Tag Archives: rye

{1} Taai Taai

Hello and welcome to 2015’s edition of the 12 Bakes of Christmas!  Regular readers might have noticed a bit of a slowdown in posts in the last few months. I’ve not lost my love of cooking, but a recent arrival has been keeping us all rather busy, which has certainly also made Christmas this year a lot more special!

I’m kicking off a little later than usual this year, as my first bake Taai Taai (rhymes with bye-bye) originates from the Netherlands, where today – 5 December – is Sinterklaas (their Belgian neighbours confusingly celebrate it on 6 December, but as these cookies are Dutch, we’ll go with the earlier date). Sinterklaas is the day on which St Nicholas (or Sinterklaas, the origin of the name Santa Claus) is said to come from Turkey to distribute gifts and sweets to children by leaving them in clogs, or these days, more modern types of shoe. Alongside presents, it is traditional to get a chocoladeletter (your initial in chocolate!) as well as pepernoten and kruidnoten (spicy little biscuits – recipe here).

Taai Taai literally means “tough tough” in Dutch, and that name reveals their texture. Whereas the classic speculaas is often crisp and buttery, these are, well, tough and chewy.

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So what is the story behind these little tough guys?

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Karelian Pastries

These curious looking little fellows are one of Finland’s oldest dishes, called Karelian pies (Karjalanpiirakat) – simple savoury rice pies in a rye crust.

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Now, when it comes to pies, there is a lot of competition out there. Dozens of different cheeses, delicious vegetables and exotic and interesting spices to tempt the hungry. In such a competitive field, you might think that something that sounds as boring as “savoury rice pies” might not be a winner. But trust me on this one – I’ve had them in Finland and loved them, and the were equally delicious when I made them back home. Think of this as two types of carbs, baked with butter – now if you were in Finland and there was three feet of snow outside, you’d probably be in the mood for that sort of thing!

So what makes them so good? The fact they are delicious may or may not have something to do with the fact that the rye pastry is dipped in or brushed with melted salted butter just before baking, making it crisp and (unsurprisingly) buttery. The filling is a thick rice pudding, made with milk and a little salt, so it is both rich and satisfying savoury. The end result? These simple little rice pies are really rather addictive!

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The good news is that these pies are very easy to make, and you’ve probably got everything that you need in the cupboard right now. If you want to omit the milk and/or butter, then that’s easy too, so they can be veganised or made lactose-free too. They’re nice warm, but equally good cold, so they are a great addition to a picnic. The only drawback is that it is very tempting to have just one more, and then just one more again. So if you do whip up a batch, make sure you have enough!

I also love how they look – they seem rather fancy and impressive, but shaping them is quite straightforward. Just roll out the dough, add the filling, then crimp the edges with you fingers. Make it complex or make it as simple as you like – every baker seems to have their own version, but I wanted to go for something that was small and could be munched in a couple of bites. You can easily adapt this recipe to make fewer larger pies, or double it to make more.

If you want to enjoy these the traditional Finnish way, top them with a spoonful of chopped hard-boiled egg mixed with (you guessed it) more butter.

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Makes around 10:

For the filling

• 75g short grain rice (such as arborio or pudding rice)
• 130ml water
• 400ml milk

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the pastry:

• 125g rye flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
• 100ml water

To finish:

• 100g salted butter, melted

1. Start with the filling. Put the water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the rice and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the milk, and continue to cook over a low heat, uncovered, until you have a thick rice pudding texture (30-40 minutes). Add the salt, stir well, cover and put to one side to allow to cool.

2. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F).

3. Make the pastry. Mix the rye flour and the salt. Add the oil and then add enough water to make a soft dough that is not sticky.

4. Roll the dough into a long sausage, and cut into 10 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then roll out on a floured worktop to make a circle of around 10-12cm diameter.

5. Divide the filling between the pastry circles – around 2 tablespoons each (tip: make sure the filling is cool – if it is warm, the dough can soften and make them harder to handle). Take each pie, and life the edges and press inwards to make an oval shape. Use your fingers to crimp the edges so that the pastry holds the filling in the pie.

6. Take each finished pie and dip the pastry into the melted butter. You can do this with your hands or a slotted spoon, or use a pastry brush to coat the pastry.

7. Arrange the pies on the baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is just starting to colour.

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{6} Ruiskakut (Finnish Rye Biscuits)

Are you someone who isn’t too keen on all those rich flavours like citrus, chocolate and spices in Christmas fayre? Then maybe these simple little Finnish rye biscuits are the thing for you!

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I, of course, am not one of those people that shuns spicy, fruity, nutty goodness at this time of year, but I’m still keen to try new things, and all the more so when they involve slightly more unusual ingredients. OK, rye is not exactly outré in the kitchen, but I’ve never come across it in sweet biscuits. So when I saw this idea, I really had to give it a bash.

While the name is a bit of a mouthful, this is a fairly straightforward biscuit, made with just butter, sugar, flour and rye. They are not particularly sweet, but the generous use of butter still makes them very rich. The rye flour adds some flavour, and also a little extra texture (or at least it did in my case – the flour I used still had some of the rye bran in the flour). Mine were probably a little sweeter than the traditional version, as I sprinkled them lightly with caster sugar. This isn’t necessary, and I would skip this if you want a less-sweet biscuit.

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The fun bit, of course, is how you shape them. You roll out the dough thinly and then cut into circles. Then use a fork to make little holes in the surface, and then cut out the middle. And voila! You have biscuits that bear more than a passing resemblance to Nordic rye crispbread.

Now, a little tip. I tried cutting out some circles, then removing the centres, and then piercing the holes with a fork. Doing it in this order made the edges a little messier, so I would recommend cut, pierce then cut out the centre if you want them to look as good as you can. Of course, nothing to stop you going a bit mad and cutting out stars, squares, angels or elks. Yes, I am the owner of an elk-shaped cutter. It might even feature in the near future…

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In Finland, these biscuits are tied to the Christmas tree and visitors invited to take one when they call. As you can see below, they look pretty attractive, in a rustic sort of way. However, I can tell you from experience that you might want to keep them above the height that little hands can reach for (that, or make sure that not too many of them are on offer at any one time…).

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If you are in the mood for some tree decorating fun, it’s worth knowing that these biscuits will get softer over time if left out. You can store them in an airtight container and hang on the tree as needed, but if the biscuits do get too soft, you can simply pop them back into a low oven for a couple of minutes to return them to perfect crispness.

While simplicity is sort of key to these, you could go for a more luxurious version by dipping them in dark chocolate. I haven’t had a go at that yet, but I think the nuttiness of the rye would work rather well.

To make Ruiskakut (makes 24):

• 50g soft brown sugar
• 115g unsalted butter
• 80g plain flour
• 60g rye flour
1 tablespoon cold water
• rye flour, for dusting
• caster sugar, for sprinkling

1. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the plain flour, rye flour and cold water to make a smooth dough. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

3. Dust the worktop with rye flour. Roll out the dough to 1/4 cm thickness. Cut 8cm circles and transfer to the baking sheet. Spike with a fork and use a small cutter to make a hole in the middle of each biscuit. Sprinkle each biscuit lightly with caster sugar.

4. Bake the biscuits for around 10 minutes until golden. If necessary, turn the tray during baking to get an even colour. Remove from the oven, allow to sit for a moment (they come out very soft but soon harden) the leave to cool on a wire tray.

Worth making? Yes! The dough is easy to make, and the flavour simple but delicious. Very buttery with a nice crunch from the rye.

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Knäckebröd (Swedish Rye Crispbread)

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that my post about a rather hot lentil soup included some sort of crackers on the side. What were they? While I am sure that folk are not exactly lying awake at night, fretting with uncertainty, I’ll clear up the mystery – they were some terribly healthy Swedish-style rye crispbreads, and of course, they were home-made. We’re good like that round here.

Yes, for when you think about Swedish cuisine, you will pretty quickly get to the classic crispbread (via all the other stereotypes – cinnamon buns, amusingly named sweets like skum and plopp, meatballs, fermented herring…). I find crispbread – or knäckebröd (k-ney-keh-br-uh-d) in Swedish –  to be something of a wonder. It’s incredibly simple, but very tasty when made well, and provides the perfect foil for all manner of toppings. It’s rich in fibre, so clearly good for you, but it also has that amazing crispness. Personally, I love the sort of crispbread that seems to shatter. Those crispbreads that are dry and a bit powdery don’t really do it for me. I prefer the stuff that is thin and slightly toasty, that gives you that noticeable crack as you sink your teeth into it.

For all my culinary Swedophilia (as seen from cinnamon buns, “vacuum cleaner” cakes and dream cookies), I’ve never gotten round to making knäckebröd. Until this weekend that is, and I’m happy to report that it was really rather easy, and the results really rather successful. I was particularly pleased with this picture, when the fellows stacked up neatly like a pile of crisp autumn leaves. They’re probably supposed to stay flatter than mine did, but I actually like the mad, warped shape these guys developed in the oven.

I used a dough which was mostly rye flour and a little plain flour (about 4 parts rye, 1 part plain) in the hope this would make the dough a little easier to work with. Did it work? No idea, as the dough was predictably heavy, as you’d expect with mostly rye flour.

I also went for a yeast dough. It would have been simpler and quicker to just make a plain dough without the yeast, but I wanted to have as much flavour in the crispbread as I could get. I wasn’t using much more than rye flour and salt, so this fermentation stage was going to matter. I started the yeast using some honey and warm water, then mixed up the dough and left to prove overnight. All that rye flour meant that the dough was extremely dense, and while it had not exactly puffed up overnight, it was clear that the yeast had worked it magic, and there was a distinctive sour aroma when I removed the lid from the bowl. The use of yeast was wise indeed.

Now, it was time to bake these bad boys. The trick, I have now learned, is that you need to work in batches. No point in rolling out all the dough, as you are aiming to get something that is about a millimeter thick. If you roll all the dough in once go, you’d better have a very large kitchen. Trust me – small batches here work wonders, and it’s much easier to take out your frustrations with the rolling pin to roll it out to wafer-thinness.

Some people also have nifty little rolling pins that make the characteristic holes all over the knäckebröd, but I had to make do with a fork. In fact, I quite like the randomness of them, they look a little but more artisanal. Sometimes it is nice to get things that look absolutely perfect. Macarons should look perfect. Crispbread…well, it should look very rustic, no?

After the baking, it was time for the taste test. I could not have been more thrilled with how they turned out. At first the toasted flavour comes across, giving way to a tinge of yeast and the sour tang of the proving process. But most thrilling of all (or as thrilling as things get when it comes to crispbread) was the proper, sharp crack as you bit into them. It was beyond doubt that these guys were seriously crisp.

So there you have it – a super-easy recipe that makes excellent crispbread. But keep in mind that I’m not Swedish, I’m not an expert, and I’m probably biased. In some ways, I have to be, given that I now have a pile of 30 crispbreads in the kitchen, which are slowly being eaten for breakfast and with dinner (note that knäckebröd is not interchangeable with poppadom when eating curry, no matter how good you might think it would be…). That said, you can buy good crispbread these days, and I’m not sure this is something I’ll be knocking up on a weekly basis (if for no other reason than to avoid another glut of the stuff) but this is something that it will be worth tweaking with lots of seeds and/or extra spices in the dough to make crackers for a party. Now it’s just me going mano a mano with those 30 crispbreads…

Now, I said that I like the sort of knäckebröd that is so crisp that it seems to shatter? As you can see from below,  I’m as good as my word!

To make knäckebröd (makes 30):

• 1 tablespoon dried yeast
• 250ml lukewarm water
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 125g plain flour
• 400g rye flour

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the honey and three tablespoons of flour. Set aside somewhere warm until the mixture is bubbling.

2. Combine the rest of the flour, the salt and the yeast mixture until you have a smooth dough. It should be firm, but if it seems too dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, and work until smooth. I ended up adding three extra spoons of water.

3. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the rest overnight. The mixture will only expand slightly, but should smell “yeasty” and slightly sour the next day.

4. The next day, prepare to bake the crispbread. Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, but do not grease.

5. Take one-quarter of the dough. Place on a well-floured work surface (use more rye flour) and roll out as thin as you can – around 1-2mm is idea. Use a bowl as a template to cut out rounds and transfer to the baking sheet (I baked four at a time). Use a fork to prick all over the surface of each crispbread.

6. Bake the knäckebröd for around 8-10 minutes until the pieces are browned. Watch carefully as there is not much difference between done and burnt!

Worth making? An easy recipe with great results. As good as the stuff you can buy, which might put you off, but nice to try if you want to put some unusual flavours in the mixture.

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Koninginnedag: Ontbijtkoek

I’ve already featured a fancy recipe if you’re in the mood to celebrate Dutch Queen’s Day, so today I’ve gone to the other end of the spectrum and made something super-easy. It’s called ontbijtkoek which literally means “breakfast cake”.

You can think of this as a very simple gingerbread recipe, but one that’s on the healthy side. Yes, there is some sugar in there, but no eggs and no butter (just milk to bind it), so it’s low in fat. Heck, there is even rye flour in there! This does mean, of course, that it’s actually rather well-suited to being spread with butter and topped with jam or honey. I realise this defeats the object of making such an otherwise healthy loaf, but then – if you’re going to celebrate Queen’s Day by jumping up and down on a canal boat while dressed from head to toe in orange, all that energy is probably essential.

This is something that I used to buy a lot when I lived in Belgium, as I went to the Netherlands rather often. This is something that people tend to buy rather than make these days. However, given how simple the recipe is, there is no reason not to give it a try, especially if you don’t have easy access to the commercial versions or you want to be free-and-easy with the spices.

The only real “prep” work is to scald the milk and then let it cool before mixing for a more tender loaf (and even this step can be skipped if you’re in a rush). Then you just mix everything together until you have a smooth – but still thick – dough, scrape into a loaf tin and bake. You’ll be rewarded by a rich, spicy aroma during baking, but if you want to dive right in, you’ll sadly need to hold off – this needs to be left to cool, then stored for a day. This means the loaf will be soft and slightly sticky on top. It also cuts easily and keeps really well, so it is perfectly suited as something to nibble on during the week for breakfast, but it’s also tasty enough on its own to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee as an afternoon snack.

I’ve mentioned the spices, and here I’ve gone with a rather traditional mixture that includes a lot of cloves, plus cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. However, you can tweak them to your heart’s content, adding more of what you love and less of what you’re not so keen on. You might like to try other Dutch spice mixtures like speculaaskruiden used in traditional biscuits, or perhaps omit the cloves and use more cinnamon and nutmeg. You can also add nuts, dried fruit or preserved ginger. I think these could all work really well, even if they would mean that you’re getting a little away from the traditional recipes. But by all means – experiment away!

So I hope you’ve enjoyed these little Dutch delights! If you’re still curious about the cuisine of the Netherlands, you can have a look at my recipes for poffertjes (mini-pancakes) or apple tart, as well as aniseed sprinkles and aniseed milk.

To make Ontbijtkoek

 • 120g self-rising flour
• 130g rye flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 100g brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

• 1 pinch salt
• 80ml golden syrup or other syrup

• 1 teaspoon treacle or molasses
• 240-300ml milk, scalded and cooled(*)

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a loaf tin with paper and grease with butter.

Put the flours, baking powder, sugar, spices and salt in a bowl. Mix well. Add the syrup, treacle/molasses and enough milk to make a smooth batter (it should be soft but certainly not runny). Add any dried fruit, nuts, ginger etc. if you’re using that.

Pour into the tin, and bake for an hour. Once baked, cover loosely with a clean tea-towel. When cool, wrap in cling film.

(*) This means bring the milk to the boil, then let it cook. I makes for a softer loaf. You need to let it cool because if you add the hot milk to the mixture, the baking powder will get to work before you can put the mixture into the pan. If you’re in a hurry, just use cold milk.

Worth making? This is a nice, easy recipe that gives you a lovely spicy cake. I think the flavour is spot on, but of course tweak the spices to taste. This is also a good one to make with kids, as the recipe is quite easy, and the lack of eggs means that they can lick the spoon and the bowl as much as they want to.

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Swedish Limpa Bread

I’ve blogged about the freezing winter weather we had recently, but I can honestly say that it was nothing compared to the average Swedish winter I lived through a few years ago when I lived in Stockholm. That was much colder, but I think the real difference was the fact that Swedes embraced the cold weather as a fact of life, and were both prepared for it and got on with things. So we’ve just passed Easter and it’s still freezing…

So the point of all this is that when I was in Stockholm (a beautiful city which I really recommend visiting), I also developed a real soft spot for Swedish food. I like the simple savoury salads with dill, fresh vegetables in summer, wonderful dairy produce (such as filmjölk, a type of thin yoghurt) and their cinnamon-cardamom buns. On of my favourites was a bread called limpa which is made with rye, syrup and sometimes filmjölk, as well as spices. Even with the syrup, this bread still works very well for savoury open sandwiches or as a companion to a spicy soup. Making it is also a pleasure – once you’ve put the orange peel and crushed spices in a bowl, the aroma is wonderfully fresh. Plus, this is a nice chance to post about something other than sweets and cakes.

For the limpa loaf:

• 220g  plain flour
• 60g rye flour
• 1 package dry yeast
• 1 tablespoon dark sugar
• 1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon crushed caraway seeds
• pinch ground star anise
• 125ml water
• 60ml low-fat yoghurt yogurt
• 3 tablespoons black treacle or molasses
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

Mix the flours, yeast, sugar, orange peel, salt, crushed seeds and star anise in a large bowl.

Add the water, yoghurt, butter and three spoons of treacle to a saucepan and cook until the butter melts. Add the coffee granules and stir well.

Now pour the warm liquid into the dry ingredients, and start to combine. The mixture will can be very sticky, so if this happens, add more flour to get the mixture but we do not want a ball to form – if this happens, you added too much flour and the loaf will be dry. Knead for around 7-8 minutes until elastic.

Lightly oil a large bowl and put the dough in it, covering with a damp teacloth. Leave somewhere warm for 1-2 hours until almost doubled in size.

Next, punch down the dough, roll out to a rectangle in a floured surface, and then roll up the dough like a swiss role. Tuck the ends underneath the roll, and place into a lightly oiled bread tin. Leave the loaf somewhere warm to rise until doubled in size.

In the meantime, set the oven to 175°C. Once the loaf has risen, bake for 40-45 minutes. If you want to, after 20 minutes,  brush to top of the loaf with diluted treacle (50-50 treacle and water), and repeat 10 minutes later.

Once the loaf is cooked, allow it to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Worth making again? This is not the sort of loaf that you would have for everyday use (for example, it doesn’t work too well in a bread machine), but it is nice from time to time when you have a spare morning and don’t mind coming back to it. I probably do this three or four times per year. The taste is quite unusual – the spices and orange make it aromatic, and there is a sweetness to it that isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I find it goes well with cheese in sandwiches. Or go the whole hog and make a smörgås (Swedish open sandwich) with cheese, dill and pickles.

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