JIM MAKES: Boterkoek

Boterkoek (Butter cake) is a delicious treat from The Netherlands.

My favorite thing about it is its texture. It’s dense, but not hard. You’ve had pound cake before, yeah? You’ve had shortbread before, yeah? Boterkoek is somewhere between the two: not crunchy like a cookie, but solid enough that you can pick up a piece and eat it like a brownie, no fork or plate needed.

What’s more, the denseness of the cake means that it keeps for quite a while, so long as it’s kept in the fridge. I had a two-week old slice for dessert tonight and it was as good as the day I baked it!

But the best part of boterkoek is, anyone can make it. Trust me – I’m the worst baker in the world, and I can do this:

SOFTWARE

1 cup good butter, softened
1½ cups white sugar
2 beaten eggs
1 tablespoon almond extract
2½ cups AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

HARDWARE

1 electric mixer
1 small bowl
1 medium bowl
1 large bowl
1 spatula
1 fork or whisk
2 round 8″ cake pans (or even better, glass pie plates)

NOTES: Take the butter out of your fridge a few hours before you want to make the cake. Also, this is a terrific recipe to splurge on some nice European butter. Cultured butters from Ireland, France and Finland are readily available near me, and at Lidl and Aldi they’re competitively priced, too. Take the hint. Lastly, if you only have one pan or pie plate, fear not: later, when dividing the dough in half to make two cakes, simply put one half in a zip-top bag and put it in the fridge – it’ll be good for a couple days. You could probably freeze it too, but don’t quote me on that!

1) Preheat your oven to 350F.

2) Put the sugar and butter in the large bowl, then use the electric mixer to cream them. Don’t know what “creaming” is? Watch this:

You don’t need a stand mixer to do this – any electric hand mixer will work, you just have to move the mixer around in the bowl.

3) Beat the eggs in a small bowl, then add almost all of it to the butter and sugar (we need a tiny bit for the last step, so save a little). Mix for a few seconds with the mixer until incorporated, then add the almond extract and mix for a few seconds more. Put the mixer aside and use the spatula to scrape as much dough off the forks as you can.

4) Add the flour and baking powder to the medium bowl, and stir well with a whisk or fork to mix.

5) Slowly add the flour to the dough, adding a little bit, then stirring with a heavy-duty spoon, then repeating until the flour has been incorporated completely. As a warning, the dough will look very dry.

6) Grease the pans (or use Pam, if you’re lazy). Put half the dough in each pan or pie plate and press it into place.

7) Remember the leftover egg? Brush it across the top of the cakes. If you forgot to save some egg, just beat another one and brush it across the top of the cakes. Don’t go crazy though: a little bit is all you need!

8) OPTIONAL: You can put sliced almonds on the top, if you wish. It’s also traditional to drag a fork across the top of the cake, creating a design a bit like this:

Boterkoek

9) Bake at 350F for around 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and delicious!

Jim's Boterkoek

Let cool completely before serving. Keeps amazingly well in the fridge – just take a piece out just as you sit down to dinner and it’ll be delicious by dessert time!

 

 

JIM MAKES: Carbonade Flamande

Carbonade flamande is a classic Belgian stew. I must admit that, even though I’ve been to Belgium, I didn’t have carbonade flamande while there – I was too busy eating all the mussels in Brussels! But I saw the dish in an episode of Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations and just had to try it! I did a test run a couple months ago, and have tweaked the recipe slightly. Try it out some time – you just might like it!

1-2 DAYS BEFORE

The first thing we need is… gingerbread. Yes, gingerbread. Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense later. If you’re really motivated, you can google “Belgian grandma gingerbread recipe” and make it from scratch. If you’re not quite up for that, you can call around to local bakeries and see if they have any. But if you’re lazy like me, you can just go to your local grocery store and pick up a box of Betty Crocker gingerbread mix:

Carbonnade Flamande 01

It couldn’t be easier: just dump the mix into a large bowl, add one egg and 1½ cups water, and stir with a whisk for a couple minutes until the batter is smooth. Then pour into a greased 8×8″ glass pan and bake for around 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean:

Let the gingerbread cool completely, then cover with aluminum foil.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

The night before you want to make the stew, you need to make the marinade:

You can be super lazy and buy 3 pounds of stew meat, but for best results use 3 pounds of chuck roast instead. Cut a block off the roast, cut the block into cubes, then cut those cubes into bite-size cubes, trimming any excess fat as you go.

See the red plastic container in the above picture? Yeah, that wasn’t big enough for the meat and marinade, so I put the beef cubes in a gallon-size pitcher, along with 3 crushed cloves of garlic, two bay leaves and two 11.2 oz. bottles of Belgian ale. I used Gauloise, a blonde ale available at my local Lidl. It’s not the best Belgian beer you’ve ever tasted, but at $6.49 for a four-pack you can’t go wrong. Of course, if you have a preferred brand, you can use that… especially a sour Belgian ale, which is the traditional beer for this dish.

Put the meat + marinade in your fridge until the next day. The pitcher actually worked out really well – it was roomy, and the waterproof seal made it easy to turn the pitcher over and mix everything up, which is something you should do a couple times while marinating.

IT’S STEW TIME!

The next day, drain the beef but keep the marinade! Seriously, the liquid is important, so don’t throw it out:

Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a French oven and brown the beef in small batches:

Why small batches? We want to fry the beef, so that it’s golden brown and delicious. If we threw all the beef into the pan at once, it would steam instead of fry, and we don’t want that. So take your time and do it right!

While the beef is cooking, stack 4 slices of bacon on top of each other, then cut into pieces. Also, slice three medium to large onions.

I totally spaced on taking pictures here, but once the beef is done, set it aside and drain any water in the pan. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, then remove. Leaving the bacon grease in the pan, cook the onions for about 10 minutes, until decently caramelized.

Once the onions turn brown and delicious, add 1½ cups of beef broth to the pan and scrape off the fond – the dark brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan – with a wooden spoon. When you’re done with that, you should have something like this:

It’s finally starting to come together! Add the marinade, beef and bacon to the pot, along with several springs of thyme:

Now… we could cook this on the stovetop for a couple hours. But I don’t wanna do that. The whole point of using a French oven is so that we could put this in the oven. So do that: put the lid on your French oven and cook the stew in your oven for around an hour at 325F. It should look like this:

So… remember the gingerbread? If you used an 8×8″ pan, cut the gingerbread in half, then cut it in half again, then turn each piece on its side and cut those in half. What we’re aiming for is four pieces of gingerbread, each about the size of a slice of bread. Put a total of two or three heaping tablespoons of real French Dijon mustard (don’t cheap out now!) on some of the slices… or divide it between all the slices, it doesn’t really matter. Just spread the mustard on the bread, as if you were making a sandwich.

Add a tablespoon of packed dark brown sugar to the stew along with a handful of parsley and stir well. Then add the gingerbread slices, mustard side down:

Put the lid back on and return to the oven for another hour, stirring the stew every so often. You’ll end up with something like this:

I’ll grant that it doesn’t photograph well, and might not look that appealing:

But trust me, it’s damn tasty! The beef was outrageously tender without being “mushy”, and there’s just something about the interplay between the ale and the gingerbread that’s just soooooo goood! You might find the sweetness from the gingerbread a bit too much – if so, some salt & pepper should fix that right up.

Carbonade flamande is traditionally served in a bowl with Belgian-style fries or roasted potatoes on the side. But there’s nothing stopping you from serving this over rice or egg noodles if you want.