Archives for January, 2011

Kiss and Tell – Making Choux Pastry

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Kiss and Tell

 What better way to introduce an early Valentine’s Day post than with one of the most interesting European customs.  How people greet each other.

 When Americans greet each other, it’s often with a hug.  Americans love to hug. Whether it’s a far-off cheek-hug from an acquaintance or a big bear hug from a long lost friend. One thing I miss about the US, are the big hearty hugs from friends and relatives. Europeans, however, don’t seem too keen on the full body contact.  

 In most European countries, many people greet each other with at least one slight kiss on the cheek.  First let me explain, these kisses are not full lip kisses but rather cheek-to-cheek grazes followed by an air-kiss.  Like the kind you see the ‘girls’ giving each other on Sex and The City episodes. Even though this custom seems fairly straight forward, it can be one of the most confusing rituals to outsiders. 

 It’s not uncommon to be confused.  How many kisses?  Which cheek do you start with?  Do men kiss other men?  Is kissing acceptable in business?  Can I just shake hands? Or what about hugging?  All are very valid questions. 

All over Holland, the rules are this:  Greet with three kisses, starting from the right cheek. Unless you are related or gay, men typically don’t kiss other men.  In business it is acceptable to shake hands unless you know the person very well.  If you do, then a kiss-trio won’t raise any eyebrows.  

In some other countries, the rules are not so clear.  Take France for instance, where ‘une  bise’ customs vary from 1 to 5 kisses (yes

Kissing Map of France

 5!) depending which part of France you are in.

When in Paris,  2 kisses are the norm and even hetero men kiss other men.  In Normandy, you can’t get away with less than 4 and on some islands, you’ll be kissing all day! And there, men never kiss other men unless their related.  How confusing is that??  How on earth is one to know?  To the right is a kissing map of France stating local customs by area.



So folks,  as a public service,  when travelling to Europe,  please check with the local Kissing Customs to avoid embarrassing moments.  Happy travelling and pucker up! 


For this post,    I’m going to give you all one of the simplest but most impressive techniques in French cooking…How to make Choux Pasty.  Choux Pasty is probably named because the finished products look like little cabbages. (Choux means cabbage in French) If you don’t know,  Choux Pastry what is used to make Cream Puff shells.  And WHO doesn’t LOVE creampuffs??  This particular pastry, as simple as it is to prepare,  is also the base of some of the most impressive desserts of all time. Here in the Netherlands, tiny crispy filled choux balls are filled with cream and covered with caramel or chocolate to make Profiteroles.  In France,  it is considered so luxurious, that a ‘Croquembouche’ or tall tower of tiny cream filled cream puffs swathed in an ethereal cloud of spun caramelized sugar is the traditional French wedding cake. 

Today’s recipe uses Choux Paste as a base.  This recipe was named after a famous bicycle race that is overshadowed by the more famous Tour de France.  Paris-Brest-Paris or (PBP) occurs every 4 years.  For a perfect Valentine’s Day dessert, make a Paris-Brest in heart form.


Paris Brest Pastry

Choux Pastry:

1 cup (135 grams) all purpose flour or bread flour

1 teaspoon granulated white sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons) (85 grams) unsalted butter

1 cup (240 ml) water

4 large eggs lightly beaten


1 egg beaten

1/2 cup (50 grams) shaved almonds

 Whipped Cream:

1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon (14 grams) granulated white sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa, nutella, or Hazelnut flavored “International Coffees” powder


Powdered (Confectioners or icing) sugar.

 Basic Preparation of Choux Paste: 

Gently heat the water, milk and butter together until it just begins to boil.  Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the flour immediately until you have a thick smooth paste. Add the eggs a little at a time beating well until the mixture becomes a shiny paste.

 Note: This is the base for tons of great recipes. For savory dishes and hors d’ourves, leave out the sugar. See below for ideas)

 Heat the oven to 350F (175C). Grease a cookie sheet. Put the warm paste in a piping bag, or use a large spoon. Form the paste thickly into a circle. Don’t be afraid to pile it high, about 3 inches.  Brush lightly with beaten egg. Sprinkle with shaved almonds. Bake about 30 minutes until crisp and dry.  Cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a med-large bowl, beat the cream, vanilla, sugar, cocoa (nutella or hazelnut powder) until still peaks form.  

Just before serving, slice the circle carefully lengthwise in half.  Remove top of circle. Fill with cream mixture. Replace top of circle.  Dust with powdered sugar.  

Tips:  For interesting hor d’ourves,  form choux pastry in small piles (about 1 tablespoon of paste).  When cooled, slice open the top and fill with your favorite salad (tuna, chicken,egg, etc…) .  Replace top. 

Baked, unfilled Choux pastries, freeze well.  Make a bunch and keep in the freezer.

The Fat-Pants Experiment

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

The Fat-Pants Experiment

Living abroad has been a great experience for me.  I love learning about the cultural differences and, more importantly, the similarities of people around the world.  One thing that I learned is that life is really not so different wherever you live.  People all over the world have the same basic concerns: gainful employment, a safe and dry place to raise a family, food on the table, clothes on their backs, a little entertainment from time to time, and so on. Not so much different from life in the US.     

 What can be very different are the details.  Take baking, for instance. Besides the obvious metric distinctions, there is a vast difference in how Americans and Europeans bake.  In America, we bake using volume.  This means we measure using cups and teaspoons.  Virtually every recipe in America is written in volume measures.

 Here in Europe, dry ingredients are almost universally measured by weight. Only liquid is measured in volume. This was somewhat of a culture shock to me since it wasn’t what I was used to.  So on my next foray back to the US, a brand new set of measuring cups and spoons got a one way trip to Holland.  Since most of my favorite recipes are of American decent, I still faithfully use them.  When some unsuspecting person asks me for a recipe, I can literally feel their disappointment when they scan the recipe only to find that it is not only in English, but also in volume to boot.  Can you translate this to Dutch?  How many grams are in a stick of butter?   How much does 1 ¾ Cups of flour weigh?   Now-a-days, as a public service to my fellow Dutchmen (and -women) I spend a decent amount of my time weighing out my recipes.  While I was doing my translations, I came across a few things:

 – A cup of flour does not weigh the same as a cup of sugar, nor does a cup of lead or a cup of feathers for that matter.

– The weight of a cup of flour can differ greatly depending on how you packed it, type of flour, humidity, etc…

I’ll tell you, it took me a while to get the hang of using weight as measures.  But now that I’ve got it down pat, I am totally convinced that using weight gives more consistent results to the finished product.  Another benefit is that recipes scale better.  If I wanted to half a recipe that calls for ¾ cup of flour, I’d have to rely on my 5th grade fractions lesson…and chances are I don’t have a measuring cup for that amount and end up estimating anyway.  Using weight measures, halving a recipe for 75 grams of flour is quite easy using 3rd grade division.  75 divided by 2 = 37.5.   Easy Peasy.

Still not convinced?  Let’s do a few experiments.  Let’s use your favorite pair of jeans as an example.  I don’t know about you, but after the holidays, my jeans were fitting a bit snugly.  The decision on whether to take your fat pants out of the mothballs is a ‘volume’ measure.  In this case, your volume has exceeded the content of your ‘skinny’ jeans.   Now at this point, we suspect the additional volume that is imposed on our jeans is caused by a few extra pounds of weight gain (or we can just use the excuse that they shrunk in the wash ;-)) However, if we want to know exactly how much the damage was, the most accurate measure is by getting on the scale.  Thus concluding, that the most accurate and consistent measure is weight. 

Let’s try another experiment that doesn’t require you to gain 10 pounds.  Take a bag of flour, a measuring cup (1 Cup measure) and a food scale.  Yes, even that old Weight Watchers scale that you got in the 70’s will do. First, scoop the cup into the bag of flour and then level with a knife.  Weigh the cup. Mark the weight and empty the cup.  Do it again.  Do you notice any differences in the weight?  I’ll bet you do.   Next, using a tablespoon, spoon flour into the cup and then level off with a knife. Again, weigh the filled cup, marking the weight.  I’ll bet this method of filling the cup weighs less than the scoop and level method. 

Now, take an empty bowl put it on the scale and turn it on.  The scale should read zero.  Spoon out 100 grams of flour.  Empty the bowl and do it again.  You see, its 100 grams EVERY TIME!  Ok, so maybe you didn’t need to do this last test, it was just for effect anyway. 

As you see, now, I am a total weight convert.

 This recipe is not only a good manner of using your new-found skills. It also has a bit of a story.  Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804 – 1877) was a famous poet from Finland and considered Finland’s National Poet.  In honor of his birthday, on Feb 5th, his wife allegedly created  these muffin-like creations for his special day.  According to legend, Runeberg enjoyed one of these tarts with Swedish punch liquor) on every breakfast. Runeberg’s tarts are typically eaten only in Finland and are generally available from the beginning of January to Runeberg’s birthday on February 5.

I know, I know.  This recipe is a bit all over the place when it comes to weight versus volume measures.  But it’s an authentic recipe.  Be prepared to use quite a few bowls for this one.  But it creates a unique looking item that’s a nice change from muffins or cupcakes.

 Runeberg Tarts

1 egg
25 ml sugar  ( 1/8 C)
50 brown sugar (firmly packed)  (1/4 C)
100 g butter
¼ C  cream
150 grams flour
1 tsp baking powder
50 grams ground almonds
50 ml ground or finely chopped walnuts or hazelnuts or ground dark sugar cookies)
1 tsp
vanilla extract
½ tsp almond essence
(a dash of almond liqueur  — 
eg “Amaretto”)

Sugar syrup:

100 ml sugar
50 ml water
1 – 2 tbsp (or to taste) Swedish
punch, rum or cognac

1/4 C Raspberry jam

Sugar icing:

Icing sugar
dash of almond essence

Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Beat the egg and sugars until fluffy, add almond essence (and liqueur), melted butter and whipped cream.

Mix together the dry ingredients. (If you do not have walnuts, hazelnuts or sugar cookies at hand, you can omit them or replace them with ground or chopped almonds.) Gently fold the dry ingredients into the batter.

Lightly butter six cups from a standard muffin pan and spoon the batter into them, leveling the batter.  It will not rise very much. Bake the cakes at 375°C   (175 °C) for 15 – 20 minutes or when a cake tester/toothpick inserted in the middle of them comes out clean.

Meanwhile, prepare the sugar syrup. Place the sugar, water and the alcohol of your choice into a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to the boil, so that the sugar melts and alcohol evaporates. Remove from heat and set aside.

Take the hot cakes out of the oven, prick them with a toothpick, and drizzle the warm sugar syrup on top of them. Use all of the syrup. Let the cakes absorb the syrup for half an hour or longer. When the cakes seem thoroughly moist, gently remove them from the moulds and flip them over.

If the bottoms of the cakes are uneven, cut them flat carefully, using a serrated knife, so that the cakes will stand straight. This is most easily done while the cakes are still inside the moulds. Cut by moving the knife along the rim of the mould.

Cut a small round hole on the top of cakes using a small teaspoon (see picture below). Fill the holes with raspberry topping and let it set in refrigerator.

Meanwhile, prepare a very thick sugar icing by mixing a dash or water with icing sugar. Flavor the icing with a dash of almond essence. Pipe the icing around the raspberry topping on top of cakes (see picture above). Let the sugar icing set and serve the cakes with coffee or tea.
Makes about 6 cakes.

A Tart is Born – Lemon Linzer Tort

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

A Tart is Born!

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Every so often we all get into a rut.  One day looks like the other.  We have the same routine day after day; Get up, go to work, come home.  Weekends all look the same.  We seem to have the same conversations with the same people.  “Hey Mom, How are you feeling?  Good?  Great!   How’s the weather over there? …” .   While some people find routine comforting, I find it blaringly nerve racking.   However, lately I find myself in a sort of cooking rut.  I seem to have a tried and true repertoire of recipes that I keep going to time and time again.  If it wasn’t for Marko doing the mid-week kitchen duties, I’m sure I’d be putting out things from my kitchen that you could set your watch by:  Monday: Meatloaf, Tuesday: Chicken, Wednesday: Spaghetti…

Take this weekend for instance, I’ve been honorably asked by a Slow Food colleague, Henk, to bake cakes and make hors d’ourves for his 60th birthday reception.   “Lisa, you are the best baker I know and I want you to make my birthday cake.”  Wow, I am totally honored!  Henk is a consummate foodie and knows many a good professional baker and chef.  For him to ask a hobby-baker like myself to make his birthday cake is something big for me.   Henk made a few requests that I make my Raspberry-Chocolate Linzer tort and jalapeno-poppers but the rest is up to me. 

My mind starts wandering to what else I can make…Cheesecake, Black Forest cake, brownies, etc.  I go on a few days with these in mind, mentally making a shopping list of supplies.  Then suddenly it hits me.  I ALWAYS make these things.  I made these things for our LAST party.  They’re my standard go-to recipes.  Sure, I can make them in advance, they freeze like a dream, but they are ooh-soo-standard as far as I’m concerned.  If I’m going to make my mark as a Pastry Chef, then I need to be a bit more creative.  I need to make something new. 

Now I really hate to go into a party with something experimental, but I’m going to think up something special.  To play it a bit on the safe side, I’m going to try variations on a theme.  I just love the combination of lemon and poppy seeds, so why don’t try a lemon-poppy tart?   A spicy cookie crust laced heavily with poppy seeds and a creamy lemony filling.  Yeah, it’s worth a try. 

So I take my standard Linzer torte crust recipe and I substitute poppy seeds for the ground almonds.  Then I make a filling using 3 egg yolks, ½ cup lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of lemonciello (lemon liquor) and a can of sweetened condensed milk.    The filling doesn’t seem enough to fill the crust.  (I’m using a 20cm glass tart pan rather than a standard pie plate).    I debate with myself on whether to fold the edges in or let them stand straight up.  Hmm, I don’t know how much the filling will puff up.

I opt for straight up.  I bake it for 30 mins at 325F.   So far, so good.  The filling didn’t puff up at all.  Now I need to decide on a topping.  Meringue is the obvious choice and it’s been ages since I’ve had lemon meringue pie.    In the meantime, the pie cools and gets put in the freezer.  The party is still a week away.  Introducing Lemon-Poppy Tart.   A tart in born.

The verdicts of the Lemon-Poppy tart are in, folks!!  And the result was a REAL WINNER!!   I topped with soft-peaked meringue (3 egg whites, 3/4 cups sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter)  that I beat to the consistancy of marshmellow fluff and topped the tart from end to end.  Made decorative peaks.  Bake at 400 for 10-15 mins until dry on top and the peaks are nicely browned. Watch Carefully!!   Cool Completely.

Even though I made other cakes and pies,  this one had people actually FIGHTING over it.  The contrast of lemon with a hint of alcohol, with creamy meringue atop the crunchy poppy seed crust was divine!  Really!  4 people fighting over the last piece.  The fight was resolved by 1 plate and 4 forks.

In order for you to make the lemon version…you’re going to have to get the original.  Here it is:

Chocolate- Raspberry Linzer Torte


1 1/2  sticks butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice

1 egg
5 ounces of almonds, toasted and ground
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt

½ Cup chopped chocolate (milk or bittersweet), melted
1 cup raspberry jam (or your favorite type of jam)


In an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Add honey, orange zest, cinnamon and spices. Continue mixing for one more minute. Add egg. Mix until well blended

Sift the dry ingredients together. Mix the sifted dry ingredients to the butter mixture until a dough is formed.

Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Grease the bottom and sides of a torte pan. Line the bottom
of the pan with wax or parchment paper. Remove dough from the
refrigerator and divide in two. Sprinkle the work surface with flour and roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thick, forming a 15-inch circle. For the second half of dough, roll it to 1/4-inch thick to create a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Refrigerate both the top and bottom for about 20 minutes.

Line the bottom and sides of the prepared torte pan with the circle

For the second half of dough, roll it to 1/4-inch thick to create a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Refrigerate both the top and bottom for about 20 minutes.

Mix the raspberry jam with the melted chocolate.

Remove from refrigerator and fill bottom half with raspberry jam/ chocolate mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Create a lattice with the
rectangular piece of dough by cutting 12 9-inch strips.

Fold the edges of the dough up and over the top of the torte.

Bake in oven for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown.

Sunshine, Moonbeams and Snowflakes  (Lots of Snowflakes!)

I promised myself I wouldn’t do a clichéd begin-of-the-year post about what I plan to change over the next year.  Sure, we all are busy thinking about our New Years Resolutions; losing weight, getting a new job; being a better person, blah, blah, blah…But this time it’s just circumstance and a good case of good timing that brings me to this post.  You see, I need to catch you all up on some things that have been happening lately.  I was going to bring them up rather subtly, painstakingly alluding to these happenings over a series of posts.  But it’s just too exciting to hold back.  So I’m just going to let you all have it at once.  So hang on tight!

As you all know, I’m pretty miserable in my job and I need a change. I could draw out the thought process on how I came to my life’s passion but I think you can already figure that one out yourselves.  Over the last few months, I’ve decided to log out of my job as an IT Consultant and to dish up a new career in the Culinary arts, Pastry Arts in particular. I know it’s not a big shock to any of you, but for me, it’s was an epiphany.  It was a ray of sunshine.   I ran it by Marko. For years, I’ve always (semi-) joked with him that my life’s ambition was to be the “Cookie Queen of the Netherlands”, so the news that I wanted to re-invent myself to be a Pastry Chef did not side swipe him at all.   The only big shock would come financially. It would be a huge cut in salary for me. Making cookies is not nearly as lucrative as putting together bits and bytes.  Figuring it out, I’d have to sell an extra 35,000 cookies a year to make up the difference!  That’s about 100 cookies extra per day! 

When I told my sister about my decision, we immediately began daydreaming about opening our own restaurant, just like we did when we were teenagers.  Let me tell you a bit about my sister. She is going to totally hate me for writing this but in short, my sister, Dr. Christine, is my idol.  She is the most dedicated and driven person I know.  When she was 11, she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, an affliction that haunts her to this day.  After High School, using her natural talent for cooking, she attended and graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Providence Rhode Island with a degree in Culinary arts.  A few years later, she decided that she needed to make a bigger impact on the world and enrolled in a medical program to become a doctor.  Even though she was severely plagued with health problems, she pushed herself through the punishing Internship and Residency programs.  At over 100 hours per week, these programs are challenging even for a healthy person. But she not only made it through, she excelled with top grades!   Currently she is the Director and Chief Physician of the Veterans Clinic in Littleton in upstate New Hampshire.  That is definitely quite an accomplishment for a recent graduate. I couldn’t be prouder of my sister! 

 In late October of last year, I get a call from her. She found this lovely little café nestled at the foot of Mt. Washington that is for sale about an hour drive from her. It’s The Moonbeam Café. She wants to buy it.  “What do you think?” she asks me. Personally, I didn’t think it was such a good idea; after all, she works 6 days a week at the clinic.  I’m 3500 miles away.  How can she swing it alone?  “Aren’t you afraid of this?”  I asked her.  “Lisa,” she explains, “It’s my dream. I don’t have time to be afraid.  I don’t know how much longer I have.  It could be 4 years, it could be 40.  I just don’t know.  I need to make every minute count.”.  Brave girl she is.  It could be so easy to be afraid and take the easy route.  But that just wouldn’t be her.  

 Suddenly the pieces are falling into place.  The café has a full bakery in the back that’s not being used. “It’s all yours if you want it”, she says.  I can hardly believe my ears.  My own bakery!  The only caveat is that I have to be in Gorham. This isn’t something that I can do remotely.  No telecommuting for me.  That would mean moving my family from the over-crowded Netherlands to the sparsely populated mountains of New Hampshire.  I can already feel Marko going into culture shock.   I’m never going to sell it to him sight unseen.

The next step is to pay a visit.  While we are in the states for our yearly Christmas vacation, we’d spend a bit of time getting The Moonbeam ready for inspection and opening day.  “Don’t forget,” my sister says, “Winter is WINTER here.  Cold and harsh, but stunningly beautiful.”  So we make our plans to be there the 26th through the 29th of December.

 Ok, Mother Nature.  It’s show time!  I need to dazzle and impress Marko. I’m putting in my order for perfect sunny skies and bejewelled snow capped mountains. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.  On the exact day we going to leave, Mother Nature decided to pitch a doozy of a fit… now affectionately known as “The Christmas Blizzard of 2010” that crippled the east coast for days. No, dear Readers, we didn’t get stuck in the snow.  We left on the road early in the morning and were at my sister’s in plenty of time before the storm.  But when it hit, it hit hard! 

 The following morning, we experienced just how professional New Hampshire is about snow removal and I got my wish.  A perfect glittering Winter Wonderland!  Thanks Mother Nature. 

The Moonbeam Café is located on Exchange Street in Gorham, NH and will be open on her birthday, January 4th 2011.  Those in the area, is sure to stop in for some great eats and to wish her a Happy Birthday!  Congratulations and Best Wishes, Dr. Chris!

 This weeks recipe is another jelly recipe that I developed just for The Moonbeam’s  grand opening.  It also makes a very impressive gift.

 White Zinfandel Jelly

 1 ½ Cups White Zinfandel Wine

2 ½ Cups white sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 pouch of liquid Certo pectin

Over med-high heat, bring wine, sugar and lemon juice to a boil.  Add pectin.  Boil for about 5 minutes or until able to set.  To test if the jelly is set, put a tablespoon or so on a saucer and put it in the freezer for about 3 minutes. If it’s not runny and looks like jelly, it’s done.  If not, boil another few minutes.  Pour in sterilized jars. Seal tightly and process in a water bath for 10 mins.  Makes about 1 quart.