31 December 2010

one mean, cast-iron bastard

Just a quick update on Christmas week's activities:

Flammkuchen. Thanks to my baking stone, they now come out very close to perfect.

Note to myself: fresh baker's yeast is more active than dired yeast. Much more active.

Currently on my list of things to learn: making croissants from scratch. They already taste gorgeous, but only look good until baked. Need much more training.

This year, Santa brought me a paella pan. One mean, cast-iron bastard of a paella pan, and I couldn't be happier. Recipe coming soon.

To all of you, I hope you've had a wonderful Christmas and the coming year will be full of joy, health and inspiration!

12 December 2010

a dark, unctuous wave

A few weeks ago, on a Spanish island, in an Italian restaurant, I had one of the best classic French desserts that I've had in my whole life.

And it had been a surprising evening all together already. We arrived too early (on vacation, we're early diners) and yet the staff was entirely charming and precise about when they would open. Which is not the usual way of doing business there, I have to add.
Despite the terribly touristy location at the heart of the fake 'old town centre' of Costa Teguise, the food was even better than what the staff had led us to hope. And when they insisted on the 'chocolate soufflé' being entirely house made, it wasn't really hard to convince me to order one despite already being close to bursting.

And, boy, what a luck I did.

Being used to the rather 'freestyle' translations of food on menus in Spain, I didn't actually expect a 'soufflé au chocolat', as defined by definitely not containing any flour. But the smallish chocolate cake on a huge plate that was put in front of me still smelled so good it made me grin like a four year old.

The real surprise, though, came right when I dug in my spoon and a dark, unctuous wave of molten chocolaty stuff flooded my plate.

Instantly, I was transported back to Paris, where the 'moelleux chocolat au coeur fondant' seems to be a basically canonized part of every menu. (When you're eating French, that is.) Having been to Paris countless times (and loved the food there almost as much as in the Perigord), this little cake triggered what felt like a million delicious memories. And it actually tasted as good as any of them.

Naturally, one of the first things I did when coming home was trying to figure out how to make these. Much to my profound surpise, they're almost embarassingly simple to make. The dough is whipped up in no time, they just need a few minutes in the oven and I am yet to find someone who doesn't love them.

The only drawback is that I still have to figure out a way to embed the preparation into a larger menu. So far, I've only had 'perfect' results when I baked them right after mixing. But on the other hand, it doesn't take much longer to mix and bake them than it takes to clean a table, so what. I'll probably just insert a course of cheeses and be done with the problem.

But one thing is for sure - I'll be making them often, and regularly, for my wife, or my friends or even just for myself, because they're a little piece of heaven in a cup.

moelleux chocolat au coeur fondant
(soft chocolate cake with liquid core)
(makes two small or four tiny portions)

50g dark, low-sugar chocolate (Herrenschokolade)
50g butter

two eggs
40g sugar

15g flour
30g ground almonds
10g cocoa powder (dutch process)

butter and flour for the forms

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Gently melt the butter with the chocolate, allowing the mix to cool a little until it barely feels warm against the lips.

In a high bowl, mix the eggs with the sugar until pale and frothy. (soft peaks)

Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and mix until well combined.
Is it just me or does it feel distinctively weird to measure so little flour?

Add both the molten chocolate and the flour / almond mix to the eggs and swiftly fold in, stirring as little as possible to retain the air.

Lightly butter and flour two small ramekins (about 8cm in diameter) or four espresso cups.
Make sure to carefully shake off excessive flour, or your cakes will look a little dusty. Supposedly, yo can unmold the cakes after baking, but honestly I've never dared to risk them in that way. I just took pretty cups instead.

Fill the batter into the prepared cups / ramekins. Only fill the forms until about two-third of their height, as the cake will rise impressively.

Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, depending a) on the size of your cakes (the smaller the faster) and b) how liquid you want them to be.
Those espresso cups pictured, for example, felt all but liquid after five minutes and were done all the way through verging on dry after eight. It'll take some attempts to get it right, but as the warm, liquid dough is pretty delicious in itself, I'd say rather err on too little time than too much. 

Serve immediately or at least warm. Can perfectly well stand alone but pairs well with anything else you would usually put next to a chocolate cake.
Next time, I'll try and put a boozy cherry in the bottom of each cup, or a spoonful of vanilla ice cream. Should really make for a nice surprise. 

07 December 2010

this time of the year - part seven

What would a year be without the annual cookie craze? Not the same, I swear. So this year, we had a plain lineup of beloved classics, as we didn't really want to go all crazy on this.

But have a look:

First, the Pfefferkuchen, which turned out really, really good this year. One more iteration and I'll be ready to post an updated, much refined recipe here.

Second, plain 'black-and-white' cookies. Hardly noteworthy but for the admittedly pretty pattern that (accidentally) came up this year.

Third, coconut macarons. Not to be confused with the fickle french ones. These are slightly homely, crisp on the outside, chewy inside, easy to make and plain delicious.

Fourth - butter cookies. Like the french sablés, just a little more butter an sugar. These were gone so fast that I had to make another double batch right the following weekend.

The second batch of butter cookies, above. I didn't really have the mind to bother with different cookie shapes, so I just made those I like best and were easiest to handle. And they look pretty on the cooling rack, don't they?

And of course, last but not least, the Stollen. Very aromatic and moist this year, but oddly enough, the thick layer of icing sugar doesn't want to stick to the loaf properly. But that's not a real flaw, it only makes for rather messy eating.

Anyway, if the holidays pass as smoothly as the preparations so far, it'll be a lovely Christmas this year.

28 October 2010

apple pie and whiskey

As every year, we celebrated my father-in-law's birthday last weekend. And after the Hawaiian luau last year and the 60s revival buffet the year before, he wished for a 'Wild West'-themed dinner.

Of course we didn't really try and make it a historically correct pioneer / cowboy re-enactment evening, which probably would have been not entirely entertaining. But we tried to come up with a menu that all the guests could instantly relate to - which ended up being steak & onions, bacon & beans, grilled corn on the hob and ever so slightly charred jacked potatoes with herbed sour cream.

It was a much simpler thing to prepare than the years before, but very much to my surprise it turned out pretty damn near perfect. The individual dishes worked perfectly together, and with a nice mug of beer, it was simply a great dinner.

Speaking of beer in mugs - naturally we've had to have enameled tin plates and mugs. In out eyes, they felt at least as important as the cowboy hats (we've had one for each guest) and the red-chequered table cloth.

As for desert, there was little other option than apple pie. And considering that this was the first I've ever made (and eaten, for that matter) it was pretty great.

Apple pie and whiskey go surprisingly well together, especially when said whiskey comes in pretty huge tin mugs. Repeatedly.

Add a Dutch uncle who brought his ukulele and actually knew how to play it like a serious pro, you can imagine what a hilarious evening that was.

25 October 2010

this time of the year - part six

As the year turns, once again it is time to prepare for the upcoming holiday season. It is a little scary to think of Christmas before the leaves have even turned yellow here, but it's October already and some things you just can't speed up.

Like the resting time of this year's Pfefferkuchen dough.

I've added a lot more cocoa powder this year, so I added another egg for more liquid. Hence the dough looks even less savoury than ever before. But it definitely smelled nice, so I am pretty positive it'll turn out lovely.

Also, last weekend I set up a new jar of spice-infused rum for mulled wine.

A lovely scent, the hint of peeled oranges and lemons drifting through our whole place for days. If it turned out well, I'll see the coming weekend.

13 October 2010

where we've been

Guess where we've been for two lovely weeks lately.

30 August 2010

simple, verging on the primitive

Still smarting from my first experiences with a proper pâté de campagne, I was happily surprised when a few weeks ago I stumbled across a recipe for a simple chicken liver pâté.

And when I say simple, I really mean simple, verging on the primitive. I loved it instantly.

And of course, I had to try it first chance I had. It has bacon and butter in equal proportions, what could I possibly do wrong?

Not much, as it turned out.

Admittedly, this is not a refined something I could put next to a salad and call it a meal. But it is damn yummy for little to no work at all, and that's all the reason I need to put it up here and jot it down into my little brown book.

On fresh bread or on crackers, this would be an indulgent snack or lovely company to a salad. Or as a spread on an open sandwich. Or as a filling in a filet millefeuille. Just try it, I am sure you'll come up with several more ideas.

simple liver paté
(makes 500g)

125g fresh liver (The original calls for chicken, I used porc and was perfectly happy)
125g bacon
125g onions
125g butter
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon dry Sherry
salt & pepper

Roughly chop the liver and the bacon, peel and chop the onion.

In a small cast-iron pot, sear the liver in a little bit of the butter until it takes colour.
This is just for the taste, no need to actually get the liver done.

Add all the remaining ingredients and leave to simmer on low heat for two hours, or until the bacon bits fall apart easily.
As the bacon is already salty, be careful with the salt, but generous with the pepper.

Leave the mix to cool for a moment, then run through a food-processor or blender until smooth.
Depending on the occasion, you might want the paté very smooth or still a little chunky. Trust your own judgement.

Fill into jars and cool.

Kept in the fridge, the paté keeps about a week.
It keeps longer if you top it with a seal of clarified butter, but as easily made and swiftly gone as this is, I never really saw the necessity.

Take out of the fridge half an hour before serving. Goes well with any kind of bread and on crackers, pefect with beer or strong white and light red wines.

21 August 2010


Found a bunnymato on the vine in my garden this morning.
'nuff said.

16 August 2010

of peaches and grapes

For the second year now, the little peach tree next to out kitchen is bearing fruit. And even despite having had a bad case of leaf curl this spring, causing it to shed all leaves and fruit on the yearling branches, yesterday we harvested a whole bowl of incredibly tasty, fragrant white peaches.

Also, our grapevine is trying to outdo itself this year. The grapes themselves are still a little on the smallish side, but that is to be expected with a plant this young. But they are deeply aromatic, and even though not quite ripe yet, they fill the whole driveway with their scent.

Coming February, we will have to properly prune the vine for the first time, as it now is as large as we will allow it to grow. So excited to see how the plant will react to this.

12 August 2010

my new best friend

And another summer party over.

We had entirely improbable luck concerning the weather, sitting outside with friends and family until half past three in the morning.

(bigger version here)

It was a small party compared to other years, but this only made all the preparations much more relaxed. With the relentless help of my lovely wife, all food turned out lovely, the roast crisp and juicy, the salmon spicy but not salty, the hot potato wedges hot enough and best of all, by sunday noon, the house was clean again. We're a bit footsore but feeling very accomplished now.

I'll post a few of the recipes later, but first one tiny thing that really made my day.

Remember last year's gravlax? The one I didn't manage to get a single decent picture of?

Well, this year's salmon was much more cooperative - and here's the proof:

First the spices, then the prepared salmon inside it's tight glass coffin of clingwrap.

And finally, my new best friend, sliced and decorated just moments before we called in the guests -

And as you can guess, it was gone minutes later.

30 July 2010

almost indecent

Preparing for our summer party usually involves me trying countless new ways of feeding the masses while hopefully adding some excitement and reducing my workload. This year, I dusted off my recipe for quiche that I hadn't been using since my highschool days and tried making it 'presentable'.

As it nears august, the first chanterelles appear on the markets, and upon seeing a particularly nice batch, I decided to make a 'quiche aux chanterelles'.

The results were nice, but nothing overly memorable. We decided I would make a plain version with nothing but scallions and bacon for the party. What could possibly be wrong with that?
On the other hand, the liver terrine turned out a real stunner and will become a separate post one of these days. Believe me, it's almost indecent with how little work you get such impressively tasty results.

16 July 2010

like a river pebble

There is a sweltering heat hanging over Germany since several weeks now. After one of the longest and coldest winters I can remember, this already feels like one of the longest hot stretches in my life.

Not that I am complaining, mind you. Actually, I feel great in this weather, and I can sleep like a little river pebble at night.

Only thing is - I can hardly eat anything. There's so many nice things to cook, but hardly anything is worth writing about.

Grilled goat cheese and fresh tomatoes on bread - who needs a recipe for that?

One day, we tried a lemon cream. It turned out okayish, but really not anything I could brag with.

Of course, I've been baking bread. Lots of it, each weekend. But that's really old news to you, is it?

As I've already mentioned, we slice and freeze the bread for convenient use over the following week, and I thought, that's one picture I haven't uploaded yet. So, here's lots of sliced bread ready for freezing.

But already, our annual summer party is looming at the horizon, with the whole family planning what's to eat and how to organize things. It'll be a comparatively small affair this year, only 40 people or so, but one we're genuinely looking forward to.

And, most importantly, it'll bring a whole lotta new cooking experiments to this site.

29 June 2010

delightfully busy

This has been a delightfully busy weekend.

Baking, gardening, cheering on the German soccer team...

The garden is in full bloom, peonies and roses competing with bellflowers of all shades between white and cerulean. I even took some of the peonies inside to have a little of their lovely scent right at my desk.

And of course, more bread. My scoring still looks random, I fear, but the colour if the crust is great, don't you agree?

Peonies may be wonderful, and yet I still think fresh bread smells decidedly better.

16 June 2010

very happy stranded whales

Finally. Naan at last!

This must have been the single longest quest for a recipe / method that I've ever completed.

See, both my wife and I love Indian food. My wife especially loves naan, the fluffy, crispy, butter-soaked flatbread that's served as a side dish instead of rice.

So naturally, learning how to make naan was high up on my list of things to learn. Yet unlike most of the things my family has put there, naan seemed to be especially difficult to replicate in a home oven. At least, to replicate in a way that my lovely wife would find good enough, that is. (I think I already mentioned once or twice that she is rather discerning and open-voiced about her food... Bless ya, Honey!)

Anyway, these little rascals eluded my culinary grasp for at least two years. Two years, can you believe it?
But a few weeks ago, emboldened by my successes with Anis Bouabsa's baguettes, I tried them again, with a recipe I cobbled together as a median from all those I've tried over the years.

And believe it or not, they turned out perfect!

Crisp on the outside, feathery light and chewy inside, soaked with ghee but far from soggy. Perfectly delicious, and almost a shame to serve merely as a side.

We had them last Sunday with a bowl of nice, hot chicken curry, and we stuffed ourselves to the point that we felt like stranded whales afterwards. More precisely, we felt like very happy stranded whales, lying on our bed, holding hands and watching Germany play their first match in the world soccer championship and win. What a great end to a great weekend.

Naan is a traditional Indian staple, yet I make no claim of authenticity. I've never eaten proper naan in India, nor would I know if any of those I have eaten are 'the real thing'. What I can claim, though, is that these are perfectly authentic Indian naan as served in British restaurants as perceived by a German tourist couple. Though that's probably not even worth the time needed to write that sentence.

Anyway - try them, they're plain delicious and a great alternative to rice in many menus. And I really, really do not take any responsibility if you overstuff yourselves in the process.

(makes four medium pieces, as sides for two people)

200g high-gluten flour (German type 550)
50g whole wheat flour (German type 1050)
1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8g salt
150ml milk
50g unpasteurized yoghurt

2 teaspoons clarified butter (ghee)

On the morning of baking:
For the dough, combine all the ingredients except the ghee and mix for about a minute. Leave to rest for about an hour at room temperature.
The dough will be very wet right now, with hardly any elasticity, but that's okay.

After the rest, knead the dough again for about a minute, then leave to rest for another 30 minutes.

When the dough has rested, transfer into a lightly oiled, shallow bowl and give a set of 'stretch and folds'. Leave to rest for another 30 minutes.

After this rest, give the dough another set of 'stretch and folds'. Rest and repeat two more times, until the dough becomes smooth and stops sticking to your fingers.
Maybe you'll need one more set of 'stretch and folds' than I do, maybe one less. The dough is ready once it is elastic enough that you can lift it out of the bowl in one piece.

Leave to rest, covered at room temperature, until needed, two hours at least.

an hour before serving:
Preheat your oven with baking stone as high as you can. Mine tops out at 250°C.
I wouldn't suggest trying this without a baking stone. Maybe a heavy cast-iron skillet or an upturned dutch oven will work as well, but I really don't know.

Twenty minutes before serving, quarter the dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into an oval- or tear-shape, not thicker than your little finger. Cover with a dishcloth and leave to proof for fifteen minutes.

Five minutes before serving, pick up the naans and transfer onto the baking stone as swiftly as you can, trying to let as little heat escape as possible.

The naan will only need a few minutes in the oven. They will puff up mightily and start getting golden freckles. Once the first freckles start going from golden to hazel, they're ready.
Take a look at the naan in the picture above, they're a pretty decent guidance. And of course, they're ready when they look ready to you. 

Immediately take the naan out of the oven. Put onto a large plate and flatten gently, if necessary. Divide the ghee between the four pieces and brush them with the melting butter. Serve instantly.

Naan only tastes good fresh out of the oven and doesn't keep at all.
Naan goes perfectly with all kinds of hot and spicy dishes and anything with a decent gravy. Watch out, you might eat way more than you should.

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

06 June 2010

quite successfully, I'd say

That's not my front yard, that's yesterday's starter.

Just as a quick note to say that I haven't been sleeping, but baking.
And quite successfully, I'd say.

In a word: Naan at last!

More to come soon.

24 May 2010

But these are store-bought, aren't they?

Last Thursday, 'the boys' were coming over for a pen and paper rpg evening. Most unusually, I had a little surplus time on my hands and I was eager to bake something.

So I grabbed my old, trusty cheese cracker recipe, threw away all parts of the recipe that would have needed my attention and added some bacon. Everything gets better with bacon, I'm sure you can relate to that.
Basically, I mixed up the least fancy, swiftest breadsticks I have ever made, and had a historic succes with them. I am still a little stunned at how well received they were.

Take, for example, one of our friends. He tried one, and after having been a little dumbfounded at how much of our food we actually make ourselves he asked:

"But these are store-bought, aren't they?"

"Nope. Made them this afternoon."

"I feared as much. But they're so... regular, and so... damn tasty."

As you can imagine, we had a lively laugh. Though, maby not as lively as the following day, when my father-in-law got caught eating several of them at the same time, looking rather embarrassed, claiming I was trying to drug him.

I personally blame the bacon. This is a yeasted dough with a very high butter content, leading to a structure that is pretty much halfway between bread and shortbread cookies. Ununsual, but very, very good. Try them, they sure have the best effort to compliments ratio I can imagine.

Cheese and Bacon Breadsticks (dirt simple version)
(makes about two dozen sticks)

250g all-pupose wheat flour
100g whole-wheat flour (German type 1050)
125ml lukewarm water
125g butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 pinch of sugar

100g cheese, finely grated (I used aged Peccorino)
125g bacon

Take all the ingredients for the dough and mix until just combined. Leave to rest for about an hour.

In the meantime, chop the bacon as finely as you can be bothered to. Put into a small pot or non-stick pan and fry until just golden, not crisp. Leave to cool.

After the dough has rested, add the cheese and the bacon and knead one last time until all ingredients are well combined. Transfer to a large bowl and give a set of 'stretch and folds'.

Leave to rest for half an hour, then add another set of 'stretch and folds'.
Even despite the high fat contend, the dough should be elastic and nicely workable by now. If not, give another half hour of rest and one last set of 'stretch and folds'. 

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Leave to rest for one last half hour, then turn the dough onto a lightly floured working surface. Roll into a rectangle about half a centimetre thick. Cut into strips about one centimetre wide.
Of course, you could now roll them up or give them any number of fancy shapes, but there wasn't much time and I really wanted something as simple as I could get away with.

Transfer onto baking sheets lined with non-stick paper and leave to rest for a final, ten-minute proof.

Bake the bread-sticks with a little steam for about 15-20 minutes or until well browned.
This yields sticks that will be cripy in parts, chewy in others. For entirely crispy sticks reduce the temperature to 190°C and add 5 minutes. 

Leave to cool on a rack.

Goes well with beer and almost everything else, keeps nicely for a few days and can be crisped up again flawlessly in a hot oven.

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.

15 May 2010

on the way to moonshine

Baking bread has become a regular activity for me.

The freezer is stuffed to it's figurative gills and I am getting very comfortable with the whole subject.

Alright, I still haven't managed the perfect Naan, nor can I churn out croissants like a pro. But I'll get there, I'm pretty sure of that.

None the less, yesterday I kicked off a starter culture of a different kind, as you can see to the right.

My maternal grandfather was an avid wine-maker, one of my uncles even burned his own moonshine. (Yep, the one I got the poppy seed mill from.) So, there seems to be a certain family tradition to uphold, which at least in this case I am more than willing to oblige.

I've started a batch of cyser, a mix between a mead and a hard cider, as my first attempt. Given a bit of luck, it should be drinkable at this year's summer party.

This is a really exciting new experiment for me, and you can bet I'll keep you posted on the progress.

26 April 2010

unexpectedly interesting

When my wife an I were on the island of Lanzarote this February, of course we stumbled on the occasional dish that was seriously, inspiringly good. And naturally, we took notes and pictures, trying to give us a chance to reproduce those dishes back at home.

Alas, you just can't really get good squid in the middle of Germany. And with seafood being so tricky, a good paella is a hard thing to make as well.
But have a look to that dish on the right - one of the many good dinners we had at the Taberna del Puerto at the Marina of Puerto Calero, where it was served as a starter.

Some papardelle, scampi, smoked salmon and oddly enough, fresh strawberries. I know it sounds like an unfortunate accident in the kitchen. Like one of these stories where the chef was drunk and just put everything into one bowl and served it.

But you know what? Even if it was an accident, it's pretty close to divine. I'm not necessarily one to eat anything that contains warm, smoked salmon, but I was positively dazzled by this one. The acidity of the strawberries go hand in hand with the soft smokiness of the salmon, making this dish an unexpectedly light and fresh and interesting like I haven't had one in years. And it's dead easy to prepare.

Below, you can see mhow the 'Pasta Puerto Calero' looks in my kitchen, and I am temped to say mine looks even a little better.
Have a try at this, it might just become your new summer evening favourite as well.

Pasta Puerto Calero
(Pasta with salmon, prawns and straberries)
(ingredients are given per portion)

50g - 75g broad pasta (Tagliatelle, Papardelle,...)
100g prawns, peeled
1 tablespoon butter
100g strawberries, washed and quartered
100g smoked salmon in slices

Cook the pasta according to instructions, keep warm.
Works perfectly with leftover pasta, so we plan in advance.

In a large pan, heat the butter until sizzling but not smoking. Fry the prawns on each side until just done, about two minutes.

Add the pasta and toss until the pasta is hot and covered with butter.

Season boldly with salt and pepper.
Don't skimp on the pepper, together with the strawberries this makes this dish so exciting.

Add the salmon and the strawberries, toss until combined and serve immediately.
If the salmon comes in large slices, shred them a little so they fit onto your fork. 
You don't want to heat the salmon and the strabwerries, just distribute them and maybe make them lose their chill. If you keep them on the stove too long, the salmon will get flaky and the strawberries soft (and ugly).

Enjoy with a light rosado (maybe like the one below) and good company. Sunshine is recommended but not required.

speaking of dormancy

This year, spring holds several unexpected surprises.

As you can see on the right, suddenly the snakeshead lilies (or checkered lilies) are blooming in our garden, after I had all but given up on them.

Windflowers have sprung up in many corners that I had thought they would never reach. It is once again lovely to see the garden coming back to life after having been dormant such a long time.

Speaking of dormancy - my bread making mode has been in full swing again this weekend, with several boules cooling in the sunlight on our garden table. I've really missed being able to go outside. Well, and there's hardly anything better than coming back in from the garden into a home that's filled with sunlight and smelling of freshly baked bread. At least, not in my book.

I also tried to make a ciabatta loave with chives, but that kinda turned out sticky and flat, for no reason I could figure out. But the chives are growing like mad anyway, so I'll just try again next weekend.