Monday, 30 July 2007

Dan Lepard's Apple and Oats Bread

In order to expand my bread baking knowledge I have been raiding the three libraries in my vicinity and thus was able to track down a couple of books I had always wanted to read: first of all, Dan Lepard's "The Handmade Loaf" which I read from front to cover with great delight. Finally, I found a book that features many different recipes for rye bread - quite unusual for an English-speaking author. I gladly read about his "less is more" kneading techniques and his way not to flour the work surface but to oil it. It works much better that way for me!

However, before trying some of his recipes, I first had to revive my still frozen sourdough culture. Luckily, the little boys did survive their long sleep in the freezer. However, although feeding them daily in the beginning, I was never quite sure about their potency. Therefore (and because I didn't want to pour excess sourdough down the drain) I upped the amount of sourdough liberally. Not sure if that's what you should do - that's why I've included the original amounts so everyone can decide which way to go.

This Rolled Oat and Apple Bread is incredibly moist although you can hardly guess which ingredients are responsible for its long shelf-life. In case you have trouble finishing a loaf in time - this is your recipe. The slices also make excellent toast. My favourite toppings are either jam and honey or a soft cheese...hmmm...
This bread is also my entry for The Bread Baking Day #2 - Bread with Fruit. This new food blogging event was invented by Zorra and this time hosted by Columbus Foodie.

The second bread baking book I was looking forward to is Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Bread Bible". In the beginning, I felt a bit put off - this much acclaimed food writer is tackling the subject in an almost scientific way which seemed to destroy the whole mystery about bread baking. Stop, stop, stop, I then thought, isn't that exactly what you were looking for? Ah, right... Once I got accustomed to her very thorough way of explaining things I learned a lot about certain details that had always left me puzzled. For example, I now know that fan-baking is entirely wrong for bread because you speedily lose all the self-injected steam and create an environment too dry for your bread. Since I switched to the classic bake setting, my breads finally have a good crust on the bottom (which had always been too soft) and I finally got to enjoy this mysterious crackling sound of the crust as the bread cools down. I believe that's called "the crust sings" and that absolutely describes my feeling when hearing it. Thank you, Rose, now I believe that there's nothing better than a healthy dose of perfectionism!

The third book in my library-collection is Maggie Glezer's "Artisan Baking Across America". I'm not finished yet and haven't tried any recipes but stay tuned!

PS: Being a "little bit" behind with my blogging, I thought I had better include another of Dan Lepard's breads. This chewy rye-based bread is his Five Grain Bread (although it was only a Four Grain Bread in my case). It really reminded me of the hearty breads from home and was eaten in no time...

Rolled Oat and Apple Bread

The ingredients

50g rolled oats
100g boiling water
200g peeled and grated apple (equals one big apple)
75g water at 20 degrees Celsius
250g white sourdough (original recipe: 100g of Dan Lepard's white leaven)
1/4 tsp dry instant yeast (original recipe: 3/4 tsp fresh yeast, crumbled)
300g + 3 heaped tbsp bread flour (original recipe: 250g bread flour)
1 tsp salt (orginial recipe: 3/4 tsp fine sea salt)
rolled oats for sprinkling
(Dan Lepard also suggests an egg wash which I simply forgot but the bread browns beautifully in any case)

Pour the boiling water over the rolled oats and let soak for five minutes while preparing the other ingredients.

Add the grated apple, the leaven, the extra water, the yeast, and mix everything together with a wooden spoon. Stir in the dry ingredients. (Dan Lepard mixes the dough quick-bread style but I prefer to do it all in one bowl - less dish washing...)
Mix until you have a soft sticky dough. Cover and leave for ten minutes.

Rub 1 tbsp of oil onto your work surface and knead the dough for ten seconds. (Between kneading Dan Lepard always returns the dough into the cleaned and lightly oiled mixing bowl - I just put the bowl over the dough on the work surface to prevent the dough from drying-out).

Knead the dough once more for ten seconds and shape it into a smooth, round ball.

Either return dough to bowl and cover or again put the bowl on top of the dough as a cover. Leave for one hour at 21-25 degrees Celsius.

Lightly flour your work surface and shape the dough into a loaf. Final rise: Either leave the loaf seam-side down on a piece of baking paper or put the loaf seam-side up into a proofing basket. Leave for 1.5 hours or until almost doubled in height.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 210 degrees Celsius (conventional). I also like to put in an extra baking sheet to splash on some water at the beginning of the baking process. This helps to create steam for a nice rise and good crust.

At the end of the final rise, I like to brush my loaf with lots of water, sprinkle some flour on top, rub it in, and brush with more water. This is similar to a glaze and results in a shiny surface after baking. It also helps to glue on toppings like rolled oats.

Bake the loaf in the middle of the oven. Splash a cup of water on the lower baking sheet during the first five minutes. After 30 minutes in total, lower the temperature to 190 degrees Celsius and bake for a further 15-20 minutes. The loaf should be golden-brown, feel light in weight and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

The source
Adapted from "Dan Lepard: The Handmade Loaf"

The hint
This bread tastes best on the second day. On the first day, the crumb is almost sticky with moistness and you can feel pieces of apple. On the second day, the flavours will have combined beautifully. This loaf has an incredible shelf-life and will stay fresh for a week (I store my bread in a fabric bag made out of a tea towel). However, it's also delicious when toasted.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

An Interview... and a Banana Cake

When reading the interview meme over a Tartelette I was instantanously intrigued to get such an interesting glimpse into another person's life - and ultimately I began to wonder what Helen might ask me if I just asked her for an interview... Would it be awkward, would it be nice? Whilst reading through the comments other people had left, I decided to be spontaneous (which I am usually not) and just ask her. And a couple of days later, an email arrived with five questions I've been pondering about since then.

But hang on a minute - and I haven't forgotten about the banana cake recipe I've promised in the last post. This banana cake is very moist due to the coffee and that makes you almost forget about its low-fat character. Almost - I said. Another question I'm wondering about these days: When knowing you eat something is rather healthy (well, as far as cake goes), will you still think it moreish or are you unintentionally inclined not to like it that much? While liking the pronounced banana flavour, I couldn't quite make up my mind on how to rate this cake. My boyfriend wasn't a reliable test person in that respect because he simply complained about the fact that the cake didn't contain any chocolate. In case you're not looking for something healthy, feel free to add tons of chocolate chips!

Now without further ado, an interview by Helen of Tartelette:

1/ Name a few things you miss the most about Germany, food related and not.

Well, I better won't start listing all my friends and family... Apart from that, I very much miss German bakeries with non-pillowy bread, crusty bread rolls, and their non-refined but tasty sweet treats. I really don't need a layered mousse cake all the time... However, this deprivation was the trigger to make my own bread which turned out to be utterly fascinating. I still haven't discovered all the mysteries about sourdough etc. but I'm working on it!

Another thing I'm constantly whinging about is the absence of European-style quark or curd. It's a crucial ingredient of many a cake in Germany as you can see here; and mixed with fruit, a little sugar, and maybe some cinnamon or even cream it's the perfect afternoon snack.

I also had to accept that you can hardly get decent potatoes in Sydney - they're usually very pale, floury, and almost tasteless. And now remember that in traditional German cuisine the potato is omnipresent...

Okay, enough complaining. Apart from certain foods, there's not a lot of things that I really miss. Getting settled in Australia was easier than you might think - after all, most of the Australians have their roots in some European country so I didn't feel very "foreign". In any case, I'm still glad that my boyfriend who lured me down under, didn't plan to do his PhD in Siberia or any other uncomfortable place.

2/ As an expat I encounter many stereotypes about my home country. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions people have about Germany?

Currently experiencing winter in a country without central heating and/or properly insulated houses, I am cold all the time... Aussie friends are usually a bit bewildered about that: "Hey, you're from Germany where you have snow all the time - shouldn't you be used to it?" Well, I admire the Aussies who defeat the cold weather by sheer will power. I have never seen a people so determined to wear shorts and thongs even on a grey and rainy day with only 5 degrees. What makes it even funnier is the fact that there are also people determined on finally wearing a winter coat with a scarf when summer has barely finished. Sometimes you might get sick of wearing shorts and thongs...

Apart from that, Germans are supposed to be always on time - and I'm trying to do my best in showing that we can be just as relaxed as everyyone else on earth..;-)

3/ What is the hardest thing to adjust to when moving from Europe to Australia? The easiest?

This may sound a bit weird but the hardest thing was being constantly confronted with a certain question: "How are you?" This question exists in Germany, too, but is hardly ever used. Usually, only good friends would ask you this and then expect to get a full answer. So you'll start ranting about all the crap that has recently happened in your life. I quickly realized that the girl at the checkout did not really want to know about the state of my relationship, failed job applications or that I gained two kilos in just one week. However, I always felt a bit startled whenever the guy at the meat counter asked how I was doing today. In order to prevent any awkward silence or helpless mumbling on my part, I started to learn a few unsuspicious, short phrases to be thrown in whenever the need would arise. Eventually, I learned to relax. But to be honest, it took me about a year.

The easiest thing was to get accustomed to calling everyone by the first name. In Germany, this is pretty much unheard of. It's an important part of etiquette to address people in senior positions (or simply people older than you) only with their surname. And the day your boss offers you to call him by his first name, is regarded as something really special. However, I really like this custom!

4/ We call ourselves foodies but we all have closet with non foodie items that we use or eat once in a while, be it cake mix, instant mixes, etc...Which ones are yours if any?

I've already admitted here that I'm quite addicted to custard out of a little paper sachet. For me, it's all about instant gratification... Another favourite cheat of mine is a box with spaghetti, dehydrated tomato sugo, including little sachets with herbs and grated parmesan. This stuff can be stored almost indefinitely and is therefore always available - and let me tell you, it's quite tasty, too. Furthermore, it's not even unhealthy compared with other fast food items. However, I've never seen this little box anywhere in Australia - now I have to take care that my cupboard is always well stocked with all four emergency items.

5/ Name 2 ingredients, dishes or items that you have never had but always dreamed to try.

I'm a great admirer of French pastry - especially as I've never been able to make a tart crust that came close to those I've had in France. They're crunchy, nicely browned which gives them a slightly nutty taste, and they won't crumble too much when you bite into it. One day, I'll master it... However, I had at least a taste of it - which is still not the case with Tarte Tatin, another signature dish of France. Currently, I'm only owning a spring form tin but as soon as I have something that won't give way to all the buttery caramel goodness on the bottom, that'll be the first cake to bake!

I'm just realizing that there's a lot of French stuff that I haven't had yet. It's a bit embarrassing but I may be the only food-blogger who has never ever had creme brulee. Whilst everyone is blogging about the newest concoction infused with earl grey tea, lavender or who-knows-what, I'm still missing the original experience. I don't know if it never was on any restaurant menu (that said, I usually have sweet stuff at home) or if I just didn't choose it. One reason might be that I usually try to choose a flavour combination that I can't anticipate at all - and I am able to imagine custard. However, I'm still lacking the whole brulee experience. Look at this wonderful shiny, caramelized surface - let's get cracking!

And who would like to get interviewed next?

1. Leave a comment saying, “Interview me.”
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Beware, I’m not shy of asking personal questions! Please make sure I have your email address.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions. Answer as little or as much as you'd like. And don't forget to add the directions at the bottom of your post
4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Healthy Banana Cake

The ingredients

2 big bananas, mashed
125 ml strong coffee, cold
75 ml oil
3 eggs
100g caster sugar
100g brown sugar
100g all-purpose flour
200g LSA-Mix (see hint)
1 sachet baking powder

Note: I forgot to mention that I also added some cinnamon, mixed spice, vanilla sugar, and a pinch of salt.

Mix eggs with sugar and all the liquid ingredients.

Fold in flour, LSA-Mix, and baking powder.

Spoon the batter into prepared muffin or mini-loaf tin and bake at 150 degrees (fan-forced) until a skewer inserted comes out clean (I don't remember the exact baking time but it was around 20-25 minutes).

The source
My own invention

The hint
LSA-Mix consists of linseed, soy, and almonds that are ground - you'll find it in the health aisle of your supermarket. If not, substitute with ground nuts of your choice.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Meme: 7 Random Things about Me

Nora from Life's Smorgasbord has tagged me for my first meme ever: I am to tell 7 random things about me - that she doesn't know already. That's a hard one... I thought and thought and thought - and could only come up with food-related things. I wonder why...

1. I have already mentioned how much I love semolina pudding. And I always had a particular notion about how a proper semolina pudding should be like. One time on a holiday, (I was so small back then that I don't remember the following story but my parents take great delight in telling it over and over again..;-) my parents ordered my beloved pudding. The friendly staff of the nice restaurant not only cooked something that was for sure not part of the menu - but they also put a smiling face on it (using chocolate, nuts or something like that). However, this wasn't the semolina pudding I was used to. Therefore, I refused to eat it until they removed the face. You wouldn't call that stubborn, would you?

2. I still remember my first words in English: "One piece of Canadian Bacon, please!" I was 12 years old and spent the summer vacation with my family in the US - it was the first time for me to be outside of Europe. Pretty exciting. However, my English lessons were to start right after the vacation (having started with Latin first) so communication was only possible in a non-verbal way. After having had pizza for lunch in some city along the east coast I still felt hungry and I felt courageous. So back I went to the pizza stall and repeated what I had learned by heart: "One piece of Canadian Bacon, please!" I didn't understand what each word meant but it worked nonetheless. I was sooo proud of my achievement...

3. I've always been quite hopeless with mental arithmetic. So my mum thought that's got to change and tried to train me while simultanously showing me how to bake. It would go like that: "For this recipe you need 375g of flour. If you want to make one and a half times this recipe, how much flour will you need?" Well, what shall I say, I'm still pretty bad with mental arithmetic...

4. My most exhausting cooking adventure happened during a camping trip with my former scouts club (yes, I was a proud member of our local scouts club!). Together with a friend, I was cooking for up to 25 11-14 year-olds. Imagine a makeshift hearth with four wooden beams rammed into the earth supporting two sturdy metal grids: one as a stove top and one for the wood to burn. Each day, with some help from little pyromaniacs, we started a real hell fire. To stand the heat you had to wear sturdy gloves like the ones construction workers have. And when wearing shorts you were in danger to get all the little hair burnt off your legs... One day, we got a bit over-confident and made Kaiserschmarrn from scratch. It took forever - but the kids loved it!

5. One of the most terrible things to try is yak butter tea. Last year, on a hiking trip through Tibet, we ordered a flask in a guesthouse. While secretly being watched by the locals, the men of our party managed to down the stuff. After the first sip, I politely declined. However, I tried it once more: After having reached a pass in 5225 metres altitude, I was pretty stuffed and gladly excepted the bread and the tea cup our local guide handed around. His version was less strong and less buttery - and I was exhausted enough to give it another try. However, I've had my share and will never do it again.

6. Once upon a time, a Black Forest Cake taught me a lesson in humility. It was during my studies and I had promised to make such a cake for my friends. Okay, I did boast just a little bit that my Black Forest Cake was the best ever, for sure. Little did I know that this was to be the first one I would ruin. To make the cream filling extra-tasty, I had added a bit too much kirsch. Therefore, the cream didn't seem to get stiff at all. I kept on beating and beating - until the cream had almost turned into butter. My friends teased me mercilessly - not that I didn't deserve it...

7. The last one is a little bit embarassing but I have to admit that I secretly love a certain type of instant baby cereal/mush/porridge - there's no real word for that in English. To my defence I have to say that I only like the ones of a certain German brand (and I hate all the other brands). When my sister was little and we had the stuff at home, I always ate it after school as a quick snack. And if it's good for babies, it won't be bad for you either, right? Alas, I can't get it here in Australia and I haven't had it in years but I would eat it without hesitating a second...

PS: I won't tag anyone because it looks like everyone has been asked about it already. However, if you read that and you haven't disclosed 7 random things about yourself yet, go ahead!

PPS: The picture above shows a low-fat banana cake - yes, I was trying to be good. The recipe will be coming soon.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Blinis with Smoked Salmon - Disenchanted

There are things you crave that just seem too dainty to eat in reality. A feast in caviar maybe or those handmade chocolates covered in edible gold leaves. For me, blinis always were associated with the luscious festivities of the Russian aristocracy and not to be eaten by mere mortals. However, it might as well be every day fare for a tsar, I told myself. And vodka didn't have to be part of the game either. Some way or other, I finally convinced myself that blinis could simply be made for dinner - even without an invitation to a Russian palace.

Naturally, it helped that I still had lots of buckwheat flour - the souvenir from my trip to Western Australia. Armed with a cookbook about all sorts of pancakes, crepes, and blinis I set to work. Unfortunately, that book didn't turn out to be very precise. I use yeast very regularly but I still appreciate precise descriptions about the process. For example, it's not very helpful to only state the rising time and not what the dough should look like at the end. How on earth does the cookbook author know about the activity of my yeast, the temperature in my kitchen, and all the other little things that are vital for the process? Well, I tried to use my common sense and things seemed to work out.

That said, from now on I'm definitely over and done with my cravings. Blinis are thoroughly disenchanted. I won't think of them as food only fit for tsars, princes, and other aristocrats. And that's not because I served them with the now ordinary smoked salmon instead of the still rare caviar. Truth be told, my blinis turned out to be a bit bland like boring pancakes and not as finger-licking delicious as I had imagined. Maybe blinis never were that special. Maybe I should just try a better recipe.

Blinis with smoked Salmon

The ingredients

550ml milk
1 tsp dry yeast
100g buckwheat flour
165g all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt (if you like, use a bit more)
3 eggs, separated

To serve:
200ml creme fraiche or sour cream
300g smoked salmon (or as much as you like)
fresh dill, chopped

Serves 5-6

Warm the milk slightly and dissolve the yeast in it. You can leave it to rise first or use it right away which is what I did.

Add the milk to the remaining ingredients (except the egg whites), stirring thoroughly. You will end up with a rather runny batter.

Cover the bowl and leave to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours. Note: Unfortunately, the original recipe doesn't state what the batter should look like after the rising period. I decided that it looked okay and well-risen after 1,5 hours.

Beat egg whites until very stiff and carefully fold into the batter.

Ladle the batter into a greased and heated pan. I used about 2 heaped tablespoons per blini. Cook until dry on one side, flip over, and cook on the other side. Keep warm in a preheated oven, wrapped in foil.

Serve with smoked salmon, sour cream, chopped dill, and lots of freshly cracked pepper.

The source
Adapted from Camille Le Foll: Crepes, Blinis & Pancakes with friends

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Calming down with Red Risotto

There are times when everything turns from the well-planned into the unexpectedly chaotic. Add to this friends coming over for dinner and you get me freaked-out. Luckily, my friend Nora from Life's Smorgasbord and her partner weren't expecting a dinner extravaganza - instead, Nora and I had planned to cook together. Nora even brought vital ingredients like readily marinated garlic prawns. Lucky me...

While frantically getting the kitchen into ready-to-use status, Nora contentedly sipped her red wine and chatting with me, she got me cooled down eventually. We managed to put together a very nice three course dinner: Pumpkin Soup, Red Risotto with Garlic Prawns and homemade Vanilla Custard which I had already prepared the night before.

Despite being still not very coordinated, I did not manage to botch the pumpkin soup. Nora who had chosen the risotto recipe, took charge of the main course so I didn't have to do much more than stirring... With some steamed asparagus for added vitamins this risotto proved to be an absolute winner. The amount of tomato paste was just right, not overwhelming, and provided the ideal backdrop for the juicy garlicky prawns. The only thing we changed was adding another half cup of rice and therefore adjusting the amount of chicken stock. The recipe is supposed to be for four people and I was pretty hungry after all that last-minute hurry. With good food and wine and with a little help of my friends I managed to enjoy myself and we all had a wonderful evening!

If you'd like to read Nora's account of our cooking adventure, head over to her post!