Sugar & Spice and Everything Nice!

Dutch Truffles 05 We are fortunate to live in an age where sugar has become such a commonplace household ingredient. For something so sweet and pleasure giving, its history is wrapped up in every human facet of ingenuity, entrepreneurship and oppression. It has shaped political landscapes and divided the masses. The expense of sugar in former times dictated the occasions at which sweet treats would make an appearance and such consideration still holds today. Once the reserve of only the wealthy, we now add it to the trolley without a second thought; if only to sweeten our tea.

Confectionery for me, meant celebrations. For Indians, it was milk based, sweet nut confections such as the diamond shaped, silver foil topped cashew nut barfis, bright green, squat shaped pistachio pedas or round, deeply golden, sugar soaked, gulab jamuns. These treats came out in huge boxes to celebrate a new baby’s arrival, a marriage and more amusingly, when someone passed the notoriously difficult UAE driving tests! For the same reasons, my Arab colleagues would come round offering floral scented, syrup soaked baklavas, shredded pastries encased with nuts, all of it beautifully lined up and perfectly bite sized. You couldn’t resist licking the sticky residue off your fingers. These are the sweeties of my youth, the scents and colours of my memories and the long forgotten tastes of celebrations. _MG_1222

So you can imagine my delight when I found out that my favourite author was releasing a book solely dedicated to sugar treats. Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, who brought the exceptional Warm Bread and Honey Cake into my home and kitchen, has used her food writing and history knowledge to offer up Sugar and Spice. My zeal and passion for the former is well documented and when her new book was to be released, I was itching with impatience. A good pal took pity on me and before I knew it, my copy was on it’s way to me.

Anticipation turned into panic. My fierce loyalty to Warm Bread and Honey Cake made me doubtful that even the same author could create the same feelings twice. I approached the book with a sense of defeat; it promptly put me to shame. On a first, hasty, greed inducing read through, I felt wonderfully guilty. I was about to betray my first love.

This book is based on nothing but a love of sugar. Within the first few lines of the introduction, you are aware of how much the subject captures the heart of the author; her personal life is interwoven with the towering grass shoots that are sugar canes. From her upbringing in colonial Guyana to some of her post university years spent in Spain and married life in Holland, sugar has been a constant companion informing, educating and pleasing her palate. The information she has collected over time is given to us readers generously, with as wide a repertoire and as much information as the pages allow. Here, every kind of sweet is covered barring the baklavas and filo pastries she covered extensively in Warm Bread and Honey Cake.

We aren’t talking only of how to make multi-coloured marshmallows or salted caramels. The entire book focuses on the original, great, timeless, classic, native sweet treats of various regions, even within the same country. She has identified a common thread amongst them all and combined them accordingly into various chapters. So you will find the Coffee Blocks from The Hague sitting in harmony with the Saffron Nut Toffee Clusters of Iran in the same chapter. Nuts in every form – whole, roasted, salted, candied, ground – in pastes, powders and flaked are covered meticulously. Nougats, Turkish delights/Lokum are explained in thorough detail. The semi-neglected but celebrated milk based sweets of India are given it’s pride of place in the book and include some of my absolute favourites, like Gulab Jamuns, Burfis and Pedas. Toffees, brittles and caramels in every shade of amber, with combinations that include spices, treacle, seeds and nuts cannot but tempt. Little tarts made with dried mangos and paneer, cherry and frangipane, nut lace pastries and pistachio short crusts make one of the prettiest chapters of the book. Chocolate – oh she likes her chocolate – has been truffle-d, brownie-d and tart-ed to the max, but never vulgarily so. I had a pinch of affection when I saw a chapter dedicated to shortbreads, the authentic Scottish types, down to those infused with flower waters and syrups, or tinged with matcha powder. The extensive marzipan chapter has converted me, a savage marzipan hater (I’ve only had the commercial varieties reeking of cheap almond essence) to someone eating lumps of the paste before they could even get to their final form. And don’t get me started on the decadent fudge and tablets. My dentist is laughing…all the way to the bank.

All my forays into the book here, were straightforward. I had no doubts or questions while wielding a sugar thermometer in a pan. There is a talent to writing recipes; you want to give enough information without overwhelming the reader, particularly when it comes to confectionary. It has to be thorough, but succinct and this author possesses that gift. Confectionery work is a lot about science and with each attempt, you learn something more and add knowledge to inform your instincts. So stick with the instructions given, don’t substitute caster sugar when it calls for granulated (arhem..disaster), unless stated and have a bit of patience. If you are short on such a virtue as I am, this is a rather pleasant way of developing it, with a tangible reward at the end for your good endeavours!

S&S The Patterned Plate1

Gram flour sweets / Chocolate Orange Brownies

S&S The Patterned Plate3

Carribean Toolums – A hard coconut and dark sugar sweet. Indian Pistachio Pedas – A sweet, milk based treat

S&S The Patterned Plate4

Ginger & Orange Fudge. Pine Nut & Almond Clusters

Macademia Brittle copy

Macademia Nut Brittle

This is a beautifully produced book, from the eye pleasing typography, the pastel colour tones of the pages and the uncluttered, pared down style of the photography. There is a sense of light playfulness in the design which is a reflection of what sweet making at home should feel like. Gaitri’s writing is as ever warm and inviting and there is so much variety to choose from that everyone’s palate can be catered for. With every recipe I’ve made, this book has endeared itself to me so much more.

I chose to post the recipe for the Dutch Cream Truffles. I cannot explain how seductive the textures are. Think of biting into a crisp shell of dark, bitter chocolate, followed by a sweet, melting, silken, vanilla infused buttery cream and having the two merge and melt together on your tongue. That kind of taste that draws silence at the table. Better yet, it can be made a few days in advance and can be frozen for up to a month. Bring it to room temperature for an hour before eating. It would make a cracking hostess gift or a wee something to bring out with coffee. If there are any of you who like to make something special for Valentine’s Day, then this little number will hit all the right notes.

In conclusion – if you want to become an intrepid explorer of the world of confectionary, Gaitri will be there to steer your course. This is the book I will turn to, if I want to make something extra special; a bang in a small bite. Truly, the satisfaction that comes from making these treats yourself is only surpassed by the look of enjoyment on the recipients faces. Priceless.

Dutch Cream Truffles

  • Servings: 24 truffles
  • Print
From Sugar and Spice by Gaitri Pagrach-Chanda

For the filling
200ml/ 7fl oz /generous 3/4 cup whipping cream
100g/ 3 1/2 oz / 1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2-1 vanilla pod (best) 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (preferable to extract) or 1 tsp vanilla extract
150g / 51/2 oz / 11 tbsp (scant 3/4 cup) softened, room temperature butter

For the coating
35-40g / 1 1/4-1 1/2 oz / generous 1/3 – scant 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
250g / 9 oz squares of dark chocolate, broken into pieces*

: This method is completely different from the usual method for truffles. Please read through before proceeding to make the truffles.

Put the cream and sugar in a small saucepan. Add the scraped vanilla bean seeds/paste/extract to the pan and let the mixture heat up very slowly. Take it off the heat as soon as the sugar has dissolved and leave to get to room temperature. Take care NOT to boil the cream. I found that the cream didn’t need to heat up greatly and I was able to use the cream within 10-15 minutes. Check the heat before the next step.

Using the whisk attachment, whisk the butter until soft and smooth. Pour the room temperature sweet cream mixture in a thin stream onto the butter while whisking. The mixture will curdle and look lumpy but continue pouring slowly, scraping down the sides as needed. Whisk on a slightly higher speed than medium (6 on the Kitchen Aid) for a few minutes, until you see the mix become smooth and glossy like a silky buttercream. Stop whisking when the mixture can hold it’s shape. If it’s slightly soft, place in the fridge for a few minutes to help cool it.

Line 2 baking sheets with greaseproof paper/wax paper/silicone sheets. Using two dessert spoons, shape a spoonful of the mixture into quenelles, or long oval shapes, by transferring the mixture from one spoon to the other shaping it as you do so into a domed oval. Slide onto the sheet, using the other spoon to help transfer it. Stick a toothpick/cocktail stick vertically through the centre of the oval, all the way to the other end. Put the trays in the freezer and leave the ovals to freeze.

For the coating; scatter half the cocoa powder, over a baking sheet. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool until around 30 deg. If the chocolate is too warm and liquid, it will give too thin a coat on the cream ovals. Close to blood temperature is good enough. Remove the ovals from the freezer. Holding them with the toothpick, dip them quickly into the chocolate, coating it all round and tap the toothpick rapidly on the side of the bowl to remove excess chocolate. Place carefully on the cocoa powder. Continue with all the ovals. You may need to reheat the chocolate slightly half way through.

When all the ovals have been dipped and the chocolate has set, carefully remove the toothpick. You can coat the hole with a bit of chocolate using a toothpick, if you want. Put the rest of the cocoa into a sieve and dust each truffle generously. Turn them over gently and dust any bald patches. Place in the fridge to set fully before packing into containers with sheets of greaseproof paper between the layers.

These will stay in the fridge for a few days (if you can manage that) or frozen for a month. Remove from the fridge about half an hour before serving and serve at room temperature for the best texture and flavour.

* I am loathed to melt more chocolate than necessary. I needed only a 100gm but this depends on how big or small your quenelles are. Should you have leftover chocolate, make chocolate discs as Gaitri has shown in the book. Place teaspoons of the chocolate spaced well apart on a sheet ( Mix in a bit of liquer or orange extract into the melted chocolate if you like)Β and top with anything you like…nuts, fruit or sprinkles. Or you can make my Chocobites.

69 thoughts on “Sugar & Spice and Everything Nice!

  1. Sarvani

    Oh my Carrie.. you know how to sell a book and I can also see how busy the book has kept you!! :)) have really been waiting for your review.. I like my cookbooks to be more than just a collection of recipes..and this one sounds like right up my alley!! definitely need to have a look at it!!

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Yes, it’s kept me happily busy! I couldn’t give a review based on first impressions, I wanted to get stuck in to really understand the book and besides, it makes a prettier post! The kids have been on sugar highs for weeks hahaa! This book is definitely special.

  2. icingsugar2

    Hmm thinking about buying this one, too πŸ˜‰ Being half Dutch it is kind of funny to see Dutch recipes appear in such a multicultural looking book πŸ˜€ Thanks for sharing it with us! Take care πŸ™‚

    1. The Patterned Plate

      My pleasure Rebecca! You are not alone; a Dutchman I know said that he didn’t realise what a rich baking tradition The Nederlands had until he read through Gaitri’s first book Warm Bread and Honey Cake. She has also just received an award for the best cookbook of the year in The Nederlands for her new Nederlands Baking Book, written in Dutch. Apparently, there are heaps of traditional recipes from this country. Waiting on that one to get translated!

      1. icingsugar2

        That is so true! I am also half Austrian, and actually they do have a big baking tradition there which I grew up with and highly appreciated it. But when I moved back to the Netherlands a few years ago, I was so disappointed because it seemed that there wasn’t a lot of baking going on at all… It took me quite some time to find all my different ingredients to be honest πŸ˜‰ So I am really curious what recipes I can find in this book! I am actually just working on a recipe of “Gevulde Koek” which is typically Dutch. Now we are living in Switzerland so we can’t buy them any more and I want to try it myself πŸ˜‰ Don’t know if there is a recipe in the book as well πŸ˜‰ Take care!

        1. The Patterned Plate

          I have just asked said Dutchman and he confirms that the Gevulde Koek is in her current Dutch publication. Here is the link to the book πŸ™‚

          You seemed to have travelled around the area a fair bit Rebecca, which is always interesting for a person interested in food. You are fortunate too, that these places have a strong baking culture. Oh to go to Austria for a proper apple strudel. There was a bakery in Abu Dhabi where I grew up that made them and we would go as a family from time to time and I never deviated from ordering a warm slice of this. Heaven! I know there is probably an infinite variety of goods to be eaten, but this is the first on the list!

          1. icingsugar2

            Oh that is good to know, thanks so much! So I guess that is the next baking book on my wishlist πŸ˜‰ Unless I can come up with a recipe on my own, haha! Well I have traveled a bit and lived in a few countries, but I am not as multicultural as you are I guess πŸ˜€ And yes, apple strudel is the best! Especially the one my grandma used to make, of course πŸ™‚ And speaking of apples, the famous Dutch apple cake is really the best thing in Dutch cuisine πŸ˜‰ So I guess it all comes down to apples πŸ˜€

            1. The Patterned Plate

              Oooh I’ve made the appel tart (appeltaart) from Warm Bread and Honey cake, a Dutch staple and that was utterly delicious! I adore apples, in puddings, tarts, with cheese, baked, stewed…can you tell I am a fan!!

  3. lardersaga

    Spoilingly I also got given this wonderful book for Christmas and can’t wait to delve into the sweet treats. I love the idea that one book has just been dedicated to such naughty goodies. Appropriate name!! Your post has inspired me to get cooking, thank you. Fab photos as always (yours, I mean).

  4. Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra

    Carrie, you are absolutely incredible… I thought you had used up all your praise in bringing Warm Bread and Honey Cake to the attention of the world, but here you are again, with equally lovely things to say about Sugar & Spice. I’m so glad that you are enjoying this new journey of exploration. Thank you so much for this fantastic review! (And I’m a sucker too, for the Dutch cream truffles – among countless others πŸ˜‰

  5. Hannah

    ah Carrie, such a beautifully written review and as usual stunning photography. Can’t wait to get my hands on the book!

  6. Val McArthur

    Carrie – you’re writing and photography are absolutely beautiful. I’m in awe. As a fellow food blogger, can you offer me some tips on finding gorgeous props on a budget? You seem to have an endless supply!

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Thank you very much for your kind words Val!

      With regard to props; I tend to shop sales and since it’s just one or two things I buy, rather than a set of something, it’s not too extravagant. Some things I buy in bulk, like 8 little cake plates from Zara Home as I use them when I have friends over. I don’t have access to charity shops or car boot sales but those kinds of places always have something to offer, if you have time and a nose like a bloodhound for a good find!

      Also, scarves are useful as backdrops/table linen and I find kitchen towels immensely useful. For linen, look for end of roll, end of line cloth, as these are usually discounted.

      Pinterest is filled with loads of tutorials for making your own cake stands out of cheap pound items, or repurposing objects for backgrounds and props.

      Most of all, always keep that prop finding radar on and be imaginative. πŸ™‚

  7. thespicysaffron

    You have sold it , carrie!! Brilliantly written book review/Post !! love love love the photos:) will start my venture into the book soon , very soon( lil busy shifting, country hopping to be precise:)

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Hahah! Thanks Shalini! I know you’ve been waiting on this and glad to see you weren’t disappointed. You can baptise your new kitchen with a bake from the book πŸ˜‰ Brownies, are the easiest and most delicious way to go! Good luck with the move, hope it’s not TOO stressful!

  8. Ann Koekepan

    What more to say? All is said… you are amazing and love your warm blogging. With lots of witty writing too. You make people want what you cook! That is good bloging and good photography! All prease for you!

  9. NYinRome

    Hi Carrie, just had a minute to finally read through your post. You’ve certainly made a leap in the right direction. Your writing, your photos and your enthusiasm all comes together wonderfully. And now lets talk about your baking and makings in the kitchen! I would bet an unbelievable amount of money that you have your readers actually licking their computer screens after reading a post and oggling photos like these, lol!
    I cannot keep up with you in the kitchen, but I do agree none the less that Ms. Chandra has wonderful charm style intelligence and magic in writing a recipe that you cannot help not falling in love. This book will be on my wish list. πŸ˜‰ xx

  10. Stephanie

    Beautiful photo of the brownies! You should skim a copy of Sidney Mintz’s Sweetness and Power if you’re interested in the history/anthropology of sugar. It’s a bit dense, but fascinating.

  11. Lokness

    These truffles look incredible! They look so soft and creamy. I wish I can have some right now. Thanks for sharing. I think I need to make these soon!

  12. Rushi!

    Carrie you your enthusiasm made me add this book to my collection last year and I’m glad I did. That ginger fudge is so moreish, it just vasnished before my very eyes πŸ™‚ Have you made her madelines? They are little pillows of delight. The recipes for the Indian sweets just transports you back to colourful India, one of my favourties is the coconut burfi. My mom makes those but I think she leaves out the powdered milk. I’m yet to try her brownies and truffles which I will do in the near future. This book is a treasure trove πŸ™‚

    Carrie great job on yet another brilliant post with stunning pics.
    Lotsa hugs

    1. The Patterned Plate

      So pleased to see you enthusiastic about your purchase and you don’t regret it! Thanks for the compliments πŸ™‚ No, I haven’t made the madrilenes yet Rushi, there is SOOO much to make and so little time. Plus she mentioned in that wee nugget of info, that traditional British ones were quite tall and straight sided. So of course, I want the right tin to try that hahha!! Oh dear!

  13. Allison (Spontaneous Tomato)

    Wow, you are such a lovely writer, and the photographs… the photographs! (Especially the top brownie one.) I had already added “Warm Bread and Honey Cake” to my wish list because of your rave review, and now I have another book to add to the list, as well!

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Thanks Allison and you know, the Brownie is my favourite pic too. The colours and textures just work so well! And oh, the taste of them! Wonderful! Warm Bread and Honey Cake is a treasure trove and a book that you dip into over and over again, spanning years, it’s that kind of book. You know how I love it and this, comes just as close.

  14. Amy

    Sold! Your wonderful review has meant I have just ordered my copy! I had not even heard of the book before and your beautiful writing made a sale! Thank you!

    1. The Patterned Plate

      WHoa!!! Fast work Amy! I do hope you like it and would love to hear what you think of it, if you made anything out of it…you get the idea! Enjoy, enjoy!

      PS: I reviewed the predecessor to this book Warm bread and Honey Cake on this blog, if you want to take a look at it as it’s written by the same author. She is my favourite cookbook author, period.

  15. Lucy

    These recipes sound so good and the name slagroomtruffels made me giggle as it makes them sound even more naughty but nice! Are you able to share Gaitri’s baklava recipe?

    1. The Patterned Plate

      LOL…It’s a funny sounding word…try saying it with a mouthful of them! Gaitri hasn’t covered the leaf, filo and thread pastries in this book. It’s extensively dealt with in Warm Bread and Honey Cake. Check my review if you would like to know more about it πŸ™‚

  16. islandfoodie

    Not that I need another cookbook to feed my sugar addiction… but now I think I do. After living for months without my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer and food processor (packed in moving boxes), I feel the need to make up for lost time and try these recipes! Thanks for sharing these, and gorgeous photos as well! How do you do it?

    1. The Patterned Plate

      MONTHS??? I had a panic attack! Three weeks was as much as I could cope with and I remember being desperately wanting to bake in the new home here in Doha, that I resorted to a bowl and wooden spoon to cream the butter and sugar…oh the agony! You were in Guam if I remember correctly…so where in the world are you now ? πŸ˜‰

      As for the photos; a lot of time, a lot of camera fiddling, a lot of swearing and a lot of computer fiddling! Somehow it comes together. Glad you like ’em πŸ™‚

  17. Lucy

    Just gorgeous. I am definitely going to make these truffles and may have to treat myself to the book because of all the lovely delicious sounding treats you have listed.

  18. Amy

    Thank you for sharing the recipe for this decadent creamy truffles. They were delicious with both milk and dark chocolate (and full amount used).

  19. Thanh @ eat, little bird

    As always, stunning photos and a stunning review of this book. I haven’t seen it in the bookshop here yet but I’m thinking I might have to order it online anyway … your enthusiasm is always infectious! The Dutch Cream Truffles look amazing! I could have a plate of those please πŸ™‚

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