26 December 2009

with or without pictures

Now what's it with my 'Riz al Andaluz'?

I made it again the last days, and despite still smarting from forgetting to take pictures the last time, I forgot them again! Can you believe it?

That dish must be jinxed.

I'll try one more time, and then I'll post the recipe anyway. With or without pictures.

Anyway. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a lovely time with your family and loved ones. Have a great time, eat a little to much, and don't forget to take photos!

14 December 2009

the looming holiday season

Last year, I experimented with infused rum as a base for mulled wine, which still is in regular use in my household.

So when it finally turned cold in my part of the world (as opposed to rainy), I sought for something similar to experiment with this year. Somewhere, I had read about home-made coffee-liquor, and I decided I would start making some of that.

The first thing that I learned was that coffee and liquorice absolutely don't go together. I had completely misjudged the amount of star anise in one recipe, and the results were... haunting. Actually, that batch was one of vilest things I have ever concocted in my kitchen. Imagine getting an electric shock from your espresso machine, with off-colour afterimages of liquorice floating through your jumbled mind. I still get a numb tingle on the tip of my tongue by even thinking about it, and I had merely tasted half a teaspoon.

Anyway. I had a steep learning curve.

Coffee and vanilla work great together, though, and allspice and pepper add a lovely, complex background. The liquor made with the final recipe below is more spicy than sweet, and in my eyes offers a really great alternative for those moments when you can't decide wether you want a strong schnaps or an espresso after a particularly rich meal. Looking ahead at the looming holiday season, there'll be many of those, I'm pretty sure of that.

This liquor works great when very cold, a little like Jägermeister. You could also mix it with cream for something like Kaluha, or pour it onto your icecream or mix it with hot coffee...

And of course, it makes a lovely small gift for people who basically have everything already. Especially, as it only takes a little less than a week to mature, you could start it today and still have plenty time to find pretty bottles before christmas.
Which actually reminds me that I still need some of those...

digestif de café
(makes a little more than half a litre)

for the infusion
0,7 litre brown rum (40% alcohol)
200g whole roasted coffee beans
3 vanilla pods
1 stick cinammon
1 small star anise
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

for the syrup
200g demerara sugar
200 ml water

For the infusion, combine all ingredients in a large, airtight jar and leave to macerate in a cool, dark place for about five days.
Right in the beginning, the coffee beans will float on top of the liquid, so you may need a jar of about 1,5 litre volume to accommodate all without a spill.

After the week, take out all spices and filter the liquid. If you like, you can return the vanilla pods, as they will continue to add their arome without becoming too cloying. Discard the other spices.
Now that the coffee beans have soaked up a good part of the rum, there'l be surprisingly little liquid left, a little less than half a litre with me. It is kind of a shame to throw all the spices away, but the rum is really pungent already.

For the syrup, add the water and the sugar in a small casserole. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for about 10 minutes. Leave to cool.

Sweeten the rum with the syrup according to taste.
I usually use a little more than 100 ml syrup, as I do not want the final product to be too sweet, only sweet enough to make the taste mellow and lasting.

Store in a cool and dark place.
As this is the first time I made this, I have no idea how long it'll keep. Looking at the ingredients, it should keep pretty long, provided it is stored in the dark. 

Serve very cold, on the rocks as a digestiv or mixed with cream in equal parts with a dusting of cocoa for a  velvety dessert-like drink.

07 December 2009

a bit on the lazy side

For the last weeks, I've almost ritually been struggling with a bread each sunday.

It started with a harmless post on The Fresh Loaf Blog about Eric Kayser's Tourte de Meule. First it worked out nicely, then I tried to get a more open crumb with the flours available here in Germany.

From there on, things went downhill in many colourful ways.

But, after many attempts and enough (mediocre) bread to feed my neighbours, I have finally managed to stabilize one recipe that works reliably in my kitchen.

One of the things that mostly got me into trouble was my somewhat sluggish sourdough starter. Personally, I think he's a real sweetheart, bubbling and brewing, reliably awakening each time when I pull him out of his corner in the fridge. But apparently, he's a bit on the lazy side. Especially when comapared to the diligent starters of all the other (much more experienced) bakers out here on the net, he's seriously shy of work. I can hardly get the little bugger to raise my bread without some distinct shove by a spoonful of dry yeast.

But now that I know, I can always add some yeast, and for the last few times, it worked flawlessly.

My adapted 'Tourte de Meule' is a sourdough wheat bread with a distinct share of rye. I fell in love with the dark crust and the soft, moist and almost feathery crumb. The technique is untouched, and fits perfectly into my weekend schedule.
While trying the different sorts of flours available here, I figured that 'proper' wholegrain wheat flour totally kills the structure of the crumb I was trying to achieve. And I love, love, love the German type 1050 flour, which is 'dark' wheat flour. It is not quite a wholegrain flour, but flour ground longer so more parts of the shell and seed ending up in the final product, turning it distinctively darker, 'wheatier' yet still very fine.

I experimented with various combinations of flour and in the end just chucked all the complicated ratios and went for 100% type 1050 flour -  and tada! The perfect crumb, at least in my eyes.

This has swiftly become my family's favourite sandwich bread, as it is light yet intensely aromatic, with a crunchy crust. It goes perfectly with cold cuts (important in Germany) yet its airy crumb is something close to unheard of here. Try it, it might just be perfect fór you as well, too.

sourdough wheat bread
adapted from Eric Kayser's Tourte de Meule
(makes two medium loaves)

1kg wholegrain wheat flour (German type 1050)
700ml lukewarm water
30g sea salt

200g sourdough starter (100% hydration, 100% rye meal)
1 teaspoon dry yeast

The day before baking, mix the flour with the salt and water until just combined. Leave to rest for half an hour (autolyse).

Add the starter and the yeast and knead until well combined and the dough comes together, about two to three minutes.

Put in a lightly oiled container or bowl and leave to rest for 45 minutes.
As bread baking seems to become a regular part of my kitchen efforts, I have finally invested in two large plastic containers that fit into my fridge just so. They're big enough for the whole dough to fit in at once, with enough room to handle the stretch and folds inside without having to take out the dough onto my counter. A few euros that saved me a lot of cleaning duty.

Do a set of stretch and fold after the first 45 minutes, then repeat three more times after 45 minutes each to a total of four folds.

Leave to dough to rest in the fridge for 20 hours, inside a sealed container of some sort.

Immediately out of the fridge, shape into boules and leave to proof en couche for about two hours, or until the dough stops springing back after being poked.
As I said, my sourdough is rather lazy, so maybe your version will need a significantly shorter time to proof. Just listen to your dough, not to me.

Preheat the oven to 250°C.

Bake for 10 minutes with steam at 250°C, then reduce to 200°C for another 30 minute or until the crust is dark brown.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the switched-off oven with the door cranked open. Leave to cool on a rack, cool completely before cutting.

Freezes exellently well, is great toasted.