Peperkoek (spiced bread)

IMG_6058

I grew up on a breakfast of buttered bread with a layer of jam and fresh pastries on Sundays. That’s how we did things in Belgium back in the 80’s. Cereal was new and expensive and I don’t think a lot of people had heard of muesli. Compared to all the breakfast options we have today, it seems very boring and unhealthy. Now and again though, I like to go back to this kind of breakfast purely for nostalgic reasons.

Something that was always on the table at home was peperkoek (spiced bread). It’s not really a bread in the traditional sense. The concept is similar to banana bread: looks like cake but is called “bread”. The proper peperkoek has rye flour and lots of honey. It is light on the inside and has a dark brown, soft, sticky crust. I found this version of peperkoek when I was looking for a simpler recipe that didn’t have so much sugars in it. Granted, this recipe still calls for 250g of brown sugar but the amount of the honey is limited to 1 and a half tablespoons.

Buttered knife with crumbs

The spices is what makes this bread an absolute dream. If you are a fan of speculaas (biscoff cookies) this will be right up your street. It uses the exact same spices. You can find my recipe for speculaas spice mix here. The only way to eat this peperkoek is with a rather thick layer of real butter. Another way to really enjoy it is by putting a slice in between 2 slices of fresh, crusty white bread.

So this isn’t going to be in the top 10 of “healthy breakfasts for you” but it definitely would be part of the “tastiest breakfast treats” list. I think you should try this peperkoek. If anything, for the fact that it makes your house smell amazing. But, if you’re trying to cut down on sugar as part of a new year’s resolution, just save it for later via my Pinterest board.

What is your favourite breakfast? Do you make an extra effort on the weekend? And does anyone make their own croissants?

Peperkoek (spiced bread)

 

Peperkoek (spiced bread)

Makes 1 big loaf

Ingredients:

100ml of water

250g flour

2 tsp baking powder

250g dark brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp speculaas spice mix

1 1/2 tbsp runny honey

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.

2. Line a rectangular cake tin with baking paper.

3. In the bowl of a standmixer fitted with a whisk (or use a big bowl and a handmixer), mix all the ingredients except the flour and baking powder.

4. When the mixture is smooth, add the flour and baking powder, a tablespoon at a time. Mix until all the flour is incorporated. Then mix on medium-high speed for about 7-10 minutes. When you stop mixing you should see bubbles trying to form on the surface.

5. Pour the mixture in the cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1hr. Use a knife or skewer to check if it is baked completely.

6. Take the peperkoek out of the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes before taking it out of the tin and letting it cool further on a wire rack.

ENJOY!!

 Spiced bread or peperkoek

Speculaas – Speculoos – Biscoff cookies

Perfect speculaas cookies (homemade biscoff cookies)

For the past 5 days Berlin has been covered in a blanket of greyness. The sun obviously thought that it also deserved a week of autumn holiday like all the school kids in the city. Rubber boots were the preferred choice of footwear and every puddle on the way to Kita had to be jumped in. I would have joined my kids in this fun activity but I don’t own rubber boots. I did attempt to buy a pair yesterday but it turns out, they are not really stocked in shoe shops. The adult version, that is, kids boots are available everywhere. But guess what, today we woke up to blue skies. It has since clouded over a bit but the rain has stopped. And so has my search for boots.

Next time it rains, I will of course end up with wet feet again. P. will point out that I should really get proper footwear for the season. I will tell him that he is right and that I will order some online tonight. We have had this same conversation for the past 3 autumns here in Berlin…

Traditional speculaas cookies

So we’ve had our first week of proper awful autumn weather in the city and this can only mean one thing. People are moving indoors in search of comfort and cosiness. Tables outside of restaurants are empty and iced coffees are swapped for hot chocolates and ginger teas. And since the ice cream shops have closed for the season, sweet temptations have to be found elsewhere. When was the last time your home smelled of freshly baked cookies? More to the point, has your home ever been filled with the smells of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and my favourite, mace?

Speculaas (or speculoos, or Biscoff cookies) are spiced cookies which can be found all year round in Belgium. The spice mix needed to make them comes ready-made and can easily be bought in shops or bakeries. I started making my own speculaas mix because these packets are not available in Berlin and maybe where you live either. The cookies will not taste like the Lotus brand of Biscoff cookies though. They are the kind you would buy at the traditional bakery on the corner of the street.

Cardamom, mace, cloves, cinnamon and ginger

A quick note on the spices:

– Cardamom comes in pods or already ground. If you can only find the pods, ground the seeds with a spice grinder or coffee grinder until you get a fine powder.

– The same applies for the cloves. If you can’t find the powder, grind them into a thin powder.

– Use only ground ginger and nutmeg.

– Mace is a spice derived from nutmeg. You will also need it in powder form. I find this spice tricky to find where I live. It can be left out.

Speculaas – Speculoos – Biscoff cookies

(makes 15-20 depending on what cookie cutter you use)

Ingredients:

250g flour

150g butter, softened

140g dark brown sugar

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 tbsp milk at room temperature

1 tsp ground cardamom

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground mace (optional)

Method:

1. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

2. Add the milk and the butter and kneed until the dough stops sticking to your hands or the dough hook of a standmixer.

3. Roll the dough into a ball them flatten into a thick disk. Wrap it in baking paper (or clingfilm) and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better as the flavours will really develop.

4. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

5. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough until 5 mm thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Transfer the cookies to a baking tray lined with baking paper.

6. Bake the cookies in the middle of the oven for 12-15 minutes.

7. Let the cookies cool on a wire rack and store in a airtight container.

ENJOY!

Stacks of crunchy, spicy speculaas cookies

Belgian waffles (the quick version)

IMG_3890

So yesterday was waffle day in Sweden. And since my kids are 50% Swedish it went without saying that waffles were going to be backed. I had plans. Grand plans even. I wanted to introduce my little nordic munchkins to the delights of the authentic Belgian waffle: thick yeast dough baked to perfection. Crispy on the outside and a soft, fluffy on the inside. However, things didn’t really go as I had hoped. What happened, you ask? I ran out of time. Simple as that. When you’re a mother of 2 toddlers and your pilot hubby gets called out to cover a flight and unexpectedly has to stay the night in Italy, then you’re on your own. And all your previous plans go out the window.

But, when you’re a mother of 2 hungry toddlers and you’re wingman is gone, then you improvise. And so we had waffles in the end. I suppose you can still call them Belgian waffles because they are my recipe and I am Belgian :-) But I do owe you all the recipe of the authentic version.

Waffle heart with powdered sugar

The classic way to eat these is with just a dusting of powdered sugar. Or you can opt for a brown sugar. My favourite sugars are those of T-Sugars. I adore their light brown sugar.

3 sugars

Since toppings on the waffles tend to be sweet I reduce or completely eliminate sugar from the batter. It’s a matter of preference.

Belgian waffles-the quick version

(yield: about 10 waffles depending on the size of your iron)

500g flour

4tsp baking powder

500ml milk

150g butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 eggs, yolk and whites seperated

optional: 80g sugar

toppings: powdered sugar, brown sugar, fruit, honey, whipped cream, …

Method:

1. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment (or a hand mixer) mix the milk, melted butter, vanilla, egg yolks and sugar.

2. Add the flour gently.

3. In a second bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold this into the batter. The batter will be thick and stringy.

4. Lightly grease your waffle iron and heat it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Drop 2-3 tbsp of batter in the middle of the iron (it should fill about 2/3 of the iron).

6. Bake according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Eat the waffles while hot and crispy. When they cool they tend to lose their crispiness but a minute in the toaster or warm waffle iron will bring it back.

Enjoy!

waffles with sugars scattered

Waffles lightly dusted with sugar

waffle with brown sugar

Golden rice pudding with brown sugar

two portions rice pudding one with spoon side by sideSee these pots of gold? There’s a story to them…

I am from Belgium. Land of the chocolate, waffles and beer. Land of Tintin and it’s the birthplace of Audrey Hepburn (fact). Also, land of the increasingly popular Biscoff Cookie and spread!  We may be a small country but we totally make up for it with our big food culture.

When I was 8 years old we moved half way around the world to Hong Kong. We stayed for a couple of years, then moved to Austria before moving back to Asia, where I started my teenage life in Singapore. By the time I was 16 we were back in Belgium (very unexpectedly) and I found it hard to adjust. I promised myself that at the first chance I would be out of there.

By the time I turned 25, I was living near Belfast in Northern Ireland. A great little place. You should visit it if you ever get the chance. The most friendly people in the world live there (that’s my opinion anyway but I think I’m right). And then, in 2013, a husband-to-be and two kids later, we packed up everything and decided to start a life in Berlin Germany.

Why am I telling you this? Because, when you move countries  and become part of varies different cultures, you tend to feel lost now and again. You ask yourself: Who am I? Where am I from? Where do I belong? It can be very unsettling. Myself and a friend seem to be going through a bit of phase at the moment. She’s wondering wether to pack up and move back north. Myself and hubby are wondering wether to buy our first german home.

One thing that helps me feel grounded again is to cook or bake something my mother used to when we were kids. Comfort food, really. The smells and the tastes remind me of my family. And the thing with families is that no matter where you live in this big old world, they are the constant factor in your life. They are your home.

two portions rice pudding with spoons and with pot of brown sugarThis rice pudding is a traditional, Belgian dish. It instantly transports me back to my childhood and the days spent abroad where my mother would adjust and adapt every recipe she had according to the ingredients available in the country we lived in at the time. Kudos to her. This was late 80’s and early 90’s, by the way (for those of you who are of the post 2000 generation, this means no internet and no affordable, international shipping. Just making sure we’re on the same page here).

two portions rice pudding with spoon viewed from the top with pot of brown sugar

Golden rice pudding

(makes 4 small or 2 large portions)

90g (1/2 cup) Arborio rice

600-700ml (2 1/2 – 3 cups) milk

1 vanilla pod or 2 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of saffron (saffron can be expensive so don’t worry if you leave it out)

1 tbsp sugar

2 tsp brown sugar (light or brown, whichever you prefer)

Method:

Put a saucepan on medium heat.

Add the rice, 600ml (2 1/2cups) of milk, saffron, seeds of the vanilla pod (or the extract) and sugar. Stir to mix it all together.

Heat the mixture until it’s just about to boil, then turn the heat low and let it simmer.

Stir the mixture every 3-5 minutes so it doesn’t stick. This is like making a risotto.

After about 30-40 minutes the rice will have absorbed the milk and be soft. If while cooking you notice the mixture getting dry and the rice isn’t soft yet, add the remaining milk.

Spoon the rice pudding in glasses or bowls and top with some brown sugar.

Let the rice pudding cool for about 5-10 minutes. You’ll notice the sugar dissolving a bit and running down into the pudding. That’s exactly how you want it.

two portions rice pudding with pot of brown sugar Close UpIn Belgium, the story goes that when you die and go to heaven, you will be eating rice pudding with a golden spoon every single day. This refers to the fact that in the 16th century,  this dish was a big treat and served at big celebrations like weddings for example.

blurred spoon in foreground and focus on one portion of rice pudding

Close-up spoon with rice pudding