Chocolate mousse with speculaas cookies

Going home?

A bit over a month ago, on a busy Friday straight after work, I took the train and bus to go to the airport. With just some time to eat a pretty bad and soggy sandwich at the airport, I made it in time for my flight to the Netherlands. Landing in Amsterdam was quite a strange and exciting feeling; this was the first time in exactly a year I came back to my home country. I like the airport in Amsterdam, even though I am generally not a fan of airports, but I left it quickly to go to Utrecht and meet up with my friend. When I finally arrived, starving after the trip and the bad sandwich, it was time for some glasses of red wine and “bitterballen”, which are amazing, small, meat-based, deep-fried snacks. My friend promised me we would have some more typical Dutch specialties later, which I was craving after a year.

The next day was one of those typical late autumn, early winter days in the Netherlands. It wasn´t really foggy, but the clouds were low enough to block the view on the main church tower. There was this slight drizzle the entire day that doesn´t exactly make you wet, but does make you feel cold through and through. At the same time, this gloomy weather combined with the traditional architecture made for a perfect setting for the Christmas decorations. And of course a great time for drinking a glühwein on the small Christmas market to warm up again. Fortunately, warming up was not such a problem since all houses have central heating. This made for a nice change from Spain where houses can be quite chilly inside in winter. On one of our pit stops we had a coffee in a small café in one of the old buildings with a view on the canal that goes through the city, and on all the people doing their Christmas shopping. Of course I could not resist trying a Dutch classic, “gevulde speculaas”. It´s a soft type of biscuit with special spices, with almond paste in the middle and shaved almonds on top. Delicious and comforting! Later on, strolling through the city, there were some other types of Dutch food. One of my favourite things to eat again after quite some years were the “oliebollen”, a pastry that is special for New Year and that consists of balls of deep-fried dough, optionally containing raisins, and served with icing sugar. Basically a Dutch version of the donut. Probably not healthy, but very satisfying. And surely I could not resist buying some of the typical Dutch Christmas chocolates to take home.


So all in all, this recipe is to celebrate those chilly winter days in my home country, when you need some comforting food to keep you warm. Since most of the typical food I had this time was sweet, it had to be a sweet recipe.

Chocolate mousse with speculaas cookies

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This recipe for chocolate mousse is very simple and delicious, but it does contain raw eggs. So don´t try to make it far in advance, it doesn´t keep very long.
For the “speculaas” spices, if you can get them readily combined it is the easiest. If not, you can mix the spices yourself.

Ingredients (for 6 portions)

For the chocolate mousse:

  • 200 grams of chocolate – a type with at least 55% cacao, but don´t take one that is too strong
  • 6 eggs
  • A pinch of salt

Furthermore:

  • 75 grams of almonds, unsalted and without skin
  • 70 grams of sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of “speculaas” spices:
    • 8 parts cinnamon
    • 2 parts nutmeg
    • 2 parts cloves
    • 1 part ginger powder
    • 1 part cardamom
    • 1 part coriander seeds

First of all, make the chocolate mousse because this needs to sit in the fridge for a few hours. Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Place the egg whites in a large bowl and whisk them until they are stiff and you can turn the bowl around without the egg whites falling down. In the middle of the process, add a pinch of salt. I would advise using an electric mixer if you have one. If not, it´s a good training for your arms.
Break the chocolate in pieces and add them with a few drops of water to a wide pot. Place the pot over a very low fire, as low as possible, and let the chocolate melt while you keep stirring. The melted chocolate should be beautifully shiny. In case you are afraid of letting the chocolate split, you can melt it over a double boiler (au bain marie) as well. Once the chocolate has completely melted, add the egg yolks one by one and stir them through. After adding the yolks, you can add the whipped egg whites. Be very careful when you mix the chocolate mixture with the egg whites to not stir too much, otherwise you risk taking the air out of the mixture. So carefully fold the whites through until it is well mixed. Pour this mixture into six glasses. Cover with some plastic foil, and place them in the fridge for at least around 4 hours to stiffen up.

Next up are the cookies. First of all, pre-heat the oven to 190°C and cover a baking tray with baking paper. Then there are the spices. The easiest is if you can buy such a spice mixture already mixed. But if not, you can use the spices in the ingredient list to create your own spice mixture. You can make as much as you like, sticking more or less to the ratios mentioned. Just make sure that the spices are all finely ground, and mix them well.
When you have the spices ready, add the almonds and the sugar to a blender. Blend this until the almonds are a fine powder. Add the egg white to the almonds and sugar and blend all together until it is a smooth, sticky batter. Then mix the speculaas spices in as well. Scoop the batter in a piping bag, and divide in long stripes over the baking tray. If you don´t have a piping bag, the easiest way is to use a normal small plastic bag. Fill it with the batter and just cut off the tip of the bag to be able to pipe. This is what I always use, it´s maybe not as easy as with a real piping bag but it still does the trick! Place the cookies in the oven for 10 minutes and let them cool down.

Just before you want to serve the mousse, take the skin off the oranges with a sharp knife. Cut off the top and the bottom of the oranges and then follow the skin with your knife from the top to the bottom. Make sure there is no white of the skin left on the fruits. Use your knife again to cut the parts of the oranges from in between the thin membranes that separate the parts.
Take the mousse out of the fridge and divide the slices of orange over the mousse. Place a cookie on top, and enjoy!

Basil ice with pine nut biscuits and lemon caramel

Pesto – but dessert

Oh, Italy… Country that so many people love because of its history, culture, art, fashion, food… It certainly is a country that I also always feel like visiting every so often. I am personally really attracted to the south of Italy, which is in general less frequently visited than the north. There is beautiful Sicily, with its impressive volcano the Etna. There is Napoli, where the pizzas are so good you won´t find their equals anywhere else. There is Bari where you can stroll through the old streets at night and feel like you go back in time. And there is much more.

But the north of the country is also amazing and there is a lot to discover. One of the larger cities, and capital of the region Liguria, is the harbour city Genoa. During the middle ages and renaissance, this city was a very important city-state. Its territory stretched out to the French city of Nice and even included the islands Corsica and Sardinia. Genoa was competing for power and importance with other city-states like its main rival Venice. Unfortunately for the city, wars and disasters like the Black Death reduced its importance. But during the times of prosperity the city attracted many artists and architects. And thanks to them the rich past is still clearly visible in the impressive palaces scattered around the city. In between those villas, there are also old, small streets with little restaurants and bars. The cathedral of the city is located in one of those streets. It´s an imposing black and white striped building. I remember eating the best focaccia ever on the small square in front of it, our hands covered in the delicious olive oil that was dripping from the bread.

One of the times I visited Genoa was during summer, on August 15. This is the day the Italians and other Catholic countries celebrate the Assumption of Mary. Strolling from our hotel, an old monastery, towards the city we saw a beautiful restaurant. It had a terrace with a view all over the sea and the ships passing by. Nowadays you see the ferries and cruise ships instead of the trade ships of old. It is an interesting view, those massive ships, some of which look like floating skyscrapers, in front of the old harbour of Genoa. We were lucky, as surprisingly on this busy public holiday there was still a free table. I don´t remember exactly what the entire menu was, but as a starter we had the most famous dish of the region: pasta with pesto alla genovese.

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Pesto as a sauce is of course famous worldwide. But its roots go back to the Roman times, when a similar cold sauce with herbs was popular. Apparently, the first written recipe of the sauce with pine nuts and basil, as we know it now, dates back to the 19th century (out of a cooking book named La Cuciniera Genovese by Battista Ratto, 1863). Interestingly, the recipe called for a mix of grated Dutch and Parmesan cheese. A nice little surprise, for a Dutch girl like myself. Although there are quite some decent versions of the green sauce that you can buy in jars, home made pesto is still a completely different story. It is so simple, yet so complex in flavour. And that evening in Genoa, the pesto was clearly homemade. The perfect place to enjoy this delicious dish.

Since it currently is summer and quite hot, I wanted to take the inspiration of the pesto I love and change it into a dessert with a cooling and refreshing ice cream. I used the main ingredients of the sauce, except for the garlic. So for this dish the basil is used in the parfait, the pine nuts and olive oil in the biscuits, and the cheese in the form of a crunchy Parmesan cheese tuile.

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Basil parfait with pine nut biscuits, a Parmesan cheese tuile and lemon caramel sauce

Ingredients (dessert for two)

  • Very large bunch of basil – around 200 grams
  • Sugar – around 100 grams
  • 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
  • Whipping cream – 60 grams and a bit extra for the sauce
  • 50 grams of pine nuts
  • 1 lemon
  • Baking powder – a teaspoon
  • 30 ml of good extra virgin olive oil
  • 40 grams of flour
  • 20 grams of Parmesan cheese
  • Salt

The day before you want to eat the dessert, start by preparing the parfait. Place three tablespoons of sugar in a small pot with a bit of water, just to cover the sugar, over a low heat. Keep this on the heat until the sugar dissolves and the sugar syrup thickens a bit. Let the sugar syrup cool down. Take the basil leaves off the stalks, the more the better, and blend them until they are chopped very finely. While blending the basil, slowly poor in the sugar syrup. Let this infuse for a few hours.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, whip 60 grams of the cream to soft peaks and place this back in the fridge. Place the 2 egg yolks in a heat proof bowl and whisk them vigorously until the colour is a creamy lighter yellow. Poor the basil infused sugar syrup through a sieve into the egg yolks and whisk it through. Then, place the bowl over the pot of boiling water, so that you have a double boiler. Whisk the egg yolks for at least 5 minutes, until the volume has doubled and it is a creamy and foamy mixture. Take the yolks off the double boiler and keep whisking until it has come down to room temperature. Take the cream out of the fridge and carefully mix the egg yolk mixture through the cream. Divide over two individual ramekins and cover with some plastic foil. Place in the freezer for at least 4 hours or until frozen.

Now it is time to start on the cookies. You can also make them earlier if you want, because they keep well for a few days. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C. Roast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over a low heat until they are golden brown. Zest the lemon. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, 25 grams of sugar, the baking powder, a pinch of salt, and the lemon zest. Stir the olive oil through the dry ingredients. Whisk the whole egg in a small bowl and start adding this to the mixture. You will need around half the egg to create a stiff, sticky dough. Add the toasted pine nuts to the mixture. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Use a piping bag or a teaspoon to divide the dough in small portions over the tray. Make sure there is enough space between the biscuits, since they will grow quite a bit. Place the tray into the oven and bake for 10 minutes, until golden brown. Take them out of the oven and let them cool down so that they become crispy and yummie.

The last two elements can be made just before serving. For the Parmesan cheese tuile, finely grate the cheese. Place a non-stick frying pan over a low fire. Spread some of the grated Parmesan cheese in a long line in the pan. Make sure the layer is not too thick. The cheese will melt and start bubbling. Once the entire line of cheese is bubbling and starts changing colour, this will take around 2 minutes, take the pan of the heat. Let it cool down a bit and carefully use a pallet knife or other thin tool to take the strip of cheese out of the pan. Lay this over a rolling pin or a wine bottle, so that it will set in a sort of curly shape. Repeat this with the rest of the cheese. It is fairly easy, but might take some trial and error to get it correct.

Finally, prepare the lemon caramel sauce. Juice the lemon of which you have used the zest before. Add the sugar you have left to a small pot with enough water so that the sugar is just covered. Place this pot over a medium fire. You will see it start bubbling first, and then taking on colour quickly. Don´t walk away, because once the caramel starts getting colour it goes fast. When the caramel is golden brown, take it off the heat. The lighter the colour of the caramel, the sweeter, and the further you take it the less sweet and more bitter it will become. Personally, I like quite a dark caramel but I keep it a bit lighter for this sauce, since the sweetness balances out the sourness of the lemon. When the colour is to your liking, stir in enough cream so that it cools down and turns into a thick sauce. Add the lemon juice, around the juice of half a lemon should do. But just try and see how much you like to add.

Now, the time has come to assemble the dish. Take the parfaits out of the freezer and turn over on a plate. Serve with the biscuits, the Parmesan cheese tuile, and the lemon caramel sauce.

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Honey ice cream with kiwi and hazelnuts

Tribute to the house of my childhood

As long as I can remember my dad has had a very special type of pet: bees. Clearly, you cannot cuddle them like you could with a dog, cat, rabbit or guinea pig. On the contrary, many people actually confuse bees with wasps and are afraid of them. Unlike other pets, the bees didn’t stay in our house either. My dad´s bees used to live in the forest, in a little stand where all beekeepers of the village kept their bees. For me, bees have always been very interesting animals. There are many living together in one community and within the beehives it looks like an organized chaos. Bees seem to work really hard and have their own communication methods. Pretty impressive, for such small animals. And another large advantage of having them as a pet: they produce honey.

When I was still living with my parents, my sister and I always helped with the different tasks that were required to take care of the bees throughout the year. This ranged from things like creating the wooden frames in which the bees can build their honeycombs to extracting the honey. Of course, the most exciting part of taking care of the bees used to be this last task. Extracting the honey is done by taking the thin layer of wax off the honeycomb, spinning the frames in a centrifuge to get the honey out, and finally pouring it through a large sieve and filling the jars. It always used to be a sticky business, since it is impossible not to try some of the honey while pouring it in jars. It really looks like fluid gold when it drips out of the centrifuge. The process is fun and the final product is amazing and always a surprise. Unlike the commercial honey you usually buy in the supermarket, the flavour of each batch is distinct due to the different flowers that blossom during the year.

Since I moved away from my parents and usually live abroad, I have had to get used to the commercially produced honey. But I am always excited when I find a place where I can buy some honey from a local producer. It certainly brings back memories. Clearly, I was very happy when my parents brought me a jar of their own honey the last time I saw them. So I decided to not just eat it without thinking, but to create a dish around it.

Also, my parents have just sold the house I grew up in so that they can move abroad. Therefore I prepared this dish as a tribute to that place. We used to have a beautiful kiwi plant in the backyard. Although it never gave fruits, it flowered each year and gave a lot of shadow. And in front of the house there was a large hazelnut tree, clearly differentiating our house from the others in the street. Because of this I’ve paired the honey flavour with kiwi fruits and hazelnuts.

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My favourite part of my parents´ house.

Honey ice cream with kiwi fruit and hazelnuts (a dessert for 2)

This type of ice cream, also called parfait, does not have to be stirred while freezing. It contains enough air, because the cream has been whipped, and fat from the cream and egg yolks to avoid the forming of ice crystals that change the texture. Instead it remains smooth without stirring.

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 60 grams of whipping cream
  • Honey
  • Small bunch of fresh thyme
  • 2 kiwis
  • Hazelnuts – 50 grams
  • Small dried chilli
  • Butter

In the morning, or the day before you want to eat the dessert, start by making the honey ice cream. Place four large tablespoons of honey and eight tablespoons of water in a small pot over low fire. Take the leaves of the thyme and add them to the honey mixture. Leave this on a low fire to let the honey melt and create a syrup. Whip the cream to soft peaks and place the cream in the fridge.
Bring a wide pot of water to a boil. Take a bowl that fits over the pot with water and place the egg yolks in it. Whisk the yolks well. Place the bowl with the yolks over the boiling water, but don´t let the bottom touch the water (au bain marie). Continue to whisk until the yolks become a pale yellow. Take the bowl away from the heat and add the warm honey syrup slowly while continuing to whisk. When all the syrup has been incorporated, place the bowl over the boiling water again and continue to whisk until the mixture is light and has doubled in volume, around five minutes. Then take it off the pot again and keep whisking until the mixture has cooled down. Take the cream out of the fridge and carefully incorporate the egg yolk mixture. Divide the mixture over two small moulds, cover with plastic foil and place in the freezer. To make it easier to get the ice cream out of the mould, you can cover the moulds from the inside with plastic foil as well before pouring in the mixture. They should be in the freezer for at least four hours or until set.

Just before serving the dessert, you can start on the hazelnut crumb. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Use a blender to finely chop the hazelnuts and one small dried chilli until it resembles breadcrumbs. The amount of chilli depends on your, but one small one should be sufficient. The pieces of hazelnut don´t have to be all perfectly small, some different sizes of the nuts add extra texture. In a small pot, melt a good knob of butter with a tablespoon of honey. Mix this through the hazelnuts and spread the nuts out on a baking tray. Place this in the oven for around 10 minutes. Just check now and then, the mixture should become golden brown but not too dark. Let the crumb cool down so that it becomes crunchy.

Finally, peel the kiwis and take out the white core. Blend the kiwis until they have a smooth consistency. If you prefer you can add a bit of honey, but when the fruits are good you shouldn´t need this. Take the ice creams out of their mould and place them on a plate. Serve with the kiwi purée and the hazelnut crumble.

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Flavoured Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate heaven

Belgium is known for several reasons. Among others for its waffles, beer, chocolates, and comics. When you walk through the streets of Brussels, you can clearly see why. On random places throughout the city there are walls painted with some of the most famous comic figures. You can walk through a street several times without noticing them, until you turn around and suddenly find yourself face to face with a larger-than-life comic figure. And in between these paintings there are the shops with those Belgian delicacies: waffles, beer, and chocolates.

When I lived in Brussels I very often enjoyed the first two of these treats. But my favourite present to buy for any occasion used to be Belgian chocolates. All over the city you can find chocolate stores with amazing displays. There are so many different shapes and flavours, that you will be surprised every time you bite into another chocolate. They really have something for everyone. Whether you like something fruity, with nuts, with alcohol, gluten-free or vegan, it´s all there.

My go-to chocolate store used to be in one of the pretty cobblestone streets very close to the central market square. It was my preferred store because of their large collection of different flavours, and because you usually got a free chocolate when buying something. And very often, this free chocolate was my personal favourite: a chocolate truffle rolled in cocoa powder. I love chocolate truffles because they have this very intense chocolate flavour without being overly sweet.

Unfortunately, now that I live in Barcelona I only get to try some Belgian chocolates when my Belgian colleagues return from a visit to their home country. Therefore I started making my own truffles. So at least I can pretend to be back in the streets of Brussels for a moment.

Honey & Rosemary and Sesame & Ginger Truffles

Below the recipe for two types of flavoured truffles. When you want to make the traditional plain chocolate truffles, you can use the same recipe. Just leave out the flavourings. Make sure you use a good quality chocolate, with at least 70% cacao.

Ingredients (around 20 truffles of each flavour)

For Rosemary & Honey Truffles

  • 150 grams of dark chocolate, at least 80% cacao
  • 80 ml double cream
  • Rosemary – small bunch
  • Black peppercorns – 1 teaspoon
  • Honey – 4 teaspoons
  • Pure cocoa powder

For Sesame & Ginger Truffles

  • 150 grams of dark chocolate, at least 70% cacao
  • 80 ml double cream
  • Ginger – one thumb size piece
  • Sesame – 2 tablespoons
  • Pure cocoa powder

For both types of truffles, pour the cream in a small saucepan. Slightly crush the peppercorns. Grate the ginger. Add the crushed peppercorns and rosemary to one of the pans. Add the grated ginger to the other one. Heat up both creams with the flavourings and simmer for five minutes. Turn off the fire and let the flavours infuse for at least an hour.

After an hour, cut both types of chocolate in small pieces and place each type in a glass or metal bowl. Place both creams over the fire again and let them simmer.

For the rosemary truffles, pour the hot cream through a sieve into the chocolate. Leave it stand for a minute, and then stir well. The cocolate should all melt and you should have a smooth, glossy chocolate ganache. Stir the honey through the ganache. Taste the mixture to check if you added enough honey.

For the sesame truffles, roast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan for a few minutes until golden brown. Pour the hot cream with the ginger straight into the chocolate. Let it melt for a minute. Then stir well until you get a beautiful chocolate ganache. Add the sesame seeds.

In case the chocolate ganache splits, keep stirring and slowly add a little bit of extra cream (or milk, if you ran out of cream). This should bring it back to the smooth, shiny mixture it is supposed to be.

Cover both the bowls and place them in the fridge for 2 hours. Don´t leave them too long, because it might be harder to shape the truffles.

Use a teaspoon to scoop out small amounts of the ganache and roll them in between your hands to little balls. When your hands become to warm and covered in chocolate, wash them with cold water. This makes it easier to shape the truffles.

Finally, spread the cocoa powder onto a plate. Roll the balls through the cocoa powder until they are completely covered. Your truffles are now ready to be eaten!

You can store them in the fridge for several days.

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