Bretzeln

DSC_1006.JPGThese are the real Bretzeln, not the crisp, bone-dry Pretzels you are given on an aeroplane.

You need pure caustic soda for this. You can buy crystals of pure sodium hydroxide and make your own lye. Pure chemicals fit for use in food can be bought under the name Bretzellauge from a number of German online suppliers.

Don’t mess about with substitutes, such as dissolved bicarbonate of soda. It’s a very, very poor substitute.

Make a 4% lye from 40 g pure sodium hydroxide crystals on one litre of water, following procedures and safety advise on the packaging. You can store this in a glass bottle, as it can be reused many times. The lye shouldn’t be in contact with textiles, your eyes or any mucous membrane, but it is not very aggressive. A cheap pair of plastic gloves protect your hands, your reading glasses take care of your eyes. My worktop and my silicone baking sheets tolerate this lye with ease.

For one full-sized baking tray (6 to 8 Bretzeln):

300 g white wheat flour, 5 g salt, 1 nob of soft butter (about the size of a walnut), 20 g fresh yeast (or dry yeast if you must), 90 ml lukewarm water, 90 ml lukewarm milk.

Dissolve salt, butter, yeast in the milky water, then add the resulting liquor to the flour.

Knead thoroughly, let rest for 20 minutes, then knead briefly once more. Divide the dough into 6 equal parts for chunkier Bretzeln, or 8 parts for smaller and thinner ones. (Make the chunkier ones first until you have got the hang of it.)

Now roll each chunk into a thin sausage, approximately as thin as my index finger or perhaps your thumb, ~ 15 mm, then swiftly shape into a Bretzel: stretch the roll into a straight line and mentally mark the point one third away from each end. Now take both ends into a smooth loop towards you, twist them around each other just once, and attach the end from the right to the point one third from the right end, the end from the left to the point one third from the left.

This is a lot harder to explain than to do, but you may need a little practise.

Line your baking tray with a silicone baking sheet (alternatively use baking parchment).

Gently pour the lye into a flat dish, such as a Pyrex baking dish. Put on the rubber gloves and dip each Bretzel into the lye. A simple in-and-out will do, the Bretzeln don’t need to rest in the lye. Take care as the lye makes them slippery and makes them fall apart.

Place the Bretzeln on the tray with a little space in between, and give them another 30 minutes to rise further. Sprinkle them lightly with coarse salt (rock salt, sea salt flakes, etc).

Return the remaining lye to the bottle, clean up, preheat the oven to 200 C (390 F).

Bake for approximately 15 minutes, place them on a cooling rack and enjoy as soon as you possibly can. They are best straight from the oven.

We like them just so, or with a little butter, or with steak tartare, or with cheese – almost anything really.

 

Bread

P20160710121543.JPGBread making is surprisingly simple and astonishingly rewarding. Have a go!

This is our daily bread, which we love for its taste, texture, and the fact that it keeps pretty well even though it is made from the most basic ingredients only, and free of any emulgators, stabilisers, colouring, preservatives and what-nots.

The basic dough is simple:

500 g white wheat flour
25 g fresh yeast
10 g salt
60 to 70 ml of lukewarm water per 100 g of flour
your ferment (“mother dough”), see notes below

Use 60 ml if you want to shape the bread by hand, roll it or otherwise sculpt it.

Use 70 ml for proving overnight and subsequent baking in a backing dish. This makes for the richest flavour but is too fluid for shaping.

Another household favourite uses a flour mix from 250 g of white white flour and 50 g each of white spelt flour, whole spelt flour and whole rye flour.

The process is always the same: dissolve all ingredients except for the flour in the liquid, then knead into the flour. Knead very thoroughly to obtain gluten, which gives a strong and chewy bread, knead just enough to make a homogeneous mix for a fluffier, lighter bread. Let rest for 20 to 30 minutes, then knead again. Knead thoroughly or very briefly depending on whether you want the result to be strong or fluffy.

For “immediate” baking, let prove for at least on hour, two is better. Some ovens have a dough proving program (40 C, no fan), that helps to accelerate the process. British traditionalists would place the bowl in the airing cupboard next to the hot water cylinder.

For baking in the next morning, spray with a little water to moisten the surface, then cover with cling film in a tall bowl. It will rise tremendously, and proving times up to 18 hours are no problem at all.

Before you get ready to bake your bread, take away a small fistful of dough. Moisten it with a spray can, let it set uncovered for a few hours, then cover with cling film. This is your ferment, which you’ll add to the next batch. The longer you’ll keep this running the more aromatic and unique your bread will be. This process is similar to making sourdough, but is much easier, less messy. The ferment will sour over time, too, so I do sometimes call our bread soured bread.

A 500 g loaf bakes at 220 C in 40 minutes.
Baguettes, Fougasse or smaller rolls are happy with 200 C for 12 to 18 minutes, just watch the colour.

Apple Pork Roast

DSC_0423.JPGA delicious juicy pork roast with sage and apples. Perfect for autumn.

The basic idea is to cook a pork roast in its own steam, supported by some steaming apples.

Get Braeburn apples. Don’t fool around with another variety; Braeburn have the perfect mix of sweetness and acid, have a lovely flavour, are crisp when raw, and can hold a nice consistency even over 90 minutes in the oven. Take my word for it: get Braeburn. One per person, and an extra one or two in total. More if the apples are small.

Peel, remove the core, and cut into chunky pieces. Quarters or eighths work for me. Set aside.

In a saucepan, mix and melt one tablespoon of honey with juice from 1/4 lime per person. Add one star anise and 1/3 clove (per person). Bring close to the boil, keep it there for a few minutes, then pour over the apples. Let the apples marinade for a while. Toss them over a few times.

Prepare the pork meat. I use a leg or shoulder roast, but remove much of the fat and skin. Now rub the meat with a generous amount of sea salt flakes, crushed black pepper and dried sage.

Put the apples with all their spices and juices into a 2 inch deep roasting dish. Place your spiced meat on top of the apples, then seal the whole thing as good as you can with tin foil. You might want to punch a small (small!) steam hole into the top for venting.

Preheat your oven at 170 C (340 F). Allow for 30 minutes per pound of meat cooking time, plus 20 minutes extra. When removing it from the oven, allow to stand for ten minutes before you open the tin foil. When you do open the tin foil, take care not to scold yourself at the escaping steam.

Serve with good quality egg Fettuccine, which you toss about with lots of melted butter and plenty of quickly fried-up fresh sage.

Cut the pork, serve pasta and the apples alongside. Enjoy with a crisp white wine and a couple of friends.

Apple Tarte Tatin

DSC_0448.JPGA delicious Apple Tarte Tatin, free from the frequently-seen puff pastry nonsense, lightly caramelised for stunning golden looks.

Tarte Tatin is an upside-down cake, with a topping of caramelized apples on a shortcrust base (but made upside down, crust on top). You need a fire-proof frying pan for it, one with a metal handle (or take off the plastic handle), as it needs to go into the oven.

Shortcrust base:

Mix 150g white flour with 70g soft butter. Add a pinch of salt, and mix thoroughly until you have fine crumbles. You can do this in the blender or using a hand mixer and a tall bowl. Now add one whole medium-sized free range egg, and a tablespoon of cold water. Mix until it forms a homogeneous glue.

Place a layer of cling film on your worktop, big enough to cover the frying pan. If necessary, have two strips of cling film overlap. Place the dough in the middle and flatten it out by hand as much as you can, then cover with the same sized cling film arrangement.

With the dough between the cling film sheets, roll it to an even 3mm.

Put flat into the fridge to rest. I never have space in my fridge for this, so I simply put it flat down onto a cool stone or tiled floor.

Topping:

Peel five firm and aromatic apples. Braeburn, Kidds Orange Red, Ped Pippin or Jazz are my favourites. Cut into quarters, remove cores. Sprinkle juice form half a lime all over, then set aside.

Preheat your oven to 190 Celsius.

Preheat your frying pan on fairly high heat on your gas or electric cooker. Mix 80g white cane sugar (= 4 tablespoons) with the seeds from one vanilla pod (keep the remaining pod for later). Heat this vanilla sugar mix, just to the point where the first sugar crystals start dissolving. Add a generous knob of soft butter, then add the leftover vanilla pod, and then distribute the apples into the mix. Remember your looking at the underside, so make the apply core cut-outs face you.

Add 100ml of Armagnac, Calvados or Brandy and give it a little shake to dissolve the sugar. Take care nothing catches fire (I’m serious! There’ll be a cloud of combustible alcohol vapor, so do take care).

This should now be bubbling away merrily. Allow to bubble for a couple of minutes, depending on the amount of liquid produced. You’re done when the caramel begins to get a golden colour and some of the excess liquid is evaporated, maybe after 3 minutes or so.

Remove pan from heat.

Baking:

Take dough out of cling film, and cover the apples with it. Tuck it in around the edges so that it makes an upside-down cake.

Put into the oven at 190 Celsius for approximately 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately turn upside down onto a suitable cake serving plate. Don’t wait for the pan to cool – turn over immediately!

Service with or without vanilla ice cream (with optional plum and Calvados mix-ins).

Artichoke Stir-Fry

DSC_0079.JPGA crisp and delicious quick stir-fry from fresh artichoke hearts, packed with flavour.

Most books discuss preparation methods which involve submerging the artichoke, or parts of it, in boiling water for some time. I prefer the stir-fry method, which doesn’t water-down the delicate taste.

Trim the artichoke by removing the stalk, most of the leaves, and the hairy carpet (which is called the choke). For this dish, where you’ll slice the hearts, it is easier to trim stalk and leaves first, then slice heart and choke combined, then remove the choke in slices. You’re left with an enormous amount of compostable waste (which the Guinea pigs only eat in the absence of other fresh food), and you have the artichoke heart. Cut it into slices 5mm thin, then cut those into halves. Irregular shapes also look nice, but will take different cooking time due to the varying thickness.

Lightly sprinkle with lime juice right away, and toss about in the lime juice occasionally until you’re ready to cook.

To cook, simply heat a good quality extra-virgin olive oil in a pan or wok, and stir-fry the artichokes for 3..4 minutes, adding more lime juice as you go along, and adding salt and black pepper to taste only in the last minute.

I usually also add capers, sometimes olives, or sauteed potatoes.

We love this stir-fry to accompany white fish, such as a pan-fried sea bass or sea bream fillet with crispy skin. Add a lime mayonnaise, or a Rouille, or a Sauce Vierge, and you’ve got a winner, a champion, a superstar on a plate.

My Moussaka

wp-15435288226415950861927555480911.jpgFirst, a word for the IMP, the International Moussaka Police:

I claim no authenticity with this recipe. Some say Moussaka must be made with tomatos, othes say it can’t possibly contain this or that. This is My Moussaka. It tastes good and looks good and I like, and the closest name match is Moussaka. End of.

The following recipe is for a large bowl, feeding 6 to 8 adults. I use a Pyrex dish 220 x 300 mm, 60 mm deep.

5 medium-sized Aubergines
1 kg lean lamb mince (ask your favourite Halal butcher for leg mince)
500 g Greek Yogurt
1 yellow onion, two gloves of garlic
2 egg yolks

Nutmeg, ground Cinnamon, Sumac (optional), Salt, Pepper, Chilly flakes, Olive Oil

Wash the Aubergines, trim both ends, then cut lengthwise into slices 12..15mm thick (a thick slice of bread). Brush a good amount of olive oil onto both sides of each slice, the sprinkle with chilly flakes, salt and a pinch of nutmeg.

Put this into the oven under the grill, ideally in a combination of circulated heat and top grill. Pretty hot, 190..200C, for as long as it takes. When the aubergine slices develop a nice colour with distinct dark brown spots, you’re done (turn around half way, about 10 minutes the first and 6 minutes the second side).

Meanwhile, put the meat into a large non-stick frying pan on a fairly high heat. Boil away the excess water and crisp the meat. You may need to add olive oil, especially if your meat is really good and lean. Finely dice the onion, crush and chop the garlic. When the meat is crisping up, add onion, garlic and a good splash of olive oil.

Season this with a lot of ground cinnamon – start with a heaped teaspoon. I’m serious. A good teaspoon of Sumac (a fruity Arabic flavour) if you can. Crushed dried Cranberries might serve as an alternative, or just forget about it. Add salt, chilly, pepper and more cinnamon to taste.

Lightly oil the dish, and layer aubergines and meat in an alternating fashion, in vertical layers (not like a lasagna, but have the aubergine slices stand up). When all is layered, you should see alternating stripes of aubergines and meat on the surface.

Now add crushed black pepper, a pinch of salt, a pinch of nutmeg and a teaspoon of lime juice to the Greek yogurt. Also add two free range egg yolks. Season to taste with more nutmeg. Whisk with a fork, then spoon the mix on top of the meat stripes.

Finally, sprinkle some more crushed black pepper and nutmeg flakes over the surface, just for the good looks (optionally, add breadcrumbs), and pop into the oven at 170 C until ready. If your ingredients were still hot, this won’t take more than 12..15 minutes, just until you can see the whole thing bubbling away and the surface beginning to colour.

Enjoy!

 

Pissaladiere

DSC_0851Pissaladiere is a thin bread or Pizza base topped with onion marmalade, olives and anchovy.

The Base:

You’ll need a basic savoury yeast dough for the base made from 200 g white wheat flour for a standard 280 mm round baking tray. See here for the dough recipe.

The Marmalade:

I normally use very large vegetable onions (which have a bit less bite), and a few red onions (because it looks interesting), but any onion will do. The onions will lose a lot of volume, so prepare a very generous amount. Three very large vegetable onions for a round tray might be just enough. Peel, then slice thinly.

You could use an electric chopper for this, provided it slices rather than grinding the onions to a pulp. I slice manually and tearfully! Of you could follow Jamie Oliver’s advise and get somebody else to do it.

Add finely chopped garlic to taste. Red hot chilly peppers also work well, if you like it hot.

Heat a good swig of olive oil or clarified butter. Toss the onions and garlic in the oil, then cover and let steam gently for 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover, season with salt and thyme, and allow to cook uncovered at low heat for 30 minutes at least, stirring occasionally. Be patient. Very patient. When done, season to taste with salt, thyme, pepper, a pinch of nutmeg. A spoon of soured cream is optional.

The Finish:

Line your baking tray with baking parchment. Roll out the dough, transfer to tray. Let the dough recover and rise again (allow for 20 minutes). Then, thinly spread out the onion marmalade. Top with olives and anchovy, and bake at 200 C until golden, approximately 20 minutes.

Lapin Moutarde

lapinSome dishes feel more French than others. Here’s a household favourite which feels particularly French, and we ate it while cycling in the Pyrenees.

Rabbit stew in a mustard sauce, served with green beans and prunes.

You’d have to butcher a rabbit unless you can buy readily diced rabbit.

Get the beans going first, as they need more time than the rabbit stew. Clean the green french beans, wash and rinse. Fry some tiny bits of bacon, a small and finely chopped onion, then gently steam the green beans in just a tiny splash of water. Add a twig of thyme.

When the beans are about 10 minutes on their way, shallow-fry a handful of dry-cured bacon. Add a small and finely diced onion, and a crushed small clove of garlic. Then add a bit of olive oil and the meat, which you tossed in a mix of one tablespoon of white flour and one table spoon of mustard powder. Add crushed black pepper. Fry and stir until it colours nicely, then add a glass of dry white wine and stir-in a large teaspoon of nice hot mustard.

Put the lid on and allow to simmer for 10 minutes, then season to taste using salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and more mustard.

Add two tablespoons of prunes to each portion. Simply use the canned stuff, with a bit of the syrup.

Serve with fresh white bread.

Choucroute De Mer

DSC_0748 (2)This is the perfect split between my German home cooking and my current home in England. I call it Fish and Chips, Brittany-style for the English, Sauerkraut Unn Fisch for the Germans, and Choucroute de Mer for the French-aware among us. I have heard of French people denying this meal’s authenticity, but trust me. You’ll find it in many places in Brittany. For further reference see Maison Kammerzell in Strasbourg, who has Choucroute aux Trous poissons as well as Choucroute au Saumon on the menu. So there you are.

It’s simple, it’s surprising, it’s different, it’s impressive, it’s delicious.

For 4 to 5 people, you’ll need a large jar (850g?) of Sauerkraut (=Choucroute). In England, you can now get it in most Supermarkets, and in all Polish Delicatessen. You’ll also need 120 g of salmon (lightly smoked salmon pieces preferred) per person, perhaps also 100 g of white fish such as Cod or Haddock, and a couple of large prawns or scallops.

First, cut half an onion into half rings, fry with a little white fat or lard and a good handful of dry cured lardons or good quality bacon. Drain the Sauerkraut, then add with half a cup of dry white wine, 3 crushed juniper berries, 2 bay leaves, a pinch of salt. Cover and let simmer on very low heat. Time is not critical provided the heat is very low.

Heat butter in a frying pan and gently fry pieces of salmon. Sear the scallops or prawns, perhaps poach the white fish in milk.

Now finish the Sauerkraut with a generous amount of double cream. Stir this well under.

You’re done!

Put a nice heap of kraut on each plate, fish and seafood on top. Serves well with steamed potatoes, crispy potato wedges and, of course, with freshly baked bread.

Goes with the remainder of the dry white wine and lots of Aaaaaahs.