Saturday, May 21, 2011

dutch marzipan cookies

When I was going to school in Halifax, I met a tall, blonde girl named Sheri. With a description like that, you might not be surprised to hear she has Dutch parents.

Sheri and I quickly became good friends and even now – more than 4,000 kilometres apart – we are like family. We know each other’s extended families and we cook each other’s recipes.

Every month or two when we were in university, we would find our way to the Annapolis Valley to visit Sheri’s family.
All those visits blur together now into one cozy memory . . . A lot of rooting through piles of brand-name bargains at the thrift store, and sitting around the kitchen table, drinking tea and talking and eating. Sheri's mom had a natural gift in the kitchen: everything Mrs. Brink touched turned to gold and tasted just right.And she had a way of making me feel welcome, like I was home.

One Sunday afternoon, as we set off back to Halifax, she gave us a little bag of gevulde koeken for the drive. These discs of a cookie were like nothing I’d ever eaten before: stiff but chewy dough around a nugget of marzipan. I was enchanted.

The next time we went back to the valley, I made sure to ask for the recipe. Mrs. Brink wrote it out for me on a recipe card, and I think I probably made gevulde koeken as soon as I got back to Halifax.

That was more than ten years ago. My recipe card is splattered and faded now, and carefully tucked into my recipe binder. Just looking at it reminds me of Mrs. Brink bustling around in a warm kitchen.

Mrs. Brink has passed away now, but sometimes I still forget, and I think of her and wonder what she's cooking up.

But I have my little card, to remind me. And, of course, her cookies.

gevulde koeken (dutch marzipan cookies)

marzipan filling
4 oz. ground almonds
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 egg, beaten and split in two parts
1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 3/4 c. wheat flour
            Or, gluten-free flours:
            92 g. (1/3 c. + 1/4 c.) sweet white sorghum flour
            45 g. (1/4 c.) teff flour
            76 g. (1/2 c.) sweet rice flour
            60 g. (1/2 c.) tapioca starch
            1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
about 18 whole almonds to top

Prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Stir all the ingredients of the filling together, but use only half of the egg, as noted. Set aside.

For the dough, cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the egg and almond extract. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour(s) together with the baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir into the creamed butter mixture. Once it’s mixed, the dough should look like you can roll it out fairly easily. If it doesn’t, add a bit more wheat flour or sweet rice flour.

Roll the dough out to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. (If using gluten-free flours, roll out between sheets of wax paper.) Use a cookie cutter dipped in flour to cut out little circles and place on the pan. Top each with about 1 teaspoon of filling in the centre. Before topping with another dough circle, use your finger dipped in water to “wet” the rim of the dough. Place the dough circle on top. Crimp edges with a fork. Brush tops and crimp marks with beaten egg reserved from the filling.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. (If using gluten-free flours, chill cookies for 20 minutes.)

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes. Let cookies cool before transferring to a rack.

Keeps well in an airtight container on the counter for a few days, and also frozen.

Monday, May 9, 2011

sour cream coffee cake

I am happy to report that sour cream coffee cake has restored my faith in my beloved “COOK BOOK.”

This cake – which actually makes two almost identical appearances in the book – is everything I had hoped.

It calls for the somewhat unusual step of mixing the sour cream and baking soda in a small bowl.* This made me think of all those science experiments I used to conduct with baking soda and vinegar over the kitchen sink as a child. Some kind of chemical reaction is definitely happening to the sour cream: it puffs up and is incredibly fun to stir, because it suddenly doesn’t feel one bit like sour cream.

Then the cake marbles itself as you bake it, but there’s no complicated light batter and dark batter to mix up and create twice the dishes. Instead, you put half the batter in the cake pan and sprinkle it with a cinnamon-nut-sugar mixture. 

 Pour over the rest of the batter and sprinkle again. VoilĂ !

It bakes into a lovely little cake. (A six-inch cake, if you must know. After my scare with the chocolate tomato juice cake, it seemed prudent to halve this large recipe.)

The crumb is incredibly moist and the bits of brown sugar and nut provide a sparkle on the tongue.

If I lived a life of leisure and could entertain friends with coffee in the mid-morning, this is the cake I would serve them. As it is, sour cream cake is darn fine any other time of day, even if you must eat it at your desk in the workaday world.

*Yes, yes, of course this makes sense for the acid in the sour cream to release the magic in the baking powder. But still – have you ever done this before?

sour cream coffee cake

bakes to fill a 6” round pan
may easily double to bake in 8” x 8” pan or larger

1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. sour cream
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 c. soft butter
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. + 2 tbsp. wheat flour
            Or, for gluten-free:
            25 g. (scant 1/4 c.) sweet white sorghum flour
            22 g. (1/4 c.) oat flour
            25 g. (3 tbsp.) sweet rice flour
            25. g. (3 tbsp.) tapioca starch
            25 g. (3 tbsp.) potato starch
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour your pan with either wheat flour or sweet rice flour.

Combine brown sugar, nuts and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.

Combine sour cream and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar thoroughly. Add vanilla and egg; beat well. Set aside.

Mix flour(s), baking powder and salt well. Alternate adding dry ingredients and sour cream mixture to butter mixture. Spread half of batter in pan. Sprinkle with half of cinnamon mixture. Cover with rest of batter. Sprinkle with half of cinnamon mixture.

Bake 30 – 45 minutes, depending on pan size. Remove from oven when a cake poker comes out clean.

Monday, May 2, 2011

8 hours in san francisco

5 days in palm desert

Oh, travelling for work. It can be so hard when you must go to California for a conference.

When you are forced to eat Mexican food for dinner and drink date milkshakes for lunch and do yoga under the palm trees at the break of dawn.

When you have to meet more than a thousand friendly colleagues from across North America and attend interesting seminars with them.

But really, really, the hardest thing must be when you realize you're flying home through San Francisco anyway, so you really should spend the day there.

So hard.

So hard to climb the hills of the city and eat a picnic lunch that includes a North Beach sandwich with some of the most tender proscuitto you've ever eaten.

So hard to wander through the market in the ferry building and sample chocolate and taste wine at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

So hard to explore the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and eat a slice of Mondrian cake in the sculpture garden.


Perhaps the only easy thing was coming home and updating hop & go fetch it with my favourite places to eat in California.

last may: swedish tea cookies