Tag: Baking

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.33: Black Forest gâteau from Germany

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.33: Black Forest gâteau from Germany

The Germans are fantastic bakers. I could have chosen from dozens of breads and pastries: pumpernickel, pretzels, seed-filled Vollkornbrot, melt-in-mouth Franzbrötchen and so many more. But I’m a child of the 1960s and I couldn’t resist the German cake of my childhood: the over-the-top architectural construction of chocolate cake, cherries and whipped cream that is the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – the Black Forest gâteau.

You need to be careful on this one: most English and American recipes are very sweet. The German recipes have better flavour balance, but do tend to be unbelievably heavy on the cream – I’ve seen recipes specifying over 1 kg of cream for a cake not much bigger than the one I’ve made here. The nice people at Gästehaus Reger, in the heart of the Black Forest, have posted an English language version of their recipe, so I’ve used that as my starting point (dramatically reducing the cream content). By the way, according to Wikipedia, Black Forest gâteau doesn’t actually come from the Black Forest (it was created by a confectioner near Bonn), but they seem to have embraced it with enthusiasm.

German recipes specify jars of sour cherries. Being unable to get these, I substituted frozen black cherries, adding lemon juice to give a sour edge. It’s not perfect, but it worked. I was also short of kirsch – the cherry-based firewater that is the key ingredient of authentic Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, so I had to substitute some blackcurrant schnapps, left over from a trip to Sweden, which gives a similar flavour. I suggest that you don’t go for the cherry brandy that features in many recipes, because it has a very different flavour, stronger and sweeter.

The next problem to solve is your choice of cake tin. Ideally, you want to follow the Germans and use a single tin, slicing the cake into three layers after baking, because you don’t want lots of crusts. However, the cake extremely light and airy due to its mixture of both sabayon and meringue: my 23cm springform tin is about 6cm high and the cake overflowed it by some margin. This required me to trim some rather misshapen excess: use a deep tin if you have one.

This is a fairly complex and time consuming recipe, with two different baked layers and three fillings/drizzles. You will also use and wash up more bowls than you can possibly imagine. But none of this is unduly difficult.

You need to make the base, the cake and the cherry filling far enough in advance that they’re completely cool. The rest is best done at the last minute.

The cherry filling

If you can get jars of sour cherries, use 500g of those and 250g of the juice from the jar in place of the frozen cherries and lemon juice listed below. Also omit the blitzing of cherries and add 30g sugar.

  • 750g frozen pitted cherries
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 25g cornflour
  1. Defrost the cherries. (That’s why I’ve shown this step first – you may want to make your cake layers while this is happening).
  2. Reserve 12 of the best looking cherries – you will use them later for decoration.
  3. Blitz half of the remaining cherries to a coarse puree.
  4. Put the puree and any juice into a saucepan with the cornflour, stir thoroughly and warm gently until thickened. 
  5. Add the remaining cherries and bring to the boil.
  6. Remove from heat and refrigerate.

The shortcrust base

This is optional (several recipes don’t include one) but it gives a nice contrast of texture and makes the cake easier to handle.

  • 120g plain flour
  • 3g (around ½ tsp) baking powder
  • 25g sugar
  • vanilla essence to taste (around 1 tsp)
  • 1 small egg
  • 60g butter, softened
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
  2. Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for around 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out on a baking sheet to a size slightly larger than your cake tin.
  4. Bake for around 10 minutes
  5. Leave to cool

The chocolate cake

  • 150g plain flour
  • 60g cornflour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 10g baking powder – around 2 tsp
  • 6 eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • Vanilla essence to taste – around 1 tsp
  1. Grease your cake tin
  2. Sift the flour, cornflour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a bowl and combine evenly
  3. Separate the eggs
  4. Add around 50 ml of warm water to the egg yolks and beat at your mixer’s highest speed for around three minutes, until you have a creamy sabayon-like texture. Add 130g of the sugar and beat for another three minutes.
  5. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the remaining sugar, then beat until you have a stiff meringue.
  6. Combine the sabayon, the meringue and the flour mix and blend thoroughly. Mix it as a gently as you can (avoiding losing the air that you’ve just beaten into the eggs) but enough to be sure that you haven’t left any clumps of unblended flour.
  7. Pour the cake into your tin, smooth it off so you have a flat top, then bake for around 40 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the springform tin and leave to cool.

The whipped cream filling

  • 600 g double cream
  • 60 g sugar
  • Vanilla essence to taste (around 1 tsp)
  • 60 ml kirsch
  1. Whip the cream for a minute or so.
  2. Add sugar, vanilla essence and kirsch.
  3. Whip the mixture until stiff.

Final assembly

  • 150ml kirsch
  • 20g sugar
  • 20g dark chocolate for grating (the amount is very approximate)
  1. Add 75 ml kirsch to the cherry filling and mix thoroughly
  2. Add 75 ml kirsch to 75 ml water and 20g caster sugar and mix thoroughly
  3. If the cake is heavily domed (mine wasn’t), trim off the domed crust.
  4. Turn the cake over so the crust side is down.
  5. If your cake overspilled the edges of your tin, trim it so that you have a cylinder.
  6. Slice the chocolate cake into three slices horizontally. It’s helpful to mark the slices with a toothpick in each one, immediately above each other: this will help you re-assemble the cake into exactly the right place.
  7. Move the slices next to each other and drizzle them with the kirsch/water/sugar mix.
  8. Trim the shortcrust base to a circle the same size as your cake.
  9. Spread some cherry filling over the base – remove any whole cherries so that you’re just spreading the jam.
  10. Place a layer of cake onto the base (start with the one that was the topmost layer while baking).
  11. Spread the rest of the cherry filling evenly over the cake. Make sure you get to the edges.
  12. Reserve around 80g of the whipped cream for decoration: you’ll want to put it into a piping bag with a star nozzle.
  13.  Spread ⅓ of the remaining whipped cream over the cherry filling. Make sure you get to the edges.
  14. Place the remaining two  layers of cake on top, using the toothpicks to orient you as to exactly where to put them. After each layer, spread another third of the whipped cream: the top layer should be very even. (At this point, the Germans would also spread cream over the sides to form a perfect white cylinder. But that’s too much cream for me.)
  15. Grate the chocolate into shavings with a grater of vegetable peeler, and sprinkle the shavings over the cake. If you’ve put cream over the sides, also dust the sides with grated chocolate.
  16. Pipe twelve small doughnuts of cream in a circle close to the edge of the cake. Into each doughnut, place a cherry.

You’re done! It was complicated and it was a long haul, but you’ve created a real spectacular, which is light as a feather and tastes fantastic.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.32: Ma’amoul – semolina cookies from Lebanon

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.32: Ma’amoul – semolina cookies from Lebanon

The biscuit tin (Americans: read “cookie jar”) was empty. So it was time to head back to the Middle East to refill it, in the shape of ma’amoul, filled cookies made from a shortbread dough rich in semolina. The filling is usually made of dates and/or nuts (usually pistachios, almonds or walnuts): for this first attempt, I used a date and walnut mix.

I’ve gone for a very simple, easy version of ma’amoul, using baking powder rather than yeast and eschewing any overnight resting. Even allowing for an hour’s resting, this takes not much over 90 minutes start to finish. The result was a crumbly, tasty biscuit that wasn’t excessively sweet and that I would definitely make again.

I used good quality soft medjool dates, which are easy to purée to paste with good consistency; various Middle East recipes consider that making your own date paste is tedious, preferring commercially made product.

Once ma’amoul have been filled and formed into their balls, they are often pressed into a patterned wooden mould, because (a) it makes them look pretty and (b) if you’re making more than one different filling, you can use a different pattern for each one. Strangely enough, I don’t own a ma’amoul mould, and if I bought the approved piece of specialist equipment for every item I fancy baking, my house would be filled several times over with baking junk, so I improvised the desired dome shape using a gravy ladle and a coffee tamper. It’s not like I expect everyone to have a gravy ladle, but you get the idea. If you’re doing more than one filling but you don’t have multiple moulds, you can try doing your own decorating by punching indents with a fork or skewer.

This recipe made 16 generously sized ma’amoul. Photo warning: these are more cracked and crumbly than I’d like. I should have added a bit more water to the dough.

The dough

  • 110 g butter
  • 40g icing sugar
  • 240g semolina flour
  • 160g plain flour
  • 4g baking powder
  • 30g milk
  • 30g orange blossom or rose water
  1. Pour everything into the bowl of your stand mixer and mix the whole lot for one or two minutes until thoroughly smoothly combined. The dough should be wet enough to be able to pick up stray bits of flour from the side of the bowl, but no more than that. If it’s sticky, add a bit more flour. If it’s really crumbly, add a bit more milk.
  2. Form the dough into a ball, and leave to stand at room temperature for around an hour.

Filling and baking

The quantities given are what I made as shown in the photos. The next time I make ma’amoul, I’m planning to use 200g dates and no walnuts – I’m not convinced they complement each other and I’d prefer a bit more filling. I would do a walnut filling as an alternative, chopping some 100g of walnuts very finely, adding a couple of teaspoons of syrup and making them into a paste.

  • 40g walnuts
  • 125g medjool or other soft dates
  • Icing sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
  2. Chop the walnuts coarsely and toast them in a dry pan for a minute or two until fragrant.
  3. If your dates aren’t pitted, take the stones out now.
  4. Blitz the dates to a soft puree. Add a tiny amount of water if you need to, or more if your dates were quite hard. You could add sugar syrup rather than water if you want a sweeter filling.
  5. Have a 40x30cm baking sheet ready.
  6. Divide your dough into 16 parts, form each part into a ball
  7. Divide your filling into 16 parts, form each part into a ball
  8. Roll out a ball of dough flat and wide enough that you’ll be able to wrap it round your ball of filling
  9. Place a ball of filling in the middle of your dough, then stretch it over to cover.
  10. Press the whole ball into your mould (or, in my case, gravy ladle)
  11. Take the cookie out of the mould and place on your baking sheet
  12. When you’ve done all 16 ma’amoul, put the baking sheet into the oven and bake them for 15 minutes. They should be a pale brown colour: don’t bake them as far as the more usual “golden brown”.
  13. On removal from the oven, dust with icing sugar to taste.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.31: Kanelbullar –  cinnamon buns from Sweden

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.31: Kanelbullar – cinnamon buns from Sweden

In Sweden, October 4th is Kanelbullens dag, which makes the humble cinnamon bun the only baked item I know to have an officially sanctioned holiday. To be fair, it’s not the most long-standing of national holidays, having been dreamed up in 1999 by the Swedish Home Baking Council. But this year, as it happens, it coincided with a cold and rainy Sunday morning here in London, so no possibility of my usual tennis game. How better to spend the morning than with a bit of traditional baking?

The basics of the cinnamon bun are straightforward enough: make a slightly sweetened bread-like dough enriched with butter, milk and (in many recipes) egg, let it rise, roll it flat and spread with a butter/sugar/cinnamon filling. At this point, you have two choices: for the traditional cinnamon roll, you roll it into a sausage; for the cinnamon twist or knot (kanelknutar), you start with a book fold and do a tricky looking twisting trick. I went for the simple roll.

Just about anywhere in Sweden, the buns would be garnished with the little white sugar nibs known as  “pearl sugar”, and in many places, it would be brushed with a syrup glaze after baking. My sweet tooth isn’t what it was, so I’ve omitted both of these. For added puffiness, however, I’ve followed an American blog called “True North Kitchen” and used an Asian pre-dough technique called Tangzhong, which helps to keep the buns stay soft for several days after baking.

The Tangzhong (or “water roux”)

  • 75 ml milk
  • 75 ml water
  • 30g strong white flour
  1. Whisk the ingredients together in a saucepan, getting as many lumps out as you can
  2. Heat over medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking frequently. Make sure you get rid of lumps as they appear.
  3. Keep heating for a couple more minutes – there shouldn’t be any taste of raw flour left – and then remove from the heat and set aside.

The dough

  • 75g butter
  • 8g yeast
  • 30g sugar
  • 6g salt
  • 400g flour
  • Ground cardamom to taste (I started with whole pods and shelled and ground my own in a pestle and mortar, which yielded about 1g, which was fine)
  • 125ml milk
  • 1 egg
  1. Melt the butter and leave to cool
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, evenly mix the yeast, sugar, salt, flour and cardamom 
  3. Warm the milk to lukewarm (around 40℃)
  4. Add the milk, egg, melted butter and tangzhong to the dry mix. Stir until combined into a smooth dough (either with a wooden spoon or the standard paddle of your mixer.
  5. Knead for around 5 minutes with the dough hook.
  6. Leave to rise until you have a light, puffy dough: this took a couple of hours in a not particularly warm autumn kitchen, but will vary according to the temperature of your kitchen

The filling

Preheat the oven to 225℃

  • 75g butter, softened
  • 75g brown sugar
  • 4g flour
  • 5g cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  1. Combine all the ingredients and stir until you have a smooth, even dark brown paste. 
  2. Make sure it’s soft enough to spread thinly and easily: 30 seconds in the microwave is a good way of doing this. There’s no point in tearing your dough because you had lumps in the filling.

Final assembly

  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of milk
  1. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board until you have a thin rectangle around 50cm x 40cm – try and be as accurately rectangular as you can manage, otherwise (as you’ll see from my photos) the two buns at the end will be rather conical and rather shorter of filling.
  2. Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and milk together until smooth
  3. Slice the dough into sixteen even slices.
  4. Prepare two baking trays and array eight buns on each one. If you have paper bun cases, use them: they help the buns keep their shape. If not, make sure the trays are properly greased.
  5. Brush some egg wash over each bun
  6. Bake the buns until golden brown: this should take around 8-10 minutes; if you did both trays at the same time in the oven, the bottom tray will need a couple of minutes longer.
  7. Cool on a wire rack.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.29: Pasta Frola from Paraguay

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.29: Pasta Frola from Paraguay

Where home-coming Argentinians make a beeline for Alfajores, Paraguayans head for Pasta Frola: a lattice-topped jam tart filled with either guava or quince paste. Childhood summers in Portugal have made me particularly partial to quince paste, and in any case, guavas are hard to get hold of here in England, so the quince version was the obvious choice.

Time for a couple of short linguistic digressions. The Spanish for quince is “membrillo”, and quince paste (sometimes called “quince cheese” for reasons I can’t fathom) is “dulce de membrillo”. In Portuguese, however, a quince is a “marmelo” and the paste is called “marmelada”. The English word “marmalade” confuses both Portuguese (where orange jam is just called “doce de laranja”) and Italians, for whom the word “marmellata” means jam of any sort, and “marmellare” means “to make jam”. In Italian, “pasta frolla” simply means shortcrust pastry, and this dessert would be called a “crostata”.

You can buy dulce de membrillo ready made in the UK, but it tends to be fairly expensive at around £25 or £30 for a kilo. Anyway, our local shops don’t stock it and our local fruit shop had quinces, so I had a go at making my own. Peeling quinces is a bit of faff – the skin is very tough – but other than that, the process isn’t too difficult.

Quince paste

This is metricised and modified slightly from the recipe from simplyrecipes.com. I overbought quinces and made around double this recipe, which was way too much: the quantities here will make well over 1kg of paste, which is a lot more than you need for the Pasta Frola.

  • Around 1 kg of quinces (typically 4 fruit)
  • Grated zest and juice of one lemon
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  • Around 800g jam sugar (to be adjusted)
  1. Peel and core the quinces, being sure to remove the fibrous bit of stalk that’s inside the quince. Chop coarsely (maybe 8-12 pieces per fruit).
  2. Put them in a saucepan, add the grated lemon zest cover them with cold water and bring to the boil.
  3. Simmer for around 30-40 minutes until you can cut them with a wooden spoon
  4. Drain the quince pieces and transfer to the bowl of a food processor: blitz until extremely smooth (this can take several minutes).
  5. Return the puree to a saucepan, add the sugar, vanilla essence and lemon juice.
  6. Bring to the boil, uncovered, and simmer gently for 60-90 minutes, stirring often enough to ensure that you don’t caramelise the paste on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Preheat oven to 125℃
  8. When the mixture is a dark pink/orange, remove from the heat. Line a shallow rectangular oven dish with baking parchment and spread the mixture evenly into the dish.
  9. Leave the dish in the oven for around 90 minutes for the paste to dry out. The Spanish and Portuguese cook theirs to the consistency of thick jelly, so that you can cut slices of it. It’s quite difficult to get to this stage without burning it somewhere, and in any case, you don’t need to for Pasta Frola: a soft paste is just fine and you’re going to be baking it some more anyway.

By the way, quince paste is a really wonderful accompaniment to cheese, particularly sharply flavoured cheese.

The Pasta Frola

Thanks for this to my daughter’s South American colleague Daniel (who was the person who insisted that it should be included in this blog in the first place). His recipe was for about double this amount as a 40cm x 30cm traybake: I used a square tin with a removable base of around 23cm x 23cm, which left a small amount of pastry left over.

  • 250g plain flour (use OO if possible)
  • 15g baking powder
  • 90g cup of sugar
  • 125g butter, plus some for greasing
  • 3 egg yolks (around 50g)
  • 40ml milk
  • 700g quince paste (see above)
  • 50ml madeira, port or similar fortified wine
  1. Preheat oven to 150℃
  2. If your butter isn’t soft, cut it into squares and leave it a few minutes to soften
  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine flour, sugar and baking powder and mix well
  4. Add the butter and mix until you reach the breadcrumb stage
  5. Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the mixture, together with the milk
  6. Mix until you have a smooth dough
  7. Knead it for a couple of minutes until somewhat elastic, then cover and leave for 15 minutes
  8.  Meanwhile, grease the tin, and mix the quince paste and madeira in a bowl
  9. Once the dough has finished resting, separate out one third of it and set aside. On a generously floured board, roll it out to the size of your tin with around 2cm overlap all the way round
  10. Line your tin with the dough. If, like me, your dough always breaks at this point, don’t worry – just press it into the bottom and sides with your fingers as best you can. The recipe is very forgiving
  11. Pour your quince mixture into the tin and spread it to the edges
  12. If necessary, trim the pastry down to the height of the filling
  13. Roll out the remaining amount of pastry and cut it into strips approximately 1cm wide. Use these to form a lattice over the tart. At this point, you might like to think about how many pieces you’re going to cut the tart into and make sure that you have a gap, not a strip of pastry, at the point at which you’re going to do this (clue: I didn’t do this and learned the hard way).
  14. Brush the pastry on the top with some of the egg white.
  15. Bake for around 40 minutes.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.28: Sernik from Poland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.28: Sernik from Poland

Last night was Erev Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year’s Eve), so there was a need to bake something suitable for a Jewish occasion, so what could be better than cheesecake? What I think of as “Jewish cheesecake”, which is broadly similar to what Americans call “New York Cheesecake”, actually hails from Poland, where it’s not particularly Jewish and is called Sernik. 

Dozens of countries have versions of curd cheese: paneer in India, Quark in Germany, túró in Hungary, labneh in the Middle East and many more. The Polish version is called twaróg: just about all the Sernik recipes I’ve found use this. It’s readily available in England; otherwise use any other curd cheese: farmer’s cheese, ricotta, etc.

There are many different variations of Sernik, regional or otherwise, which use different toppings and/or pastry bases; some even dispense with the pastry altogether. I’ve chosen the version from Kraków, Sernik krakowski, largely because it looks pretty and I’ve actually been to Kraków. The pastry is a fairly standard shortcrust, except that it includes baking powder, thus ending up somewhere between a pastry and a cake. The Kraków-specific bit is to top the cheesecake with a lattice made of the same pastry. I’ve included raisins (definitely part of the cheesecakes of my childhood) and separated my eggs, making a meringue with the whites: this makes the finished product lighter.

The pastry

  • 280g plain flour (OO if you have it)
  • 5g baking powder
  • 2g salt
  • 140g butter (start from cold)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g sugar
  • 50g soured cream
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, mix flour, baking powder and salt
  2. Cut the butter into cubes, add into the food processor and process for 20 seconds or so until you get to the consistency of fine breadcrumbs
  3. Add the eggs, sugar and soured cream, process for a few seconds until thoroughly blended
  4. Form the dough into a ball, put into a covered bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes
  5. Preheat your oven to 180℃ fan
  6. Grease a cake tin around 28cm diameter
  7. Take about ⅔ of the pastry and roll out on a generously floured surface
  8. Line the base and sides of the tin, pressing the pastry firmly into the corners. Prick the base with a fork. Add any offcuts to the rest of your pastry and set aside
  9. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beads. Bake for 15 minutes
  10. When you’ve taken out the pastry, reduce the oven temperature to 150℃

The cheese filling

  • 2 eggs
  • 100g butter, soft
  • 500g twaróg or other curd cheese
  • 25 g flour
  • 100g sugar
  • vanilla extract to taste
  •  125 g raisins
  1. Separate the eggs.
  2. Beat the butter until smooth.
  3. Add the twaróg and mix thoroughly
  4. Add the egg yolks, flour, and vanilla and mix
  5. Beat the egg whites until soft, add the sugar and mix until stiff
  6. Fold the two mixtures and the raisins together

Final assembly

  1. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut into 1cm wide strips
  2. If you haven’t already, remove the baking beads and paper from your blind-baked pastry case.
  3. Fill the pastry case with the cheese filling
  4. Form a lattice over the top of your cheesecake with the strips of pastry (if you don’t know how to do this, YouTube is your friend)
  5. Bake for around 50 minutes until the pastry lattice is nicely brown
  6. Leave to cool
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.26: Shaker churek from Azerbaijan

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.26: Shaker churek from Azerbaijan

After taking on a bake with a serious degree of difficulty with make-your-own-strudel-pastry last week, it was time for something at the opposite end of the scale: a simple, unpretentious cookie that takes minimal effort and skill to prepare but delivers lovely flavour and texture. In short, Azerbaijan’s butter cookies called Shaker churek (to my shame, I have no idea how to pronounce the name).

This recipe comes from a splendid Dutch blog called the cookie companion. It’s the simplest version I found: there are other recipes that use yeast.

  • 14og butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 225g flour
  • 1 egg
  • vanilla essence to taste
  1. In a bowl, weigh out the icing sugar
  2. Melt the butter, not letting it get too hot, and add it to the icing sugar: mix until smooth
  3. Add the flour and mix thoroughly – you will get a dough that’s far too dry, which is fine at this stage
  4. Separate the egg; keep half the yolk aside and add the other half yolk and all the white to your mix.
  5. Add the vanilla essence, and mix thoroughly until you have a smooth, slightly damp dough
  6. Cover and leave in the refrigerator for around an hour
  7. Preheat oven to 180℃
  8. Line a baking tray with a silicone sheet or baking paper
  9. Divide the dough into eight equal parts (they should be just over 60g each). For each part into a ball, flatten slightly and place it on your baking sheet. Warning here: the cookies spread, so make sure you leave plenty of space around them. 
  10. With the end of a finger or some other implement (like the end of a rolling pin, if you have that kind of rolling pin), make a small depression in the middle of each cookie. Fill the depression with the reserved egg yolk.
  11. Bake for around 15 minutes

Like most cookies, shaker churek are really, really good straight out of the oven: but leave them to cool for a few minutes so that they don’t actually burn your mouth!

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.25: Apple Strudel from Hungary

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.25: Apple Strudel from Hungary

When I visit Budapest, which used to be pretty much a yearly occurrence before Covid-19, my first culinary port of call is the Első Pesti Rétesház – the First Strudel House of Pest. There’s a dizzying array of mouth-watering strudels with many different fillings, both sweet and savoury, made on the premises in front of your eyes. 

Strudel (rétes in Hungarian) came into the former Austro-Hungarian empire from Turkey – it’s the child of Turkish baklava – and I could have assigned it to any of dozen countries in the empire. But having already visited Vienna for Sachertorte, I’ll give the honour to Budapest: and anyway, it’s further east, so the Turks probably got there first.

My favourite strudel fillings at the Rétesház are meggyes (sour cherries) and túró (curd cheese made from soured milk), but I didn’t have access to the right ingredients for either of these when baking for this post, so I’ve gone for the classic apple filling as found both in Budapest and at Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna.

This is not a straightforward bake. Stretching strudel dough is a tricky business: the best tutorial I’ve found comes from the Lil Vienna website. This is my first attempt and as you’ll see from the photos, I got the dough pretty thin, but nowhere near the targeted perfect transparent rectangle big enough to fit all the filling. So I’ve suggested using about a third more dough than the quantities in the tutorial: you can probably reduce this as your strudel skills improve. (The Schönbrunn recipe, by the way, uses an egg in the dough, which I didn’t).

Making the strudel dough

  • 120ml water
  • 20g sunflower oil, plus more for coating the dough
  • 4g lemon juice or vinegar
  • 2g salt
  • 200g strong white flour, plus plenty more for flouring surfaces
  1. Combine salt and flour
  2. Combine water, oil and lemon juice or vinegar and mix
  3. Combine the wet and dry mixes and mix until you have a smooth dough. If the dough is too sticky, add a modest amount more flour and work it in thoroughly, but don’t overdo it: you want the dough to be moist.
  4. Knead the dough for around 10 minutes (if by hand) or around 7 minutes (if using the dough hook on a stand mixer). Form the dough into a ball
  5. Put a bit of oil into a bowl; roll the dough to coat it completely with oil, cover the bowl and leave it for an hour at room temperature

The apple filling

  • 170g raisins
  • 20g rum (optional)
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • 50g butter 
  • 140g sugar
  • 10g ground cinnamon
  •  Around 900-1000g tart apples (I used Granny Smiths, American recipes tend to use MacIntosh)
  • 20g lemon juice (around half a lemon)
  1. Mix the rum and raisins and leave to soak
  2. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and set aside
  3. Melt butter in a pan, add the breadcrumbs and cook over a medium flame, stirring frequently, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown but not burning. Set aside.
  4. Peel and core your apples, then slice each apple quarter into 4-5 slices.
  5. Mix the apples, raisins and cinnamon sugar (but NOT the breadcrumbs)  in a large bowl.

Stretching the dough and putting it all together

  • 50g butter, melted
  • 1-2 tsp icing sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 190℃ fan. Identify a large, flat baking tray: typical would be around 40cm x 30cm. Either cut a piece of baking parchment to approximately the same size or identify a silicone baking mat of that size.
  2. Find a clear space of around 40cm x 100cm on a table or counter top and spread a tablecloth over it (or use an improvised alternative like a sheet); lightly spread flour over the tablecloth. 
  3. Spread flour somewhat more generously over the board onto which you will roll your pastry: you’ll  need a space of around 30cm x 30cm.
  4. Put your ball of dough in the middle of the board, and using a rolling pin, roll it out into as even and large a rectangle as you can manage.
  5. With both hands at one end, pick up the rectangle of dough and allow gravity to stretch it downwards. Working quickly, pass the dough around so that you’re holding a different edge all the time and the dough is stretching evenly across its whole area.
  6. Once you’ve stretched it as much as you dare without it tearing, spread the dough out on your floured tablecloth.
  7. Pull the dough from opposite sides to stretch it. Each time you put it down on the sheet, it will shrink back, but you should gradually be increasing its overall size. You know you’re done when the dough is nearly transparent: traditionally, the test was that you should be able to read a newspaper headline through it, which did not achieve (although I came close). You’re aiming for a length of around 100cm and a width slightly larger than the width of your baking tray.
  8. Spread melted butter over your dough.
  9. Spread the breadcrumb mixture over around one third of the rectangle of dough, around 2-3cm from one end and the sides. Spread the apple mixture on top.
  10. Fold three edges over in an attempt to stop the filling leaking out.
  11. Roll the strudel from the filled end, either by lifting the tablecloth as you roll or using your fingers.
  12. Finish by rolling the completed strudel onto your baking mat or parchment sheet; transfer this onto your baking tray. Brush the whole lot with more melted butter.
  13. Bake until golden, which should take around 30-40 minutes. Beware the photos: mine was slightly overbaked.
  14. Cool,  dust generously with icing sugar and transfer to the dish or board that you will serve the strudel from.
  15. Cut into slices to serve, either on its own or accompanied by any of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, chantilly cream or crème fraiche. And, of course, coffee.

The whole “stretching strudel to paper thickness” process doesn’t actually take that long, but it’s fairly scary when you’re not used to it and it does generate laundry. But my result was palpably more authentic and had better texture and taste than using store-bought phyllo pastry, even though my first attempt had many imperfections: the stretched dough wasn’t thin enough, wasn’t an even rectangle and had several small tears. I’m sure that practice will make perfect and I’m not planning on going back to supermarket phyllo any time soon.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.24: Alfajores marplatenses from Argentina

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.24: Alfajores marplatenses from Argentina

When my daughter’s Argentinian colleague returns to London after a trip home, you can predict with certainty that he will be carrying a number of packs of Alfajores, his country’s favourite sweet treat. They’re biscuits made from a dough rich in butter and cornflour; a layer of dulce de leche (caramelised condensed milk) is sandwiched between a pair of biscuits, with the edges of the filling rolled in desiccated coconut – or, as in the version I’ve made here, dipped in chocolate, in which case they’re called “Alfajores marplatenses” (from Mar del Plata). The combination of crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth biscuit, soft caramel and chocolate is a sure fire winner.

I made alfajores of the most often recommended size, around 5 cm diameter, which are substantial enough to make a complete small dessert on their own, the alternative being to make smaller “alfajorcitos” of 3-4 cm diameter.

Recipes for the biscuits vary to a fair extent and my choices were largely dictated by the ingredients I had to hand. Here are some of the things you can adjust:

  • Ratio of cornflour to wheat flour (many recipes put in significantly more cornflour than my 50/50).
  • Flavourings: some recipes choose a dash of cognac or orange liqueur in addition to or instead of the lemon zest that I’ve used.
  • You can add cocoa powder and/or use brown sugar to get a darker biscuit

The recipe that follows made 12 fully assembled alfajores with plenty of biscuits and a bit of chocolate to spare. But this will depend very much on the thickness and diameter to which you roll and cut them.

The dulce de leche filling

If you’re in Spain or the Americas, the chances are that ready made dulce de leche is available in your local supermarket. Otherwise, here’s how to make it from sweetened condensed milk (if you can’t find that, you can make dulce de leche from scratch from milk and sugar, as shown in this post on Epicurious, but that looks like a lot of work).

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (around 400g)
  1. Heat oven to 220℃
  2. Pour the condensed milk into a small oven proof dish
  3. Cover the dish with foil and place it in a high-sided baking tray. Fill the rest of the tray with water to around 2-3cm up the side of the dish
  4. Bake for around 60 minutes until the milk has turned light brown
  5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, stirring occasionally to get any lumps out

The biscuits

  • 200g butter
  • 100g sugar (most recipes suggest icing sugar, which I didn’t have)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • vanilla essence to taste
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 150g plain flour
  • 150g cornflour
  • 10g baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, whip the butter gently
  3. Add the sugar and beat until well creamed
  4. Add the eggs and beat
  5. Add the lemon zest and vanilla and mix in
  6. In a bowl, combine the flours and baking powder and stir evenly. Add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix until you have a smooth batter
  7. Wrap the ball of batter with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes
  8. Place the batter between two sheets of cling film and roll out to around 3-5mm thickness
  9. Cut the batter into circles and transfer to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. The biscuits will expand, so leave around 2cm gap between them (I didn’t leave enough), which means you’ll probably need two baking sheets.
  10. Bake for around 10 minutes until golden brown
  11. Leave to cool

Assembly and dipping

Warning: the many wonderful features of alfajores do NOT include structural integrity. They are very fragile – the crumbliness is part of the appeal – so handle with care!

  • 300g cooking chocolate (I used 150g milk and 150g dark, but choose anything you like)
  1. Grease a sheet of baking parchment and put it onto a baking tray or board that you can put in the fridge
  2. Break up the chocolate into a heatproof dish wide enough for you to dip a biscuit easily. Place the dish over boiling water and wait for the chocolate to be all melted, stirring occasionally
  3. Spread the flat side of a biscuit with dulce de leche. The pros use a piping bag to do this, but if you don’t have one, a spatula works OK. Add another biscuit, flat side down, to form a sandwich.
  4. Using a couple of forks, dip the biscuit into the melted chocolate and cover it completely. Hold it up to allow most of the excess to drip off, and transfer to your sheet of baking paper.
  5. Repeat for the remaining biscuits
  6. Place in the refrigerator for several hours for the chocolate to harden

Several Alfajores recipes point out that step 6 is more or less impossible to accomplish, including the one which goes “my mum always says these should be eaten the next day but I’ve never managed this”. I can confirm that they *are* better the next day, but I’ll leave the decision to you and your self-control…

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.23: Ka’ak Al Quds from Palestine (Jerusalem sesame bread)

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.23: Ka’ak Al Quds from Palestine (Jerusalem sesame bread)

Almost every street corner in East Jerusalem has a vendor with a trolley piled high with hoops of sesame-encrusted white bread called Ka’ak Al Quds: the aroma of fresh baking and toasted sesame is overpowering and irresistible. London-based chef Sami Tamimi, originally from East Jerusalem, has published a glorious book on Palestinian cuisine entitled Falastin (the Arabic language, he explains, does not have a letter “P”, so it should perhaps be “Falastinian”). I cannot recommend the book highly enough and you really, really should go out and buy it, so I hope Sami will forgive me for reproducing my version of his recipe here.

  • 10g dried yeast
  • 20g sugar
  • 300ml lukewarm water (around 40℃)
  • 40g olive oil
  • 250g strong white flour
  • 250g plain white flour
  • 10g salt
  • 15g dried skimmed milk
  • 1 egg
  • 20ml milk (or water)
  • 60g sesame seeds

This will make six of the hoops-shaped loaves: you will be able to fit two at a time onto a typical baking tray (something like 35cm x 25cm). If you have three trays and a big enough oven, you can bake the whole batch at a time; otherwise, you’ll have to do them in two or three batches.

  1. In a bowl or jug, combine the yeast, sugar, lukewarm water and olive oil and stir well. Leave for 5-10 minutes until it’s frothing nicely
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the flours, salt and dried skimmed milk and stir until evenly mixed
  3. Add the wet mix to your dry mix and knead with the dough hook until smooth (by the way, Sami’s recipe says 270ml, but I found I needed a bit more).
  4. Form into a ball and leave to rise in an oiled, covered bowl. Usual bread-making rules apply: the warmer the place you leave it, the quicker it will rise, so there’s no point in my giving you a numbers of hours it will take.
  5. Cut three rectangles of baking paper big enough to line your tray.
  6. Once your dough has risen, divide it evenly into six balls. Take the trouble to weigh them to make sure they’re about the same – expect around 150g each.
  7. Take a ball of dough, mould it to a flattened sphere, poke a hole through the middle of your sphere of dough and pull it apart to form an elongated doughnut shape. Pull it to most of the length of your tray, trying to keep the width as even as possible, which is tricky, and place it on one of your rectangles of baking paper; now repeat for the other five balls.
  8. Cover the loaves loosely with tea towels and leave for another half hour or so.
  9. Preheat your oven to 220℃ fan, with your baking tray(s) inside
  10. Lay out the sesame seeds in a dish longer than your loaves (or on a board if you don’t have one)
  11. Beat the egg together with the milk
  12. When you’re ready to bake, brush a loaf with the egg wash, dip it wash side down into the sesame seeds and ensure that it’s thoroughly coated.
  13. Put the loaf back onto the baking paper, sesame side up, and repeat for as many loaves as you’re going to do now.
  14. Take a baking tray out of the oven and transfer the baking paper rectangle with its two loaves onto it. To do this, you will probably either need two people or a tray of some sort.
  15. Bake for 10-15 minutes – you want the loaf to be a deep golden brown but not actually burning.

Leave to cool for a few minutes before eating: this bread is at its best straight out of the oven, but you don’t want to burn your tongue!



Around the world in 80 bakes, no.22: Fjellbrød from Norway

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.22: Fjellbrød from Norway

Two posts in two days, I know, but this one’s really straightforward!

If you think of Scandinavian bread, you think of dark, dense, rye-infused creations to keep you warm in a Nordic winter, or possibly well stoked up for a hike around the fjords: in short, Norway’s fjellbrød (which translates simply as “mountain bread”). I’m not terrifically sure as to how authentically Norwegian this recipe is – I’ve gone for a variation on two posts I’ve seen from Hazel Verden and  Finnish blogger Asli, which both seem to derive from Nigella Lawson – but it’s very easy to make, very full of flavour and agrees with my memory of trips to Bergen.

It’s also the oddest recipe for yeasted bread I know: the only one that involves no kneading, no leaving to rise, and putting your bread into a cold oven. But I can’t argue with the results.

  • 400g wholemeal flour
  • 150g light rye flour
  • 30g porridge oats
  • 100g mixed seeds (I used a seven seed mix including sunflower, pumpkin and linseed; you can use whatever is your favourite)
  • 10g salt
  • 270ml water
  • 270ml milk
  • 20g sugar
  •  7g yeast
  1. Put the sugar, milk and water into a saucepan and warm to your body temperature (around 36℃). Transfer to a jug, add the yeast and stir. Leave until the yeast is beginning to froth (around 10 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile, combine the flours, the oats, 80g of the mixed seeds and the salt in the bowl of your stand mixer (or other large bowl). Stir until evenly mixed.
  3. Once your wet mixture is frothing, pour it into the dry mix, being sure to incorporate any yeast that’s gathered on the bottom. Mix thoroughly with the standard paddle (or a wooden spoon) until you have a smooth but somewhat sticky dough.
  4. Grease a baking tin and pour in your dough.
  5. Sprinkle the top with another 20g of seeds (and perhaps a few more oats); push them into the crust.
  6. Cover the baking tin with foil and put into a cold oven. Turn the temperature to 110℃ non-fan and bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Turn the temperature up to 180℃ non-fan and bake for another 30 minutes.
  8. Remove the foil and bake until done, perhaps another 30 minutes. Use the usual skewer test: a skewer should come out dry.
  9. Cool on a rack