World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: February, 2007

Spätzle a la Suppenküche

   Spat_collage

Willkommen to a new cooking frontier that has long stopped me cold. Spätzle.  Recently fate knocked on my door, when I was assigned this dish as my ticket in for a dinner gathering of food bloggers. Eek.

Long a comfort food in southern Germany Spätzle, it is a delicacy traditionally associated with the regional area of Swabia. In the northern part of the country you are more likely to find potatoes. Today this pasta, however,  is eaten all over Germany. Spätzle literally translated means "little sparrows" in the Southern dialect, it consists of tiny noodles or dumplings made of flour, eggs, water or milk, salt and occasionally nutmeg.  The measure of a quality tasting Spätzle, is found in the number of eggs used.

Maybe fear is too strong a word.  It is more of an equipment obstacle — the single purpose utensil, a Spätzle press.  In the IBK I have a philosophy: in order to keep my sanity and efficiency in check all kitchen tools should have at least two, if not three, purposes.  The press is similar to a potato ricer but has larger and fewer holes.  The dough is extruded out and into simmering salted water. What else would you ever use that for?!

After reading many recipes of varying ratios of egg to flour I arrived at a recipe from Suppenküche a popular New German restaurant in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. I’ve tasted this pasta several times since its opening in 2003. The restaurant remains a favorite not only for it’s unique contemporarizing quality but most likely due to its selection of beers.  As this recipe requires six eggs I knew it had to be good.

A reported 40,000 tons of Spätzle are produced in Germany each year. Of course, this figure does not include the many homemade batches of Spätzle everyday. And yes I can now see why it could and can be made every day. I used the colander to press the thick batter into the simmering water. Now that I have overcome this silly bit of intimidation preparing Käsespätzle  {Off the Broiler-instructional vlog} or maybe even that Charlie Trotter recipe, Rack of Lamb with Vegetable Ragout with Mustard Spätzle that now sounds more than within reach.

But the true test? There was hardly any noodles left after the 24 food pros and bloggers finished their goose dinner.

Suppenküche Spätzle

Adapted from Savoring San Francisco by Carolyn Miller & Sharon Smith

6 whole eggs
2 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 to 3/4 cup water

Fill a lrage pot with water. Bring the water to a boil and salt liberally.

While the water comes to a boil prepare the batter.  In a medium-sized bowl beat the eggs lightly. In another bowl combine flour, salt and nutmeg. Gradually add the flour mix to the egg.  Add water spoon by spoon until batter is stiff but smooth.

Using a perforated pan or colander and the ball of your hand, push batter through holes into water that should simmer throughout the whole process, but not boil. You’ll want to do this in 3 shifts.

For best results there should only be one layer of spätzle at a time in the cooking water. Stir the Spätzle with a spoon so that they do not stick together. When they rise to the top they are done. Sometimes this happens to quick, say 45 seconds. Depending on the size of your Spätzle you may need a minute or longer. It’s very similar to cooking Italian pasta. Remove Spätzle from water with a perforated spoon and place in a bowl of iced water to ensure not to overcook the noodles.

To reheat, sauté in a little butter about two minutes; season with fresh chives. Serve.

The Baker’s Passport – Iceland

               Bunday

Lent in many countries is filled with many wide and varied cultural traditions.  Historically, as well, Lent is a period of fasting.  As such many countries this time is also wrapped around food celebrations just before the 40-day fasting period begins with the idea being that you are strengthening yourself for the long days ahead.  Today the idea of fasting is not a common one so these food rituals have been re-envisioned over time sometimes in a more celebratory coloring. In Iceland, two days before the beginning of Lent, homes, restaurants and bakeries overflow with delicately-made cream puffs or buns. These buns, similar to a cream-filled chocolate eclair, come in all different shapes and sizes, filled with cream or jam and sometimes drizzled in melted chocolate.   

Children "earn" their share of buns by "beating" their parents out of bed.  This is done with their made-at-school bolludagsvöndur  (bun wands), that are colorfully decorated with strips of paper and shiny ribbon. Parents are then obligated to give their children one  rjomabolla or cream puff for every "blow" received.  It is thought that this custom is derived from acts of penance performed during Lent, evolving over time into a lighthearted children’s game.

The custom of "bun day" came to Iceland from either Sweden, Denmark or Norway in the nineteenth century.  These countries also have their Lenten bun specialties. In Sweden, the smela is descended from the German and Danish kumminkringlor, a pretzel-shaped bread with cumin, which came to southern Sweden during the 1600’s when the area was under Denmark’s rule. The pastry tradition varies some between each of these Nordic countries. In both Finland and Sweden, semla, is prepared with a filling of marzipan and whipped cream, lots and lots of whipped cream. In Norway, it is called a Fastelavnsboller or Shrovetide bun.

King Frederick of Sweden loved his semla. He was done in (d. 1774) by 14 servings of this dessert (which was preceded by a grand feast) and soon died of indigestion. During this  period the buns were boiled in milk which gave way in the 19th century to the addition of sugar and cinnamon. Before the evolutionary jump to today’s indulgence, consisting of a cardamom-spiced wheat flour bun and a filling of the pastry as bread crumbs, milk and marzipan. It is then capped off with the top and finished with whipped cream. Traditionally it was served with a bowl of hot milk or most likely today with coffee.

Buns made of melted butter, flour, eggs and water and filled with cream are the traditional cream puffs and the most popular ones.  Other varieties include cream puffs with strawberries, blackcurrant, fresh fruit or  Daim chocolate. Meat balls and fish balls are also popular on this day. In fact Medieval Icelandic law texts say it is just fine to eat a double portion on the Monday and Tuesday preceding Lent. Much of the bun eating now, however, takes place on Sunday, however, since Monday is a work day. During this time Icelandic bakers estimate they sell one million buns.  This figure averages out to just about buns for every Icelander.

The two most common types of buns now are yeast buns, which make up 70 to 80 percent of the bakery buns, and choux-like pastry buns (cream puffs), but other types are also baked. In the first half of the twentieth century, the buns were usually made from cake dough. Often a jólakaka (Christmas cake) recipe was used, perhaps with an extra egg or two added, and the raisins left out. Deep-fried donuts called ástarpungar (Love Balls) are also served on Bun Day.

Needless to say folks are particular and passionate about semla.  I’ve included a cartoon from Mostly About Food below along with the comments of an expert enthusiast on this pastry:

"The bun itself should be a light golden brown and about 10cm across. The ‘lid’ is preferably triangular and properly sprinkled with powdered sugar. It should sit squarely on its cream bed. The whipped cream shouldn’t overspill the edges and should rise 2-3 cm – just so your nose doesn’t dip when eating…the bread mustn’t be too dense and should be lightly sweetened. The whipped cream ought to be hand-whipped and lightly sweetened as well."

               Shrovetide_2

Immediately after this Icelandic bun bonanza comes Shrove Tuesday, called sprengidagur, or Bursting Day.  This is day is filled with bowls and bowls of  salted lamb and split pea soup eat as much as possible, until you are about to burst.

Vatnsdeigsbollur

If you’ve prepared pâte à choux before you will find this recipe familiar.

1 cup (8 ounces) water

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 heaping cup (4 1/2 ounces) AP flour

4 large eggs

Directions
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water to a boil, add the butter and salt, and stir until melted. Add the flour to the water/butter mixture and stir well until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan. Let this mixture cool for about 5 minutes, in order that the eggs won’t cook as you add them. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each one until completely integrated with the dough and the mixture is smooth rather than shiny looking.

Using a cookie scoop or two spoons (a teaspoon or tablespoon depending on how large you want your puffs), place a good spoonful of dough onto a parchment-covered baking sheet. You can get about 12 large spoonfuls to a sheet. This recipe will make about a dozen and a half if you’re using tablespoons, each enough for one good-sized serving.

Bake the puffs for 25 to 30 minutes depending on the size. Do not open the oven during the first 15 to 20 minutes, or the puffs may collapse.

While the puffs bake, prepare the filing. (see below)

After the puffs are baked, remove them from the oven and turn the oven off. Make a slit in the bottom of each puff with a knife, and turn them upside down on the baking sheet. Return them to the oven with the door cracked open and leave them for about 5 minutes. This allows the steam to escape so they won’t get soggy as they cool.

To fill, cut the puffs in half horizontally. When all are filled and topped off pour glaze over each one.

Filling

1 pint heavy cream, whipped

1 tsp or more almond extract (or lemon or vanilla)

1 tsp granulated sugar

Whip heavy cream with sugar.  As it nears whipped cream consistency add extract of your choice

Glaze

In double boiler over hot, not boiling, water, heat 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces with 1 tbsp butter or margarine, 1-1/2 tsp milk, and 1-1/2 tsp light corn syrup until smooth, stirring occasionally.

Making Chocolate Whoopie

       Wp_pie_1

Growing up homemade whoopie pies were a treat.  From the vantage point of a 10-year old they seemed rather simple. Why didn’t we have them more often? Well turns out that Mom just made them look that way.  What I didn’t see was the amount of time it took to make the little cakes from scratch, wait for them to cool, whip up the filling and then assemble.  Efforts such as this are what make mothers "moms."

Traditionally made with a  fluffy vanilla-whipped filling surrounded by two round chocolate cakes these cookie-sandwiches are often said to be of northern New England or Amish-County Pennsylvania origin.  According to Nancy Baggett in her All American Cookie Book,  the treat has been traced back to the Depression era. Her source, Peter Schlichting of New Hampshire says that "the Berwick Cake Company, located it the Roxbury section of Boston…seems to have been the first t make them…a retired employee has recalled that the firm began whoopie-pie production in 1926." In fact if you grew up in New England or New York these may remind you of  a high-class Drake’s Devil Dogs

I’ve made my mother’s recipe several times but I’ll be devil dogged if  I can find it in my IBC. So recalling the recipe from memory and flipping through a few cookbooks I determined that I was not going to use hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Well I did end up using it–a trans-fat free Crisco.  I also needed to mix it up with two different fillings, traditional vanilla and peanut butter (quelle surprise!).

The choice of cocoa powder is important here as the contrast between the filling and the cake creates a heightened, smoky, chocolaty taste.  Typically I have Dutch processed cocoa powder on hand.  Although I’ve tried many including Droste and Valrhona but my go-to is Pernigotti.  Keep in mind that Dutch-processed is treated with an alkali to neutralize its acids. Due to this it does not react with baking soda, so it must be used in recipes calling for baking powder. It has a reddish-brown color, mild flavor, and is easy to dissolve in liquids.

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

4 cups flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa

2 cups sugar

1 cup shortening

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup warm water

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:  In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cocoa and salt.  Mix well and set aside.  In another bowl combine the sugar shortening and eggs. Beat 2 minutes.  Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture. Now add the milk and warm water and beat for 2-3 minutes at medium speed. Add vanilla extract and beat again.  These "cakes" cook like cookies.  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto an non-stick cookie sheet.  Keeping uniformity is important. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees until the center of the cookies spring back when lightly pressed.  Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.

Assembly: Spread a generous amount of filling on the bottom of a completely cooled cookie. Top with another.

Notes on storage: I learned the hard way that these little cakes don’t keep too long particularly if  you stack the unfilled cakes together. If you can’t bake early in the day and fill them later on  you could assemble and in turn wrap them in plastic wrap.  They keep quite well in the fridge for several days in this method.

Vanilla Cream Filling

2 egg whites

2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

4 tblspns flour

4 tblspns milk

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening

Instructions: Beat the egg whites until stiff. Set aside.  Working quickly combine the other ingredients and beat several minutes at high speed.  Fold in the stiff egg whites

Peanut Butter Filling

2 tblspn unsalted butter

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

3 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1/2 cup milk

Instructions: At medium speed mix the butter and peanut butter together. Add confectioner’s sugar and milk. At high speed mix until well blended, light and fluffy.