16 September 2012

Apple strudel - 'Apfelstrudel'

Apple strudel is an Austrian specialty that is also very popular in southern Germany (and in many other European countries). Unfortunately, all kinds of baked goods containing apples are passed off as apple strudels these days. What makes a strudel a strudel, however, are not the apples (you can also get them filled with quark or other fruit, as well as savoury strudels filled with meat and/or vegetables). Instead, the very particular paper-thin pastry enveloping the filling gives a strudel its character. So Masterchef contestants take note (I have seen this on this favourite TV show of mine before): a bit of chopped apple wrapped and baked in some ready-rolled puff pastry is just that: a bit of chopped apple wrapped and baked in some ready-rolled puff pastry. But it certainly is not an apple strudel! 

The strudel pastry is versatile and actually quite easy to make and use. All it takes is a bit of patience and (as we call it in German) ‘fingertip feel’ to roll and pull the pastry carefully until it is paper-thin. The recipe below makes one strudel that cuts into about 6 thick slices. The filling in my recipe is fairly classical, but endless variations are possible (other good fruit to use are pears, cherries and apricots. You can also add some sweetened quark or rum raisins or you could replace the breadcrumbs with ground nuts of your choice). Traditionally the strudel is served hot with chilled vanilla sauce (like custard just thinner). Whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt is also great, but decent hot custard would also do very well!

For the strudel pastry:
3 tablespoons melted butter or sunflower oil
125 g flour
1 egg

For the filling:
About 50 g melted butter
3 tablespoons fine dried breadcrumbs
3 large apples
Sugar to taste mixed with cinnamon
A handful of chopped almonds
A handful of raisins

For the pastry combine the flour, butter and egg and then knead vigorously on the kitchen surface for at least 10 minutes. This is very important to ensure that the pastry is elastic enough later to be rolled out and pulled as thinly as possible. Once the pastry is quite elastic cover it in clingfilm and leave to rest in a warm place for about 1 hour. A good way of doing this is to heat up a ceramic bowl with hot water and then dry it and place it upside down on top of the wrapped pastry.

In the meantime prepare the filling. Peel and core the apples and cut them into very thin slices. Roughly chop the almonds and melt the butter.

When the pastry is ready to go sprinkle a large dishtowel with flour and put the ball of pastry in the middle. Roll out the pastry as thinly as possible with a rolling pin on top of the dishtowel. Then use your hands and carefully pull the pastry in all directions until it is so thin that you can see the pattern of the dishtowel through the pastry.  The sheet of pastry should be about 40 by 30 cm big and not much thicker than 1 mm. Now brush the pastry with the melted butter and add the filling. Start with the breadcrumbs and then add the apples. Sprinkle with as much sugar and cinnamon as you like (I use about 80 g of sugar with about half a teaspoon of cinnamon) and add the raisins and nuts. Leave about a 2 cm edge without any filling on the short sides and on one of the long sides of the pastry. Fold the edges of the short sides over the filling to prevent this from spilling out later.

Now roll up the strudel. This is very easily done by just carefully lifting the dishtowel on the long side of the pastry without the edge and the strudel will more or less roll itself up. Transfer the strudel onto a baking sheet (it is best to lift it onto the baking sheet with the dishtowel and then to carefully remove this) covered in baking paper and bake in the preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for about 40 minutes.

When the strudel is golden brown remove it from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with vanilla sauce or anything else you fancy.

9 September 2012

Marzipan Twist - 'Marzipanzopf'

After a fairly long break I am back and ready to do more baking. We spent an excellent couple of weeks hiking and climbing in the Bavarian/Austrian Alps, mostly in a region called the Allgäu and Tirol. This is one of my favourite holiday destinations, partially because it is connected with a lot of childhood memories and family holidays, but also because the hiking and mountaineering there is amazing. It is a bit touristy, but not too crowded and it is absolutely beautiful. Our base was a sweet little town called Oberstdorf and we also spent a few days in the more famous Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Now I am back in the somewhat less scenic East Midlands (bless!) and slowly getting used to staring at a computer screen again for the majority of my waking hours... From experience I know that in a couple of weeks (or even days) it will feel like I have never even been away, but for the time being a bit of comfort food is called for. My holiday inspired me to bake and cook some regional specialties, such as Apfelstrudel and Germknödel. But the first ‘welcome back’ recipe is a sweet bread filled with marzipan and nuts. The thought of having this for breakfast always helps me get up early in the morning. The recipe makes one large loaf, which also freezes well.

For the bread dough:
500 g plain flour
20 g fresh yeast (or one sachet dry)
250 ml milk
1 egg
60 g butter

For the filling:
200 g marzipan
200 g ground almonds
2 tablespoons amaretto
4 tablespoons crème fraiche
1 egg
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (for colour, optional)

To brush before baking:
1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of milk

Put the flour in a bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm milk and pour on top of the flour. Leave for about 20 minutes. Now add the egg and the melted butter and knead until you have a smooth ball of dough (you can add a bit more flour if it is too sticky, but not too much!). Leave to rise in a bowl covered with a dish towel for about 30 minutes or until it has visibly increased in size. Stretch and fold the dough and leave to rise again.

In the meantime, make the filling. Mix all the ingredients well (I put everything in a food processor and whizzed it until I had a sticky paste). Put aside until the dough is ready.
Roll out the dough to a square about 40 x 40 cm and then cut it in half. Add half of the filling each in a strip down the middle of both rectangles and then fold over the dough from both sides to get two long sausage shapes. Twist the two sausage shapes around each other and put on a baking tray covered in baking paper. Leave to rise while you preheat the oven to about 200 degrees. When the oven is hot brush the bread with the egg and milk mixture and bake for about 40 minutes.  

6 August 2012

Creamy Cheesecake – “Käse-Sahne Torte”

Cheesecakes are popular in Germany. Unlike the German cheesecake I posted a few months ago, the filling in this creamy cheesecake is not baked but set in the fridge. However, it is also made of quark (a type of curd cheese) and not of cream cheese so it is fairly light (if this can be said of a cake containing a pint of whipping cream...). This cake tastes great chilled and it is therefore particularly good in summer. Fruit (especially all kinds of berries, but also cubed fresh apricots) can be added to the cream if you like. The filling is set with gelatine, so this is not suitable for vegetarians. This recipe is enough for a 26 cm springform tin. It is a bit fiddly, but it is pretty foolprool and has never gone wrong (knock on wood).

For the sponge base:

4 eggs
100 g sugar
Some vanilla seeds or vanilla extract
100 g plain flour
50 g corn flour
1 tsp baking powder

For the cheese filling:

250 ml milk
200 g sugar
4 egg yolks
Zest and juice of half a lemon
8 leaves of gelatine
500 ml whipping cream
500 g quark (low fat or fat free)

For the sponge cake: whisk the eggs and the sugar for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Sieve the flour, corn flour and baking powder on top and carefully fold into the eggs. Pour the mixture into a greased tin and bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes at 190 degrees. Leave to cool, remove from the tin and cut in half horizontally.

For the cheese filling: soak the gelatine leaves in cold water. Mix the milk, egg yolks, sugar and the lemon zest in a pot and bring to the boil. Squeeze the water from the soaked gelatine and dissolve it in the hot milk and egg mixture. Stir well and make sure there aren’t any lumps. Now leave the mixture to cool.

When the mixture is starting to set whip the cream. First stir the quark and lemon juice into the egg mixture and then carefully fold in the whipped cream.

If you own an adjustable cake ring fix the bottom layer of the sponge cake in the ring. If not, return the bottom layer of the sponge cake to the springform tin. Slightly oil the tin’s sides or line it with baking paper. Now smooth the creamy cheese mixture on top of the cake. Add the top layer of the sponge cake and press down very slightly. Leave to set in the fridge for at least three hours.

When the cake has set, remove the ring and dust the cake with icing sugar. This keeps in the fridge for a few days, but it can also be frozen.

29 July 2012

Swabian Farm Loaf – “Eingnetztes”

‘Eingnetzes’ is a crusty wheat bread typical for the region of Swabia. The dough is relatively soft and it is left to rise in the mixing bowl. The loaf is baked without a tin so its shape varies from time to time. As its surface is not cut before it is put into the oven it rips open at one side, forming a characteristic 'knobbly bit' (called Knauzen in Swabian). The Knauzen is particularly crusty and is seen by many as the best bit of the bread! The word ‘Eingnetztes’ derives from the German verb ‘benetzen’, which translates as ‘to wet’ or ‘to dampen’. This makes sense, because the bread is lifted onto the baking stone or hot baking sheet with wet hands. It is also brushed with some more water for the last few minutes, which gives the loaf its typical shiny crust. Traditionally, the dough was turned out directly onto the stone oven from a wet bowl or large ladle.

The bread is fairly easy to make but the main issue is getting hold of the right flour. Before I started getting into baking ‘serious’ bread I tended to use only plain wheat flour and in some instances wholemeal wheat flour. In Germany the types of flour sold differ considerable from those available in the UK. The main difference – and most relevant for baking bread – is the availability of many different ‘flour types’ (Typen) in Germany. The lower the type number, the whiter the flour or, in other words, the higher the flour type number the more percentage of the whole grain is left in the flour. Regular UK plain flour corresponds roughly to the German flour Typ 405. For baking bread a higher and more rustic type of flour is usually used. Wheat flour used for baking non-wholemeal bread is usually Typ 1050 and rye flour Typ 1150. These are darker than plain white flour, but not as dark as wholemeal. Occasionally I ask visitors to bring me a few bags of Typen flour from Germany or I bring some back when I have been on a visit to Germany myself. However, I have found that a mix of plain and wholemeal flour available in the UK has given me more than acceptable results. All the breads posted in this blog, for example, were baked with regular plain and wholemeal flours.

If you can get your hands on Typen flour I suggest using a mix of Typ 1050 and wheat wholemeal flour. If not, just follow the recipe below. This makes one large loaf. The pre-dough and sourdough keep the bread fresher for longer and they also improve its flavour a lot. It takes a while to make, but it is certainly worth it!

For the pre-dough:

100 g plain flour
100 g wholemeal wheat flour
10 g fresh yeast
200 ml lukewarm water

For the sourdough:

100 g wholemeal rye flour
100 g lukewarm water
1 tablespoon rye sourdough starter

Other ingredients:

300 g plain flour
300 g wholemeal wheat flour
15 g salt
1 tablespoon honey
300 ml lukewarm water

For the pre-dough: dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and mix in the flour. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a lid and leave to rest at room temperature for an hour and then in the fridge overnight or for about 12 hours. For the sourdough: mix all three ingredients, cover and leave to rest in a warm place (28 degrees are ideal – placing the sourdough in a coolbox with a warm hot water bottle works a treat!) overnight or for about 12 hours.

When you are ready to bake mix the pre-dough and sourdough with all the remaining ingredients and knead well for about 10 minutes. The dough is relatively soft (but nothing like as sticky as pure rye sourdough). Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to rest for about 30 minutes. When the 30 minutes are up fold the dough in the bowl. It is easiest to do this by moving your hand under the dough, grabbing a bit, pulling it up and folding it over. Do this about 4-5 times moving clockwise (or counter clockwise) around the bowl. Leave to rest again for 30 minutes, then fold again and leave to rest while you preheat the oven.

Preheat the oven to about 240 degrees. If you have a bread baking stone you should heat this up in the oven. If not, place a strong baking sheet in the oven to heat up. When the oven is hot take the ball of dough out of the bowl with very wet hands and place it on a chopping board covered in baking paper. Pull the loaf onto the hot baking stone or baking sheet with the paper and spray some water into the oven. Bake at 240 degrees for about 15 minutes then decrease the temperature gradually to 200 degrees. The bread needs to bake for about one hour. You can pull out the baking paper after 20 minutes so it doesn’t burn.

When the bread is done briefly take it out of the oven and wet it with water (you can use a brush or just your wet hands, if you are hard like me). Put it back into the hot oven for about 2 minutes. This makes the crust nice and shiny. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. This freezes very well.

For fun and a bit of blog networking I am submitting this post to Yeastspotting.

26 July 2012

Redcurrant cake - "Träubleskuchen"

The Träubleskuchen is a great Swabian summer tradition. It’s called Johannisbeerkuchen in non-dialect German and translates as redcurrant cake. This cake – like the rhubarb cake I posted a few weeks ago -  is what I would call an ‘adult cake’. I didn’t like it as a child, probably because its moist texture with the currants and almond meringue and its tartness are too complex for the childish palate. I quite like it now, many years later (although I continue to have a fondness for sponge cakes decorated with chocolate and smarties). Unfortunately, our two currant bushes in the garden did not yield enough fruit for an entire cake this year. I therefore waited until English-grown redcurrants were available in the supermarket. They have now arrived and the season is short, so I had to act quickly. I baked this recipe in a 24 cm round tin. It would also be enough, I think, for 25 or 30 cm square. 

For the pastry:

250 g plain flour
125 g butter
70 g caster sugar
1 egg yolk

For the filling:

About 400 g redcurrants
3 egg whites
3 egg yolks
150 g caster sugar plus one tablespoon of sugar
Some vanilla extract or seeds, if you like
100 g ground almonds
A handful of sliced almonds and breadcrumbs each

Quickly combine the pastry ingredients and knead until you have a firm ball of dough. Line a greased cake tin of your choice and prick the base with a fork in a few places. Put in the fridge and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.

When making the filling start by whisking the egg whites until stiff. Add the sugar spoon by spoon and continue whisking until the mixture is firm and silky. Add the ground almonds and vanilla and mix in well.

In a separate bowl whisk the egg yolks with a tablespoon of sugar until creamy. Then fold in two thirds of the almond meringue mix and the redcurrants. Combine well. Remove the pastry shell from the oven and sprinkle the base with the breadcrumbs and sliced almonds. This prevents the base from getting soggy. Add the redcurrant mix and top with the rest of the almond meringue. Smooth the surface and bake in the preheated oven at 180 degrees for about 50 minutes. Check periodically so the top does not get too brown. If it does, cover with some aluminium foil. 

Leave to cool in the tin, but remove the cake when it is cold to avoid it from ‘sweating’ and getting soggy. This cake should be eaten fairly fresh. It is very moist and no amount of breadcrumbs can stop it from getting soggy after a couple of days. It tastes particularly good with whipped cream.

PS: A nice reader of the blog just pointed out that my blog so far did not offer a 'follow' option. I hadn't realised that this was the case. The 'follow this blog' function is now enabled and it is located on the left of the screen under the blog archive!

27 June 2012

Summer fruit cake - 'Obstkuchen'

This cake evokes a lot of childhood memories of coffee and cake afternoons with friends and relatives. Fresh fruit cakes or tarts are hugely popular in Germany, especially in the summer. Almost any soft fruit of your choice can be used to top the cake (fresh is best, of course, but tinned apricots, peaches or pineapples are also a common sight). I love using fresh local berries at the moment. I even got to harvest 5 (five) strawberries and an entire 21 blackcurrants in my own garden earlier today: all the hard work is starting to pay off... For the cake in the picture I added some very non-regional (and probably not very seasonal) organic kiwi for a bit of a colour contrast.

This specific recipe is not exactly traditional. The most common base for a fresh fruit cake is the plain ‘Bisquit’ I used for my strawberry cake a few weeks ago. This is also the more low-calorie option, if you are so inclined. The cake in the picture consists of a nutty chocolate base and the fruit is stuck onto the cake with melted milk chocolate. I recommend it – the combination of chocolate and nuts with fresh fruit is divine. I don’t really know where the recipe has come from, but my mother used to (and still does) bake this very often.  I get the feeling that this comes from my auntie Klara, who also is the source of my nutty triangles recipe.

I baked the cake in a 24 cm round tin, but a larger tin (up to about 28 cm) can also be used if you prefer a thinner base. The base freezes well and the final product is actually assembled fairly quickly.

For the chocolate base:

100 g butter
3 eggs
100 g sugar
100 g almonds – partially ground and partially chopped
100 g dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
8 pieces of crisp bread or crispy bakes (in Germany this is called ‘Zwieback’ – bread twice baked. The nearest equivalent in the UK would be melba toast or rusks. I bought ‘crispy bakes’ in Sainsbury’s, which come in a round paper packet. These were perfect. But biscuits or anything fairly neutral tasting and crunchy can also be used).
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the topping:
100 g milk chocolate
Fresh or tinned fruit of your choice

For the glaze:
1 tablespoon corn flour or potato starch
2 tablespoons sugar
250 ml water or fruit juice

For the cake batter, whisk the butter with the eggs and the sugar until fairly fluffy.  Crush up the crisp bread/crispy bakes. I crush half of them to fine ‘dust’ and keep the other half as small chunks. Stir these and the rest of the ingredients into the butter, mixing well. Bake in a greased tin for about 20 – 25 minutes at 200 degrees. Leave to cool.

To assemble the cake: carefully melt the milk chocolate. Spread this evenly and thinly on top of the cooled cake. Now arrange the fruit on top of the melted chocolate. For the glaze, combine the starch flour and sugar and mix well with some of the liquid. Bring the rest of the liquid to the boil and gradually add the flour mix. Boil for a few seconds until it starts to thicken. Immediately spread this on top of the cake with the help of a spoon, starting from the middle. I place the cake in the fridge for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to harden and the glaze to set. 

24 June 2012

Rhubarb cake with meringue - 'Rhabarberkuchen'

Yesterday I made an incredibly sour rhubarb crumble. I didn’t add enough sugar and there wasn’t any sweet custard, either, so it was barely edible. Today I gave rhubarb another go and I didn’t skimp on the sugar this time. This recipe is for a very traditional German summer cake. The rhubarb is baked in a sweet vanilla sponge and then topped with meringue for a bit of crunch and some extra sweetness. With some whipped cream it tastes particularly good. The recipe makes a 24cm round cake – it can easily be doubled for a larger square tin.

For the sponge:
125 g butter
125 g sugar
Seeds from one vanilla pod or some vanilla essence
1 egg and two egg yolks
125 g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
300 – 400 g rhubarb, peeled and cut into chunks

For the meringue:
2 egg whites
125 g sugar

For the sponge cake, mix the butter (at room temperature), sugar, eggs and vanilla until fairly fluffy. Combine the flour and the baking powder and fold into the batter. Spoon the batter into a greased cake tin and smooth the surface. Then add the rhubarb chunks. Bake this at about 200 degrees for 30 minutes.

In the meantime make the meringue. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and then slowly add the sugar. Continue whisking until the mixture is shiny and stiff. 

When the cake is baked remove it from the oven and add the meringue topping. You can just spoon it on top and swirl the surface with a fork, or you can pipe it on in a pattern of your choice. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes or so at 200 degrees. The meringue should turn slightly golden, but it should not turn brown.

16 June 2012

Strawberry cake - 'Erdbeerkuchen'

It’s been a quite while since I have posted my last cake on my blog. Two months in fact! It’s not that I haven’t done any baking at all, but the day job got in the way, alas, and I mainly kept to baking quick cakes and my sourdough bread. Things are a bit quieter now and I am excited about all the summery fruit that is now available (in spite of the less than summery weather). Following the long winter months with a fairly restricted selection of fruit (at least for those like me using mainly seasonal and regional ingredients) a whole new world of recipes has now become possible. I love all sorts of berries and summer fruit and I am hoping to bake as many cakes with these fresh ingredients while they last. In Germany the Erdbeerkuchen – strawberry cake – is a great summer favourite. There are lots of variations on the strawberry cake, of course, but this recipe is fairly traditional. The base, in German, is called ‘Bisquit’ and it is made mainly of eggs and flour. Unlike other sponge batters this does not contain butter or any other fat and it is therefore particularly light and fluffy. The Bisquit base is very versatile – it can be used with all kinds of other fruit (in the 1980s cakes with colourful tinned fruit – peaches, pineapples and mandarins – were all the rage) and it is also the recipe used for the famous Black Forest Gateaux. For the latter, 25 g of the corn flour is exchanged with cocoa powder to make it dark and chocolaty.

I baked the Bisquit base in a round springform tin 28 cm in size. When baked the base is about 6-7 cm high so it can be cut in half with a sharp knife. This means that the recipe is enough for two cakes – I usually wrap one in tin foil and freeze it for another cake.

For the base:
6 eggs
200 g sugar
Seeds of one vanilla pod or some vanilla extract
100 g flour
125 g corn flour

For the cream base:
2 heaped tablespoons of corn flour
2 heaped tablespoons of sugar
500 ml milk

For the glaze (this keeps the strawberries on the cake and also keeps the fruit fresh for longer):
1 tablespoon corn flour
2 tablespoons of sugar
250 ml water or fruit juice

About three punnets of strawberries
Some sliced almonds to decorate

For the Bisquit base divide the egg whites from the yolks. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and then slowly add the sugar. Continue whisking until creamy and shiny. Add the vanilla and the egg yolks one by one and combine well. Finally, mix the flour and corn flour and thoroughly fold into the egg mixture. Grease the bottom of a springform tin (do not grease the sides, because this makes the cake rise unevenly) and add the batter. Smooth the surface and bake at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes. Leave to cool. Cut the base in half horizontally with a sharp serrated knife (if the cake is very high and you prefer a thinner base you can also cut it into three rounds).

For the cream base mix the corn flour and sugar. Add some vanilla if you like. Pour about 100 ml of the milk into the flour and mix well – make sure there are no lumps. Bring the rest of the milk to the boil and then add the corn flour mix. Boil for about 2-3 minutes whisking continually. Leave to cool slightly (stirring every once in a while to prevent a skin from forming). 

Evenly smooth the cream onto the Bisquit base. This should not be too thick – you can eat the rest as a dessert, mixed with any leftover strawberries. Now top the cake with the strawberries. You can use small strawberries whole and cut the larger ones in half. 

Finally, prepare the glaze. Mix the corn flour and sugar with 250 ml cold water or juice and bring to the boil. Immediately pour this on the cake (starting in the middle) to cover the strawberries. This sets very quickly. Immediately decorate the edges of the cake with the sliced almonds.

The cream base can be replaced simply with whipped cream or clotted cream. If you do this I would not use the glaze (it would melt the cream) and I would eat the cake on the same day.


15 April 2012


My boyfriend just told me that these little cakes are his favourite from all the things I have ever baked. OK, I have to admit that they taste and look very nice (even if I say so myself). However, they are very quick to make (unlike my 5-day sourdough adventures and other more complicated recipes) and the recipe was invented (not by me, but by German bakeries) for using up leftover cakes, biscuits and cream fillings. I didn’t add an English translation for the cakes in the title, because it is a bit weird. Literally translated, Granatsplitter denotes ‘shrapnel’, presumably to indicate their content of leftover cakes. But never mind. I have yet to meet somebody who doesn’t enjoy these.

Granatsplitter are a creamy cake mixture placed on a biscuit and covered in chocolate icing. The ingredients for the creamy mixture can be varied with whatever is available. The idea is to use up leftover cake or other sweet baked goods (sponge cake that has gone a bit hard, muffins, cheap or broken biscuits, fruit cake, pastry shells...) and to mix these with butter cream and any other ingredients that take your fancy or that you would like to get rid of (berries, jam, nuts, raisins, chocolate chips, et cetera). I previously made them with some of the butter cream, sponge cake and cherries leftover from my Donauwellen cake. The variations are endless, but here is the basic recipe I used for the cakes in the picture. It makes about 15 Granatsplitter.

15 small, round biscuits of your choice (ginger nuts are good, for example)

For the butter cream (alternatively, you can use leftover icing or butter cream, if you have it):
 20 g corn flour
3 tbsp sugar
Some vanilla extract (or seeds from one vanilla pod)
250 ml (1/4 litre) milk
125 g butter at room temperature

For the chocolate covering:
150 g chocolate of your choice (I used dark chocolate on the picture)
1 tbsp sunflower oil or 1 tbsp butter/margarine

Other ingredients for the filling:
Volume equivalent of about 5 thick slices of sponge cake and a few biscuits, if you like.

I also added some frozen raspberries

For the butter cream, mix the corn flour with the sugar and vanilla. Mix this with about half a glass of the milk (make sure there are no lumps). Bring the rest of the milk to the boil. Add the corn flour mix, whisk continuously, and boil for about 2 minutes. Leave this ‘custard’ to cool down to room temperature. When the butter and the custard have the same temperature (this is important, otherwise the mixture might curdle) whisk the butter with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add the custard spoon by spoon and mix until you have smooth butter cream.

Crumble up the cake and/or biscuits you are using. Mix these with the butter cream and add any other ingredients you would like to use. For the Granatsplitter in the picture I added some frozen raspberries (the cream can be flavoured with cocoa powder of with a few spoons of rum, brandy or amaretto, if you want).

Now shape the mixture into balls to fit the diameter of the round biscuits you are using as a base. It is easiest to do this with an ice-cream scoop or with two large spoons. Place these balls on top of the biscuits and slightly press down.

Melt the chocolate (in a bain-marie or carefully in the microwave) and add the oil or butter (this is not essential, but I find that it makes the chocolate covering a bit softer and it is also less likely to go white). Dip each Granatsplitter in the chocolate to cover it completely. Leave the chocolate to set and keep in a tin in the fridge.

26 March 2012

Chocolate Pretzels – ‘Mürbe Brezeln’

These sweet pretzels are a fairly typical sight in German bakeries (or at least in bakeries located in the south-west of the country). I love the flavour and interesting consistency. They are a combination of flaky puff pastry and buttery chocolate-flavoured shortcrust pastry. These are twisted together into a pretzel shape, baked and then decorated with icing and slivers of almonds. I have to admit that these are a bit fiddly and time-intensive (even if shop bought puff pastry is used), but they are certainly worth spending some time on. All it takes is a bit of patience. From my own experience, it helps to try and keep calm and to resist the urge to just throw everything into the bin and to stomp upstairs if the first couple of pretzels don't work out. The trick is to get the dough to the right temperature – cold enough for the puff pastry not to get too sticky and warm enough for the short crust pastry not to be too brittle. 

This recipe makes about 20 pretzels:

250 g flour
75 g icing sugar
150 g cold butter
25 g cocoa powder
1 egg

One pack of ready rolled all-butter puff pastry (if you really have a lot of time on your hands and you want to make the puff pastry yourself: about 400 g should be enough)

1 egg white
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
Sliced almonds, lightly toasted in a dry pan

Combine the flour, icing sugar, butter (cut into little cubes), cocoa powder and egg and quickly knead into a ball of pastry. It should be quite firm and not sticky. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for about 45 minutes.

Unroll the puff pastry. Roll out the chocolate pastry with a rolling pin to match the shape and size of the puff pastry sheet. It’s best to do this on a relatively non-stick surface, such as a silicone mat or some heavy duty cling film (I used a plastic place mat in the picture below). The chocolate pastry should be about ½ cm thick or maybe a bit less. Brush the egg white onto the chocolate pastry and top it with the puff pastry sheet. Carefully press the two layers together. If there is a bit of overlap, straighten the edges with a sharp knife. Now it all depends on the consistency and temperature of the pastry. If it feels sticky (especially the puff pastry) it can help to let the whole thing firm up in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

To shape the first pretzel, use a sharp knife to cut a thin strip of double pastry (about 1 ½ cm) along the long edge of the pastry sheet. Carefully twist the strip of pastry and then shape into a pretzel. The chocolate pastry is more brittle than the puff pastry and it will crack a bit or even break in some places. Don’t let this deter you and carry on. Carefully lift the pretzel onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Repeat about 20 times until all the pastry is used up...

Bake in the preheated oven at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the puff pastry starts turning golden.

In the meantime, mix the icing sugar with the lemon juice. Add a bit of water if required – the icing should not be too thick. Brush the warm pretzels with the icing and then sprinkle with a few almond slices. Leave to set and cool and then store in a tin.

25 March 2012

Nutty triangles - 'Nussecken'

Inspired by my crumbly pastries last week, I continued with the Süsse Stückle theme this weekend. The first recipe I baked was these nutty triangles, or Nussecken. Nussecken have a bit of a reputation for being old fashioned and a lot of people associate them with the 1970s. I am not sure why and they are certainly still very popular today. Actually, the first time I had these very delicious cakes was when my aunt Klara baked them for us sometime at the beginning of the 1990s. I liked them a lot and I have baked them many times since. So here it is: my aunt’s Nussecken recipe – thank you, Klara! These triangles are great, because they not only taste really good, but they also keep fresh for quite a while in a tin. They consist of a buttery hazelnut topping baked on top of buttery pastry and finished off with some dark chocolate. 

I baked this in a rectangular tin of 20 x 30 cm (which cut into 18 triangles) and there was enough left over to bake an additional 20 cm round tin of the stuff.

For the pastry base:

300 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
130 g butter
130 g sugar
2 eggs

For the hazelnut topping:

200 g butter
150 g sugar
Some vanilla seeds or vanilla extract
400 g ground hazelnuts (roasted hazelnuts are even better)
4 tbsp water

A few tbsp apricot jam
200 g dark chocolate

Make the pastry, roll out until about ½ cm thick and press this into a well-greased tin. Spread the apricot jam on top of the pastry and refrigerate.

Melt the butter, mix in the sugar and vanilla and stir until the sugar has resolved. Add the hazelnuts and water. Combine well and leave to cool. Spread the hazelnut topping on the pastry and smooth the surface. Bake at 175 degrees for about 25 minutes (or until the edges start turning brown). Leave to cool in the tin, then carefully cut into triangles with a sharp knife. 

Melt the chocolate and use this to decorate two corners of the triangles. Leave the chocolate to set, then store in a tin.

18 March 2012

Crumbly pastries – ‘Streuselküchle’

Streuselküchle are only one type of that great institution in the Swabian region of south-west Germany: Süsse Stückle, translated as ‘sweet pieces’. Süsse Stückle come in a large variety of shapes and flavours and they are sold in every bakery. Other typical examples of Süsse Stückle are the Swabian twirls and custard twirls I wrote about previously. The custom in most households in south-west Germany, I think, is to purchase Süsse Stückle in a bakery for afternoon coffee if there isn’t any time to bake a cake at home. At least this is what happened when I was a child. For some reason, I really felt like eating a Streuselküchle, or crumbly pastry, last night, but as I do not have access to a German bakery I had no choice but to make them myself. The Streuselküchle is an extremely popular example of the Süsse Stückle, consisting of a yeast-dough base and topped with buttery pastry crumble (it is also a rather unkind name for calling a spotty teenager). The recipe might sound a bit dry, but these pastries are delicious (especially fresh) with a cup of coffee. The trick is to cram as much crumble on each piece as you possibly can. Commercial bakeries these days all tend to cover the Streuselküchle (and indeed most other Süsse Stückle) with a thick layer of icing. For my liking this is too sweet and really not necessary. My father’s theory is that this is done only so the Streuselküchle can be sold for longer with ascorbic acid added to the icing as a preservative. He is probably right, so I tend to stick with the traditional version without the icing.

Variation and improvisation on the Streuselküchle, however, is very possible. The picture above shows the most basic version, consisting only of yeast dough and crumble. The picture below includes a thin layer of vanilla custard under the crumble (the same used in the custard twirl recipe) and I also added a few frozen raspberries. In summer, other soft fruit (especially apricots, red currants or blueberries) tastes excellent in these pastries, or a spoonful of jam can also be added.

This recipe makes about 16 Streuselküchle, about 10 cm each in diameter.

For the yeast-dough base:

200 ml warm milk
100g melted butter
20 g fresh yeast (or one sachet dry)
500 g plain flour
80 g sugar
1 egg

For the crumble topping:

170 g butter
150 g sugar
250 g plain flour
Seeds from one vanilla pod, or some vanilla extract:

Optional: vanilla custard (half the recipe of the ones used for the custard twirls is enough); berries or other soft fruit (frozen or tinned is fine).

Mix the warm milk with the melted butter and dissolve the yeast in this mixture. In a bowl, combine the flour with the sugar. Pour the milk mixture on top of the flour and leave the yeast to activate for about 30 minutes. Then add the egg and knead patiently until you have a soft ball of dough. If it is sticky after kneading for several minutes, add a bit more flour. Cover and leave to rise for about 1 hour. After one hour, stretch and fold the dough and leave to rest for another 30 minutes.

In the meantime, make the crumble. Combine all dry ingredients, add the soft butter (or melted butter) and mix until you have coarse crumbs.

Divide the yeast dough into about 16 pieces. Leave the pieces to rest for a couple of minutes, then roll out into round shapes. If you are making the plain Streuselküchle press a generous amount of crumble on top of the dough. Leave to rise for about 10 minutes then bake in the preheated oven at 200 degrees centigrade for about 20 minutes (the yeast dough should be nice and golden, the crumble topping still light). If you are using fruit or a custard filling add this before you put on the crumble. A spoonful of custard spread thinly on the dough is enough. Bake as above.

If you like it really sweet you can cover the Streuselküchle with icing (icing sugar mixed with a few spoons of water or lemon juice) when they have cooled down. The Streuselküchle should be eaten within a day or two, but they can also be frozen.

11 March 2012

Cherry cake with semolina – 'Kirsch-Grieß Kuchen'

This is a very simple and traditional southern German recipe. Semolina, cherries and cinnamon are a classic combination and most German children will have grown up eating semolina pudding with cherries and a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon on a regular basis. The flavours of this typical ‘comfort food’ are replicated in this cake. As discussed in my Donauwellen recipe a few months ago, morello cherries (called sour-cherries in Germany) can be bought in large jars in Lidl or Aldi in the UK. Of course, in summer the cake should be made with fresh cherries instead! This recipe is enough for a smallish (24 cm max) round baking tin. I baked it in a 20 cm x 30 cm rectangular tin.

100g semolina
100 g sugar
375 ml milk
80 g butter
3 egg yolks and 3 egg whites
80 g ground almonds
1 tsp cinnamon (or more, if you like)
1 jar morello cherries or a few hands full of fresh, pitted cherries

Put the semolina, sugar and milk in a pan, bring to the boil and cook for a few minutes until the semolina has absorbed all the liquid (the mixture should have the consistency of thick porridge). Add the butter, which will melt in the hot mixture. Once the butter has melted, stir in the three egg yolks and combine well. Leave the mixture to cool down.

Add the ground almonds and cinnamon and combine well, then mix in the cherries. If you are using a jar of cherries make sure you drain them well to stop the cake from going soggy (I dry them off on a few pieces of kitchen towel before adding them to the mixture). Finally, whisk the egg whites and carefully fold them in. Pour the batter into a well greased baking tin, smooth the surface and bake at 200 degrees for about 60 minutes. 

4 March 2012

Rustic rye bread - 'Rustikales Roggenmischbrot'


Unfortunately, I don’t manage to bake sourdough loaves nearly as often as I would like to. Admittedly, these breads are a labour of love and require some planning. The making and baking process itself is not too bad, but just getting the dough ready requires a few fairly lengthy periods of rest and proofing in between the individual steps. Over the past few months the day job just didn’t allow me to engage in this more time-intensive kind of baking very often. Having said this, though, the effort is absolutely worth it. This weekend I managed to reinvigorate my sourdough starter that was waiting patiently in the fridge and then baked another variation of rye bread with sourdough. This bread is made of three components, as described below: the sourdough, a pre-dough involving a very small amount of fresh yeast, and also a ‘soaker’, making the bread particularly moist. As most of the flour used for the bread is left to absorb liquid (water) overnight, the bread is not in danger of becoming dry, as all the moisture is ‘locked’ in the flour and seeds. The addition of a few spoons of walnut oil, as well as a small amount of coriander and caraway seed spicing, underlines the bread’s rustic flavour and appearance.

For the sourdough (my PREVIOUS POST describes how to make your own sourdough starter)

140 g wholemeal rye flour
140 ml lukewarm water
30 g sourdough starter

Mix these three ingredients in a bowl, cover with cling film, and leave to rest in a warm place (28 – 30 degrees are ideal) overnight or for about 12-15 hours.

For the pre-dough:

100 g wholemeal wheat flour
100 ml lukewarm water
2-3 g of fresh yeast

Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water, mix in the flour, cover with cling film and leave to rest at room temperature (the room does not need to be heated) overnight or for about 12-15 hours.

For the ‘soaker’:

150 g wholemeal rye flour or coarsely milled rye grain
100 g sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds, or walnuts (or a mixture), dry-roasted in a pan
230 ml lukewarm water
15 g salt

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rest at room temperature or for 12-15 hours as the pre-dough above.

When all three components are ready to go (the sourdough and the pre-dough should have increased in size and should look bubbly and light) put them all in a bowl. Don't forget to keep a couple of spoons of the sourdough as your starter for the next bread! Then add the following:

250 g plain flour
2 tbsp walnut oil (can be replaced with any other oil)
½ - 1 level teaspoon each of finely ground coriander seeds and caraway seeds (I use a pestle and mortar)

If you have one, leave your food processor to knead the dough for at least 7 minutes. You can also knead the dough by hand (it’s a bit sticky) and a friend told me that he gets his bread maker to knead his sourdough, which also works. Leave to rest for about 20 minutes in a warm place.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and, with wet hands, quickly knead and fold into the desired shape. This dough is fairly sticky, so I usually bake it in a tin, which is easiest. If you are brave, you can leave it to rise in a floured bread proofing basket instead and turn it out onto a baking sheet before baking. 

This is the dough after 60 minutes of rising. It roughly doubled in size.

Leave to rise in a warm place for about 60-90 minutes. Preheat the oven to the highest temperature possible. 250 degrees are ideal. When the bread has visibly increased in size, score the top with a sharp knife or razor blade. Spray some water into the oven (this improves the bread’s crust) and enter the loaf. Bake at the highest temperature for 20 minutes then gradually decrease the temperature to about 190 degrees to finish off. The overall baking time is about 60 minutes. 

When the bread is finished, wrap it in a clean tea towel and leave to cool before eating (if you can, wait until the next day before cutting it). It keeps fresh for at least 5 days and also freezes well.