speculoos – belgian spice cookies

What I love about travelling is how easy it is to carry on dreaming about the holiday long after it has finished; flicking through an album of photos on a rainy day, recreating dishes in your own home, or getting really desperate and taking a tour through a city on street view on Google Maps.

923065_10151418508536305_1772783746_n

My first trip when I arrived in Europe was to Brussels, where I discovered the magic that is speculoos – a bronze coloured treasure that I was delighted to find, accompanied almost any cup of coffee ever served in France. They were so readily available that it never occurred to me that I was more than capable of giving them a whirl in my own kitchen.

936388_10151418511056305_2130631608_n

I am happy to announce that I have since remedied this problem.

SAM_3447

Speculoos, also known as Belgian Spice Cookies, are dark caramel in colour, sweet and gingery in flavour and brittle in texture. Describing them almost as a crunchy piece of gingerbread may not be the most glamourous of definitions, but it is certainly the most accurate. The perfect consistency for dunking into a cup of coffee or steaming hot chocolate, they are also decorated with the cutest little pictures.

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon of ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon of allspice (or you could use ground cloves)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 cup of butter
  • ½ cup of white sugar
  • ¼ cup of raw sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla

I know it sounds like a bucket load of ingredients but that’s all part of the punch of flavour that comes hand in hand with these biscuits!

SAM_3427

Begin by sifting the flour with the spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a larger bowl cream the butter with the two sugars and vanilla extract. Even though I have used raw sugar here, you can use brown sugar if you wanted; it will give it a smoother finish but I like them a little granulated for extra crunch.

SAM_3431

Gradually combine the dry ingredients with the creamed butter until you have dough that is soft, yet firm. As with any dough mixture; if it’s too dry, add a bit of water; and if it’s too wet, add a bit more flour. You shouldn’t have this problem because it is almost saturated with butter, keeping it smooth and silky.

SAM_3432

Form into a ball, wrap in Clingfilm and refrigerate from at least an hour.

SAM_3441

On a layer of baking parchment, roll your dough into a thin, flat rectangle. For a nice finishing touch, roll over the layer with a patterned rolling pin (aren’t these so cool?!)

SAM_3445

Baking at 175°C for 25 minutes, the dough will still be soft and spongey when it comes out – don’t continue baking it! It will harden as it cools down, and it’s at a perfect consistency to slice into squares with a pizza cutter (or a knife, should that be easier).

SAM_3446

Enjoy with a cup of coffee at break, or after lunch, or as an afternoon pick-me-up. Perfect for a bit of happiness when the weather is grey and dreary.

Advertisements

crystalized ginger

Another sporadic post.

You may have noticed my lack of consistency lately, it’s because of a couple of things; I am back in New Zealand and I am in the midst of rehearsing and performing in a show.

A show that involves me descending from the roof with my head pointing towards the ground in a rather artistic tumbling fashion.

While I am sure this visual spectacle is awe-inspiring for the audience, for me it induces a different sensation – one of mild motion sickness.

Which brings me to today’s kitchen experiment; candied ginger.

SAM_3326

There have been many occasions when, as a child, I have been out in boats – whale watching or visiting close offshore islands, where the inconsistent bobbing of the dark blue swells has upset my stomach just enough to have me hanging over the side of the boat, silently praying to be standing on solid ground. My prayers were never immediately answered but we were always given sugary gingernut biscuits to crunch on while we sipped syrupy cordial.

Candied ginger has this same effect, it is a lot more practical while flipping through the heavens, and makes a great decoration. On top of that, it is so simple to make!

SAM_3318

To begin, thinly slice as much ginger as you like, I made a rather large stash because I knew I would need it in bulk. The internet does say that it will keep for about six months, so there is no need to worry about it going to waste, but if you are planning on using it solely for decorative purposes, you may not feel the need to go all-out like I did.

A mandolin could come in handy for this task, but it probably won’t. I think mandolins are the most overrated kitchen utensil (followed closely by a potato peeler) and I prefer to slice it with a sharp knife, the results will have the same accuracy. Weigh the ginger (or make an educated guess), measure out an equal quantity of sugar and set aside for later.

SAM_3321

Add to a saucepan with just enough cold water to cover the ginger, bring to the boil and simmer until the water is all but reduced – this should take about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom, and because I cannot be near a boiling pot without the urge to stir it overcoming me.

Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Leave it to simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes. Drain off any excess sugar syrup – it is lovely and sweet, and infused with the ginger’s flavour so don’t let it go to waste, I swirled mine through a tub of softened vanilla ice cream. Delicious!

Place on a tray of baking paper and sprinkle with a bit more sugar. Leave your ginger slithers to dry overnight, I rotated mine after a few hours and placed them in a hot oven that I had just turned off to give them a bit of encouragement.

SAM_3328

They are sweet and chewy, with just enough crunch. It’s a great high-energy snack, and even though it’s also high in sugar, I don’t need to worry about overindulging because of the subtle spiciness which means I don’t even feel like eating more than a couple of pieces at once.

lemon and ginger preserve

Hi, my name is Dylan and I have a problem. I am addicted to preserving. I just can’t get enough of it; I dream about making jam all day long, I dry the skin of every citrus fruit I ever use and have an ever-growing list of chutneys and pastes that I’m dying to make.

Preserves are a great way of extending flavours to times well outside of their seasonality. Sometimes a rainy day can be brightened up a dollop of sugary strawberry jam; a stew can be taken to the next level with the addition of a few crisp fragments of citrus; the deep flavour bleeding into the sauce as it cooks throughout the day. On the flipside, pickled radishes; a delicious use of a winter vegetable are a great way to add a colourful crunch.

I have all of these great ideas, but I am running out of jars… and space in my pantry! I have promised myself that this one will be the last one for a while, so it’s a good thing that it’s such a stunner. Lemon, ginger and honey is just a comforting winter drink – good for the soul and good for the immune system, so I decided to see how it fared as a chutney combination.

SAM_3155

I wanted something warming – if it’s going to be of any use in the winter then its warmth has to emanate throughout the body with each bite. Lemon, ginger and turmeric seemed like the ideal combination; it’s tangy, fragrant and warm, but not too spicy or overpowering, and not too sweet.

SAM_3145

Here’s what you’ll need:
6 lemons
a decent size piece of fresh ginger
a handful of turmeric bulbs
a dash of vinegar
6 tablespoons of salt
1 teaspoon each of fennel and coriander seeds
the juice of 6 additional lemons

As you can probably tell, this recipe can easily be scaled up or down, depending on the size of your jars.

Begin by dicing the ginger and turmeric. I used three turmeric bulbs and grated them as finely as possible – biting into a big hunk of bright, bitter turmeric is a dreadful thought, something I really wanted to avoid. I julienned the ginger root with similar audacity, even though I am not crazy at the idea of a mouthful of ginger, it seems less unpleasant than the turmeric so I tried to keep the slices as thin as I could.

SAM_3148

Gently heat them in a tablespoon of olive oil, with the fennel and coriander, use a relatively low heat. I added a tablespoon of water to lightly steam them – I wanted to avoid crisping them up in any way possible. It might even work better to steam them over hot water first. Take the pan off the heat and toss through another dash of olive oil and a few caps of vinegar. I used apple cider vinegar for tartness and because it’s the only kind I had.

While that pan is filling your kitchen of smells reminiscent of an Arabian marketplace, it’s time to move on to the lemons. As most people on the internet will tell you; organic is best and freshly washed is also good. If you can help it, only pick your lemons once they are ripe, that way they will be juiciest as they stop ripening as soon as they are picked. The recipe that I based mine on (from Ottolenghi, duh) says to quarter them lengthways (but not quite to the bottom). For practicality, I diced mine into bite sized pieces; I thought this would make them easier to squeeze into the jar and easier to spoon out afterwards. Stir through the ginger and turmeric, the salt, and any herbs you think would suit; I used rosemary and a sprinkle of dried thyme.

Jam as much of the mixture into each jar as possible, it can be quite a messy job but try and keep the juice off the table and floor as much as possible! Seal the jars and leave in a cool, dark cupboard for a week.

SAM_3150

Side note: make sure your jars are sterile you could end up with a fungus forest instead.

If patience is not a virtue you are the beholder of, then this is probably not something you should be experimenting with as this is merely the beginning. After a week, squish the lemons down and pour the juice of the six remaining lemons overtop, that should almost take your jar to capacity, add water to make up the difference and add another little glug of oil. Reseal and leave in the cupboard for at least four weeks to ferment.

Wait.

The fibres within the lemon rind will slowly break down, absorbing its own juice and the flavours of the ginger; sweet, tangy and soft.

SAM_3282

Serve atop warm couscous, stir-fry with vegetables or any other kind of cooking. I added a few tablespoons to some sautéed mushrooms for a lemon and mushroom risotto and loved the tang it gave in contrast of the sweet chicken broth.

SAM_3287

mother’s day jamming

Rhubarb and feijoas are the ingredients to some of my oldest, and fondest childhood memories. They remind me of my mother and my grandmother and every time I see either of them I can immediately taste their tangy bitterness and smell the sweet aroma of them stewing on the stove.

Feijoas are little green fruit native to South America, they aren’t easily found in Europe but are abundant in New Zealand during a short period in late autumn. They are in such an excess that by the end of the season people are literally giving them away by the bagful on the side of the road. Because I managed to find some recently, and because it’s Mother’s Day, I thought I would share some thoughts on preserving these little beauties.

SAM_2905 

The ones that I got were a little old; not so good for eating but perfect for stewing or preserving.

SAM_2901

I love making jam, I have previously mentioned my goal of living a lovely little self-sufficient life in the countryside one day so I see jam making as a very useful skill to have. As a child, I remember my grandmother being a very avid jam maker and her jams always tasted miles better than anything you could ever get from the shop. Was it because it was made with love, or because it wasn’t made with a mountain of preservatives? Who knows?

I was introduced to jam making in a more practical sense when I was in Spain last summer; I was staying on a cherry orchard where there were more cherries than you can imagine. Having all the cherries I could eat at my fingertips was great for the first few days, until my stomach began to churn at the mere sight of them.

10427245_10152169018921305_5334870696757471883_n

After experimenting with cherry cakes and cherry muffins and all other means of cherry flavoured things, we found that we still weren’t using them up fast enough, so with the help of David Lebovitz’s jam recipe we got jamming.

SAM_2309

I used this same recipe for my feijoa jam and it can be used with any fruit that you need to get rid of. Because the seeds of a feijoa are small and edible, like strawberries or boysenberries, this fruit makes a lovely thick jam because the seeds contain pectin; a natural thickening agent. Cherry flesh doesn’t contain a lot of this – the stems and stones do, but they aren’t edible. So if you are using cherries add lemon (or any other citrus) juice, lemon juice contains pectin and will help thicken your jam.

Begin by slicing your fruit into pieces as small or as large as you want. Use as much fruit as you want/have/can be bothered cutting up. I like my jam to be chunky yet spreadable so I cut mine like this:

SAM_2902

Place the fruit in a large enough pot that they only come about half way up the sides, for safety/mess reasons. You can also add any flavouring you want; I used ginger and vanilla. Cover the pot and cook on a medium heat for about 20 minutes. Add ¾ of the fruit’s mass worth of sugar, crank up the heat and stir constantly. It will begin to bubble violently and then all of a sudden it will stop bubbling and have thickened. Leave it to cool for about 10 minutes and transfer into sterilised jars. You can sterilise an old jar by heating it in the oven for about 15 minutes, add the jam while the jars are still warm and make sure you fill the jars right to the very top so they are airtight.

SAM_2311

I know that this sounds like a lot of sugar, and the healthier ones of you will try and get away with adding less. Don’t. it will only end in heartbreak. The sugar is not used here to sweeten the jam (it does that, but that’s not the main reason), the sugar is absorbed by the water from the fruit to the point that the water takes on a gelatinous texture. If you don’t add enough sugar, this reaction won’t happen.

If you are opposed to using so much sugar, add less, a bit of water and make stewed fruit. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream, custard, over oats at breakfast time or just by itself!