Monday, 22 October 2007

Cheese Cake, German style, and more Bread

This years World Day of Bread on 16th October has been a complete success. Zorra of Kochtopf the creator of this blog event had to be really busy: check out her round-up of 184 entries with more than 200 bread recipes from 28 different countries!

And it looks like that this streak of bad bread baking luck has finally left me. Since then, I've been able to make the crusty bread rolls pictured above which was quite a miracle in itself. I started off with a recipe by Peter Reinhart and realized mid-way through that I didn't have certain ingredient. So I switched to a Rose Levy Beranbaum recipe - all the way ignoring the difference between dry active yeast (that's what I have at home) and instant yeast (that's what these guys are using). Luckily, I noticed it early enough and could adjust fermenting and rising times accordingly...

For the ones who were interested in a traditional German-style cheese cake, I've finally managed to inquire about the recipe (after baking I had simply forgot to jot it down). Over the years, I've tried many a recipe for this kind of cake which is one of the most popular in Germany. I've also gotten very good results using a few tablespoons of semolina as a stabilizer but the following recipe is the favourite of my family.

Usually, the recipe calls for rum-soaked raisins which also act as a stabilizer. However, this time we had run out of them - but I'm not fond of raisins anyway. That means, most of the time, two cakes have to be baked to make everyone happy..;-)

Shortcrust Pastry
The ingredients

150g butter, softened
100g sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 sachet vanilla sugar (equals a heaped tablespoon)
1-2 tbsp rum
250g all-purpose flour
1/2 sachet baking powder (equals 7.5g)

Cream butter with both types of sugar and the salt until pale and fluffy.

Incorporate the egg and the rum, mixing thoroughly.

Add flour and baking powder mixing on low speed until it all comes together.

Take the dough out of the mixing bowl and briefly knead together. Shape into a ball, cover with foil and chill in the fridge until ready to use (at least 30 minutes).

The hint
This dough will be softer than shortcrust pastry that is made by cutting the butter into the flour. However, it should not be sticky. Don't add anymore flour otherwise you'll end up with concrete and not with a tender crust.

The filling
The ingredients

(suitable for a springform 28 centimetres in diameter)

60g butter, softened
200g sugar
2 sachets vanilla sugar
pinch of salt
4 eggs, separated
1 kg quark (can be substituted with ricotta)
50g all-purpose flour
1/2 sachet baking poweder (7.5g)

If using a springform of 26 centimetres, only change the following amounts:

50g butter
150g sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 sachet vanilla sugar
750g quark

(the amounts for flour and baking powder stay the same)

In a dry, fat-free bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In another big bowl, cream butter with both types of sugar.

Mix in egg yolks until thoroughly incorporated.

Mix in quark. To make sure that everything is evenly distributed, use a spatula to scrape down sides and bottom.

Scrape egg whites on top of quark mixture, sift flour and baking powder atop. Gently fold everything together.

Butter your preferred springform pan and line it with the shortcrust pastry. I usually don't roll it but rather tear off pieces and press them into the tin. I make the rim by rolling pastry into little rolls and pressing them onto the sides of the tin.

Pour in the filling and fan-bake at 150 degrees Celsius for up to an hour or until well-set. The crust should be golden-brown and the filling should be speckled with brownish dots.

The hint
After turning off the oven, let the cake rest in there for at least another hour. That way, the quark filling won't collapse as much.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Crusty Bread Rolls

Maybe it's just me. After my latest attempts at bread making, I should have known to pay attention where attention is due. But no, I did not read the recipe carefully enough and I did not convert the measurements properly. In hindsight, I did just about everything wrong that you can do wrong. However, I was lucky enough not to ruin it this time. Okay, the following is an account of how-not-to-bake.

I started off with Peter Reinhart's Kaiser Rolls. In his book "The Bread Baker's Apprentice", they make a very shiny appearance and simply looked so inviting that I instantly knew which bread rolls to make this weekend. I started on a Saturday night with the pate fermentee. Unfortunately, the book doesn't state the ingredients in grams. Not wanting to convert the whole thing I quickly decided to simply use the included baker's percentage. You can simply read 100 per cent as 100 g of flour and go further from there, right? Well, it's not quite as easy. Just after stirring the pate together, I realized that the baker's percentage tells you about the relation between the ingredients in the entire recipe and not just the pate fermentee.

Pate Fermentee or Biga or whatever

200g bread flour
130g water
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp dry active yeast


All of the above
230g bread flour
1 tsp dry active yeast

Luckily, this time the stars were aligned properly,

Friday, 19 October 2007

High Tea at the Intercontinental

Sometimes you need a little indulgence... Inspired by Anna's account of High Tea at the Intercontinental Hotel, my dear friend Nora from Life's Smorgasbord and I went there, too. We hadn't been able to meet for quite a while so there was a lot of news to catch up on. And what's better than doing this with a nice pot of tea and some sweet little treats! The Intercontinental Hotel was the perfect backdrop for a cozy yet elegant afternoon and thanks to the Good Food Month we could sample a High Tea tasting plate including a hot beverage for the very reasonable price of 15 bucks.

In comparison to Anna's photo you'll see that they more than doubled the amount of vanilla sauce to go with the muesli slice. Good idea, otherwise it would have been a pretty dry experience. Flavour wise, my favourite was the praline stick (according to Nora, it reminded her of Nutella which I like quite a lot) and the sauces were pretty nice as well. Although I can't say that the sweets blew me away, they served a decent cuppa and the atmosphere in the courtyard was just perfect. We spent a wonderful afternoon and I hope to do something like this again in the near future!

Wanna know more about what's going on during the Good Food Month in Sydney? Check out Anna's round-ups of week one and week two and share the experiences of other food bloggers! Some time this weekend, another summary of the third week will be available at Morsels&Musings.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Baking and Cursing and Baking

I don't know what I did to deserve this. For months, I've been feeding my little sourdough culture dutifully. I (almost) never poured the surplus down the drain, having found another way to deal with it. Batch after batch after batch, my loaves turned out tasty even if sometimes mal-shaped. And now this. If there are any gods of the crust and crumb, I must have offended them in a really terrible way. At least, this is the only explanation I can come up with after suffering not one but several set-backs during my recent bread baking adventures.

It started off with what seemed to be child's play. One should not have any trouble with reproducing one's own recipes, right? After several trips, I decided not to bother with sourdough just yet. Instead I turned to an old favourite, a buckwheat bread with sunflower seeds. Well, let's just forget about this one, ok? It was the blandest bread I've ever made and I'd like to blame rancid buckwheat flour - but truth be told, I don't know for sure. Maybe, this was just too easy? I set to work with another favourite, my pain de campagne. Well, it could have been okay, if I had been able to properly use my new bread peel which is hand-made by my father (thanks again, Dad!). Instead of sliding the loaf elegantly onto my pizza stone, it stuck to the peel and I eventually plunked it into the oven, top-down of course. The carefully water-brushed side baked to a very, very crusty bottom; and the top with the remaining polenta sticking on didn't bake to anything crusty at all. Needless to say, the bread didn't rise properly.

But the worst was yet to come: my sourdough culture is playing dead! Before leaving for overseas, I had frozen three portions of rye mother. The first one got defrosted and bubbled nicely on my kitchen counter - until I realized that it's getting already too warm in Sydney. The top was mouldy. I took out the second portion. Slowly, I was getting a little bit nervous. After all, World Bread Day was approaching fast - and so far, nothing photo-worthy had happened. I now kept the culture in the fridge but there wasn't much action going on. It smelled sour but that was it. Before feeding it for the umphf-time, I decided to at least try to bake something with some of the culture mixed in. Since the last library foray, I was reading Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Bakers's Apprentice" and if I wasn't able to tackle one of the elaborate recipes, I should be capable of modifying the easiest recipe of the whole book, his light wheat bread. I added 500g of my lazy sourdough culture, added another 150g of bread flour to make up for the increased water content and used an 8g-sachet of dry active yeast for roughly 1.6kg of dough. A little more salt, some pumpkin seeds, olive oil instead of butter, and off you go into the fridge for almost ten hours (instead of rising at room temperature).

At least, this time I got the loaves off the peel properly. However, after baking they stuck so stubbornly to the pizza stone that I almost ruined my new bench scraper trying to remove them. Again, not enough polenta... Currently, the (long ago broken) pizza stone and the baking sheet are soaking in hot water. And whilst my light rye bread tastes quite all right, it simply isn't the real thing. Maybe it'll all work out in a few days. Let me just go and check on my sourdough culture.

PS: This morning, I discovered mould on the second batch of my sourdough culture - while storing it in the fridge. I always thought that the wild yeast inhibits exactly that!?! Something must be seriously wrong with my culture. With now only one last batch waiting in the freezer, I will probably get the opportunity to try Dan Lepard's method of cultivating sourdough - much sooner than I had planned...

Friday, 12 October 2007

Good Food Month: Market in Pyrmont

Planning is not my strong point, unfortunately. Neither is keeping various things in mind. Sometimes, I secretly wonder why this seems to get even worse lately. However, it is at least a - somehwat meagre - explanation why it took me almost two years to visit the Pyrmont Growers' Market for the first time. After having seen several mouthwatering accounts of the going-ons and with the "Good Food Month" currently running in Sydney, I thought this time it has to happen. To have some company when foraging for food (and in order not to forget it again) I invited two friends to come along.

After a 45-minutes walk we finally reached our destination and I felt instantly overwhelmed by the masses of people. Of course, on a bright, sunny day this was to be expected. Anyway, after a little while I lost all shyness, simply looked over shoulders and peeked with my camera through queues of waiting customers to get shots of all the lovely produce on display.

Remarkably many people had not grocery supplies sticking out of their bags but flowers. They were beautiful indeed!

Pretty soon we all felt pretty hungry. Although the bacon-and-eggs guy was truly impressive with his fast turn-around technique...

...I opted for a nice sourdough roll instead. Can't resist a crusty roll...

...while one of my friends chose a savoury tart to start the day. As you see, my focus was on the sweet ones...

Perousing all the food, it was pretty clear that this market had little to do with the small town farmers' markets I was used to. With plenty of fruit and vegetables stalls and the occasional beekeeper or baker inbetween, these markets are very local. Here in Sydney, the focus was on gourmet fare: smoked fish...

or rare cheeses...

even chocolates...
and unusual honey...

and even christmas cakes...

on this colourful stall:

After a first browse it was pretty clear that I had to prioritize in order not to splash out money triggered by all these visual stimuli. So I concentrated on the really important things and bought wattle seeds (finally, I could get my hands on them), lemon myrtle (its odour slowly permeates my fridge, need to think about proper storage), a jar of blackberry jam (it's a bit weird, looks and tastes more like blackberry honey), lots of fresh herbs and a few other odds and ends.

It was a very enjoyable way to spend a Saturday morning. With a little bit of envy we watched the people participating in the slow food brunch, a "Good Food Month" event that took place at the market. However, it was so hot that I wasn't too disappointed to get back into the shade after a while. Not sure how much this canine visitor enjoyed his market stroll in the blazing sun. With roaring breath and sticking out his tongue, he tried to cool down, poor little bugger...

In any case, if my friends happen to remind me in time, I'll go again next month!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Enjoying German Specialties

After processing all the pictures I've taken while traveling through Germany, I came to realize that I didn't photograph that many meals at all... Anyway, here are a few food related memories. A little bit late, I know - having just arrived in Australia again, I went to Western Australia for work. I was already looking forward to paying another visit to my favourite Australian grocery store as I did last time. However, my only day in Perth turned out to be a Sunday. All I could do was staring through the shop window at the huge bags filled with millet flour, pearl barley, and other hard-to-get foods. Of course, it should be possible to get the same stuff here in Sydney - however, they'll cost me an arm and a leg, I'm sure...

Where was I? You see, no matter how much I've enjoyed the stay in my home country, as soon as I had set my food on Australian earth, the daily life just sucked me in again.

One of the first things I did at home was baking a real German Cheese Cake (pictured above). Made with real quark instead of cream cheese or ricotta, it has a slightly tarter taste and a much lighter texture than American cheese cake. Eating it on a sunny terrace made it taste even better...

After having eaten my way through this and this, I attended the next feast, the wedding of a dear friend.

Another opportunity to indulge in Bavarian doughnuts (a very local food, this version from another part of Bavaria looks slightly different from mine), layer cakes, and God know what else. I'd rather not list all the cakes I've tried and I haven't even said a word about the savoury dishes...

At my parents' place, I used the occasion to watch once again how to make a real Bavarian pork roast. For traditionalists, this is the only way to celebrate a proper Sunday lunch. Whilst I'm not against having something else for lunch, I really enjoy it once in a while. So far, I didn't dare to try my hands on it. Provided I'm still able to decipher my handwritten notes, I'll dare cooking it some time soon. Hopefully, this time I'll be able to take a nicer picture - this one was taken just before shoveling in...

Furthermore, I made some pralines to give away as a birthday present. The cutest ones were these pistachio marzipan hearts - the recipe will follow soon. For some reason I thought using couverture would save me the tedious tempering process. First, I didn't want to go through all this trouble. Secondly, I don't have a candy thermometer. However, this was a misconception and the chocolate coating lost its shine after three or four days. However, they still tasted pretty good; even though I usually don't like marzipan. But who wouldn't love anything heart-shaped?