Friday, December 22, 2017

Sneeuwster

If you grew up in the Netherlands during the eighties or nineties, you probably remember the sneeuwster cake from Maitre Paul. This Christmas dessert consisted of a light sponge cake filled with a layer of sweet whipped cream, and a generous layer of advocaat, the Dutch spiked eggnog. The upper layer of cake was split in eight portions, marking a star, and dusted with powdered sugar, hence the name: sneeuwster, or snow star. Although the flavor profiles of the cake are very nice, it was not always a popular item at the dinner table back in those days.

Part of the reason was that Maitre Paul was not a maitre per se, nor an artisan baker of any kind: it was the name of a baking factory/company from Tilburg that made frozen cakes, to the amount of 40,000 baked products, a day! The focus was therefore on production, on ship-ability, and on ensuring that the cakes made it to the many supermarkets around the country in one piece, and not so much on top notch quality and artisan skills. The other reason why sneeuwsterren were not always popular was because of the advocaat flavor** - it tends to be more favored by the older generations than with young people or children. Many of us who grew up during that time dreaded the announcement of the dessert at the Christmas table - (please let it not be another sneeuwster!) - and were secretly hoping for a Viennetta or a good old-fashioned apple pie.

But, as so often happens, because sneeuwsterren were so popular during that time because of convenience and its novelty aspect, it has come for many to be a traditional Christmas expectation and holds special memories. And even though this was never baked at home, but purchased frozen at the store and thawed in the refrigerator, it still marks a significant memory for many. And as easy as it is to make, there is no reason why you shouldn't perpetuate this memory, but this time with a homemade cake!

Sneeuwster
For the cake:
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar (150 gr.)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (100 gr.)
1/4 cup corn starch (30 gr.)

For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream (235 ml)
1/2 cup powdered sugar (55 gr.)

For the advocaat*:
7 egg yolks
3 eggs
1 cup sugar (200 gr.)
1 cup brandy (235 ml)

Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C/Gas mark 4.

Beat the four eggs and the sugar at high speed until it's tripled in volume and its color is a pale yellow, full of air and falls off the beater in a thick ribbon. Sift the flour and the corn starch together and carefully fold in into the airy batter. Butter and flour a round 9 inch (23 cm) baking mold, carefully pour in the batter, and bake it on the middle rack for about 30 minutes. If a toothpick comes out clean, it's done. Remove and cool.

While the cake is baking, crack your 10 eggs. Separate the egg white from 7 of the yolks and save it for meringues, schuimpjes or omelets. Mix the egg yolks, three 3 eggs and the sugar in a mixer on high speed until foamy and thick, much like your batter for the cake, and then slowly add the brandy until it's fully absorbed. Get a double boiler on the stove (or place a bowl on top of a saucepan with simmering water), and add the eggy mixture, then start stirring. It is important that you stir frequently to distribute the heat evenly, as well as to avoid the bottom of the bowl cooking the eggs. If the water in the saucepan gets too hot, you may well scramble the eggs!

The heat will thicken the eggs into a custardy consistence. Temp the egg mixture regularly as you want to bring it up to 160 F/ 70 C. At this temperature the egg yolks will consolidate, as well as kill all harmful bacteria. It will take careful stirring and careful measuring - it's okay to pull the advocaat at 155 F / 68 C as there will be some carry over heat. Pour the advocaat in a bowl that you can cover with plastic wrap (push it down onto the advocaat so that it doesn't get a skin) and let it cool.

Whip the heavy cream with the powdered sugar. Give it a quick taste to see if you want it sweeter!

Slice the cooled cake in half lengthwise. Spread the whipping cream on the bottom layer, making sure to make a slight mound in the middle. Place this in the freezer, while you make four six inch (15 cm) cuts into the top (see picture) part of the cake, leaving the bottom 1/5 inch uncut. I used a bench scraper for this but it will work just as well with a knife - just try to get clean cuts without much tearing.

Pull the cake from the freezer and add one cup of advocaat, spreading it out over the top of the whipped cream, again making a hill in the middle. Place the top layer of the cake on top. Because of the hill of advocaat and whipped cream, the lines you cut should open up a little bit and make it look like a star. Put the whole thing back in the freezer for another half hour. Cooling it down rapidly and partially freezing the cake will make it easier to cut into presentable slices later.

Now you have two choices - either you leave it in the freezer for serving later in the week, or you serve it the same day. If you want to make this cake ahead, pull it about an hour later, wrap it with plastic wrap and put it in a cake container, and put it back in the freezer. Pull it the day you want to serve it, in the morning, and let it thaw in your fridge for at least two hours before you serve it.

Right before you serve the cake, sprinkle it with powdered sugar. I added christmassy looking sprinkles on top but that's not traditional - I just liked the look of it...




*You will only use a 1/3rd for the cake. The rest can be consumed, given away, or if you are not an advocaat fan, you may want to cut the recipe in 1/3rds.

** If you don't like advocaat, or if you are making this for children, consider using a yellow colored custard or pudding instead. Banana cream, French vanilla or any other flavor that makes a pretty nice yellow star will work just fine.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Get busy baking! (I really should)

It's that time of the year -lovely speculaas smells should be wafting from my kitchen, trays and trays of cookies ought to be cooling down while I whip up frosting...but no such luck. Once again, the holiday season has snuck up on me. Every single year, when the first day of December hits, I have great plans to show off my culinary prowess: this year, I tell myself, I am going to do it all. For the Sinterklaas celebration I will bake gevulde speculaas, speculaasbrokken and kruidnoten.

And then, I seriously mean it, between then and Christmas, I will bake a Kerststol for every weekend breakfast, make borstplaat to set out on the living room table for guests, I am going to make kerstkransjes to hang in the tree, and while I am at it, I may give schuimpjes a go. Not because they are necessarily a part of the winter holidays, but because they're so nice and light to eat.

And I, every December, solemnly SWEAR that THIS year, I will fry enough oliebollen, appelbeignets and sneeuwballen to share with friends so that we can all enjoy a great celebration and ending of the year.

But what happens e-v-e-r-y single time? That's right, life interferes with my carefully planned baking schedule! See, it's December 17 now, and what have I accomplished so far? Of all the amazing and lekkere plans, so far I've only tested a new oliebollen recipe (I decided to stick with my own) and made a small batch of gevulde speculaas. But I promptly forgot to take it out of the oven after baking, so it was harder than a rock (I still ate it because nobody else was going to make one!).

Today, I am finally baking a Kerststol (yay me!) for the first time this season. This year, again, nobody has seen (or will see, for that matter) any kruidnoten or speculaasbrokken emerge from my kitchen, unless I buy them from a Dutch store, and you can forget about the borstplaat altogether - it's not going to happen this year!!! Geef mijn portie maar aan Fikkie, like my mug says!

On one hand it bothers me that I can't get everything done that I wanted to - but I also realize that, while I am not in the kitchen, I am tending to work, school, pets, students, family members, friends and life in general. And that's okay, too. This holiday season will still happen, whether I bake or not!

Perhaps you are a kitchen goddess with all the time in the world, or maybe you are a bit like me, happy when life takes a step back so I can bake some of our heritage recipes that remind me of home, family or loved ones. Regardless of where you are in the baking spectrum, enjoy the upcoming holidays, don't be too hard on yourself and do the best you can! There is always next year :-)

What's baking in your kitchen this week?