Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Brussels sprout soufflé fresh from the oven
Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts 

My mother is an amazing woman. A retired gynecologist at 93, she is still going strong, grocery shopping with her bike, climbing up the stairs to her third floor apartment, staying on top of the news, and struggling to keep up with the pile of medical magazines on her table (I inherited those qualms to throw out unread newspapers - you never know what you might miss!)

Three years ago she also learned to use a computer in order to join Facebook. She didn't want to be the only family member not able to see the photos my daughter posted from her stay in Bhutan, my sister's from her garden on Mallorca, or pictures of my newest kitchen ventures.

When I visited my mother last fall in Hamburg I wanted to cook something with her, something light, healthy and, of course, delicious.

My Mom's no-frills kitchen
Kitchens resemble owners - Mutti's kitchen is a spacious, cheerful place, a cooking/dining room with a no nonsense, no frills, and waste-not-want-not attitude.

The tall cabinet - painted in neon pink, yellow and blue by my 14-year old sister 50 years ago, when my mother was not looking - holds an abundance of supplies, kitchen gadgets, and odds and ends.

Many of those were left behind whenever my sister and I were moving ("You never know when somebody might need them," Mutti insists), but the strangest item is an enameled colander - made from a recycled WWII helmet, with holes for the strap!

Helmet turned colander

Baking there is a bit of a challenge, because the oven also serves as storage space for pots and pans, that have to find another place in a kitchen full of flower pots, newspaper clippings, and other things my mother likes to have around.

But I am a baker, and where there is a will, there is a way. So one morning we went shopping and purchased Brussels sprouts, limes, graham cookies and sweetened condensed milk (not an easy thing to find in German supermarkets).

Mutti purées Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts are the base for a wonderful soufflé that will turn even Brussels sprouts haters into fans. It can be also made with broccoli or cauliflower.

(3-4 servings)
(adapted from Johanna Handschmann: "Aufläufe aus der Vollwertküche")

300 g Brussels sprouts (or broccoli or cauliflower)
 40 g butter
 40 g whole wheat flour
250 ml heavy cream or milk
1/2 cube vegetable broth (or 1 tsp. broth granules)
pepper, freshly grated, to taste
pinch nutmeg, freshly grated, to taste
herbal salt, to taste
50 g Emmental cheese, coarsely grated
3 - 4 eggs, separated
butter, for gratin form

Cut large Brussels sprouts in halves, broccoli or cauliflower in florets. Cook in steamer for ca. 5 - 7 minutes until almost done. (Or cook with 1 cup water and 1 tsp. lemon juice in pan with tightly fitting lid.) Drain and set aside.

For the Béchamel sauce, cook butter in a large sauce pan until foaming. Add flour and cook over medium heat for 1 - 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until slightly browned. Remove from heat, and whisk in cream or milk in a slow stream. Add herbal salt and spices, then bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened. Set aside.

Béchamel sauce

Preheat oven to 400º F/200º C. Adjust rack to middle rung. Place high rimmed gratin form in oven for 5 minutes, to warm up.  

Using a food processor, immersion blender or chef's knife, finely chop Brussels sprouts (or broccoli or cauliflower).

Stir purée into butter/cream mixture. Add cheese and egg yolks and mix until well blended. Season with herbal salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Remove hot gratin form from oven, and melt a piece of butter, tilting pan to grease bottom.

Whisk egg whites with pinch of salt until stiff. Fold into vegetable mixture. Pour into gratin form, smooth top with rubber spatula, and immediately place into oven.

Bake gratin for 20 - 25 minutes, or until top is well browned. Let cool for 5 minutes in switched-off oven with door slightly ajar, then serve immediately.

Waiting for her daughter...

My mother loves desserts - she often says with conviction: "The dessert is always the best part of a meal!" We both prefer tart fruits, and don't like it overly sweet. Therefore I chose a citrus-y dessert that is as delicious as it is simple:

KEY LIME BARS  (16 servings)  (adapted from "Cook's Illustrated")

142 g/5 oz animal crackers or other dry cookies
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 pinch salt
57 g/4 tbsp butter, melted

57 g/2 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp. lime zest (1 lime)
1 pinch salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk (399 g/14 oz)
1 egg yolk
½ cup lime juice ( 1-1/2 limes)
lime zest , for garnish

Preheat oven to 325ºF/160ºC. Line an 8 x 8" (20 x 20 cm) square pan crosswise with aluminum foil strips, allowing extra foil to hang over edges of pan. Mist with oil spray.

For the crust, process crackers in food processor until finely ground (or place cookies in ZipLock bag and crush them with roller pin), add brown sugar and salt, and pulse to combine.

Drizzle with melted butter, and pulse until all crumbs are moistened. Press crumbs evenly into bottom of pan.

Bake crust until deep golden brown, 18 - 20 minutes. Let cool on wire rack (don't turn off the oven!)

For the filling, combine cream cheese, lime zest and salt in mixing bowl. Add sweetened condensed milk, and mix until well blended. Whisk in egg yolk. Add lime juice, and mix gently until incorporated.

Pour filling in cooled crust, and smooth top with spatula. Bake until set, and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides (15 - 20 minutes.)

Transfer pan to wire rack, and let cake cool to room temperature. Decorate with lime zest. Cover pan with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.

Remove cake from pan by lifting foil extensions. Cut into 16 squares.

Key Lime Bars

I could never find fresh Key limes, when I baked these, but you can as well use regular (Persian) limes. But don't substitute with bottled lime juice - the bars will not taste the same!

Since the sweetened condensed milk supplies plenty of sugar, I cut down on the sugar when making the crust (from 3 tablespoons to 1 tablespoon.)

"Cook's Illustrated" suggests toasted shredded coconut as garnish for those who don't like it too tart. Mutti and I, of course, love citrus flavor and used lime zest curls as decoration.

The Key Lime Bars keep fresh for several days if stored in the refrigerator - if they last that long!

My mother Gisela, my older sister Ingrid, and me in the Fifties

Saturday, January 5, 2013


A sprinkling with sparkling sugar adds a nice crunch

Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

 A hopefully happier New Year (no broken foot, no deer in the car, and no campaign ads!) has begun  - and with it a brand new Avid Baker's Challenge. In 2013 we will throw out combined baking efforts at King Arthur recipes, published on their website.

As a professional bread baker, I use a lot of King Arthur Flours, but in this recipe were some unknown ingredients that made me wonder whether I should spend the extra money, or make do with substitutes.

Our January challenge, Panettone Muffins, requires "Fiori di Sicilia" - Flowers of Sicily, a citrus vanilla essence that is, according to King Arthur, traditionally used to flavor panettone.

After an inner struggle with my thrifty super ego I ordered it - who am I to spurn a time honored Italian tradition! (It better be good - for that price!)

The Cake Enhancer, listed as an optional ingredient, was another matter - no way I would use an additive that wasn't a matter of life or death. And besides - enhancers are for wimps! I dare any cake or bread not to give its best when I bake it.

Apricots, pineapples, prunes, cherries and raisins soaking in a rum-orange mix

For the dried fruit mixture I chose mostly tangy fruits, like pineapple, prunes, tart cherries, apricots and golden raisins. I didn't have quite enough rum to soak them, so I topped it off with orange juice, using the microwave for a flash soaking.

Adding dry ingredients alternating with milk to the butter mixture

Preparing the batter was fast and easy. I changed two things: we don't like it too sweet, so I reduced the sugar. And I exchanged some of the white flour with whole wheat pastry (my favorite flavor enhancer - and anti-staling agent.)

Folding in the soaked fruit

The batter was sufficient to fill the twelve muffin cups almost to the top. A sprinkling of coarse sparking sugar added a nice crunchy topping.

Fresh from the oven

After 18 minutes the muffins were done. They were still rather pale on top, so don't wait for them to turn golden brown - if you do, they will be dry.

The best of all husbands could hardly wait until the muffins were out of the pan, no wonder, they looked really nice and smelled so good. The rum-orange soaked fruit pieces could have been a little more (I was cautious and used only the smaller amount). The muffins had a very delicate citrus flavor from the 1/4 teaspoon of Fiori di Sicilia.

A day later, the muffins tasted even better. And we noticed that they were moister - overnight the liquid from the fruit had permeated the crumb. There was no noticeable alcohol taste, next time I would be probably bolder and make an all-rum soaker.

Here is King Arthur's Panettone Muffin recipe - you can switch between volume, ounces, and metric measures. A very handy tool!

My recommendations:
  1. Use the full 9 ounces/255 g of fruits.
  2. Reduce the sugar by a quarter or a third - the fruit and sugar topping are sweet, too.
  3. Exchange a quarter of the all-purpose with whole wheat pastry or white whole wheat flour.
  4. Don't wait for the muffin tops to get a golden color on top - they might get over-baked and dry. 
  5. DO WAIT a day before eating them, your muffin will be more flavorful and moister. 

Like their big cousin, the Pannetone Muffins taste better after resting for a day
We Avid Bakers don't bite and welcome company! So, if you'd like to bake along, here is the link to Hanaâ's blog.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts (folgt noch)

Dan Lepard, master baker from England ("The Art of Handmade Bread"), travels (and bakes) all over the world. He also contributes regularly to the weekend issue of the "Guardian", and is always good for an interesting recipe.

I tried several of them, and never had a bad experience. Whether marmalade, pancakes, pasties, cakes or his "boozy" Ale House Rolls, we liked them all. When I saw his recipe for Stilton Crust Sausage Rolls, I was intrigued by the idea to spruce up simple store-bought puff pastry with layers of blue cheese.

There was still some puff pastry in the freezer, and I overcame my inner Scrooge to purchase real, imported Stilton.

Stilton crumbles easily, just use your fingers

Preparing the crust was easy. I crumbled the Stilton evenly over one sheet of thawed puff pastry, placed the second sheet on top, pressed it down with my hands to adhere, and then rolled it out to two times its original size.

It looks like a lot of blue cheese, but it is just right and not too strong!

The package is then folded, re-rolled, and folded again, creating several layers of cheese within the pastry. After these turns it needs a nap in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.

While the dough was resting, I prepared the sausage filling. An opened package with Johnsonville's "Stadium Brats" - the only American bratwurst that tastes like a German one - was my sausage choice, and, instead of the ground pork the recipe suggests, I took 80% lean ground beef (another leftover in the fridge.)

The idea of a fennel seasoning didn't appeal to me too much. Though I like fennel, and use it regularly in my breads, I do not care for the pervasive anise-y flavor of American Italian sausages (something never heard of in Italy, as my half Italian husband assures me.)

Bratwurst, ground beef, marjoram and white bread crumbs for the filling

With the German type bratwurst a marjoram seasoning instead of the fennel seemed the obvious choice (I used only 1/2 teaspoon.) "Stadium Brats" don't have casings that need removing, and my food processor made mixing a cinch. (I recommend chilling the filling until using.)

A few pulses and the filling is done

The next step was arranging the filling on the chilled pastry. I wasn't quite sure what size of rolls I would end up with - you have to consider that before you roll out the dough - but mathematical imagination is not my forte, and my rolls turned out a bit larger than Dan Lepard's. 

Arranging the filling. The blue Stilton is visible through the puff pastry

I placed the filling on the lower half of the pastry, leaving a free edge for the seam. The upper half is then folded over, and crimped with a fork. To create a neat edge, I used a pizza roller to cut off the excess dough.

Stilton crust loaf with crimped seams

Since I wanted to freeze some of the rolls, I did not apply egg wash over the whole loaf, but cut it first into slices. My loaf yielded 10 slices/rolls (about 1 1/2 inch wide.)

Applying egg wash and scoring

After brushing the rolls with the beaten egg, I slashed them with a sharp knife, parallel to the cut sides.

The sausage rolls baked for 25 minutes, at 400ºF/200ºC, to be golden brown and sizzling. I realized, though, that a lot of fat was rendered from the filling during the bake, leaving the bottom of the rolls soft. Next time I would elevate the rolls with a rack on top of the baking sheet.

We had the Stilton Crust Sausage Rolls for dinner, and LOVED them! The blue cheese in the crust added a pleasant spiciness, and the seasoning of the sausages, plus the marjoram, was sufficient to flavor the whole filling - no extra salt or pepper is needed.

Dan Lepard's recipe in the "Guardian" you can find here.

TO MAKE AHEAD: The cheese pastry and the filling, or the filled loaf (without egg wash), can be kept in the refrigerator for at least a day.

The shaped rolls (without egg wash!) can be easily frozen, individually wrapped in plastic, and placed in a container with lid. They don't need to be thawed, but before baking, brush them with beaten egg, and slash the top with a sharp knife. The baking time will be a bit longer for frozen rolls.

We loved the spicy sausage rolls!