Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

If you grew up in Southern California during the 50's and 60's, you have two very strong memories of local bakery operations which you fondly revisit to this day.  Talk about "taste memories", these two companies built 'em deep and strong for us Boomer SoCal-ians.

One was the Helms Truck.  Think of ice-cream trucks, only with baked goods.  Back in the day, you put a sign in your window, and the Helms truck stopped and Mom ran out to buy bread, doughnuts, cookies, rolls, whatever.  Or you, as the snot-nosed kid, ran out when you heard the "TOOOT-TOOOT" whistle, and watched in awe as the uniformed Helms Man, who also wore a tie and a jaunty hat, (much like a police officer's dress hat), pulled out drawer after wooden drawer filled to the brim with cookies and doughnuts and brownies and jelly rolls and Danishes and other delights, all lined up like sugary soldiers in neat rows.   To me, those drawers were magic.  I can see them still in my mind's eye.  The wood working on them was stunning.  Highly varnished, with dove-tailed joints, and lined with parchment, they stretched the width of the truck, and slid out, smoothly and soundlessly, from the back.  It was absolute nirvana for a kid.  A bakery on wheels !  At your door !  What could possibly be better?

Sadly, as times and consumer habits changed, along with the milkman, the Helms Man passed into memory.  Delivery service stopped in 1969, and Helms products were never offered in supermarkets.   So, when delivery service stopped, Helms sadly faded into the ether of nostalgia and childhood memories.

The other local baked goods icon still exists in a limited form; at least it's brand name does.  Van de Kamp's Holland Dutch Bakery.  Their logo was, of course, a windmill, and it was bright blue, on white packaging.  These products WERE sold in supermarkets, and back in the day they had Van de Kamp's Ladies in the stores, who were sort of what we'd call "brand ambassadors" today.  I think they stocked the display shelves, and answered questions about the products.  The ladies wore starched, white pinafores over bright blue dresses, and they had prim, starched white lace hats.  They all looked like your Aunt Helen.

The Van de Kamp's Ladies are long gone now of course (maybe at the retirement village for long-lost bakery icons, along with the Helms Man...and the milk man !) and the product line is much diminished.

The crown jewel of the Van de Kamp's product line was the "Swedish Twist".  How the "Holland Dutch Bakery" came to perfect something called a "Swedish" Twist is a mystery to me, but perfect it they did.

I hadn't seen one in at least twenty years, when, a few years back, a friend and I were reminiscing about, well, STUFF from a long time ago, and somehow the topic of Van de Kamp's Swedish Twist came up.  We both let loose a deep, thoughtful sigh, and said something along the lines of "sure wish we could find those again, they were GOOOOOOOOD !

The thought of the Swedish Twist stuck in my mind, and one day, on a flier,  I decided to do a web search to see what I could see.  Not much, unfortunately.  Most of the hits I found came back to the Van de Kamp bakery building, and none to any recipes.  I tried a couple more times, and....well....then, I found it.  And since that friend's birthday is today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, VICKI !), I made it over the weekend for her.

So, my friends, what once was lost, is now found.  Let's see how to make the wonder that is the Swedish Twist:

Note that you will want to make these in a disposable pan, and you will want to line that pan with parchment.  We'll be makin' some sticky stuff here.

First up, the cast of characters:

Um, the milk came along for the ride, I guess out of loneliness.  It doesn't get actually used in the recipe.  Carry on...

 Into the bowl of your stand mixer, put the flour, yeast, water, sour cream, egg, sugar and salt.  Sort of (well actually) like this:

Stir that around with the dough hook for a bit, slow at first so the flour doesn't whuummppfff up in your face (don't ask how I know this), and then when it starts to come together and ball up on the hook, increase the speed to medium.  Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until it's nice and elastic.

It should look sort of like this, and not be terribly sticky:

Form it into a nice flattened ball, and put it into an oiled bowl.  Turn it around so all surfaces are covered in a bit of oil.  By the way, the doubler I use is from King Arthur Flour.  I used to have an absolutely awful time telling when something had doubled.  The marking on the side of the doubler really helps with that.


And after.  Yeah, it's doubled.  Yeast is a wonderful thing.

That took about an hour and a half for me.  My kitchen was pretty warm that day.

 Now we're going to make The Twist !  This recipe makes 2 Twists, so you need to divide the dough in half.  A kitchen scale is almost a necessity for me to do this evenly.  So out came the scale:

And on went the dough.  Almost 1 pound, 12 ounces, so we'll call it 28 ounces.  That'd  mean each half needs to be 14 ounces or so.

Then each half gets cut into 3 pieces.  Again, with the scale.  I figured each one should be a skosh over 4 ounces.

Here's the portioned dough.  Bench scraper.  GOOD thing.  Cuts dough nice and smoothly.  Cleans yeasty/doughy residue off counter.  Handy tool.

Now, we're going to flatten out each ball of dough (keep the ones you're not working on under a towel so they don't dry out) into long, flat "snakes" about 15 inches long.  It won't work so well if you try actually rolling them out.  You'll need to stretch and pat and flatten, and if the dough starts to fight you, cover it with a towel and leave it alone for 10 minutes or so for the gluten to relax.

By the way, that is the single most important tip I can give you for success with *any* kind of wheat-flour based dough....bread, cookie, pasta, pie, whatever.  If it starts to fight you, the gluten is not happy and wants to show you who's boss.  Cover it, and walk away.  Send it to the corner for a time out.  Come back in 10 minutes, and it will be putty (or dough) in your hands.

Here's the start of The Twist, all patted out and stretched.  Yes, that's a ruler.  It's that visualization thing again.  It works for me.

Now we'll start the The Twist:

About halfway through:

And, two finished (and nicely braided...errrr....Twisted... if I say so myself) Twists:

Notice the parchment on the disposable pan that I mentioned earlier.  Now, we're going to cover The Twists with some plastic wrap (sprayed with non-stick spray on the side that will touch the dough), then cover that with a towel, and let it rise again until doubled.  This took me about 45 minutes to get to here:

While The Twists are doubling, in a pot mix together the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Bring it to a simmer, and stir until it all melts together in a glorious spicy, sweet, sticky yummy glaze.

Spread this deliciousness over the tops and sides of The Twists.  I used a large spoon, and worked it down, gently, into the crevasses with a silicone pastry brush.  Do the glaze in stages, don't use all the syrup at once.  I did about 1/3 of it, put The Twists in the oven (preheated to 350°) for 5 minutes, glazed another 1/3, back in for another 5 minutes, then used the balance of the glaze.  Each time, I spooned and brushed.  Keep the syrup on a low flame the whole time, or it will start to set.

After each application of the glaze, sprinkle The Twists with coarse or raw sugar.  After about another 20 minutes (that's 30 minutes total), you'll have this:

A yummy, sticky, crunchy tender blast from your past (if you are a Southern Californian of a "certain" age....) or a wonderful new taste memory to savor.  A "Swedish Twist" !

If you need to save The Twists for a day or too, don't wrap them in plastic wrap, the sugar and glaze will soften and melt and slump off.  Wrap them loosely in waxed paper instead.

And yes, Vicki got one, I kept the other.  I'm a good friend, but there *IS* a limit !!!

Here's the complete recipe:

THE Swedish Twist Coffee Cake
(a salute to the glory days of Van de Kamp's bakeries)
Makes 2 loaves

Bread dough
1/4C water
3/4C sour cream
1 egg
3C bread flour
3 Tblsp. white sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. yeast (either instant or active dry is fine)

1/2C butter
1C light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4C light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (use fresh, baby....)

Raw (demerara or turbinado) sugar or coarse sugar, for sprinkling

Prep a 10x13 disposable foil pan by lining with parchment.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put all the dough ingredients into the bowl of a standing mixer.  Mix at low speed, with dough hook, until well combined, then increase speed to medium, and knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.  The dough should be "lightly" sticky, and very flexible.  Oil a large bowl or dough doubler, and with lightly floured hands, shape the dough into a flattened disc.  Put into bowl or doubler, and turn so all surfaces are lightly coated with oil.  Cover container with plastic wrap, and if you wish, a clean towel over that, and set aside to rise until doubled, about 1&1/2 to 2 hours.

After the dough has doubled, with lightly floured hands, put the dough on a pastry board (or counter, don't freak if you don't have a wooden board), and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.  Punch the dough down and split into 2 equal parts in order to make the twists.  A scale here is very helpful.  Separate each half into 3 equal pieces, and stretch each to about 15-inches long.  Stretching, patting and sort of pulling works much better than trying to "roll" ropes of dough.

Loosely braid together 3 pieces of dough for each Twist.  Place the two Twists side by side on the prepared pan.  Spray a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover the pan on one side with non-stick spray.  Place sprayed side down, loosely over the Twists, then cover that with the clean towel.  Allow the Twists to rise until doubled again, about 45 minutes.  When the Twists have doubled, the loaves will almost touch.

While the Twists are rising, mix the glaze ingredients (except for the coarse sugar) in a small saucepan, and heat until melted. (You can also do this in a microwave safe bowl, takes about 1 minute, but for the layering of the glaze, I prefer the stovetop method.)  On stovetop, bring everything to a gentle simmer, and then keep over a very low flame while you're doing the glaze.

When the Twists have fully risen the second time, spoon some of the glaze over the Twists, and ease it into the cracks and crevasses gently using a silicone pastry brush.  Use about 1/3 of the glaze.  Sprinkle with some of the coarse sugar.  Put the Twists into the preheated oven for 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, and apply another third of the glaze, again using a large spoon and pastry brush, gently, as needed.  Sprinkle with more coarse sugar and return the pan to the oven for another 5 minutes.

Again, pull the pan, and apply the last third of the glaze with a spoon and pastry brush.  Sprinkle on a little more of the coarse sugar and return the pan to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the Twists are nicely caramelized and the sugar glaze is crackly set.  Should be about 30 minutes total....you'll be able to smell the wonderful aroma of caramelized, but NOT burnt, sugar.

Let cool in pan on rack, and then slice and serve.  Keeps pretty well for a day or two, but don't wrap in plastic wrap.  Cover loosely in waxed paper or parchment.

This yummy, nostalgic, heartwarming sweet bread has been submitted to Wild Yeast/Yeastspotting.


  1. This looks so delicious! Thank you for sending it to YeastSpotting.

  2. You have done a real mitzvah by posting this recipe. Thank you so much. Van de Kamp's Swedish Twist was the centerpiece of so many memorable Sunday breakfasts when I was growing up 1950s and 1960s Los Angeles. I encountered Swedish Twist again briefly in the late 1970s in Berkeley, California, but the Swedish Twist and the entire Van de Kamp product line sadly disappeared.

    Thanks again!

  3. I seem to remember cardamom instead of cinnamon. Anyone else?

  4. In Sweden it's cardemon (and a bit too much if you ask me). The van de kamp's was cinnamon.