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Great balls of… coconut

(allow me to preface this blogpost by saying that while I could type up a whole apology for not posting in forever, I won’t, because quite frankly, I wouldn’t know what I would say anyway. So let’s pretend that little hiatus never happened and jump right in, shall we?)

A few months ago, Tim and I went to a food truck festival in Amsterdam. Food truck festivals are a bit of a hype in the Netherlands right now, but I must admit, I’m loving it! Everywhere you looked there were all these gorgeous trucks with food you normally wouldn’t dream of eating! And there were the smells, the music, the atmosphere…. Right up my alley. One of the trucks with the longest line was a tiny little truck selling the cutest little things: cocoballs. They reminded me of rounded, puffed-up coconut macaroons, about the size of half a ping pong ball, filled with things like chocolate or rum-raisins. We bought a bag of 5 to taste all of them, vowed to come back before we left to take a bunch home with us, and promptly forgot. I’ve been wanting to remake them since then. After all, how hard can it be? Turns out, not hard at all.

coconutballs2After some searching for a recipe for ‘coconut balls’ that wasn’t talking about the raw superfood things everyone seems to be so thrilled about, I came across a blog post from earlier this year on a Dutch blog that, funnily enough, discovered these delectable little treats in the exact same fashion as we did: from a food truck at a food truck festival. And it literally couldn’t be easier than this. The hardest part: not digging in as soon as they come out of the oven. They’re sweet, have a nice crunch on the outside and are soft on the inside, the chocolate adds a nice touch of bittersweet, and hey, they’re even gluten-free! Not that it matters to me, but with the growing amount of people who avoid gluten altogether these days, it’s a nice and quick recipe to have in your arsenal.

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Coconut balls / cocoballs (makes about 10)

Ingredients:

125 gr grated coconut (unsweetened)

125 gr fine white sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon of coconut oil

1/2 cup chopped chocolate

Preheat your oven at 180 °C. Mix all the ingredients together. Shape into even-sized balls by scooping 1/4 cup sized heaps and forming them into rough balls with your hands. Bake them for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool before you chow down. Enjoy!

 

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Cologne

I spent my pre-Christmas weekend in Germany! We went to Cologne for a few days with my in-laws and my sister-in-law and her boyfriend to see all the Christmas markets. I’m not even kidding. I think we missed one, maybe. It was crowded and cold and not quite as wintery as I would have liked, but it was lovely nonetheless! Cologne is a very nice city. It kind of reminded me of Utrecht, so I felt right at home: the old centre is built around a centuries-old cathedral, there’s little squares and markets everywhere, the narrow old streets are criss-crossed with wide new lanes, and there’s bars on every corner. It’s slightly bigger than Utrecht, though. We walked so much we all had no feet, legs and backs left by the end of the weekend!

The Cathedral itself is amazing! It’s huge! I thought it was the size of St. Paul’s Cathedral, but that’s tiny compared to this behemoth of a church. Apparently you can climb the tower, but they were preparing for a service inside so visitors were only allowed in the back. That gives you all the views of the inside you really need, though.

The outside is blackened after ages of standing in polluted city-air, and looks really ominous in the dark, making the interior all the more spectacular.

The stained glass windows in this place are spectacular. So detailed and colourful!

But we didn’t just go to Cologne for the Dom. We came to see some Christmas markets! Germans love their Christmas markets.

They’re made up of wooden stands that are built like tiny houses, lavishly decorated with lights and ornaments, where they sell all kinds of goodies! Candles, statues, Christmas ornaments, jewellery, paper crafts, puppets or toys…

And weird-as-balls art stands.

And let’s not forget the food! Chocolates, candies, cookies, fudge, but also cheeses and sausages.

Even though the crowds were sometimes downright impossible to navigate, overall, everyone seemed very friendly and happy to be there. I spotted a few carollers (not including the drunk British lady who got on the same tram as we did on the way back to the hotel on Sunday), lots of people in Christmas hats, and even dogs wearing snazzy Christmas coats.

There were large stands selling hot mulled wine (Glühwein) and various types of hot cocoa everywhere, and they were without question the most crowded spots on every market. They sold the hot drinks in adorable little mugs, which you paid a small deposit for at the bar. You could then either get your money back when you finished your drink, or get a new drink in the same mug! Or take it home with you as a souvenir, like I did. Cheers, Cologne! I had a great time.

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Not entirely autumnal

Last Saturday was the hottest beginning of November ever, here in the Netherlands. Down in the south, temperatures went up to in the twenties! In November! Over here, it was only around 17°C, which is still a significant change from the 10-12°C we are used to. It was a gorgeous day, though. It was sunny and warm, there was virtually no wind and the sky was a bright, cloudless blue. It almost felt like the beginning of summer instead of an autumnal Saturday.

I took the opportunity to go out for a nice, long walk around town. I’ve been doing a lot of that, lately. Strap on my hiking boots, fire up my GPS app (what can I say, I like stats. My app tells me where I went, how long it took me, how far I went, and what my speed was!) and head out the door. You don’t need much for walking, just a good pair of shoes and a decent pair of legs. You don’t even need company. In fact, I much prefer to go out by myself: I can choose my own pace, I can listen to music or just to the sounds of wherever it is I’m walking, I can stop for pictures along the way without feeling like I’m holding up the group.

 

But I also like it, because it’s been taking me to places in my own town I’ve never been before. This Saturday, I walked across the golf course to the other side of town along a public footpath, all the way to the other side of town. It was a lovely route to walk! It wasn’t busy on the golf course, I think I saw 10 people in total, but there were an enormous amount of swans and ducks swimming in the ponds and waddling across the grounds (and getting in the way, I’m sure). There were pheasants, and I saw rabbits. And I hadn’t even left town!

 

You could tell that it was already November though, there was a thick carpet of brown and yellow and red and orange leaves covering the fields and the roads. But the sun was warm enough that I could take my jacket off, roll up my sleeves and soak up some much-needed rays. What a contrast with the walk I just took this afternoon, when it was only a measly 7°C, it was just windy enough that the soupy fog of the morning was just about starting to dissipate, and I kept pulling down my sleeves to stop my hands from getting too cold. I can appreciate the more ‘normal’ November weather, though. There’s something about a gloomy, frosty, grey, fogged-up morning that just fits the time of year.

So I’m happy if this was the last we saw of the summer of 2014. Let Autumn reign for a bit, now. She deserves it.

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Profiteroles

Oh, profiteroles. Puffs of cream. They are what dreams are made of: Soft, pillowy, fluffy, sweet goodness, wrapped up in a crisp, delicate layer of pastry. Okay, maybe not that last bit. But definitely the soft, fluffy, pillowy, sweet part. I always assumed that profiteroles were really difficult to make: the pastry fiddly, the filling not just a mere whipped cream but actual custard, the baking impossibly precise and the filling process a messy disaster. At least, that’s what Masterchef taught me: I have seen battle-hardened contestants crumble under the pressure of producing the perfect choux pastry in a short period of time, their pastry failing, the mixture either turning out way too liquid or not liquid enough to pipe, and their filling not thickening up to be an actual custard at all.

So why was I desperate to try and make them by hand then? Because difficult recipe or not, I love profiteroles and was eager to at least give it a go. To prove the Masterchef contestants wrong, perhaps.

I used a recipe from a TV chef, because the night of the Masterchef choux disaster, we also watched an episode of his show where he made Saint Honorés, little pastries with a puff pastry base and profiteroles on top, dipped in salted caramel. So call it fate! He insisted that choux pastry is actually really simple to make. It’s a special kind of pastry, because you start by boiling the liquid with the butter, add the flour and, while stirring constantly, cook the mixture until it starts to sweat, and then add the eggs one by one. According to the Masterchef contestant, you had to cool down the mixture entirely first otherwise the eggs would cook when you add them to the mixture, but the TV chef (who happens to be a trained pastry chef) simply tips the mixture out of the pan into a bowl, stir it for a few moments, and then adds the eggs one by one, stirring constantly and vigorously, allowing the temperature of the eggs to cool down the mixture so that it no longer can cook. I followed his lead, and lo and behold, my mixture came out perfectly.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though: I discovered that my piping skills are less than acceptable. My first batch turned out slightly flopping all over the place and they were almost as big as my fist when they came out of the oven! Remember, folks, choux pastry grows. A LOT. And because choux pastry depends on the moisture in the puffs to grow, letting them rest after the cooking time in the oven is very important, otherwise they stay a bit moist on the inside. My second batch, however, turned out a bit too crisp because they were smaller than the first batch. They were dry on the inside, though!

When the pastry was done, though, they needed a filling. The recipe called for crème pâtissière or pastry cream, another thing I had been wanting to try but was intimidated by. But it’s easy! Milk, sugar, vanilla, egg yolks and flour. That’s all it takes! That, and some time to cool down. It was sweet and creamy, the perfect filling for the crunchy pastry. Tim wanted a lighter filling, though, which was perfect because my profiteroles turned out so big that I didn’t have nearly enough pastry cream to fill the lot, so I whipped up some simple sweetened whipped cream for the other half.

 


Profiteroles (makes about 24, depending on size)

100 ml water

100 ml milk

100 gram flour

100 gram butter

4 eggs

(you will need a piping bag with a round tip for piping your pastry and a smaller tip for filling them)

Bring the water, milk and butter in a pan to the boil. Once it boils, add all the flour in one go and stir constantly until it begins to sweat. This should take a few minutes, tops. You will get some build-up in the bottom of the pan, but that’s all part of it. Take the pan off the heat, transfer the ball of dough to a bowl and stir firmly for a few moments. Then, one by one, stir the eggs into the dough. Stir vigorously! It will look like it’s splitting, but don’t worry, keep going, until all four eggs are incorporated and the mixture is smooth.

Preheat your oven to 210°C. Line a baking tray with greased paper. Fill up your piping bag with your mixture and pipe small dollops of mixture onto the tray. Try to keep them relatively far apart, they will grow to about 3 times their size!

Bake them for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown. Turn the oven off with your pastry inside and allow it to cool down. (If you need to bake multiple batches, unfortunately, you will have to let the oven cool down first. Sorry!)

 

Crème pâtissière

250 ml milk

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons of sugar

1 tablespoon of flour

1 vanilla pod

Bring the milk, half the sugar and the caviar from the vanilla pod to a simmer. In the mean time, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and flour in a bowl. When the milk is brought to a simmer, add a small amount of milk to the egg mixture while stirring continuously to acclimatise the egg mixture to the heat without boiling the eggs. Take the milk off the heat and slowly, pour in all the milk, whisk, and pour the mixture back into the pan. Put back on the heat, turn the heat to low and allow the mixture to cook for a few minutes, until it thickens up.

Take a dinner plate and hold it under the tap for a second, and without drying it off, pour your pastry cream onto the plate and smooth out. Cover it with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and allow it to cool before you place it in the fridge.

 

And now for the fun part! Once the pastry is cooked and cooled, use a sharp knife to poke a hole in the bottom of all profiteroles. Put your cooled pastry cream in a piping bag with a smaller tip and fill your profiteroles by gently sticking the tip into the profiterole and squeezing! Resist eating all of them at once.

Enjoy!

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