Tuesday, 28 August 2007

SHF#34 - Going Local

A long time ago, when I first thought about moving to the other side of the world, my boyfriend would always start to chuckle: "I´d love to see you explaining to some Aussie bloke who never ever left Australia, from which particular, tiny area in Bavaria you´re from!" Well, if there´s one thing I´m getting missionary about then it´s the cultural diversity of my home country. Mind you, I´m not making any judgements - I just love to get to know all these little, graspable things that are part of this very abstract concept of identity. And let me tell you, there´s a lot to be proselytized - not even the people from our neighbouring state (on the Western side of southern Germany) knew enough about us.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to one of the seven districts of Bavaria which is located next to the Czech border: the Upper Palatinate (aka Oberpfalz)!

Ok, I know it´s pretty small. It´s not even an economically important area - once blooming industries like porcelain and lead crystal manufacturing are now wilting; and the long time in the shadow of the Iron Curtain wasn´t a good thing to begin with. There even is a rather mean saying that all the area has in abundance is stones on the fields.

However, with their limited supplies (milk products, potatoes, and apples were a staple) the people from the Upper Palatinate not only managed to get by but also produced some really tasty, hearty country fair.

Whenever there is a feast in this area it won´t be complete without some of the local doughnuts (which don´t have a hole in the middle but a very thinly stretched piece of dough). One of the bigger feasts was the annual church anniversary where the whole village would come together and party for an extended weekend. This occasion would call for another traditional cake, the so called "Church Anniversary Cake" or "Parish Fair Cake" - I can´t even find a proper translation for that one... The pronounciation in my home dialect may seem a bit weird: it´s "Kirbakejchln" (doughnuts) and "Kirbakoucha" (cake).

The doughnuts are very crispy in the middle, buttery-soft in the thicker parts, and not sickly sweet. As a kid, the first thing to do when visiting my grand mother, was looking into her pantry for some of these doughnuts...

Whilst doughnuts are well-known allover the world in some way or other, I bet that this cake with its peculiar yellow colour won´t be know to many people outside my area. The colour of the semolina pudding layer comes from the generous use of saffron. This traditional spice is still rather expensive and that´s probably the reason why people had this cake only once per year. Saffron also makes for a particular taste that I didn´t cherish as a kid (but I do now). You can have this cake to your liking either plain, topped with raisins, with a mixture of brown sugar, ginger bread crumbs, and syrup or with simply everything. Enjoy!

Although I´m pretty late, this is my entry for this month´s Sugar High Friday invented by the Domestic Goddess herself and this time hosted by Johanna from The Passionate Cook. Her theme of local specialties was just perfect for last weekend when I made these things for the 60th birthday party of my father which happened to be on the same day as our local parish party!

PS: Hidden behind the flowers is a traditional plum cake - I told you, I don´t do anything but eating...

PPS: Please excuse the subpar pictures, without the camera I´m used to, I´m pretty hopeless...

Parish Fair Doughnuts

You can use your preferred recipe for sweet yeast dough like this one. The only adjustment for soft doughnuts is to make a very soft dough by adding more liquid including alcohol. For 500g of flour add a shot of rum or kirsch and at least double the amount of milk (depending on your preferences).

After the first rise, roll out the dough to almost one centimetre in thickness on a lightly floured worksurface. Using a small drinking glass, cut out rounds. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled. Now comes the tricky part that I haven´t quite mastered yet: You have to turn and stretch the round piece of dough between your thumbs and index fingers until the middle is like a window pane and the rim is of an even thickness (well, more or less). Deep-fry each round on one side until golden brown, then turn around. It is important that there is no hot oil in the cavity after the turn (otherwise the middle won´t stay yellow). Let cool down on sheets of kitchen towel and serve with lots of icing sugar. The next day, refresh in the hot oven for a couple of minutes.

Church Anniversary Cake

Again, use your favourite sweet yeast dough as a base but make sure that this one isn´t too soft.

The ingredients

1.5 l milk
225g soft semolina
sugar to your liking
0.5g saffron (or a little bit more)
250g butter
5 eggs, separated

2 big pieces of ginger bread
400g light brown sugar
1-3 tbsp sugar beet molasses
250g raisins
rum (optional)

This makes enough to cover two big baking sheets as seen above.

Cook a thick semolina pudding, stir in butter, saffron, and sugar to your liking.

Add egg yolks. Beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks and gently fold in.

Roll out the dough onto your baking sheets and let rise for 15-20 minutes, cover with yellow semolina mixture.

Depending on your preferences, either bake plain or with raisins plumped in rum or with a sticky mixture of brown sugar/crumbled ginger bread/molasses or put everything on top.

Fan-bake at 150 degrees Celsius until the edges of the dough are golden brown.

The source
Adapted from a local cookbook: "Weidener Kuechengeheimnisse"

The hint
Tightly wrapped, the cake keeps very well for several days. The doughnuts can be frozen.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Back in the Land of the Bread

Dear Reader, you might have noticed by now that it was pretty quiet around here - again. However, this time I´ve got good reason for it: a week ago, I´ve boarded a plane for my annual visit in Germany - and now I´m back in the land of the Bread! Besides catching up with my family and especially my little nephew (an ueber cute, almost three-year-old) I´ve been real busy eating my way through all sorts of bread rolls, pretzels, and cakes, of course...

Surrounded by such an abundance, I won´t spend my time baking bread. Unfortunately, this also means that I can´t participate in the next Bread Baking Day, a food blogging event created by Zorra of Kochtopf and this month hosted by Ulrike of Kuechenlatein. Her perfectly chosen theme is bread with sourdough as the sole leavener. Well, I´ve put my sourdough to sleep in the freezer before I left Australia but I already look forward to seeing the round-up!

However, I still wanted to contribute something. And I´m pretty sure that the following two recipes are going to be helpful for the ones with a somewhat erratic schedule and therefore an underdeveloped sourdough culture. In the last few weeks, I couldn´t bake and feed my culture as often as needed. Whenever I did have time to do it, I could never be sure that the wild yeast would be strong enough to let the bread rise sufficiently. On the other hand, I didn´t want to pour all that sourdough down the drain. Remembering the old-dough-technique, I thought that using some weak, old sourdough plus commercial yeast would hopefully reduce my sourdough surplus as well as result in a bread with the deep flavour of matured dough. I guess I´m not the first one to come up with this idea but I was quite proud of the resulting bread nonetheless... The sunflower seed bread has a hearty taste and pairs nicely with cheese and cured meat whilst the sesame bread makes excellent toast topped with jam or honey.
One thing is important when using old sourdough in big quantities: the dough can get rather soft during the rising process. When I tried this the first time, I had to bake individual little breads in muffin tins because the dough was too soft for shaping and I didn´t want to add more flour. However, this didn´t happen to the breads pictured in this post. Another issue is the amount of commercial yeast that is needed for leavening. I was being cautious and added quite a lot but feel free to adjust according to the liveliness of your sourdough.
PS: It´s too early I know... I just can´t help but announce right now that I´m going to be hosting the Bread Baking Day for next February! Well, it´s early, as I said...

Rye Bread with Sunflower Seeds

The ingredients

150 ml water
300 g liquid rye sourdough (weak)
350 g liquid wheat sourdough (weak)
500 g bread flour
3 tsp salt
1 tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
1 sachet dry yeast (7-8g, equivalent to 2 1/2 tsp)

3 tbsp sunflower seeds (or more), toasted

Toast the sunflower seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes until they have a golden brown colour and start to smell nicely. Set aside.
When using a bread maker, first put the liquid ingredients into the pan, followed by the dry ingredients (except the seeds). Make sure to put the yeast on top of the flour where it shouldn´t touch the salt.
Start the dough program. When the bread maker beeps, add the sunflower seeds, reserving a little for topping.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
Interrupt the program after the first hour of kneeding and rising. Take the dough out of the pan and shape into a loaf. To do so, either lightly flour or lightly oil your worksurface depending on your preferences. Let rise for half an hour or until almost doubled in height.
Brush the loaf with water several times. If using, dust with flour. Again, brush with water. This results in a sticky surface which will work like glue for any topping. Sprinkle with the remaining sunflower seeds.
Insert the loaf into the oven. Splash a cup of water on the bottom of the oven and quickly shut the door (ideally, splash the water on another baking sheet on a lower shelf). Bake the loaf for roughly an hour or until well risen and golden brown. It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. To get a nice crust, open the oven door after 45-50 minutes of the baking time to get rid of the remaining steam. Let cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Wheat Bread with Sesame Seeds

The ingredients

100 ml water
350 g liquid wheat sourdough (weak)
1 tsp salt, heaped
3 tsp sugar
300g bread flour
1 1/2 tsp dry yeast
3 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
Follow the instructions above including toasting the sesame seeds. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for roughly 30 minutes or until well risen and golden brown.

The source
My own creation

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Anh's Cottony Cheesecake - Surprise at First Sight

Finally, finally... Honestly, I feel really bad for making you guys wait such a long time... Should have at least added the link to the original recipe - stupid me... As the title suggests, I saw this cheese cake over at Food Lover's Journey - the lovely blog of Anh from Melbourne. Besides loving all kinds of cheese cakes, I was truly intrigued by her love affair with this particular cheese cake. Wondering if I was to fall in love at first sight, too, I set to work. The only change I made was substituting dark rum for the lemon juice and vanilla bean paste for the black sesame powder (it was late at night and I didn't feel like hunting down this ingredient although I'm pretty sure that it's preferable to the rather well-known vanilla flavour).

For some reason, my computer decided to continually hibernate itself so I had a hard time making sure that I got all the ingredients in the right amounts (nearly forgot the corn flour...). This chaos could have been the reason for not thinking about the right kind of cream cheese to choose. Usually, I have the slightly fat-reduced one for breakfast and that's what I used for the cake, too. However, this resulted in a batter with pouring consistency - I definitely had no need to add any more milk as Anh had suggested in her recipe. And I'm pretty sure that I beat the egg whites until far too fluffy. All in all, the whole thing reminded me of souffle batter - not a bad thing in itself but I started to feel a bit worried - the recipe said it should be like your average cake batter...

Anyway, I poured it into my 20-centimeters spring form pan; the left-overs went into my little heart-shaped moulds. And then the waiting began. One hour and ten minutes is an awful long time when you're desperately wanting to eat this cake... I stared through the oven door and watched the batter rising beautifully, just like a souffle. However, I was pretty sure that this lofty appearance wouldn't last very long and during the last third of the baking time the cake flattened out quite a bit. It was then when I noticed that I had simply forgotten the water bath the recipe had called for...

Despite the fact that I had messed up a lot, the cake soon started to smell wonderful. When I took it out of the oven, I could barely contain my impatience and quickly cut one of the little cakes in half. Due to my greediness, I don't have any pictures... The texture was quite different from the large cake. The small ones had retained their airy structure and with their dark brown edges, they reminded me of Canneles. Mind you, i've never eaten any but they looked exactly like this or like that had there been any chocolate in it. Now I definitely have to try the real thing!

The next day, during a dinner party, I cut up the large cake and got my second surprise. Although the cake didn't have the decidedly cottony texture of Anh's original, it reminded me of another French specialty: Far Breton. I had eaten this custardy prune-studded cake only once in my life while on school exchange in Brittany. However, I loved it so much that I still remember the taste of it. And this cake was a darn good replica!

All in all, this cake was surprise at first sight - and what a good one! Now I just have to find the time to try the original recipes. Besides following Anh's recipe to the letter...

The hint
First, I served this cake with warm berry sauce and slightly whipped cream. However, strawberries marinated in a little sugar and Cointreau were an even better accompaniment.