave butter standing in a bowl, and cream syrup off heat; both must come to room temperature.
- Whip butter until well aerated and pale.
- Slowly add syrup, mixing constantly.
- Mix like mad; you’re trying to go well past the consistency of whipped cream, into something more closely resembling butter.3
- Cover a plate or baking tin with parchment, and make blots of filling slightly less than a tablespoon’s size; one can use a piping bag or a spoon, depending on available tools and preference for neat or more naturally truffle-ish appearance. Put blots in freezer for about an hour.
- Melt chocolate in a double boiler over low heat; chocolate melts at just below room temperature, and if it gets too hot it congeals, so don’t try to rush it. The blots don’t mind being in the freezer for longer than an hour.
- Transfer blots ten at a time to a chilled plate; drop one at a time into chocolate, using a fork to retrieve them and place them on a different chilled plate covered by a piece of parchment. When all ten are done, put them in refrigerator for a couple of minutes to set.
- Put some cocoa powder in a bowl, and three or four at a time toss the chocolates in a bowl to coat; this both gives the appearance of a natural truffle and keeps them from sticking as seriously to each other or fingers.
- Store in refrigerator.
1 “Vanilla” in this case being the tincture resulting from leaving four slit vanilla beans in a 750ml bottle of Appleton Estate V/X rum for six months– it’s cheaper in the long run than buying commercial extract, and feels vaguely illicit which adds to the fun of cooking. The recipe I was working from suggests a single slit bean left to simmer in the cream for 20 minutes. This may reduce the cream as well as flavour it, and I intend to try it some time when I’ve spare cash for another bean and lots of time.
2 The recipe was silent on salted or unsalted butter. I used the former, as cheaper and also as a counterweight to all that sugar. I’m seriously thinking of increasing butter and reducing cream for a firmer filling, as the results of the above are rather loose.
3 The loose filling “problem” again; I may have stopped too early, but I became alarmed at the appearance of whey in the bowl.
That’s it for this year. I’m off to lapse into a combined hyperglycemic/alcoholic coma for the next couple of weeks, and I hope you’re all free to do the same.