Sunday, January 27, 2013


 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!

In the sunny (and sometimes torrentially rainy) reaches of far North Queensland we don't often (read never!) get to see and taste good,traditional Dutch pastries, so when Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij challenge us to one of her countrys' traditional pastries I was thrilled.
I had seen recipes for speculaas - that is speculass cookies - a spiced Dutch Christmas Cookie but this word "Gevulde" I didn't understand until I read further into the challenge. "Gevulde" means "stuffed" so the "specualaas" is "stuffed" with almonds paste. This has got to be good!
Francijn challenged us to make everything from scratch, that is to say, the speculaas spices, the almond paste and then the speculaas dough using the specially mixed speculass spices. Francijn recommended we smell each spice and use according to our taste.
The speculaas spice is made up of a number of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, white pepper, coriander, ginger. Also mace and anice which I had never used and couldn't purchase in my local supermarket. I did track these spices down in a local speciality food store and set about mixing my spices. Mmmm, this spices mix is very good!
Here's what I did:-
Take 1 teaspoon of ground cloves, ½ teaspoon of mace and ½ teaspoon of ginger.
Add to taste ½  teaspoon of white pepper, 1 teaspoon of cardamom, ½  teaspoon of coriander, ½ teaspoon of anise, and 1 teaspoons of nutmeg.
Weigh the amount of spices you have now, and add an equal amount of cinnamon.
Recipe Almond Paste
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
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.

Assembling and baking the Gevulde Speculaas
speculaas dough
almond paste
whole almonds without skins for decoration
1 large egg
shallow baking pan, 8x10 inch (20x26 cm) or, round with of diameter 10 inch (26 cm)
1. Grease the pan.
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.
15. If you wrap the stuffed speculaas in clingfoil, after it has cooled completely, you can store it a few days at room temperature. Freezing is possible, but fresh speculaas tastes better.

Thanks Francijn for a fantastic challenge! Gevulde Speculaas was a hit in my family! I will definately be making these again!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lebanese Fried Dough - A Baker's Odyssey Personal Challenge # 26

I love comfort food.
My favourite comfort food is carbs and chocolate.
SO  you can see where I'm heading.
Recently, I was left with a portion of Basic Lebanese Yeast dough after making the delicious flatbread - Talami. This is not a problem according to Maureen Abood whose recipes are featured in the wonderful cookbook I am baking my way through, A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent.
Maureen's suggestion is to shape the dough into flat ovals, fry and dredge in sugar. Mmmm, how can you improve on that?
My darling teenage son thought he could improve - "Can we dip them in chocolate sauce?"
Now, that's a good idea! Right up my alley!
I'm not sure if any Lebanese family ever dipped their Fried Dough into hot chocolate sauce but I can tell you it tastes GREAT!

Lebanese Fried Dough
1/4 recipe Basic Lebanese Yeast dough, risen once
Vegetable oil for frying
Granulated sugar for dredging
On a lightly floured surface pat the dough down gently that divide into 12 portions and roll each into a ball. Rest the balls of dough for 10 minutes.

Now take a ball of dough and roll it out into a rough oval shape. It needs to be just a bit thicker than 1/8th inch, that's about 3mm. Use your finger to poke a hole in the centre of the dough. Repeat with all the remaining dough. Cover with a kitchen towel and rest for 30 - 45 minutes.
About 15 minutes before frying pour some oil into a large heavy saucepan. I put in about 2 inches of oil. Heat the oil to about 370F/190C using a thermometer to check. Correct temperature of oil is really important because you avoid soggy, oily food.
Have ready a baking sheet lined with paper towels.

Now, ready to fry!
Brush of the excess flour and carefully lower one or two pastries into the hot oil. The dough will sizzle and bubble up. Fry until golden brown turning once. It should only take a minute. Take the pastries out of the hot oil allowing the excess oil to drip back into the saucepan then place the pastries on the paper towel to drain. While they are hot dredge with sugar.
Continue with  the remaining pastries.

It will only take you a few minutes to whip up your hot chocolate dipping sauce. I used this sauce from Nigella's churros with Chocolate dipping sauce. It's very good!

Teenage boys can come up with great ideas especially when it is to their advantage. This one ticked all the boxes.
Carbs and Chocolate!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lebanese Talami - A Baker's Odyssey Personal Challenge # 25

New Year resolutions.
Did you make one?
How well are you keeping it?

I have often wondered about this phenomenon. Is it a modern idea or has it been around for ages? Is it a tradition all over the world? And the big question - how many people achieve their New Year resolutions? Interestingly a quick google reveals that the ancient Babylonians promised their gods that they would repay their debts and return borrowed goods at the beginning of the year. Even the Romans and knights in the Medieval times made various promises at the beginning of the year.
With regards to the Big Question - a 2007 study by the University of Bristol showed 88% of 3000 people survey actually failed to keep their resolution.
Hmmmm, not good odds.

I did make a resolution last year but it wasn't a New Year resolution. It was a blogging resolution or more to the point a baking resolution. I resolved to bake and blog my way through "A Baker's Odyssey" by Greg Patent. Of late, this went a little on the wayside but I'm back on track!

Have you ever bake through a whole cookbook?
Do you have any cookbook in your collection that inspires you that much?
I'd love to know!

Ok, so back to today's recipe. I'll just call it one challenge though it is in fact two recipes in the cookbook - Basic Lebanese Yeast Dough from which we make Talami - a delicious savoury flat bread.

Lets start with the Basic Lebanese Yeast Dough. I halved the recipe but here I'll give you the full recipe so it's up to you. The full recipe is divided into two - one half is then used to make Fatayar (Lamb and onion pies, recipe coming) and the other half is divided into two to make Talmi and Lebanese Fried Dough - yes, that recipe is coming, too. 

Basic Lebanese Yeast Dough

2 packages (14g) active dry yeast
2 1/3 cups warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
8 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup corn oil (I used sunflower oil)
8 tablespoons (115g) butter, melted and still warm

Mix together the yeast, 1/2 cup warm water and the sugar. Stand for 10 minutes until bubbly and frothy.

In the large bowl of a stand mixer place the flour and salt. Make a well and pour in the yeast mixture, oil, butter and the remaining water. 

With the dough hook attached mix the ingredients slowly until the dough comes together. Continue to mix until it forms a smooth, soft dough, about 5-8 minutes.
Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface for another 5 minutes or so until the dough is elastic and supple.
Wash and dry the mixer bowl and oil lightly. Put the dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
Allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 2 hours.

As I said I made half the quantity of dough so now divide the dough in two equal portions. One for Talami and the other I set aside for Lebanese Fried dough).
For the Talami you will need zatar. If you can't find zatar you can mix your own by using equal quantities of toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme and sumac. I order my spices from this great Australian company, Gewurzhaus.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 recipe of the Basic Lebanese Yeast Dough, risen once
1/4 cup zatar or your own mix as above
Now take a large pizza tray about 14 inches in diameter and pour on 2 tablespoons of oil and spread to make a 12 inch circle. Place the dough in the centre and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
In a small bowl stir together the remaining oil and the zatar to make a paste. Pat the dough into a 10 inch circle and spread the  zatar paste to within a 1/2 inch of the edge. Now let it stand uncovered while the oven preheats.  Preheat the oven to 450F/230C.

Bake the Talami until golden which will take about 20 to 30 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
I know you will enjoy this bread with it's delicious topping and tender crumb due to the oil and butter.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Italian Dream - Part 3 and the end!

Our dream holiday in Italy finished up in the south visiting relatives in Reggio di Calabria and Scilla with a brief visit to Sicily. The contrasts in one country which is very small compared to Australia, is absolutely amazing! In the places that we visited in the south it was all about the beach, the sea and what comes from it. Actually, very much like tropical, coastal North Queensland where we live.
But first no visit could begin without copious amount so delicious food!
And a passeggiata along the Reggio di Calabria's esplanade - Lungomare.

Then off to Sicily and her sights with Mt Etna keeping a watchful eye on us the whole time.
The church of the Madonna della Rocca.
In downtown Taromina I ogled the shop windows wondering how much I would be able to bring back to Australia
Could I really return with a suitcase full of food?
Back to the mainland and off to the gorgeous fishing village of Scilla.
How lucky my cousin is to wake up every morning to the sights and sounds of Scilla.
Everything about Scilla is fascinating.
A seafood feast to round off our visit to the south was a wonderful celebration of the fruits of the sea.
Plate after plate of seafood came from the restaurant kitchen - what a splendor!
Finally an emotional visit to the church where over 50 years ago my parents were married
 - Chiesa di St Antonio, Reggio di Calabria.
Our dream is accomplished.
 Arriverderci Italia - until we meet again.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Italian Dream Part 2

Our Italian Dream continued in Venice.
The Mouth of Truth - the political history of Venice is intriguing.
As we cross the Bridge of Sighs we glimpse the canal below and
imagine  the heavy heart of the prisoner of days gone by.
Yes, we had to do the gondola trip!
Florence welcomes us with a delicious pizza...
...and glorious sights!
Pisa was crowded but the Baptistry, Basilica and Tower were impressive.
Oh yes, we have arrived in Rome!
Trevi was spectacular!
A side trip to Assisi proved a favourite all around...mmmm!
I have no words. Assisi is more gorgeous...
....and much more spiritual than we could have anticipated.
The majestic St Peter's Basilica
In Pompeii, Mt Vesuvius still seems to loom over the area.
Back in Rome we visit Pizza Navona for some delicious roasted chestnuts.
And can't resist the pastries in the shop window.
Mmmm, this cherry slice was to die for!
A short walk to Campo dei Fiori we found a plethora of goodies for the kitchen.
I didn't know there were so many varieties of sun dried tomatoes!
Spices of every colour and perfume.
A taste for everyone.
Fresh salad ingredients ready for the table.
Sweet fruit!
Have you ever tried uva fragola - strawberry grapes?
A serious taste sensation.
Pasta, pasta everywhere!
I'd be happy to received this bunch of chillies!
Just a little more to go.
Join me soon for peek at Reggio di Calabria, Scilla e Sicily!