This Week, I’ve Been Mostly Eating…

20130719_174804This week, I’ve been mostly eating Laugenbretzeln.

It’s true. We are delighted to finally having cracked it, and so is the local mini-community of German expats. The key is quite simply to use the correct lye, not an improvised substitute. It takes proper Bretzellauge (caustic soda) in a solution of 35..40g sodium hydroxide on one litre of water. Everything else is easy-peasy, really:

20g fresh yeast
400g white wheat flour
8g salt
1 tablespoon of soft butter
225ml water (or replace half the water with milk)

Knead. Knead thoroughly for gluten-rich hearty results, knead quickly for the brioche-like more fluffy variety (the one using milk and water). Form pretzels or rolls right away, then let sit and rise for 10 minutes.

Then on with the goggles and protective gloves, and dip the dough pieces into the lye, simply in and straight out again. Place on a tray and let rise for another 30min, sprinkle with course salt, make small nice cuts and bake at 200C for 20min.

Meanwhile, use a funnel to return the lye to a glass bottle, as you can use it over and over again.


(The picture shows the very first attempt, so please ignore the not so perfect pretzel shape. I’m learning. I’m also still working on the support, baking parchment is less than ideal given that the dough pieces are wet, soaking through the paper.)


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Please, Can I Have Some More?

DSC_0498With all the cooking that we do, we do not normally eat a lot of bread. A 500g loaf sees us through a week, and a few remaining slices may even end up adorning the (commercially processed) compost. I am happy to report that the bread quality in our house has risen quite a bit recently, at least on our own opinion (and, face it, who else matters with regards to our own bread?). The increased consumption certainly speaks for itself.

While I entertain secret visions of becoming a destination for bread-loving pilgrims from all over the world, I think it is easier if I may just post a few key points:

First, maintain a mother dough: take away 15% of the dough you made, place it in a little dish, cover with cling film and keep in the fridge until you make the next bread. In my experience, this lasts well over a week with ease – it’s sour anyway – and is well worth it.

Second, give it time: I prepare the dough in the afternoon or evening, to rise over night, and bake in the morning – or even later! 12 hours and more is fine.

Third, steam it: when the bread goes into the oven, I pour a cup of water into the oven to generate a cloud of steam. This helps the bread rise, crack open, and become just perfect.

Many other recommendations that I read here or there, such as a stern warning not to kneed the dough by machine, I find pretentious nonsense. The tiny bubbles turn smaller and more regular when using a kneading machine, hands produce a more rustic appearance but more sticky mess – you choose. Anyway, here is my preferred method for a 450g loaf of can-I-have-some-more bread:

300g long white wheat flour (the “bread making” variety, gluten-rich)
50g white spelt flour
50g wholemeal (stone ground) spelt flour
50g rye flour
20g fresh yeast (alternatively, use 15g dried yeast)
10g salt

For every 100g of this flour mix, you need 70 ml liquid. I compose this from a splash of olive oil, possibly a rather runny sourdough top-up, and filtered water. I don’t like the sourdough mess myself, so I use commercial sourdough. Nice, cheap and easy (if you can get it), and I add some every second or third time I make bread. Because the commercial sourdough is quite liquid, it counts with the liquids.

Finally, add the mother dough. Don’t worry if it smells a little “ripe” – as long as it looks all right, it’ll be fine.

I use a Bosch kitchen machine, but any similar device or your own hands will do. Put the mix into the bowl, bowl into the machine, then start on the low gear, slowly progressing to a more aggressive speed. Give it a good few minutes; you do want a good thorough mix. Turn the machine off and give it a rest for 10..20 minutes. The wholemeal flour and rye flour components need this time; do not skip this step. Then, give it another good kneading.

At the end, your dough should look and feel a little too moist. It comes off the bowl only just, and only with a spatula’s help: keep it so. You want it on the moist side.

Transfer into a large bowl. Cover with Clingfilm and store in a warm place. (Don’t worry about light levels – more pretentious nonsense.) Have a nice meal, enjoy a movie, sleep.

In the morning…

Set approximately 15% of the dough aside. Put into a small dish, Clingfilm it, and store in the fridge. The remainder goes onto your baking tray. When using a flat tray, I often use a spring form’s ring to stop it spreading out too far, but normally, I use a silicone tray for simplicity. Be gentle and do not knead the dough again. Store in a warm location near to the oven so that it can rise again. Give it 2..3 hours.


Heat the oven to 220C. When hot, use a mister to moisten the surface of the bread, sprinkle some salt and flour on top, then place the bread inside (Be gentle! Don’t let it collapse again!). Pour a cup of water into the oven’s base and quickly close the door. Set the timer to 31 minutes 17 seconds, and remember where you put the timer.

Remove from tray, let cool down, then enjoy.

I realize this article is almost 2km long, and it looks as if making this bread was incredible complicated – it is not. Just try it once or twice. You’ll get the hang of it, and it’s actually less effort than trying to find similar quality bread somewhere in the shops. Good luck & let us know how it goes.

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Grow Your Own

DSC_0330For this Saturday’s dinner, feeding eleven diners, I used 2.5 kg of red wheat flour for fresh lasagne sheets and sourdough bread. I was just wondering how big a field we ate empty in one evening, for flour for bread and pasta making alone.

The BBC reckons you’d get a yield of 3 tonnes of wheat per hectare, when growing organically. 3000kg per 10 000m2 gives 3kg per 10m2, a square field of approximately 3 by 3m. Can this be right?

I realize the world has enormously huge wheat fields, much bigger than 3 by 3m, but there’s a lot of people out there. Gosh, what a lot of wheat, and what a lot of people. I guess it doesn’t even matter if my single dinner party chewed through 1m2 or 10m2 or even 20m2. Any number is huge when multiplied with the world population of 6.75 billion.


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Tarte Flambee

Tarte Flambee Here’s an interesting little project: Tarte Flambee (or Flammkuche), a waiver-thin crisp base, topped with a thin layer of sour cream, bacon and onions.

In the olden days, we had to travel into the Alsace to get it. Nowadays, it is being served almost anywhere back around our home town, so I assume there must now be deep-frozen kits available. Not only are those kits unavailable where I am, it also spoils the fun. So, off we go to making our own!

First step is to open my trusted and much loved Larousse Gastronomique. I checked two different editions under any keyword that came to mind without success. Can you believe that? Something as typical as Tarte Flambee? If you find under which name they file it, let me know.

So, with the Larousse Gastronomique failing, I am on my own. Google also failed, by providing a list of recipes and suggestion that simply weren’t acceptable.

Let’s see. The base is a very poor bread dough from flour and water, maybe with a splash of milk. Very little yeast, if any. Pinch of salt. No fat. But, I hear you ask, how will you roll this out, 2mm thin, and handle it without tearing?

Ah, I am really glad you asked. That’s the real challenge. Bread dough is gluey, so the shortbread crust trick (roll out between sheets of cling film) won’t work. I am working on the bases that I shall not to roll it out. To do that, I make a dough as dry as possible while still being runny, then spread it on a flat baking tray rather than rolling it out.

The exact mix depends on your flour, the ambient temperature and the phase of the moon. You could start with 65ml water and 25ml milk on 100g of strong white wheat flour (bread making flour, or ‘long flour’ as my Grandmother called it). This makes one regular sized tarte, which will feed one person. Mix water, milk and flour with a pinch of salt. Mix it well, then let sit for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to enormous heat. 270 Celsius sounds about right, preferably in top-and-bottom heat.

Prepare 100g soured cream with one egg yolk, a pinch of nutmeg and some black pepper. No salt (this will come from the bacon).

Once the dough is spread out and the oven is ready, very gently top it with the sour cream mix. Spoon it on gently, don’t pour it – pouring will let the cream penetrate the soft dough, and you end with one big soggy mess.  Sprinkle very thin onion rings and bacon lardons on top, and into the oven with it!

Bake until the edges of the dough turn very dark, then continue baking until the edges actually turn black, then continue baking for as long as you dare. The problem is that you still have to get a lot of moisture out of the base, which is now covered with a layer of sour cream.

Once you can’t stand it any longer, get it out, transfer it onto a board, cut into six or eight large pieces, and enjoy immediately.


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Tarte Tatin

tarte tatin You may have noticed that Tarte Tatin makes an increasingly frequent appearance on our menu. How come, I hear you ask. I’m glad you asked. It’s simply because I figured out how to make a Tarte Tatin which I consider to be as good as it gets, and not in need for any further improvements. To top it all, it is also very quick and easy to make. So, here goes:


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 200g white flour with 100g 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 free range egg, and a tablespoon or two of cold water. Mix until it forms a homogenous 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 cold tiled floor.


Peel five firm and aromatic apples. Braeburn or Pink Lady are my favourites. Cut into quarters, remove cores. Set aside.

Pre-heat your oven to 190 Celsius.

Pre-heat your frying pan on fairly high heat on your gas or electric cooker. Mix 100g white cane sugar (= 5 table spoons) 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 100ml of Armagnac, Calvados or Brandy and stir to dissolve the sugar. Take care nothing catches fire (I’m serious! There’ll be a cloud of combustible alcohol vapour, so do take care).

Add the left-over vanilla pod, then distribute the apples into the mix. This should now be bubbling away merrily. Allow to bubble for a minute or two, then add 6 to 8 walnut-sized pieces of soft butter, evenly distributed across the pan. Allow the butter to melt, the apples to get coated, and the caramel to form.

Because this uses much less butter than your standard-prescription caramel, you’ll only need to give it a few minutes, or until it turns golden.

Remove pan from heat.


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. Don’t worry if the bottom (the part facing you) isn’t flat – it’ll be uneven because it rests on the apples.

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).


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Works of Art, Beauty, and Good Taste

Visit Jen's Cakery at Jen’s Cakery finally has its own web site up (or it might have been there for a while, but I didn’t notice earlier). So anyway, it’s time you go and take a look at those wondrous cakes.

Jen’s Cakery beautifully made site is here, with some wonderful pictures under Folio:

Lots more images are on the Flickr! Gallery, right here:

My favourites include the Jungle Safari Cake, the Sunflower Cupcake Bouquet, the Pirate Cupcakes, the Sinking Titanic Cake, and the Puffin Cake, but it’s soooo hard to choose! The only thing easy about this is the ease with which I forget work or any other matters when browsing those photos.

Just brilliant, so go and take a look, spread the word, buy the cakes.

Great stuff!

Which is your favourite?


(Photo with kind permission of Jen’s Cakery)

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Not Like Riding a Bicycle

appleCake You’d think it’s just like riding a bicycle: once you learnt to do it, you’ll never forget, and you’ll never have to think about it again.

I have been very lazy with my cake baking over the last couple of years, especially on the more traditional, yeast dough based cakes from home. A quicky of Muffins or a Lemon Drizzle cake here and there, and even a Black Forest Gateaux once, yes, I will admit to those. Savoury cakes (such as quiches, pizze, onion bakes) are frequently made, and extra-rich desert cakes such as the Clafoutis au Pommes or a good old Tarte Tatin also feature regularly. And, there is regular bread making, too.

But, I have been negligent in the sweat yeast dough cake department. When I made an apple cake just this Saturday, I had to look up the recipe for sweat yeast dough that I wrote down many years ago. On cup of milk, it says. Bummer. I don’t know which cup that meant. In the end, I had to correct the dough while kneading.

It worked out all-right, but I used to get them perfect straight away.

Then, it goes into the oven. I had to fiddle around with the temperature after starting too hot (you’ll see the dark-ish corners in the picture here), and couldn’t quite remember when to take it out again.

I ended following my grandmother’s advise and used “as much milk as necessary,”  and baked it “until ready.”

Clearly not like riding a bicycle. Needs more practise to prevent loss of the skill.


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