30 October 2009

47 letters to name a single bread

I have already written about Bäcker Süpke's wholegrain spelt bread with whole grains a few weeks ago.

But since then, I've made this bread several times, and it always turned out flawlessly. It's nothing I could claim any credit for, but I thought it too good a recipe not to post it here. And, seeing how charming Meister Süpke is in his comments, I don't really think he'd mind the extra publicity.

So I sat down and translated the original recipe, hoping to spread this around the blogosphere a little.

There are only two minor changes I made to the original recipe, apart from the translation, that is.

For one, I balked at the thought of adding the soft, boiled grains to the dough at the very beginning and kneading them for half an hour. I feared they would completely disintegrate and so I decided to add them only for the last ten minutes. And it works very well, the grains remain whole and apparently it makes for something like a double hydration technique, with the dough being able to build up strength before I add the final bits of liquid with the grains.

Also, the original recipe calls for a bit of 'Brotgewürz', bread spices. Which is all very nice, but also entirely undefined as far as I know. So I guessed and used ground caraway and coriander seeds in equal proportions. Which turned out to be one of my smarter ideas lately. Both spices blend pitch perfectly with the taste of the spelt, warming and brightening the taste without being really distinguishable on their own.

This bread has become a constant fixture of our diet, and I can only stress that it is the least 'healthy' tasting whole-grain bread I've ever come across. It never stops to amaze me that it's really brown and not grey, that it's rather sticky than crumbly, open-crumbed and yet perfectly sliceable with a nice but demure crunch to the crust.

Roasted in the oven with just a few drops of honey until the corners start to turn dark, this bread makes a perfect treat on its own, or a great coaster underneath a grillt goat's cheese, or basically anything that needs a solid, earthy partner.

The only thing I am not really happy with is the name, unwieldy as it is. Even in German with its infatuation with endless strings of words it's a rare thing to need 47 letters to name a single bread. But for a bread with such a long list of strong points, I am more than willing to put up with a lot, even this behemoth of a name.

Bäcker Süpke's
wholegrain spelt bread with whole grains

(translation and any mistakes are mine)
(makes two 850g loafs)

for the boiled grains
200g spelt grains
400ml water

for the sourdough
340g wholegrain spelt meal
10g ripe sourdough starter
340g warm water

for the soaker
200g wholegrain spelt flour
20g salt
120g water

for the final dough
190g wholegrain spelt flour
10g dry yeast (one sachet)
40g runny honey
1 heaped teaspoon ground caraway
1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander seeds (or more, to taste)

for decoration
rolled spelt, about 2 tablespoons

On the day before baking, bring the grains and the water to boil in a small pot. Cover and leave to simmer gently for about 10 minutes, then take off the flame, stir, and set aside, covered.

Mix all the ingredients for the sourdough until just incorporated. Cover and set aside.

Mix all the ingredients for the soaker until just incorporated. Cover and set aside.

Leave all three bowls to ferment overnight in a cool room, but not the fridge, for a minimum of 16 hours.

On the day of baking, combine the sourdough, the soaker and the final ingredients in the bowl of your mixer and knead at lowest speed for twenty(sic) minutes.
I am not kidding. The original recipe says twenty minutes and the dough really needs every second of it. You'll see, in this case it makes all the difference between wet flour and a dough.

Leave to proof for an hour.

Deflate the dough and add the boiled, cold grains.
The original recipe says to discard eventually remaining water, but I add it to keep the amount of added water identical each time. Never had much of it left with the grains, anyway.

Knead at low speed for another ten minutes.
That's half an hour kneading all together. Any wheat dough would be a neat rubber ball by now, but here, it just works perfectly.

Pour into a rectangular baking tin lined with non-stick paper. Even the dough and cover loosely with the rolled spelt.

Leave to proof in a warm place for about an hour to one hour and a half.
The dough will increase about 20% in volume at most, and when ready will stop springing back if gently poked.

Preheat your oven to 220°C. Bake with steam for the first minutes and immediately reduce temperature to about 160°C.

Bake for 100 minutes.

Take out and leave to cool on a rack. Rest a day or at least until fully cooled before cutting.

Freezes perfectly well, and tastes especially well toasted.
We usually bake on stock and freeze the sliced  bread, thawing individual slices in the toaster. Talk about two sparrows and one stone.

Some more wise remarks of Bäcker Süpke:
  • Always add all the salt to the soaker. Otherwise, the enzymes of the wholegrain flour will produce harmful byproducts leading to a grumbling stomach.
  • Wholegrain doughs, especially wholegrain spelt doughs, have to be wet - rather add a little more water.
  • Bake long and 'slow' to get all that moisture out of the bread.
  • Always use very little yeast and long final proofs, else you wouldn't get a sliceable bread.
  • Playing with the honey and the spices is a great way of tweaking this recipe!

P.S.: And once more, this post wil be sent to the YeastSpotting section of Susan's formidable blog Wild Yeast, a home baker's resource I can hardly recommend too much.

29 October 2009

one of the nicest gifts

Last weekend, my parents came over for my father-in-law's birthday. And my dad brought me a special gift: a pot of rillettes, made by himself, after this recipe.

Of course he tweaked the recipe a little, but still. Does it make any sense that I feel poud about this? I mean, like, really happy and proud. Maybe it's the fact that my site here inspired him to cook something nice, my parent taking a clue from something I did.

What ever it it, that little pot is one of the nicest gifts I've been given in quite a while.

25 October 2009

stuffed like Hobbits

Other people have Halloween, we in our family have my father-in-law's birthday.

Not that I'm implying it's a scary event, but there is a certain amount of suspense involved every year. He likes to have themed dinners for his birthday, and after last year's classic German sixties buffet, we decided to aim higher and try to set up a proper Hawaiian luau.

Well, 'proper' in this regard surely is something of a stretch, as we have no beach, the weather here currently is nothing but drizzle, and definitely nothing tropical on offer right now. And I sure as hell wasn't going to go into our muddy garden and dig up an imu for a slow-roasted pig.

So, a little bit like last year, we didn't take the truly scientfic route and instead decided to stick with our idea of a luau - and it turned out pretty great, actually.

We had pulled porc made with liquid smoke in the oven, pineapple chutney and another one with green tomatoes. There were cheap silk flower leis for the ladies and equally thrifty shirts for the guys in lurid colours and palm leaves on the table.

We had honey-garlic meatballs, coconut-crusted prawns and lime-cured salmon salad, enough rice and sweet potatoes to feed a whole army. And of course, Mai Tais and beer, wasabi-crusted peanuts and what felt to me like one hundred nibbles I am too lazy to list up. We finished with coconut muffins and pineapple parfait, stuffed like Hobbits.

It was great, great fun and exceedingly exotic for German standarts. I learned a lot, and the coconut prawns with pineapple chutney were a real keeper.

Now all I have left to do is clean up the kitchen and then kick off my shoes for a truly lazy sunday afternoon of doing nothing. Aloha.

24 October 2009

sunny side up

The first time I heard of a 'fried egg cake', it was when some friend at school invited me over. His mother had some leftover cake from a birthday, and there would even be said 'fried egg cake'.

As I am struck with the mixed blessing of an extremely vivid and active imagination, the prospect filled me with disgust and fascination at the same time. Of course, I agreed.

It was both a relief and a disappointment when the 'fried egg cake' turned out not to contain even a single fried egg. Instead, it only looked like a platter of fried eggs, with dozens of halved apricots shining like so many sweet yolks, sunny side up.

Over the years, I have come across countless versions of this cake, and probably every household in Germany has its own.

This is my take on the 'fried egg cake, and it actually is one of my favourites. I love the combination of a crispy, crunchy base, creamy but not too custardy topping with chunks of tangy fruit and the bright notes of apricot jam spiked with lemon juice.

Unfortunately, this is one of the few cases my wife and I wholeheartedly disagree - while a crunchy base for me is an absolute must, she can't stand it. Actually, she would prefer me not to blind bake the base at all, turning the whole thing into a spoonable dessert rather than a cake to be eaten in slices.

Well, as much as I adore her, no chance in hell with this cake. It's mine.

fried egg cake (sunny side up)
(one baking sheet of 16 decent helpings)

for the pastry base
500g all-purpose flour
250g cold butter in small pieces
100g unrefined cane sugar
10g vanilla sugar
a pinch of salt
1 egg

for the batter
600g creamcheese
100g sugar
2 tablespoons corn- or potato-starch
20g vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
3 eggs

about 700g canned apricots without sirup

2 tablespoons apricot jam
one teaspoon of lemon juice

Preheat your oven to about 180°C.

Combine all the ingredients for the pastry base in the bowl of your mixer. Using the whisk attachment, mix until crumbs form, about the size of coarse sand to small peas.
Once you are beyond the 'small pea' stage, it'll take only a few seconds more before the dough coalesces into one single, solid lump. Which isn't a real problem, but hard on your mixer and means additional work when rolling out the dough.

Line a high-rimmed baking sheet with non-stick paper. Pour in the crumbs and distribute them evenly, then press down (or roll out) and close any eventual gaps.
There's no need to form a rim as long as the baking sheet is high enough.

Bake blind for about 15 minutes, take out as soon as the first spots start to brown.

Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients for the batter except the eggs. Once the mix is smooth, add the eggs, one by one, always mixing until you have a smooth batter before adding the next egg.

Take out the base and pour the batter onto the hot pastry.
Please take note that this is the amount of batter filling my high-rimmed baking sheet as it should. That is, about a finger wide on top of the pastry. Your's may vary.

Put the apricots into the batter, with their rounded side up. Try to distribute them evenly across the whole cake.
Canned apricots can be a little difficult to get onto the dough 'sunny-side up', as the slippery bastards always try to end up the other way round. At least, that's what they do with me. If one of your apricots gets 'battered', take it out again and clean it under the tab - it'll just look odd and messy if you don't. (Actually, I always take more apricots than I need and eat those I dropped into the batter. Just between you and me...)

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C and bake the cake until the batter is firm(ish) and starts to brown.
Traditionally, the batter should just set and shouldn't brown at all. But as I am one of those persons who like the fried eggs with a tiny, crispy golden fringe, I actually like it when my cake looks at least golden and not so anaemic.

Put the apricot jam into a small bowl and warm gently until runny.
A few seconds in the microwave should do the trick nicely.

Add the lemon juice and stir until smooth.
You could run the jam through a sieve at this point to get an extra-glossy finish, but I usually skip this part.

Take the cake out of the oven and glaze with the apricot jam while still hot.

Leave to cool slightly, then slice into squares. Best served warm and on its own, though still works nicely with vanilla ice-cream.

Keeps well for a few days, but gets messy when stacked. Try not to store in the fridge, as the jam glaze will attract even more moisture there and can turn the cake soggy overnight.

20 October 2009

all is well in drizzly Germany

Found out something new this weekend:

While fried octopus usually is a tough and sorry affair, cooked and skinned octopus, prepared as for a salad such as this, stays moist and tender yet gets perfectly crispy in the pan.

Deglazed with lots of lemon juice, this is almost a dish on its own... Add some garlic smetana, and all is well in drizzly Germany.

18 October 2009

savoury cousins

Two of my strongest childhood impressions concerning food are, once again, deeply connected with my family's vacations in France.

One of them is the image of 'Aunt' Odette, making crêpes in front of her caravan on a farm somewhere in rural France. I can vividly remember her lurid yellow frock, her long, pink-lacquered fingernails and her huge earrings, while she made the crêpes in a single pan on a camping gas burner. She challenged us kids to try and pick the crêpes out of the pan with our bare fingers like she did, but we never managed. Probably her long, artificial fingernails gave her quite an unfair advantage in that particular discipline.

There was a whole gaggle of kids waiting in line for her treats, orderly like you'd have never guessed only a few minutes before. And those crêpes were the best in the world right then. Filled with nothing more but sugar or jam, those filigree pancakes pacified a whole bunch of unruly children better than anything.

The other image is a memory of me sitting in the cool farmhouse kitchen of Mémé Bréard in Brittany, with with her short, smiling husband sitting next to me. At that time, my French was rudimentary at best, and Mémé needed gestures and a lot of smiles to teach me how to wrap my buckwheat crêpe, a 'galette', around a small, fried sausage and dip it in a 'bol' of buttermilk to eat.

It was an assembly of foods that was so very alien to me I could hardly believe it tasted so good. Her husband's gap-toothed grin made clear he was proud to have such a good eater with him at the table.

Those images are among the first memories of foreign food making a seriously positive impression on me, and probably are to be credited for making me (at least partially) the curious eater that I am today.

Crêpes and their savoury cousins, the buckwheat 'galettes', were among the first things I learned to poperly cook on my own. At least, that is how I remember it, they definitely were the first dish that no-one else at home knew how to make, the first dish I really 'owned'.
And the memory of Aunt Odette flipping the crêpes right in the pan with her bare fingers irked me for so long that I learned how to flip them without touching them at all. It took me a few years, admittedly, but now I look like a real pro handling several pans at the same time.

What I actually want to say is - crêpes and galettes have always been part of my cooking life, and can be everything from simple treat to a truly eye-catching, show-off dessert. I still smile when I think of that HUGE burning platter of Crêpes Guadeloupe, filled with caramelized banana and flambéed with rum, that I carried onto a dinner table one evening... I love them, and my wife loves them, and almost anyone I know agrees.

Though what astonishes me every time, though, is how many people think they're terribly difficult to make or that you need a special pan and whatnots to make them. You do need a little practise, right, but apart from that - nothing you don't already have in your kitchen.

So I decided not only to write down a recipe this time, but also to add a little tutorial for those who have never made crêpes at home, or galettes, for that matter. I'll put the tutorial into a separate post, as I do not want to clutter up the recipe and keep the tutorial as streamlined as possible. If you already know how to make crêpes, you can just skip the tutorial, I do not presume to be able to add anything to your method. But if this all seems very daunting, have a look, maybe I can help you make your first crêpe. It's well worth it.

I can only repeat how lovely and versatile both crêpes and their savoury cousins are. Variantions are almost endless, and range from simple sugar or jam to nutella and straberries, orange butter and cointreau or said caramellized bananas and rum for the sweet version alone.
The galettes are mostly eaten warm, with a bit of salted butter or some cheese and a bit of bacon inside, or a fried egg and ham. The classic way of eating them in Britanny (at least as I got to know it) is to shred then into small bits and then have them cold in a bowl of buttermilk for breakfast, pretty much like a cereal. If you roll up the galette and cut it into very fine strips, you end up with something like a cold buckwheat noodle soup, wich doesn't merely look nice but also tastes pretty amazing.

galettes bretonnes
(crêpes du sarrasin dit blé noir)
(generously serves four)

250g buckwheat flour, sieved
3 eggs

500ml milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
a pinch of sugar

some neutral oil for the pan

In a large bowl, mix the flour, the eggs, butter, salt and sugar and a tiny bit of the milk, about 50ml. Mix with a wooden spoon until you get a smooth but still stiff batter.

To get the crêpes as thin and smooth as possible, you'll need a very liquid batter with as little incorporated air as possible. A wooden spoon or a dough whisk seem to be the only option, here, as all appliances I have tried so far gave me a foamy batter that yielded mostly failures.
You can try to work with a little more milk at the beginning to make the work easier on your arms. But as soon as the batter gets too moist, the flour will remain lumpy, and no beating and kneading will get 'les grumeaux' out again.

Add about 100ml of the remaining milk and mix until well incorporated. Then repeat with about 200ml first and then the rest of the remaining milk.
The batter should be very liquid, like a light creamy soup and barely cover the back of a spoon.

Leave to rest for at least half an hour, two hours would be best.

Start baking the galettes one by one following these instructions.
If you already know how to make your crêpes in a common non-stick pan, just make them as you always did. I do not presume to be able to add anything to your method. But if you are still convinced that making crêpes (or galettes, for that matter) calls either for a) some mythical skill or b) any equipment you don't already own, have a look. I learned how to make crêpes over a single gas burner on a camping site in 'la France profonde' when I was 10, and it really is that simple.

Stack them on a plate nearby and continue until you have used all your batter.

Serve hot with salted butter, or bacon and cheese, or cheese and a fried egg or even a fried sausage inside. Cold, the go very well with cream cheese, or smetana and smoked trout or basically anything you can come up with.
In Britanny, they were traditionally served in shreds in a bowl of buttermilk, the local lait ribot, as a breakfast, which is actually one of my prefered ways of eathing these.

The classic drink to accompany the galettes would be a nice, dry cidre, a sparling apple wine, though a crisp, cool beer works almost as well.

They keep very well in the fridge as long as they are tightly wrapped, but don't freeze well.

(Probably needless to say, but if you substitute the buckwheat flour with all-purpose wheat flour and add a lot less salt but much more sugar, you end up with a classic crêpe batter.)

crepe tutorial

These instructions are meant to help those who have never made any crêpes before. If you already make them on a regular basis - skip this whole entry, you'll probably know better than I do anyway. This is purely they way I have learned how to make them and have tried to make the process more efficient and failsafe over the years.
(Actually, it's almost a quarter century of experience, now that I come to think of it. OMG.)

you need:
a common non-stick pan
a wooden or plastic spatula
a small bowl with about two tablespoons of neutral oil
some sheets of paper towel
an assortment of various soup-ladles
a plate for the crêpes
and of course, your batter (recipe here)

A few words on the pan:
A) non-stick surface has to be as unmarred as possible. Theoretically, crepes can be made in any kind of pot or pan with a flat bottom - but I'm really not bored enough to ever have tried.
B) Also, the lower the angle of the pan's rim, the easier it will be to flip the crêpes. Which, of course, would only be necessary if you'd want to show off. But sometimes, that's part of the point, isn't it?
C) The pan can be any size you like - but medium sized pans and their subsequent crêpes are best to handle and work for any filling or topping you have in mind.

the 'mise en place'
Ignore if you are working with one pan only. But if you're in a hurry and / or are using two or even more pans at the same time, thinking about the setup will save you some precious time and a lot of a mess.
These instructions are for right-handers, lefties please flip accordingly.

Batter goes far right of the stove.
Bowl with oil and small plate for paper towel and spatula front right.
Plate for crêpes front left.

This ensures that none of your hands will (normally) have to cross the stove. It also minimizes the ways both the batter and the oil have to travel to the pans.
This might seem silly considering what little distances your hands have to cross, but when keeping in mind that making a large batch of crepes can easily turn out several hundred of them, each milimeter makes a difference.

actually making crêpes

Preheat the pan(s) to medium heat.

Grease by wiping the pan with a paper towel dipped in oil, it really only needs a greasy sheen.
Yes, you wipe the hot pans with a paper towel. This is how you get asbestos fingertips. Or learn how to fold paper towel really thick...

The pan is hot enough when a drop of the batter dries in about ten to fifteen seconds.
You should be able to loosen the drop by merely nudging it with the spatula. If the drop sticks, wipe away with the oiled paper towel and leave the pan on the stove for a few moments longer before trying again. The oil should never start smoking, though.

Stir up the batter with a soup ladle before making the first crêpe.
Especially when making galettes, the batter might have separated a little, depending on the coarseness of your flour.
Also, pick the ladle according to the size of your pan - ideally one full ladle should yield exactly enough batter to cover the pan once. If in doubt, rather err on too small a ladle than one too large - it's easy to fill gaps, but impossible to make a thick, stiff crêpe thinner.

Pour one ladle of batter all at once into the pan, right below the handle.

Then, in a continuous motion, tilt the pan to the left, then down, then to the right, and then up. The batter will spread out and flow downwards, so by continuously changing where 'down' is you can effectively cover the whole pan with a whisper-thin sheet of batter before it has time to set.
Imagine you were rolling a ball along the bottom corner of your pan in a slow, controlled circular motion. If you are not sure of what I am talking, this actually is a great way of training it. Take the pan of your choice and a small ball (A tennis or a golf- or baseball, but an orange, a marble or even a glug of water would work just as well.) Try to roll the ball around in your pan by tilting the pan, in a slow, steady motion. You should be able to stop the ball at any place of the pan without the little thing rolling back and forth. If you can do that, you're only inches away from complete mastery of the batter in your pan.

My wife and I have tried to capture me 'rolling around the batter' in the pan, so you might get a better idea of what I am talking about here. I admit the images looks all very unprofessional, but I still think it helps a lot more to see than to read.

To the left and down...

Down and to the right...

And up...

Left and down again...


Put the pan back onto the flame and mend eventual gaps with a few drops of batter.
Most of the times, that one darn drop hanging underneath the ladle will be just what you need to fix those tiny gaps that just seem to be unavoidable every now and then.

Once the surface of the crêpe has lost its wet sheen and the borders of the crêpe start browning, see if you can loosen the crêpe with the spatula.
In a really well-seasoned pan, you actually can just shake it loose.

Once the crêpe is nicely browned (as brown as you like it) turn around or flip in the pan.

When the other side is as brown as you like it, flip again and slip onto the plate to your left.

Wipe the pan with the oiled paper towel and start the whole process over, step by step creating a neat little pile of crêpes.
You can see that where the batter was poured up the rim of the pan, it turned very thin and crisp, almost tuile-like. This is one thing I really love about pan-made crêpes, something you would never get if they were made any other way. Those fringes always remind me of starched lace ruffles, don't they?

04 October 2009

this time of the year - part four

Once again, it's this time of the year. The leaves on the trees are starting to turn colourful, and the shops are already stocking up on stollen and other christmas sweets.

Which means that I have spent some time this weekend in my kitchen, making Pfefferkuchen. More precisely, I have been making Pfefferkuchen dough, as I do every year on the first weekend of October. This way, the dough can rest four weeks until the first weekend of November, to be baked together with the Stollen. Both will have to rest another four weeks before they are mature, which will be on the first weekend of December then. Right in time for the proper start of the cookie season.

And as every year, I have made a few changes to the recipe - if they also were improvements, we'll all see in eight weeks. I doubled the amount of butter, added more anisseed and less potash and salt of hartshorn. And I forgot to add the zante currants, but that's not a real change to the recipe, just a little sloppiness on my side. And despite making them for so many years by now, I am still excited how they will turn out this particular year.

In perfect keeping with the season, the weather has turned muddy and drizzly and cold. I am sure that somewhere I have still some of the spice-infused rum for my mulled wine... One of the very few advantages of this weather in this time of the year.