Category Archives: Baking

The Expat Blog: Expat life, Sweden, cardamom, the flavor of life, and why I had to bake a cake

Sometimes, when I start writing about an interesting subject, I just keep going. And going. And going. And then I have to split one blog into two, and then everyone is like, come on Kate, get real. No one has that much to say about cardamom. Except that I do, and I even cut parts. SO NOW WHAT.

Cardamom Part One Cardamom and the flavor of life: It’s the little things that stay with you.

Cardamom Part Two Expat life, cooking, and why I had to bake a cake.

So. Did you know that Scandinavia is the number two most important import market for cardamom in the world, second only to the Middle East? (India is huge on cardamom, but they’re a producing country, so they’re not in the running.) Also, did you know that the per capita consumption of cardamom in Sweden is 60% higher than in the United States? And then there’s a recipe in the second post.

And oh my goodness. Grind your own cardamom. It is, in the Queen’s English, da bomb diggity. Mmmhmmm.

And here’s some extra-special director’s cut stuff.

  • There’s a Norwegian children’s book called When the Robbers Came to Cardamom Town about (as Wikipedia explains) the peaceful town of Cardamom (Kardemomme in Norwegian) and the people there, including three robbers, Casper, Jasper, and Jonathon, who stir up trouble.
  • In Cambodia and jutting into Thailand (again, as Wikipedia says), there is a mountain range called the Cardamom Mountains (Krâvanh Mountains). These mountains are largely inaccessible, which helped preserve it during different periods in Cambodia’s history and prevented these Neolithic jar sites from being destroyed. [I'm basically just paraphrasing Wikipedia right now.] The jars have the bones of dead people in them… possibly dead Cambodian royalty.
  • There are two kinds of cardamom: green and black.
  • In Sweden, a famous humor writer and playwright wrote under the nom de plume Kar de Mumma, which is Swedish for cardamom. Born 1904, died 1997. I don’t get the joke behind his name, but he was probably funny anyway.

How to Become a Macaron Goddess

You can do it. BE NOT AFRAID. The only thing to fear is fear itself! And improperly ground almonds! Or just plain bad luck!

Nonetheless, you too can be a macaron goddess.

Elaine and I ogled macarons endlessly when we worked together in Vienna, but we never tried because it seemed too intimidating. My best advice to you would be to read as much as you can ahead of time, and then arm yourself with endless fortitude and an electric mixer. (Beating egg whites by hand is endlessly tiring.) And if you really want to succeed, find yourself a friend who’s really good at baking and become their assistant. (Read: Anna.) Then there’s nothing but five hours of continuous work and THE HAND OF DESTINY standing between you and becoming a macaron goddess.

Here are some links to articles that helped or inspired me:

Another really fantastic tool in my artillery is the book you see below: i love macarons by Hisako Ogita. My Nonna got it for me for Christmas along with a box of Wilton pastry bags and tips. This book is really incredible. It gives you tips and tricks for every step of the process (22 for the cookie part alone, if you follow her instructions). Some of the tips are a little extreme, including, for example, “on rainy days, it helps to dehumidify.” However, we followed the instructions pretty much to the letter and ended up with our best macarons to date, so I’ll vouch for their effectiveness.

Here’s the basic recipe:

  • 2/3 cup ground almonds (85 g mald mandel)
  • 1.5 cups powdered sugar (150 g florsocker)
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature (it helps to age them overnight) (3 äggvitor vid rumstemperatur)
  • 5 tablespoons (65 grams) granulated sugar (65 g råsocker)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (vi använde en tesked vaniljsocker istället)

Instructions (Abbreviated and without Hisako’s tips. You’ll have to go buy the book!)

  1. In a food processor, grind almonds and powdered sugar together to a fine powder. Sift the mixture through a sieve twice. Set aside. (We didn’t have a sieve, so we didn’t sift. Still came out fine.)
  2. In a stainless-steel mixing bowl, beat egg whites on high speed until they reach stiff, glossy peaks, gradually adding the granulated sugar to the egg whites.
  3. Add vanilla, stir lightly.
  4. Add half of the sifted flour mixture. Stir it with a spatula while scooping it up from the bottom of the bowl.
  5. Add the rest of the flour and mix it lightly in a circular motion. DO NOT OVER-MIX.
  6. When you run out of flour, press and spread out the batter against the bowl’s sides. Scoop the batter from the bottom and turn it upside down. Repeat this process about 15 times. (DO NOT OVER-MIX. We only did this press-and-spread method about 5 times and then quit in favor of not allowing all the air to escape.)
  7. When the batter becomes nicely firm and drips slowly as you scoop it with a spatula, the mixture is done. (I don’t know if ours has gotten this firm, actually, but it gets close.)
  8. Pour the batter into a pastry bag with a round tip. (By the way, if you’re following along with Hisako’s instructions, we are now at step 12.)
  9. Squeeze the batter onto parchment paper on a baking sheet in small circles. The batter tends to spread out after being squeezed. (Hisako recommends using tracing paper to outline perfect circles, but we haven’t done that. However, we use rapseed oil, rapsölja, to very lightly grease the parchment paper. You can also use corn oil or any other flavorless oil… no olive oil, no butter.)
  10. Rap the baking sheet firmly against the counter or another flat surface. This helps the macarons hold their rounded shape and helps the pied, or foot, to form. This also allows air bubbles to rise to the surface before baking so that they don’t crack in the oven.
  11. Dry the batter at room temperature, uncovered, for 30 minutes. A slight crust should form on top. (We let them sit for a little less time.)

Here’s where we diverge slightly from Hisako’s method. She says to bake at 375°F (190°C) for 15-18 mins. We have been baking our macarons at a lower heat for longer, at 300°F (150°C) for 30 minutes. When I cooked them at the higher temperature, my macarons were much flatter. The macarons Anna and I rose much higher and became much puffier. I kind of like that look, but if you want the flat, smooth look, go for the higher temperature.

Hisako has a very special approach to baking the macarons which involves multiple baking trays and more time and patience than I have. Ours came out really well anyway.

For the coffee flavored macarons, we added 1.5 tablespoons of ground up instant coffee powder to the macaron batter. When we made chocolate and black tea, we divided the batter into two and added just a little less than half of cocoa powder and ground black tea. The possibilities seem endless, to be honest, and I am so excited to make them again… but it will have to wait until I can muster the energy to take the whole thing on again. It’s way more fun doing this with a friend, by the way. The one time I tried to do it by myself, I ended up totally frazzled and worn out. This is a project that is definitely improved by having another person around to talk to and hang out with while you slave over teeny-tiny French delicacies.

And if you’re wondering, the macarons are actually worth all the effort, precisely because they’re so delicate and can go wrong so easily. They are delicious, of course, but there are lots of delicious cookies that take a quarter of the time and the effort. What makes this such a fun project is the feeling of mastery you get when they come out well. When we finished our last batch and the macarons had risen and developed feet and looked exactly as they should, Anna and I were so proud of ourselves. I’ve been giving them away in little glass jars as gifts to people, and it feels so good to say, “I made that.”

Be strong of heart! VENTURE FORTH unto the promised land of MACARONS!

Macaron teaser

I’m up far too late because some VERY EXCITING DEVELOPMENTS may be in the works for me and I am too wound up to go to sleep now. So in the meantime, I’m posting some of my macaron pictures because I’ve been meaning to tell you all about them but waiting until I had enough time to do it justice, if you know what I mean.

three little macarons, sitting in a tree. k-i-s-s-i-n-g.

a tray of kaffe (coffee) flavored macarons.

batch number two included black tea macarons (svart te), which turned out to be totally delicious.

the macaron factory in action.

Anna and I are now the queens of macaron land, at least in our own heads. We made dozens of them in miniature with the following flavor combinations:

  • coffee with raspberry
  • coffee with blood orange
  • chocolate with blood orange
  • chocolate with butterscotch (the real alcoholic kind)
  • black tea with lemon
  • black tea with butterscotch

Along the way, there was much eating of butter and egg whites. More later… including recipes!

mentally absent, but busy… and present in my present

this little hiatus thing should not be reason to worry. all it means is that i have been so engaged with everything else in my real life that i haven’t been mentally present enough to be engaged with my little virtual online life thing. but i gotsta write! i gotsta express! so i’m not giving up.

1. I saw Beach House in concert in Lund at the Mejeriet, an old dairy that has been converted into a concert venue/bar/outdoor movie theater/etc. They were so fantastic.

2. Thanksgiving #1 happened at Steve’s house. Joy abounded.

3. Lady Gaga happened. IT WAS EVERYTHING I COULD HAVE EVER HOPED IT WOULD BE AND MORE.

This is sort of like item 2.9 or 3.a, but I’m putting it after number two anyway.

Item #Prequel to 3. Extreme hair and makeup for Lady Gaga happened.

4. Baking ridiculous amounts of Lussekattar with Anna, Nils, Nils’ family, and finally Simon happened.

5. I passed my SFI test, which means I OFFICIALLY speak decent Swedish. I’m continuing on to the next level, which is high school level. And I get to collect Swedish study subsidies. Do pass go, do collect $200. Have I ever told you all how much I love the welfare state?

I'm not going to be seeing any of these guys anymore, fortunately/unfortunately. They were really nice.

6.. Thanksgiving #2, in which I cooked a real American dinner for 26 personas, happened. No, I will not stop patting myself on the back.

So that’s it, folks. I was cooking. And studying Swedish. And hangin. But I’m alright, more than alright.

A Weekend of PROJECTS

Between Friday and today, Monday, a lot of stuff got done. I am actually really impressed with myself, because a typical day in the life of this particular expat may or may not include sloth-like behavior punctuated by a frantic rush to get showered, dressed, and presentable once I realize my boyfriend is on his way home from class. I mean, one must maintain at least a veneer of respectability, if not the respectability itself. Am I right?

Anyway, this weekend was a shining exception to the aforementioned slothery, and I am extremely proud.

Dare to Dream Macarons

On Saturday, my weekend of joyous productivity started off right when Anna called me and asked me if I wanted to help her make macarons. DO I EVER. (Note to future and possible friends: the answer to this question is always, unfailingly yes.) She had already made a batch on Friday, so I even got to taste the final product before even lifting a finger. How’s that for motivation? My god, these things were delicious.

Hello, beautiful.

Anna actually made the macarons you see above. I helped her with a lemon and lime batch that we dyed yellow and green. Let me tell you, Anna is an extreme baker, and I am learning so much from her. She even ground her own almond flour. That is extreme. EXTREME BAKING. No joke. My friend Elaine and I spent the entire spring sending each other pictures of macarons from Tastespotting. We worked together and sat basically at the same desk, so whenever either of us sent or received a little glimpse of macaron porn, we would meet eyes, drool, and sigh in unison. We were convinced, however, that actually making macarons required years of advanced study at a culinary institute or a baking fairy godmother or something like that. NOT SO. Dare to dream, world.

They tasted as good as they look.

Art! Culture! Wine! Gallery Night in Malmö

Malmö is this big famous city that I live only ten minutes away from, and yet I have never gone out at night there. UNTIL LAST SATURDAY NIGHT. It is the third largest city in Sweden (behind Gothenberg and Stockholm) and from what I can understand, it’s sort of positioning itself/is being positioned as this post-industrial melting pot for technology interests, entrepreneurs, and immigrants. There are a lot of expats, a lot of immigrants, a lot of international business people, etc. More than that, I couldn’t really say, because I hardly ever hang out there. One thing I do find funny, though, is that it really has this “big city, ooh, dangerous” reputation, and yet at just under 300,000 inhabitants, it is slightly smaller than Cincinnati, Toledo, and Pittsburgh, and about the size of Riverside, CA and Lexington, KY. These are not places that are particularly impressive to me in terms of size, but hey. There are just slightly more inhabitants in all of Sweden than there are in New York City’s five boroughs, a statistic I have checked thoroughly on Wikipedia, which claims to cite US Census reports and other sources of reputable data.

Even though Malmö is really only 15 minutes away by train, I haven’t been there that often and definitely not out to party or anything. That’s been changing in the last couple of months, though, because I’ve made some friends there and I can explore the city with them. This Saturday was a gallery night in Malmö, and so a bunch of us went gallery-hopping to check out the art (and hunt down the free wine). We went to some areas of Malmö that I had never seen before, and it was really cool to see another side of the city by night. I had no idea how many cool galleries and bars there are, spread throughout the city, and I am excited to go back again soon and see more.

Baby! You Made Light! Installing The Light Fixture

Probably no one cares about this except me, but we finally installed the *&^%&^* light fixture that we bought a million years ago from Ikea and has since been floating around the apartment, collecting dust. And it’s BEAUTIFUL!

Awwwww. Look at how nice that is. Our kitchen is pretty! And on the table you can see some of my other projects, which I will go through with increased brevity, since it’s almost midnight and I want to go to bed.

Healthy Fall Treats! Apple Chips

I’ve always wanted to make apple chips, and I finally did. All you’re supposed to do is slice tart apples into thin slices, toss in cinnamon and sugar, and cook at a low heat for a very long time. I’ve seen this recipe maybe a hundred times in different magazines and cookbooks and never really got up the energy to put it together. For my money, it was a hell of a lot of slicing for a snack that disappeared in a startlingly short time. It would be one thing if it were a pie. Next time, I’ll make a pie.

Or else I’ll just eat them raw. There’s something unexplainable about apples, sugar, and cinnamon. It’s delicious. The really exciting thing is that I picked these apples FROM A TREE, BY MYSELF, TAKING ADVANTAGE of the Swede’s beloved ALLEMANSRÄTTEN. (God bless Wikipedia. They translate “allemansrätten” into “freedom to roam.” It’s the wild west out here.) On Thursday afternoon, I biked all the way from Lund to Lomma, a beach town. Although it might look like a fairly manageable distance on a map, to me the distance felt approximately equivalent to biking from Lund to San Francisco, traveling through Asia and over water by means of an ancient frozen land bridge through Alaska and then just south a little ways to San Francisco. The only thing that saved me was running into this patch of wild apples, which were unripe and sour as all get out but totally edible nonetheless. I filled my bike basket to the brim and took them home with me.

Health! Almond Butter

OH MAH GAWD AH MADE MY MAH OWN ALMOND BUTTER. It was a time-consuming but easy process which took place concurrent with the preparation of the apple chips. (I swear I’m not some sort of crazy farm lady sitting all alone surrounded by fruit- and nut-bearing trees, singing to the birds and cooking vast amounts of ridiculous food. I swear.) I bought a big bag of almonds for cheap in a little grocery store on Möllanstorget. Then I blanched them, shelled them, roasted them (for forever), and ground them into butter. I am ridiculously proud. I even got the cute little dip at the top, just like the tubs of JIF peanut butter.

TUNE IN TOMORROW

I did even more stuff. Seriously. I’ll write more tomorrow. I’m doing something out of character, and my legs are sore. Put two and two together, and you’ve got… ?


die BROTKATASTROPHE

Brot, as you found out in a previous post, is bread. Two guesses as to what “Katastrophe” means. Yep.

CATASTROPHE!!!!!!!!!!

I was so excited to follow up on my bread-making success from last week that I tried again this weekend, only to find out that my previous accomplishment was only the result of… I shudder even to write the words… beginner’s luck.

Oh, the shame. Oh, the humanity. Oh… the bread.

Last week’s version of bread was super delicious, but I had a few ideas for improvement: cooking at a slightly higher temperature, using wheat flour instead of white, adding seeds, and not using as much flour on the outside. Last time, I used a ton of flour to help pick up the dough ball because it was really sticky, but that meant there was all this flour all over when you were trying to eat it.

It was a disaster practically all the way through. I was so excited about my new and improved bread, but when I dumped the dough out of the bowl and onto the towel, it spread like instant pudding that hasn’t set yet instead of staying clumped together!! The HORRORS!!! So then I had to add more flour to make it become dough instead of pancake batter, which meant I had to KNEAD THE NO-KNEAD BREAD! More horrors!!! Then, convinced that I had finally remedied a bad situation, I started cooking it. No problem there, everything’s going well, bread bakes, and then… (can you guess what happens next?)…

I can’t get the bread out of the damn pot.

My bread is stuck, stuck, stuck.

I didn’t put any flour on the bottom of the pot because I’m an idiot, and now the bread is firmly baked onto the bottom of the pot. My kitchen, the Katastrophengebiet. Tears everywhere. Giant sobs. Rending of hair. The whole nine yards.

So now what to do? I have tried, mmm, just about everything. Including trying to put oil into the pot to loosen it up. Another harebrained idea that has resulted only in making the crust soggy. I am now faced with the ultimate and tragic solution: tearing the bread with my bare hands to get it out of the pot. I don’t know if I will survive this mission. It might just take too much out of me. And the waste of the bread! Cut down at the very blossoming of its wheat-and-seed filled life! Oh me.

This is what the bread looked like when I finally sliced and tore it out of its pot. Not so bad. And covered with seeds!

Edible after all.

And then I mangiare-d it with my mom’s homemade strawberry jam that she sent to me via my sister Beth. Mmmmm breakfast.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

rain and cold
are not conducive to fun.