09 June 2011

Still not hungry?

Remember my slightly rambling post about Flammkuchen from two years ago?

Probably not, though you should, really.
And just as a little reminder, here's a picture of a batch of Flammkuchen I made recently.

Now imagine this with a nicely chilled glass of white wine.
Still not hungry?

30 May 2011

my own private tsukubai

Completely unrelated to food, I have spent a few days of my recent vacation building a hypertufa tsukubai for our garden. (It's the brownish bowl on the lower right in the picture.)

It turned out really, really good and I am just so happy that it all worked out and looks just like I hoped it would.


Dorie Greenspan & my marriage

This year for christmas, my parents gave me a copy of Dorie Greenspan's
'around my french table'. A beautiful, charming book, full of equally charming and very french recipies.

Naturally, there's a whole bucket of recipies that I will try from this book, but one of them had my lovely wife instantly squealing with glee on her couch in the kitchen - proper éclairs. Vanilla éclairs, of all things. Right there, in her hands, with a husband easily swayed to make some for her.

Maybe I should add some more background information, otherwise my darling wife gets to look even weirder than usual in my posts.

She loves éclairs, those longish choux-pastry things, sugar-frosted and filled with pudding that you can get in any French pâtisserie deserving the name. Especially, she loves them with plain frosting and vanilla filling.
Unfortunately, that's apparently the least popular flavour in France, for they stock them only in the rarest cases. Which, naturally, leads to each of our vacations in France including at least one scavenger hunt through all bakeries in town hunting for vanilla éclairs.

In one case, we just gave up and asked our favourite pâtisserie in Cenac-et-St.-Julien how many we would have to order for them to consider making some vanilla ones in addition to their wide array of coffee-, chocolate- or caramel flavoured ones.
Suffice to say that her pleading looks and my 'rustic' French seemed to sway them rather easily, though we still ended up with a slighty embarassing amount of vanilla éclairs the next day. Though it was only embarassing in so far as we finished all of them that afternoon, but that's another matter entirely.

So basically, being able to make vanilla éclairs on my own would be a really grand thing in our household. 'Ganz großes Kino', as a friend of ours would say, 'big movie magic'.

And what can I say? Dorie might just have saved my marriage. Not that it was in any need of saving right now. But if ever there comes the day that I am in doubt, I'll now be able to whip up a batch of vanilla éclairs, and it'll work wonders. I just know.

This recipe is treasure. The éclairs are just as they are supposed to be, firm and rich and sweet and creamy and just right. Just look at them, lying in their little box, ready to be given away. For that recipe alone, Dorie Greenspan's book has earned a special place on my bookshelf, and in my heart.

vanilla éclairs
From Dorie Greenspan's 'around my french table', measures converted by me, so it's all my fault.
(makes about twenty)

for the filling
6 egg yolks
100g sugar
40g cornstarch
1,5 teaspoon vanilla extract
510g milk
50g butter

for the choux pastry
130g milk
120g water
110g butter
10g sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
140g flour
4 eggs

for the icing (my style)
250g powdered sugar
30g warm water
50g butter

on the day before serving
For the filling, combine the yolks, starch, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and whisk until smooth.

Bring the milk to a gentle boil and take off the heat. Gently pour a little of the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking until well combined. Then add the remaining milk in increasing steps, then return the mix to the pot.

Heat again while whisking constantly, until it starts to thicken and bubble. Take off the heat and leave to cool for a minute or so.

Add the butter and whisk until smooth.

Leave to cool a little longer, then seal tight and keep in the fridge over night.

On the day of serving
For the choux pastry, bring the milk, butter, sugar and salt to boil in a large casserole.

Once the milk boils, add the flour in a single scoop and start mixing vigorously, all the while keeping the pot on the stove. Once the dough is smooth and a thin, white layer forms on the bottom of the pot, remove from heat.

Immediately, add one of the eggs and mix until smooth again. Add the remaining eggs idividually, mixing until smooth after each addition. Leave to rest for a few minutes.

Preheat the oven to 210°C.

Fill the dough into a piping bag with a big, plain nozzle. Pipe straigt dough fingers onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
With a little bit of luck, I manage to get ten pieces onto a sheet, but rather keep them well apart as they will rise immensely.

Bake for 15 minutes at 210°C, then lower temperature to 170°C and vent the oven for a few seconds to let out the steam. Keep baking for another 10 to 15 minutes, then open the door a little and continue to bake for 5 minutes more.

Take the éclairs out of the oven and leave to cool on a rack.

Continue with the remaining dough, until you have an assembly looking more or less like the one to the right.

As soon as the éclairs have cooled, transfer the filling from the fridge into another piping bag, this one as well with a big, plain nozzle.
Actually, I use sturdy freezer bags with a corner cut off for this, but that's just me making do. 

Cut the éclairs open along one side.
Make sure the cut is rather too high on the side, it's still better to have a less-than-perfect-looking sweet than one that spills its filling onto your lap at the first bite. 

Pipe the filling into the éclairs.
I usually have a little vanilla cream left over after a batch of these, but I am very sure that I do not have to tell you what you can do with this. 

For the icing, combine all ingredients and heat for a few seconds in the microwave until just warm. Mix until smooth and silky, then immediately pipe or spoon onto the éclairs.
Once again, I use a freezer bag for mixing and piping the icing, saves me a lot of stuff to clean. 

Chill until serving, best after a few hours in the fridge.

Keeps well in the fridge for a few days, though must be covered tightly as it will catch smells from surrounding food.
Goes perfectly with the hot caffeinated beverage of your choice, but needs very little in terms of company.
I could imagine them handsomely with some finely chopped strawberries in the filling and a cold glass of champagne, though...

10 April 2011


It's an average though lovely warm spring weekend. Which means, baking bread, and lots of it.

21 March 2011

a definite showstopper

Gorgeous, organic beef fillet in my eyes can only be prepared in one way: seared and slowly roasted in the oven until just pink. Served with lots of vegetables, mustard sauce, hollandaise and home-made mango chutney, Saturday's dinner war a definite showstopper:

Sundays's woodruff jelly was pretty harmles in comparison, but so pretty and full of childhood memories I just had to include apicture here.

08 March 2011

I bet it's the terroir

'Übung macht den Meister', they say in Germany, 'With practice comes mastery'. Or, a little less stilted, 'practice makes perfect'.

Apparently, though, there are things that need much more practice than one might think to achieve even a modicum of mastery. Making baguettes seems to be one of those things, at least for me.

Ever since I started baking bread, baguettes had been on my mind. Wouldn't it be great being able to make those legendary breads at home? So many memories of my childhood, revolving around baguettes with rillettes, or with cheese, or just with leftover vinaigrette when there was nothing else I could see myself eating from the grown-ups' table.

So for the better part of a year now, I've been trying to bake baguettes.

The recipe below is deceptive simple, it's definitely authentic and everything. And yet, my baguettes still don't perfectly taste like the real thing.
They've sure got the look, and even that crust with bits of it flying all around the kitchen when you try to cut it.

But apparently, something is still different. Next time I'm in France, I'll check extra carefully to find any discernible differences. Maybe it's the flour. Or the yeast. Or something as intangible and sadly immobile as 'le terroir'.
I bet it's the terroir.

Still, despite the (percieved) lack in taste and my personal shortcomings in shaping and scoring baguettes, this recipe is way too good to be kept in the closet. After all, this already has become the go-to white bread in our household, and they turn out beautiful and reliable despite my sometimes rather creative scheduling.

Try it, for despite everything, it's so damn worth it.

(adapted from Anis Bouabsa's recipe via David Snyder here)
(makes two small baguettes)

500g hight-gluten flour (German type 550)
375ml cold water
1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast
10g salt

One day before baking

Combine all ingredients and mix until the dough is smooth, about 3 minutes.

Leave the dough to rest for an hour, mixing again each twenty minutes for about a minute each.

Transfer the dough into a small(er) bowl and cover airtight. Leave to rest in the refrigerator for 20 hours.
I've retarded the dough for anything between 10 and 36 hours and have to say that 20+ hours works best for me.

On the day of baking

Take the dough out of the fridge and preshape into two rough rectangles.
The dough won't have risen by any noticeable amount, that's okay and no reason to worry. Also, I usually fold the dough a few times as if doing a 'stretch and fold', just to add some more stability.

Leave to rest at room temperature for an hour. Then shape into baguettes.
Shaping and scoring a baguette is an art in itself that I haven't completely mastered myself. Yet.
Luckily, there's tons of video's about the subject on youtube and its ilk. Here's my favourite.

Preheat the oven to 250°C. Leave the baguettes to proof for 45 minutes.

Score the baguettes and bake for 15 minutes at 250°C with a lot of steam. Then open the oven to let remaining steam escape and lower the temperature to 190°C for another 15 minutes. Leave to cool on a rack.

Keeps nicely for a day or two, then it'll get rather tough.

Goes with everything you'd put on a white bread.^^