Published March 2016 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown - Video shot and produced by Bente Niemeijer
This video shows how you can make high quality puff pastry in just a few minutes. Be sure to use flour that is not too strong (that does not have a high gluten content), and work quickly so the butter stays cold. For an example of how to use the dough, see our recipe for tarte tatin.
Published March 2016 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown - Video shot and produced by Bente Niemeijer
This video shows you how to make our bakery’s original recipe for tarte tatin. To make the puff pastry see our recipe here.
Published March 2016 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown - Video shot and produced by Bente Niemeijer
This short video shows how to shape the loaf and fold in the almond paste for a perfect stollen.
Published September 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown - Video shot and produced by Bente Niemeijer
Making a sourdough starter is often considered an enormous, excruciating challenge. However the process need not be mystified: in fact, it comes down to a few simple steps, taking just 5 minutes a day. All you need to create your starter is flour, water, a container, and a spoon or fork.
Your container can be a bowl or a tupperware box - just be sure that whatever you use it is cleaned well, and without traces of soap. This is important for allowing the bacteria and yeast present in the flour a chance to grow.
Follow the simple steps in the video above to create your own starter.
Once active, the sourdough does not need to be refreshed daily. It can be stored in the fridge for several days. Be sure, however, never to put it in the fridge immediately after refreshing - always give the mixture a bit of time at room temperature first. In that way, the yeast and bacteria populations have a chance to reestablish themselves before refrigeration.
Published August 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown - Video shot and produced by Bente Niemeijer
This video shows the making of baguettes as carried out daily in our bakery. It gives a short overview of the process: weighing, pre-shaping and shaping, scoring, and baking the baguettes. The video starts when the dough is already developed. Note that the 24 hour fermentation period is not pictured here, but it is visible in the blisters on the crust of the baguettes when they come out of the oven.
Published July 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown
It’s nice. Lunch served, delicate food, company of friends, a light breeze, afternoon sun. Overlooking the Nile, from Cairo’s Gezira Island. The city is all around, but the hustle and bustle seems far removed. On the edge of the hotel’s terrace, a woman in traditional clothes sits in front of a wood fired stone oven baking aish baladi, the breads that accompany our food. Dividing the dough by hand, shaping the breads one by one, and putting them in the oven with a peel.
Cairo is a city of contrast, and crowded. Millions of aish baladi are carried around the city every day, sold to restaurants, to small neighborhood shops, or out on the street. Men balance big trays full of the bread above their heads while cycling through the dense, hardly moving traffic. Walking through one of the less well to do areas, no tourists in sight, I stumble on a small bakery. I’m drawn to it, as I always am, everywhere, to every bakery I come across. I tell the man outside that I’m also a baker, and immediately I’m invited in. Not mastering Arabic, I’m not able to communicate much, but that is not regarded as a problem.
Inside there is basically one big hall and a small room to the side. In the small room, a number of men are shaping thousands of breads, using machines to divide and flatten the dough. In the main hall one baker stands in front of the oven, a conveyor belt, where the breads are automatically pulled through the oven. The breads are placed on the belt, pass slowly through a space heated by an enormous gas flame, and come out a few minutes later on the other side, where they are immediately placed on the racks to be distributed throughout the city. Everything happens at a speed and rate that is probably good for tens of thousands of breads a day, possibly a hundred thousand.
I’m offered some, they are fresh and nice, a bit more sturdy and a bit less delicate than the ones at the hotel’s terrace restaurant. They are made with less individual care but serve to provide food to thousands of people. They feel both less and more real, less and more traditional than the ones from the wood fired oven.
The woman sitting in front of the oven at the hotel’s terrace doesn’t understand me, but a waiter quickly comes over and helps to translate. She suggests I try baking one, and of course I accept the offer. She stays seated in front of the oven, and I lean over from above to see the oven and ask her where she wants me to place the bread. The oven is probably 300 degrees hotter than I expected and in one second my eyelashes and brows are reduced to some white smelly stubs. All of us pretend nothing has happened and I place the bread in the oven, with one move from the peel. A move I have made thousands of times comes off a bit awkward, both because I’m still not standing in front of the oven and because I do not want to make a fool of myself.
The bread I have baked is not deemed worthy; I would like to ask for a second try, but refrain.
Published July 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown - Video shot and produced by Bente Niemeijer
This instructional video shows how with a simple trick baguettes can be turned into epi. Use one hand to cut almost through the dough at a 45 degree angle, and the other hand to immediately turn the pieces alternately to the left and the right, before the dough gets a chance to become sticky again.
Published June 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown - Video shot and produced by Bente Niemeijer
Named after the bankers for whom they were initially made, financiers were historically for the rich, the lucky few who could afford to have ground almond added to their madeleines. But the addition of almond flour isn’t the only secret to financiers. Most of the distinctive flavor comes from the addition of beurre noisette, butter heated to precisely the point at which the proteins start to ‘roast’, achieving a hazelnut-like flavor.
In the bakery, we prefer to bake the financiers at the – for a cake – blazing hot temperature of about 240-250 degrees celsius. It makes for a dark but thin, delicately crispy, and caramelized crust, while the inside remains a bit moist, cooked to just the right point.
To obtain full flavor we always let the batter sit overnight.
- 150 grams butter
- 110 grams pastry flour
- 5 grams baking powder
- 130 grams finely ground almonds or almond flour
- 240 grams white castor sugar
- small pinch of salt
- 240 grams egg white (the whites of about 8 large eggs)
Bring the butter to boil in a sauce pan, carefully watching the little white parts floating in the butter. These are the proteins. Boil until the butter becomes deep golden and the proteins just begin to turn brown. Remove immediately from the fire and pour into a stainless steal container to cool.
Published May 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown
I would rather not write about it. In the Netherlands bread often gets to be a trending topic. Nothing about taste – a lot about scandal. First, industry markets assumptions, which pass into common knowledge, only to be undermined shortly thereafter. The most recent assumption: “bread is not healthy, but spelt bread is”. Over the past few years bread has come to be equated with gluten, and gluten with sudden death, by figure of speech.
To relate to consumers looking for healthy or artisinal alternatives, spelt has been promoted by supermarkets, health food stores and bakers alike as “not containing gluten”; as “not genetically modified”; as “an ancient, original, more natural grain”; as “more easily digestible”; as “free of additives” or more generally as “truly artisinal”. And suddenly, not only bread is made with spelt, but also pasta, rice crackers, chocolate cookies, breakfast cakes, muffins, waffles, pancakes, pretzels, Easter bread…
First comes the hype, followed by the investigation. Dutch TV program Keuringsdienst van Waarde recently produced a documentary about the spelt marketing boom. The documentary shows how a cake made with spelt actually only contains a few percent of the miracle grain, is made industrially, and does not require any special craftsmanship, but is sold for almost twice the price. How rather than being “ancient and pure” spelt has been recently cultivated to be like more ancient varieties of the grain. How in terms of chemical composition there are not many differences between spelt and the more commonly used strands of wheat. How of course spelt bread contains gluten, and how none of the many health claims marketing spelt are based on research. So far, this pattern of marketing claims whose accuracy is then undermined by further investigation has become a common pattern in the Dutch debates about food.
Interesting in this case is the unusual response of the Dutch bakery association to the investigation. The association mounts no counter-campaign against the revelations about spelt marketing practices. No fight is put up, no defense. Rather, in internal communications to bakers, the association confirms that indeed there is no research to support any of the health claims of spelt products. The communique compares chemical components of spelt and regular wheat and deems them not to have any significant differences, and recommends that bakers properly inform their customers when questions are asked, using these data. Basically, the findings of the Keuringsdienst van Waarde are framed in technical jargon, without crediting the critical journalistic enquiries aired on prime time national TV.
If you can’t beat the enemy, you can silently appropriate his findings, take off the edge. No scandal this time.
Published April 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown
The recipe is for seven breads of 500 grams; it is worth it to make a bit more and treat friends and family, but of course you can modify the recipe to make just one or two loaves.
For a Dutch baker Easter brings up memories of Christmas. Of course there are the chocolate eggs instead of small chocolate or biscuit wreaths, but the bread we make for the two holidays is exactly the same. The only difference lies in a layer of icing sugar sprinkled on Christmas bread but not on Easter bread, since the sugar is assumed to represent snow. However, this distinction is only historical. Nowadays, most bakers, including us, sprinkle the icing sugar on Easter bread as well. Just because it looks pretty that way.
This is our Easter bread recipe. It is exactly as we make it in the bakery, not simplified or altered, and with attention to detail. It is based on traditional Dutch and German recipes, but using techniques – and sensitivities – that are more common in French baking. It produces a bread that is by far superior to any of the stollen that are available in supermarkets or bakery chains. But it does involve a little more patience and perseverance...
Almond paste (preferably prepared two weeks in advance of baking)
Almond paste can also be bought, but is so much nicer when home made. Using fresh lemon, good quality almonds (and roasting a portion of them), and much less sugar makes for an entirely different experience...
- 350 grams of high quality blanched almonds
- 250 grams of finely ground sugar or castor sugar
- 2 eggs
- zest of 2 lemons
- juice of 2 lemons
To make the almond paste
Roast 1/3 of the almonds in the oven at 160 degrees until well colored, golden, but not overbaked (they will become bitter) and leave to cool.
With a food processor grind all the almonds (roasted and not roasted) until fine, using pulses to avoid heating the almonds too much. They should not become oily.
Mix in the sugar, half of the lemon juice, half of the lemon zest and one of the eggs.
Bring to flavor using (part of) the remaining lemon zest and/or lemon juice. If the mixture remains too dry add (part of) the second egg as well. You want it to be a strong paste, workable like clay.
Leave to stand in an airtight container in the fridge for at least one week, preferably longer. If well preserved, the almond paste can remain good for up to four months.
Fruit mixture (preferably prepared three days before baking)
- 200 grams of dried raisins
- 700 grams of sultana raisins (mixed white and dark)
- 100 grams of dried figs, cut into small pieces
- zest of 2 oranges
- 150 grams of rum
To make the fruit mixture
Mix all the fruit and the orange zest together with the rum, put in a closed container and leave to stand for at least one night, preferably two. Stir the mixture once in between, to make sure the rum is evenly absorbed by the fruit (no need to keep it in the fridge). The fruit mixture can be kept for up to two weeks.
Poolish (preferably prepared two days before baking)
A poolish is a ‘starter dough’. It is made in advance and added to the main dough, to enhance flavor, structure and freshness.
- 250 grams flour (T55 or T65 gruau, strong white flour)
- 250 grams milk (cold)
- 7 grams instant yeast
To make the poolish
Mix flour and cold milk with a hand mixer until all the flour is hydrated. Leave to stand for half an hour and mix in the yeast, sprinkling it finely to avoid lumps. Cover and keep overnight in the fridge. If you do not have the time, leave to stand at room temperature until well developed, two to four hours.
Dough (preferably the day before baking)
- 200 grams of blanched almonds, roasted
- 750 grams of bread flour T65 (medium strength or strong)
- 40 grams of sugar
- poolish (see above)
- 75 grams of milk (cold)
- 165 grams of water (cold)
- 135 grams egg (about two very large eggs)
- 20 grams of salt
- 10 grams of instant yeast
- 200 grams of butter
- 10 grams of cinnamon
- fruit mixture (see above)
- almond paste (see above)
To make the dough
Roast the almonds in the oven or in a pan and put aside.
Mix flour, sugar, poolish, milk, water and egg until the flour is hydrated. Leave to stand for 20 minutes.
One by one, mix in salt and yeast and knead for a few minutes with a mixer, or up to ten minutes if working by hand. The gluten structure should be quite developed, but not fully yet. Mix in the butter.
Add the cinnamon to the fruit mixture, and stir well, then mix into the dough. Finally, mix in the almonds.
Put the dough into a container allowing for the dough to double in volume, and cover. Leave to stand for one hour at room temperature. Then, take the dough out onto a lightly floured working bench and fold (see the video post on folding a dough). Put back into the container and leave to stand again for one hour.
Divide the dough into seven pieces of 450 grams. Shape into balls, being careful not tear the dough or to use too much flour for dusting. Let the dough pieces rest for a few minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the almond paste filling. Divide the paste into seven pieces of 100 grams each and make rolls of about 15 cm long.
Shape the round dough pieces into ‘batards’, placing the almond rolls on the inside of the dough, incorporating them lengthwise in the first ‘fold’, and making sure to close the seam very well at the end (see the video post on shaping breads).
Place the breads on a cloth (such as a tea towel) on a baking tray, creasing the cloth a little in between each bread so they do not touch. Place another cloth over top of the breads and then put the whole in a loosely fitting plastic bag, making sure there is space for the breads to develop.
Leave the tray with the breads at room temperature until the breads start to feel a bit airy. When touched the dough should give way easily, but still return to its original shape. Then leave overnight in the fridge. If hurried, it is also possible to have a shorter development only at room temperature. The dough should, in that case, only very slowly and partially return to its original shape when touched.
Before baking, preheat the oven to the highest temperature possible, with a baking stone placed inside. Try to create ample steam when putting the bread in the oven, by using a plant mister or placing a baking tray with boiling water in the oven. To bake the bread, place it on the baking stone using a peel. Do not score the bread and make sure the seam is at the bottom.
Of course, depending on the size of the oven, the breads can be baked all together or one by one – leaving the others in the fridge. Lower the temperature to 200 degrees as soon as the bread is in the oven, slowly let the temperature decline to 170 degrees after the bread has opened up and starts to develop a first, light coloring. It is also possible to bake on a plate, with parchment paper underneath, using the same temperatures as above.
Bake about 40-50 minutes or until the crust is well developed and has a good color, and the bread is well baked inside.
Published April 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown - Video shot and produced by Bente Niemeijer
This short video explains how to fold a dough. To preserve the natural flavors of wheat flour as well as its nutritive value, it is best not to mix a dough too intensely. Also, minimizing the mixing intensity and time contributes to an open but firm internal structure that is essential to French bread.
To ensure proper dough strength, French bakers use a technique called ‘folding’ or ‘giving the dough a turn’. Midway through the first development of the dough, the dough is stretched and folded unto itself several times, in this way strengthening and aligning the gluten strands in the dough piece.
Published March 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown
In the Sardinian mountain village of Ulassai, at eleven thirty in the evening, two brothers in their fifties open the shutters of their bakery. Pierpaolo goes through the orders and cleans the dough machines, while Vittorio very quickly turns on the first dough.
Vittorio moves fast, trying to remain focused even though I am there visiting, together with 15 year old Massimiliano, who won’t stop talking. Pierpaolo, the older brother, seems to have a bit more time, and jokes around with Massimiliano, asking me about Amsterdam and telling me about their bakery. The brothers inherited the bakery from their father, but Pierpaolo doesn’t want his own sons to become bakers, even if they would want to. He is passionate, happy, full of energy, enjoying the work fully, but he knows that it is a demanding life and is not sure it holds a future.
When I explain to Pierpaolo that at our bakery in Amsterdam we work during the day rather than at night, it is clear that he prefers his own rhythm. Working at night gives him the excuse to sleep during the day, he says with a smile. He appreciates when I show him some of the ways we shape the bread in our bakery, but doesn’t have any interest in learning different methods of making dough. In fact, he is quite well informed, remembering how bread was made in the past, understanding the advantages of a prolonged development or the use of for instance a biga as a starter dough, as is traditional in Italy. Yet he chooses to work the way he does now.
The breads they make are ‘fast’ – the opposite of what I would promote. Two hours after starting to work, the first round is in the oven. The bakery doesn’t have any rising chambers, but is equipped with one machine which both weighs and pre-shapes the bread at a rate of a few thousand small rolls an hour, and another which degasses, flattens and extends the doughs.
They make the final shape of the rolls with care however, making both traditional shapes and ones which they have developed themselves – full of imagination and a sense of freedom. They love the bread they make.
They let me try as well, and correct me to the smallest detail, in the meantime telling me about the traditions in their village. How wheat bread was bread for the rich, for festive occasions, and how on other days the bread was made with anything but wheat to save on a scarce and more expensive good. How in the war potatoes were used in Italy to make the bread, and how finding that it actually made for a very nice crust and a crumb remaining moist, became a tradition. But also how it is impossible to make anything innovative nowadays, as it is not appreciated, as there would not be a market for it in their region. Rather people go for fashions, everybody wanting the bread to be in a certain way, which the bakery has to accommodate – even making rolls with a type of ‘milk dough’ which they themselves don’t like. They explain that people don’t care too much about flavor, eating the bread warm and making sandwiches. And that it wouldn’t be worth it to make the dough in a more elaborate way – in a city yes, maybe, but not here in the mountains.
Pierpaolo and Vittorio use flour which is premixed. It gives them a constant quality, something they need because work is also simply production. The potato flour they use has the name of a Dutch company written on the sacks. They don’t use any additives though. The bread rolls they make are beautiful, far more so than any of the industrially produced breads which are also widely available throughout Italy. You can see by the shape of each bread which of the two bakers has made it. In the morning, Luisa, the wife of Pierpaolo, recognizes the ones I made at first glance, noticing they are shaped by a different hand.
Working with Pierpaolo and Vittorio, listening to them, I immediately start to appreciate the bread. The rolls I take home first seem a bit uninspired and dry. But Elena, the hotel owner, tells me that the bread should be eaten not for breakfast, but with lunch or dinner. I try and the juices of the food make the bread come alive. And just like Elena said, the bread keeps well, the hard and dry crust dissolving in the mouth, also the next day.
When I meet Pierpaolo again for an espresso and a glass of mirto, he tells me that in fact some time ago he was thinking about making an investment, starting in a new place with more space and buying rising chambers as well. Not working at night. But he feels powerless and just doesn’t think it will be possible. The mountain region where he lives is losing out to the coastal areas; the villages, rather than growing, are slowly but steadily declining. He buys me local specialties, culurgiones (a fresh pasta filled with potatoes, cheese and mint), coccoi prena (tarts filled with potatoes, fiscidu cheese and garlic), and civargedda (pancake like dough made with zucchini and tomatoes), which all taste very good. But he also tells me that they are not like they used to be. Strong flavors are avoided nowadays, to make them more widely appreciated.
When I leave, Pierpaolo gives me as a present two volumes, beautiful books, with the history of Ulassai. Proud books, written with passion. They represent Pierpaolo’s attachment to and appreciation of tradition, and his wish to preserve what would otherwise just be memories.
Published March 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown
Making macarons using only fresh ingredients always produces a little anxiety. Unlike most pastry recipes, it is not just a matter of meticulously and skillfully executing a fixed number of steps. Yes, it requires skill, but in addition it involves a bit of judgement, or rather intuition, to go right. Home ground almonds for instance, may be slightly finer or rougher, or contain and release slightly more or less fat. Similarly a home made coffee extract may contain more or less liquid. And a meringue that is just a little stronger or weaker requires a mousse that is just a bit stronger or weaker to balance out. Clearly, there are many variables with which to experiment.
On the bright side, once your intuition for making macarons develops it also becomes possible to adjust for slight differences in for instance the quality of the nuts, by adding a bit more or less egg white to the mousse, or to make the meringue just that bit stronger to compensate for a mousse that is just a bit too liquid, or to mix them together a little more gently.
After a while, the slight anxiety just serves to help you remain focused. And in the end it results in additive free macarons that have a far better flavor, a perfectly thin crisp crust, and a rich and soft inside.
Recipe for Gebroeders Niemeijer Macarons
This is a basic recipe. All kinds of ingredients may be added to the mousse for flavor, such as cacao, coffee extract, or lemon zest, and it is possible to replace (part of) the almonds with other nuts. Feel free to experiment.
The shell of the macaron is composed of a meringue mixed with a mousse. Between the two shells you can use a filling of your choice – any butter cream or ganache, such as a lemon cream, or a dark chocolate ganache will do nicely.
For the meringue:
- 300 grams sugar
- 200 grams water
- 150 grams egg white (use egg white that has already been in the fridge for two or three days. This contributes to a strong and smooth meringue)
For the mousse:
- 450 grams almonds, finely ground and sieved
- 450 grams icing sugar, sieved
- 170 grams egg white, a bit more or less depending on the almonds
In a copper pot, put the sugar and water on a medium fire. Using a sugar thermometer, let the temperature rise to exactly 121 degrees.
In the meantime prepare the mousse in a large round bowl. Using a whisk, mix the icing sugar and the ground almonds, and then add the egg white for the mousse. If the mousse feels very stiff, even after mixing properly, you may add just a little extra egg white. But pay attention: adding too much egg white will make the mousse to heavy. This is also the point at which you can add other ingredients that you would like to be in the shell of the macarons. When adding a dry substance such as cacao or green tea powder, you might need to add a bit more egg white as well; when planning to use a liquid substance such as coffee extract, reduce the amount of egg white you start with.
In a different bowl, prepare the egg white for the meringue. Add a small pinch of salt and using an electric mixer, start beating at the moment when the sugar syrup reaches 117 degrees. Start at low speed. As soon the syrup reaches 121 degrees, take it off the fire and mix it gradually into the egg white, while beating at high speed. Continue beating until you get a medium-firm meringue. If you would pull up the mixer, it should leave a peak that falls over a bit at the top.
Add the meringue to the mousse by folding it in gently with a spatula, just like you would for a mousse au chocolat. It works best to do this in two stages, first adding a little meringue, to loosen up the mousse, then the rest, more gently, which will be easier since the mix is a bit more workable. Stop mixing as soon as the meringue is incorporated.
Using a pastry bag, make small rounds on baking tray lined with parchment paper. If possible, use two flat baking trays on top of one another to prevent heating up the macarons too quickly from below during baking. Leave the macarons to dry for one or two hours, until they have developed a thin skin. Bake for 12 to 20 minutes at 150-180 degrees, depending on your oven and the size of the macarons.
While baking, the macarons should puff up, producing the small rim that is their trademark. The macarons are ready when they are still moist inside but have a firm, though delicate, crust.
Baking is also the final proof of the macaron – it is the moment when, if they did not turn out well, you can learn from your mistakes. If they remain flat, it means the mix has become too weak (overmixing the meringue) or heavy (using too much egg white for the mousse); if they burst open, it means either that there was too much heat from underneath while baking, or that the macarons did not stand enough before putting them in the oven. If when cooling down they become soft again, it means either they are underbaked, or too much oil came out of the nuts when grinding them.
Let the macarons cool down completely on the plate, then remove them gently with a pastry scraper. Pipe the filling between two matching halves using a pastry bag. Place on a baking rack, so that the macarons can breath. Place the rack loosely in a plastic bag, leaving the bag open and place in the fridge overnight. This allows for the filling to merge with the inside of the shell, while the outside crust can breath and dry out just a little.
Eat at room temperature. Depending on the filling used, the macarons can be kept, refrigerated, for several days to a week.
Published March 2015 by Issa Niemeijer-Brown - Video shot and produced by Bente Niemeijer
In this short video you can see how two basic shapes of bread are made: a ‘boule’ (a round loaf) and a ‘batard’ (a loaf that has an intermediary shape between a baguette and a round loaf). Note how the primary concern when shaping a dough piece is to create surface tension and to stretch and strengthen gluten strands. To treat dough like clay doesn’t work. For the round shape use the cohesion of the dough and the bench to create tension – a trick that requires some trial and error, but once mastered feels natural.
Normally speaking, you first pre-shape a loaf as a boule, let it rest for a few minutes (the gluten ‘relaxes’ a bit again), and then give the final shape, either by reinforcing the round shape once more, or by shaping it into a batard.