Back home, back to work, back to blogging.
I know I've been away from the kitchen for a while, spending most of my summer reading and traveling, but I've collected an exciting list of foods to make from all over Europe. First up this week is a Dutch spice cake I discovered in Amsterdam called spekkoek. It's been fun trying to track down the name of the cake and how to prepare it (I couldn't understand the exact word when I initially asked the waitress). Sure enough, a search for everything I knew about the cake - "layered spice cake, Dutch" - turned up precisely the results I needed.
Of course, I was tickled by also learning that the cake is a cultural diffusion recipe, because all historian cooks love those. For the non-historians out there, the rich and heavy mixture of spices is historical evidence of the Dutch East India Company's seventeenth-century command of the spice trade with the East Indies, and particularly the Dutch colony of Indonesia (which they nabbed from the Portuguese). I actually intend to use this recipe as a classroom discussion piece this week, since we dive right into the rise of Europe through control of spice routes during the "Age of Exploration."
But back to the present, and present-day Amsterdam. Believe it or not (which is obnoxious for me to say), I had never been to Amsterdam before this summer, and spent much too little time in this friendly place. Amsterdam is probably the most "user friendly" city I've ever been to, and by that I mean its so evident that the planners of Amsterdam (past and present) have the human - the pedestrian, the cyclist, the child - in mind at all times. The spaces are designed to engage humans with the space, and with each other, and in this way the city births society. I'm hard-pressed to find outdoor seating at even the most cosy cafes in Chicago that are free from the visual, auditory, and olfactory pollution from cars.
It was on one of the quiet pedestrian streets that I discovered spekkoek. It was the first "I'm making this when I get home!" moment from my travels.
As a warning, this recipe only appears complicated, and is actually really fun to make. So, don't be deterred by the process of cooking each alternating layer (or that it calls for lots of butter and eggs). It comes together more or less like cooking many crepes on top of one another. And, again, I had a blast doing it, as if I was partaking in some cooking challenge (that you can't really mess up). If you're ready for fall, this is a perfect recipe to try (and if you stow it away for later, that broiler will really keep the house warm once the weather cools).
|Ingredients: (makes an 8"-9" round cake)
Helpful (but not required) Tools:
Prepare your pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper and buttering it well (I buttered underneath the parchment paper, as well, to keep it in place). Set the oven to broil so it is very hot by the time your batter is ready.
Combine the spices in a small bowl and set aside for later use.
In a mixer, cream the butter, 1/2 cup of sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the egg yolks, and mix until you get a completely smooth batter. Then, using a spatula, fold in the flour by hand.
Add about 1/2 cup of the spiced batter to the bottom of the cake pan, and spread evenly over the parchment paper with an offset spatula. Place under the broiler for 2 minutes, until slightly browned. Spread 1/2 cup of the plain batter on top of this layer, and continue to repeat the broiling/layering process until the pan is full. Keep your layers as thin as possible, and don't worry that the raw batter gets runny when it comes in contact with the hot layer below. Keep in mind that as your pan continues to fill and get hotter, the layers will begin to brown faster.
When done, place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve as is, or with maple syrup, whipped cream, or fruit preserves.