It might be February but I had the realisation today that due to my descaler accident, I was seriously deprived of German Xmas goodness. Luckily I took pictures of it to remind what awaits me next year (unless I decide to try out some other household chemical liquids, there’s always detergent, bleach, etc etc)
So let’s start off with the main for Xmas dinner, that was cruelly denied to me as I was busy eating anti-acids….
Roasted pork, marinated in a honey glaze for up to a day, with Swabian spaetzle (typical for our area, special kind of egg noodle), Swabian potato salad (vinegar-based) and yummy yummy red cabbage. I normally hate cabbage, this I totally can get on board with. Needless to say there is a nice gravy-like sauce to boot.
But then there are the German Christmas cookies, aka Gutzle, some of which I even made myself for the office before. I got a whole bag on Xmas that I left ot my nieces and nephew. Didn’t really seem appropriate to be scoffing gutzle post-poisoning.
The almond moons are typical of many gutzle, using ground nuts instead of flour. There are excellent hazelnut macaroons as another exmaple, or these almond moons with a lemon glazing. Next to them the more typical ones using flour dough but with some apricot jam in the middle, just two examples of many more. To be revisited next year.
I’m conflicted about bread at the best of times because a) it’s amazing, yummy and comforting and b) it’s full of gluten and wheat ergo unhealthy and all that. Having grown up in Germany, contemplating a life without bread is borderline impossible but if I sin at least I want to sin right, i.e. have some decent bread.
Easy enough, one would think, but alas there is no decent bread easily to be had in this lovely country. The loafs in the supermarkets are not bread (sorry, it’s sliced stuff impersonating bread, because nothing can call itself bread if it needs to be toasted before you can eat it). So I decided to break out of my comfort zone and venture into breadmaking, without bread baker/machine, whatever it’s called.
Dan Lepard published a “fail-safe” bread recipe and therefore my ideal choice for first step in my bread baking career. Things I learned quickly:
a) you need to have time because it requires several stages of kneading, keeping warm, more kneading etc etc for someone cursed with essentially no attention span whatsoever that is a challenge.
b) sticky sticky sticky and gets all over your fingers and hands. No wonder people prefer making bread with machinery, damn it’s messy
c) despite all of that whining, and an aesthetically somewhat disappointing result, totally worth it. It lasted several days, was yummy as hell, just needed a wee bit more salt. And something terribly comforting and old-fashioned about making bread, I’ll try again soon to make something less flatbread like….
I bet I have covered the maultauschen (swabian monster ravioli) ad nauseum. Here a brief reminder what they look like raw.
Normally you’d boil them in chicken or vegetable stock and a short reminder that their filling consists of herbs, spices, spinach, bits of sausage etc. But already I’m faltering, cooking takes too much time, argh.
So I just fried this in two whisked eggs with some seasoning and it was excellent. And a good reminder of why Maultauschen are the best.
So, damsons, apparently not many people know them here. Us Swabians of course totally loving the good old damson, only we call it zwetschge (I had to google that, too)- mind you can probably just call it plum. Only it’s much smaller than a plum and more importantly I grew up with a damson tree. I loved that tree, the first one I learned to climb as it was just about the right height and not as sticky as a our cherry tree.
The Pfeil damson tree - ok so I used a ladder, not 12 anymore...
So, on a recent and rather sad trip home (saying good bye to child home and tree) I thought the time is right for one last climb and proper damson harvest. And I was rather proud of the result – probably the first fruits I plucked from anywhere that wasn’t a supermarket shelf in 12 years or so.
And it resulted in this, a stomach flu prevented me tasting it- which was a bit sad, but I was assured it was very yummy.
damson cake result
It’s a dough made of quark (the praises of which I have sung previously on this blog, it makes for a great cake base) and oil, covered with a bit of sugar and almonds and 30min later and easy damson cake. And one that my greataunt Hedy used to make with fruits from that very tree when I was little. A good way to say goodbye I thought.
Bit like a broken record me where swabian food is concerned, but I did have to put my care package to good use. So for the first time in my life I made Swabian classic lentils and spaetzle from scratch. Well almost, because the spaetzle were ready made, because that in itself is a blog for the future.
Without any attention span to speak of, I usually stay away from lentils (and let’s face it, it’s not as if I know anything else about lentils nor what to make of them), but this was the happy exception.
First fry some onions, add bacon cut in little pieces and fry for a bit longer until bacon crispy and onion soft. Then add vegetable stock and chuck in lentils. That boils or simmer (what is the difference? I just don’t know) for about 30min or so until it boils down. My brother warned me to not add any salt or normal seasoning, and I of course listened.
Lo and behold it barely needs any spices or seasoning thanks to onion and veggie stock. The only thing I did add at the end is a splash of vinegar and paprika. Then bind it all with some cornflour. That’s it. But of course all it needs is more meat and hurray the sausages. Afraid that needs German sausages, unless you have access to German deli you should stick with Frankfurters from Herta which you can get in most supermarkets. And there we are, Swabian comfort food though I have to admit visually not the most appealing :-).
So evidently I’m on a roll with the Swabian thing so I might as well stick with it. As I’m going through dark days at the moment, my wonderful bro, the best of brothers- no doubt – sent me a care package to cheer me up:
There was also some tea and spices but the key stuff is what you see here. So, let me introduce you to Spaetzle. Spaetzle in Swabia are made with an egg-based dough and made by rubbing the dough between pieces of wood (or use the press if you’re lazy) over a pot of boiling water. My greataunt used to stand there trying to teach me the fine art of making the longest spaetzle possible (which demonstrates good technique) – needless to say I failed. Spaetzle go with pretty much any meat dish and sauce, and kind of work as a side order like fries, goes with anything.
But in true Swabia style my bro also included lentils, so I can make sausage with lentils and spaetzle. You throw a wiener sausage on top of lentils prepared with onions, vinegar and herbs.
In case I get thirsty, there is Rotbaeckchen (red cheeks) juice – healthy, full of iron and made from grape and apple juice. And let’s not forget the tin of organic Schinkenwurst, literally translated, ham sausage. Yumm, that will go nicely with some decent bread and gherkins! Thanks bro!!
..and breakfast I think would come under that category. I have this theory that breakfast is one of the most culturally pre-determined meals out there. Or maybe I was just not that open minded when I first moved abroad. It took me about 3 years minimum before I could first stomach English fried breakfast. My initial question upon being introduced to this valued tradition was why do they eat dinner for breakfast here?? What is that grilled tomato and mushrooms doing here, again, dinner, surely? And that sausage, that sausage is in an insult to someone from country that values sausages above all else. It’s not the meat that us Germans are objecting to, because we do enjoy our cut cold meats for breakfast, make no mistake – but not that fatty fried thing that lurks on that place.
12 years on and I actually don’t mind it that much anymore though once in a while I still have fried eggs and baked beans for dinner, you can take the girl out of Germany, but not Germany out of the girl. But the one breakfast that is really one step too far is that most American of traditions – pancakes (yumm), maple syrup (double yumm) with bacon (URGH). I get that salty with sweet is lovely but the very idea is just a step too far. Or at least always has been.
So last weekend I had breakfast at my friends place who made the most delicious pancakes from scratch. Served with fruit, lemon-sugar etc. And lo and behold the bacon emerged after a little while….and I did have it after all. I kind of, actually, oh alright, it was not so bad. Fine, my breakfast fascism is receding at last. But still not ready to endorse that idea wholeheartedly.
I seem to be going through a sentimental phase right now so let me tell you about the brezel, surely the best of all dough products and hundreds of years old. So two of my favourite things combined – bread and history. HURRAY.
For Swabians the Brezel is a staple food, something you grow up with from the moment you can chew (not kidding) and one of the things I miss the most. 12 years here and my brother still needs to have a brezel ready in the car when I meet him at the airport. You can cut it in half and butter one side, yummm, or with jam because totally loving the salt and sweet mixture. Or dunk it in coffee/coffee and when you have tummy upset and there is nothing you can have, there is the brezel waiting for you, replenishing you with salts and making you feel better. And note that I spell it brezel, NOT pretzel the anglicised version which is much drier, more slimline and harder and believe me not half as much fun.
Historically brezels go back hundreds of years, according to some sources brezels were mentioned in the year 743 for the first time but the earliest depiction is from the 12th century. According to the German wikipedia one story traces the brezel back to a poor serf and baker who had offended his lord and was due to be executed. He was told that if he would invent a pastry that lets the sun shine through it three times, he would be spared. Talking about pressure, ey? Anyways, the good man invented the brezel. And that’s just one story of many!
Luckily the German deli in London stocks this wonderful product, so I don’t have to live without entirely.
This cake always gets me thinking how much food is linked with memories. This kind of nameless cake (unless you can pronounce Broeckeleskuchen, well done if yes) for example, a favourite amongst dear friends and colleagues, is one that my greataunt Hedy taught me many many years ago and is the first cake I ever made. Greataunt Hedy was my extra granny and I remember sitting on her kitchen stool while she made some Swabian dish like Maultauschen (only on Easter of course), Dampfnudeln or Sauerbraten and telling me about her time as a cook for field hospitals in World War 2. She also made a great hot cocoa with a fresh Brezel to dunk into. No family occasion to this day passes without this cake, a chocolate hazelnut cake essentially, and no doubt this cake will go on through the generations. I miss you, Hedy!
Get 6 eggs (separated), 250gr sugar, lemon zest and grind of half a lemon, 200gr ground hazelnut (for some reason that’s gold dust in this country, you can substitue with ground almonds), 125gr plain flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 200gr chocolate cut in rough, relatively small pieces. You can use either milk or dark, depending on preference, but make it’s a good one. Make sure it all has room temperature.
Cream softened butter, sugar and eggyolks until nice and creamy and light. Add cinnamon, a pinch of salt and the ground nuts. If you can sieve the flour with the baking powder and then add gradually. Beat the eggwhites into proper stiff white peaks and then fold in. Lastly add the chocolate. All of that should go into a ring springform, in a oven with 200 degrees, and be baked for about an hour. You can cover it with melted chocolate, but it doesn’t need it to be honest.
Leaving the question of correct spelling and pronounciation to the side for now, one of the eternal food questions for me is the difference in yoghurt or well, dairy products in general, in different countries.
Let’s start off with yoghurt. Firstly there is consistency, can’t be too dense or gloopy because I feel like I’m choking on it, but also not too runny. Secondly taste – good yoghurt doesn’t need sugar but it if it is too sour it ‘s no fun either.
Living in Germany for many years, I finally found the perfect plain yoghurt called LC1 but of course, not sold ANYWHERE else. LC1 had a light but not too runny feel, plus it tasted good. But no luck in good old Blighty! Firstly, barely a plain yoghurt to be found. Always full with fruit-sugar or some other crap – why I just don’t know. Anyways, having travelled to New Zealand, and having ranted already about their weird cream cheese in previous post, I found the solution. Make your own yoghurt! As I have to meanwhile order plain yoghurt online because none of my local supermarkets stock the one I like (Activia, but plain please, pretty please), I will turn to making it myself, hurray! I have yet to purchase the equipment, but yoghurt heaven seems to be in reach at last!
And here are some fun international dairy facts:
I never tasted salted butter until I moved to the UK. No one knows the joys of quark here, and I’m talking cheese not physics. It’s borderline fat free and so much better in cheesecake. Really, you don’t know what you are missing. I also use it for the base of my quiche lorraine! To get natural-bio yoghurt in South Africa you have to buy something called Bulgarian yoghurt.
Right, I better eat some yoghurt now!