October 23, 2018

Cooking with the Belgians

I want to start by saying that this is the best cookbook I've ever bought.


If you have any interest in cooking insanely delicious Belgian-style food, you really should locate a copy. Not only that, it approaches cooking from a perspective I'm very much a fan of: use what you can get locally, don't skimp on butter or cream, and eat as many meals as you can with a good beer. I won't take up more space with gushing enthusiasm, but trust me, it's the best cookbook there is.

There are a lot of wonderful things that go well with Belgian beer. I love a tart gueuze with buttery mussels, a rich dubbel with cherry braised rabbit legs, or a boozy golden strong with steak-frites, but more than anything I love an everyday Belgian pale ale with, well, anything! Like the morning's first cup of full city roast coffee, Belgian pale ales are flavorful, smooth, and always delicious. Also like the first cup of coffee, they're perfect with Flemish cinnamon buns ("mastellen" in Flemish, "petits pains a la cannelle" in French). I've made these cinnamon buns many times, and they always turn out delicious. Though they take a while to make, most of the work is done by our friend saccharomyces. This recipe comes from "Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook," as linked to earlier, and is reprinted without the brilliant author's permission.

  • 1/2 oz fresh cake yeast or 1 package active dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 1 c. plus 3 tbsp milk, warmed to 100F
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon (use the very best you can find, it is the dominant flavor in these buns)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt and 1 tsp water (egg wash)

1. Whisk the yeast, 1 tbsp of the sugar, 1 tbsp of the flour, and the warm milk together in a small mixing bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes until foamy.

2. Sift the remaining flour into a large mixing bowl. make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, egg yolk, remaining 3 tbsp sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Use a wooden spoon or stand mixer to gradually work the flour into the liquid. Finally, beat in the butter. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Roll the dough into a ball. Place in a lightly oiled/buttered bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

3. Punch down the dough and remove to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 16 pieces about the size of golf balls. Shape them into balls, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.

4. Lightly butter 2 baking sheets. To shape the buns, press your thumb into the center of each ball all the way down to your work surface. Rotate the ball around your thumb to make a hole in the center, like a doughnut. Arrange the buns on the prepared baking sheets. Brush with the egg wash and let rise, uncovered, in a warm spot until doubled in volume, 1 hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 450F 6. Bake the buns on the middle rack until nicely browned on top, about 10 minutes. Remove and let cool on racks.

C'est bon!