Friday, December 19, 2014

Bisschopswijn

Sometimes, when it's really cold outside and you need a serious boost of warmth, a cup of coffee will simply not do. Those days that a frosty winter wind chills you to the bone, little to nothing will satisfy the need for heat, unless it's a glass of steaming, sweet and spicy mulled wine.

The Netherlands, as many other Northern countries, has its own version of a warming, citrus and spice flavored wine drink. It's perfect for warming up after spending a blistery cold afternoon skating on the canals! The concept of hot wine is thought to have been introduced by the Romans, who already heated wine for drinking as early as the 2nd century. During their travels, they brought their beverages with them, and the rest as they say is history. Virtually every country that has access to wine and cold weather has some variety of mulled wine, as can be seen here. Each country used particular fruits and spices: the Scandinavian countries for example often add cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger: three flavors that are also readily found in their baked goods.

The Dutch call their mulled wine bisschopswijn, or bishop's wine. It is a sweet red or white wine, flavored with citrus (but oranges only), cloves, star anise and cinnamon. The warm wine is predominantly consumed during those early days of December, when that other bishop, Sint Nicolaas, is in the country. According to this news reel of 1952, Sinterklaas is quite fond of the sweet concoction himself!

Nevertheless, don't let the time frame hold you back. Bisschopswijn can be enjoyed any day of the year that you need a quick, comforting and warming drink!

Bisschopswijn
1 bottle of sweet wine (red or white)
1 orange
3 cinnamon sticks
3 star anise pods
5 whole cloves
Sugar or honey (optional)

Add the red wine to a small saucepan on the stove, and add the cinnamon sticks and anise pods. Cut the orange in half lengthwise and stud one half with the cloves. Cut the other half in even slices. Add everything to the pan, and let it simmer for thirty minutes. Don't allow it to come up to a boil as the alcohol will evaporate - a large warming feature of this mulled wine is the fact that the alcohol content is preserved.

Taste and adjust the sweetness, if needed, with sugar or honey. You can add some hot water if the wine is too strong, or substitute half of the wine with cranberry or pomegranate juice for a lower alcohol level. Using only juice in combination with the fruit and the spices makes it a child-friendly drink. Serve warm or hot!





Monday, December 15, 2014

Amandelbroodjes

The month of December could just as well be called "almond month". It's when specialties such as gevulde speculaas, banketletter, banketstaaf, and kerststol show up in bakeries and cafés, and at coffee time with friends or family. For many, these Dutch pastries and breads signify the welcome arrival of the winter festivities, such as Sinterklaas and Christmas.

These baked goods all have almonds in common: they're filled with the sweet, slightly sticky substance called "amandelspijs" or almond paste, that is so loved by many. Almonds have been part of our baking history for many centuries: the earliest Middle Dutch cookbook "Wel ende edelike spijse" already mentions a variety of almond dishes, such as almond butter and almond bread porridge. It seems that we developed a sweet tooth and a craving for almonds early on!

Today's pastries are called "amandelbroodjes". These almond filled treats used to be so popular that a Protestant church in The Hague sold them by the thousands to finance their new chapel! Its name literally translates to "almond rolls", but they're hardly rolls. They're more like the apple turnovers, or appelflappen, that we're familiar with. The good thing is that they're easy to make, and quick to bake. The bad news is that they'll disappear in no time, as they are absolutely delectable. It's hard to deny yourself the pleasure of biting into a warm piece of banket!

Amandelbroodjes
8 oz* slivered almonds
8 oz* sugar
1 teaspoon almond essence
1 large egg
Zest of 1/2 lemon

8 squares of puff pastry

1/4 cup coarse sugar

Add the almonds, the 8 oz of sugar, the almond essence, one large egg and the lemon zest to a food processor, and pulse repeatedly until the paste comes together. It should be sticky but stiff, and you should still be able to see itty-bitty pieces of almond and sugar crystals.

Preheat the oven to 385F. Take 2 oz of the almond paste and roll it into a small log. Wet the puff pastry with a  little bit of water, and place the log slightly to the right of the middle (see picture above). Fold the dough over so that the long ends meet, and pinch the dough together or use a small fork to push the tines into the dough and sealing it. Brush a little bit of water on the top of the turnover and dip it into the coarse sugar.

When all turnovers have been filled and folded, you can place them in the fridge until you are ready to bake. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat and cover with plastic so they don't dry out. You can wrap and freeze any leftover spijs.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and puffy. No worries if they look too big, the dough will slightly collapse as it cools!

Almond paste gets really, really hot, so don't bite into a hot amandelbroodje just yet.....let it cool until warm to the touch - that's when they're at their best!





* Volume ounces are different than weight ounces. A full measuring cup of 8 volume ounces does not necessarily equal 8 weight ounces: imagine the difference between a cup of feathers and a cup of lead! The ounces for this recipe are by weight, not by volume.