Tag Archives: baking

[Travelling in my kitchen] to…Alsatian Christmas markets, lots of mulled wine and a “pain d’épices” recipe

kaysersberg village alsace christmas market

We came back from Myanmar 2 weeks ago and stepping into a full blow Christmassy London right back from the beach slightly startled me! It’s only this weekend when we travelled to Alsace, the French border region with Germany, that the true Christmas spirit hit us. I came back home with lots of baking ideas, and in particular I was keen to improve my “pain d’épice” recipe. (scroll down for the ultimate recipe)

riquewihr christmas market
The Riquewihr Christmas market, kids (and adults’) paradise!

Alsace is a culturaly quite peculiar French region. First, it benefits from a central European position and Strasbourg, its capital, currently host the European parliament. But also because during centuries of history, Alsace has bounced back between several national allegiances; most recently in the 20th century, Alsace moved from French to German and back again a couple of times between the 3 main pan European wars. As a result maybe, the local culture is very strong, with French, German, Austrian, Swiss influences (but not only), that can be witnessed today in the architecture, literature, and the cuisine of course!

The Christmas markets (“Christkindelsmärik”) are traditional in the region and if big cities like Strasbourg offer large markets, we were expertly guided toward smaller but super cute villages. In particular, village of Riquewihr, nested in the vineyards, hosts a seasonal market where we sampled (very) large quantities of regional food in random order until we could not walk anymore. Ohhh you need to try some choucroute! oh and my dear you can’t leave without trying this kouglof, surely.. how about that Munster super smelly cheese? a piece of Flàmmeküeche maybe? oh and the smell of roasted chesnuts

The “pain d’épice” is a cake that was introduced in Eastern France in 1596 according to the legend but I personally doubt that spices like cinnamon, ginger or vanilla could have been available at that time so I guess it was more like a strongly honey flavoured cake.

Last year I used Anne-Sophie’s recipe from her amazing Fashion Cooking blog, which was really good. But with all that extensive tasting this weekend, and talking to local producers, I wanted to step up the game, revisit my proportions, add candied orange peel and maybe ginger too.

vin chaud mulled wine kaysersberg village alsace christmas market
Hot mulled wine with Mirabelle liquor…mmm and I didn’t feel cold anymore!!
riquewhir village alsace christmas market
The little village of Riquewihr, nested in the vineyards (notoriously producing top quality Riesling wine), features a truly beautiful market with lots of regional products

One obvious but important note is that up to 40% of the pain d’épice is made of honey, depending on the baker and the recipe. The quality of the input is crucial as it’s what gives most of the taste. So off I was to A.Gold, my favourite honey provider in London. Especially because those guys sell the postcode urban honey which is not only delicious but also helps our city’s green life. One day I’ll have my own hive I promise, but this will be for another post 😉

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* Ingredients:

The base of any of those cakes should be made of flour (about 40-45%), a mix of honey and sugar (same, 40-45%) and the rest made of the “liquids” (milk or water and eggs). Butter is optional but adds softness. And then the complements, nuts, candied oranges, spices etc.

– 175gr honey (choose one with a strong taste you like)
– 250gr flour: mixed 50/50 white flour and wholemeal or rye
– 25gr full fat milk
– 2 eggs
– 50gr butter
– 75gr brown sugar
– 10gr baker’s yeast + 1 ts baking powder
– spices: 2 ts of cinnamon, 1 star anise, 1 ts ginger, a few cloves, cardamom, grated nutmeg, a vanilla pod (or vanilla extract)
– a grated orange peel
– 75gr candied orange / lemon peels and / or candied ginger
– pearl sugar for topping

 * Instructions

Heat gently the milk, sugar, butter and spices, cast aside for a while. The longer it will infuse the stronger the spice taste will be (30min minimum recommended). Add the honey and stir on the hob at minimum heat (we’re not making caramel here!).  Take off the star anis, cloves, cardamon seeds and vanilla pod if needed. Make sure it’s not too hot and stir the yeast in.

Pre-heat the oven at 180.

In a large pot, add the flour in a little well shape and pour the liquid and start mixing in. Incorporate the dried fruits and the eggs and mix well again.

Pour in a cake tin and sprinkle with pearl sugar.  Bake for 1h at 175 degrees.

I wanted to complement my Christmas hampers so had to use individual paper cups (I recycled the individual panettone ones that I had never used). On the market a baker recommended to serve it slightly warm, with a scoop of home-made vanilla ice-cream….got us mouthwatering.

Note that for individual tins I had to reduce the cooking time to 40min.

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Next year I will try to steal my friend’s Kouglof / Gugelhupf recipe and try this little beauty at home. It’s a sort of fruity brioche baked in a hollow ceramic mould…yuummm

kaysersberg village alsace christmas market

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Easter Colomba baking adventures: sending Pasquale the Italian leaven to a 3 days boot-camp [1st Steps]

Last year the Italian Cultural Institute of London organised a conference on Milanese Christmas traditions, and in particular, the delicious Panettone, this extremely rich and yummy brioch-ey cake. Rita Monastero did a passionate speech about the importance of a naturally leavened dough…picked my curiosity and subsequently got most of my December free time VERY busy!! Panettone isn’t quite a simple brioche: It’s a full-on 4 days adventure. And when I say 4 days I assume you already have an active natural leaven, and all the necessary ingredients available in your pantry…. I was indeed way too eager with my initial version and got a flat rich cake, not quite the fabulous fluffy and sweet thing I was expecting. But a few more tries and I was almost there, but after Christmas, my Italian testers all went on (much needed) detox, when I voiced the idea of baking one last one for Epiphany, my boyfriend just frowned and gave me the warning look. Ok my cases will go back to the cupboard. But I couldn’t let Easter go without a tasty and fluffy Colomba.

The Colomba is that – allegedly- dove-shaped little sister of the Panettone. Traditional Easter dessert if any, it’s overall slightly easier than the Chrsitmas version so I’d probably recommend starting there. If you want your Colomba ready for next weekend, I would recommend starting refreshing your leaven this weekend, maybe take the opportunity to bake some bread to use up the quantities. Give your baby a name, mine’s usually called Robert, and he’s Franco-British, but for the Colomba, you’ll need to create his much stronger Italian cousin, we called him Pasquale and sent him to this 2/3 days boot camp first. I’ve adapted the timings for working home-bakers as most of what I found on the internet or the guide I got  from Rita Monastero, are just not realistic. So I started creating Pasquale on a Thursday night and plan on baking the final product on the Saturday, if you’re doing it on the bank holiday weekend, even easier as it does take some time.

Fun facts: ALL Italian recipes call for the sacred “Manitoba flour from Molino”, and I jumped through a number of hoops to import / store 10kg of the d@mned thing in my kitchen…when I realised sheepishly that Manitoba was a Canadian province and all it actually was, is a strong  flour (i.e. very high protein rates, in and around 15gr protein per 100gr of flour) coming from Canada. In other word, what our supermarkets here call “strong Canadian flour” easily found at Tesco, Waitrose and the likes! yay, one problem sorted.

Before we start:

you will need a leaven starter, Manitoba or strong Canadian flour, 00 or all purpose flour. In term of equipment I would recommend a set of glass transparent dishes (to monitor the leaven) , a simple soft scrapper, a couple of of proofing linen cloths.

Step 1 : Thursday evening – toughen up IMG_7224 take 50gr of your usual leaven, steer it with 50gr tepid water and add 100gr of manitoba flour. Robert has left place to Pasquale, it’s starting to take an Italian accent, and it should feel much tougher, thicker, to the point where you can knead it a little bit. Do so for a minute or so.

Cover your pot with a linen, and go out for dinner, or indulge with a spritz and watch La Grande Belleza. You have 3/4 hours ahead of you (depends on the temperature, I personally leave it 3h in the very warm boiler room). In the end it should look smoother, and be 1.5x to twice bigger.

Step 2 : Thursday night– Pasquale rolls with the punches

take 100gr of your now tough Italian leaven and take it to the next stage: shred it in little pieces, add 50gr of lukewarm water and stir. Add 100gr of Manitoba flour and knead for one or 2 min. At this stage I also add a little drop of honey or liquid malt. If we’re sending Pasquale to a boot camp, he’s taking a sweet in his pocket!

now roll it very tight in a sturdy dry and clean cloth, slightly floured and tie it very tight for the night. I used a shoes lace but a present wrap that can be cut off may be a better option.  Place it in a small pan or pot for the night, in a warm place. Good night Pasquale! you’re back to the boiler room for 8 hours in your pyjamas. IMG_7226 Personally I didn’t understand the point of this step the first time, but then realised it was important as it strengthen the leaven and also is a good visual test. In the morning, Pasquale is well grown and trying to escape the bowl…

IMG_7228 Step 3 – a touch of softness in a tough world

After such a night, Pasquale is rather tired, let’s give him a bit of love. Discard any dried bit and use the middle soft part to carry on. IMG_7234To 50gr of the sourdough, again shredded in small pieces add in 50gr tepid water and soak it for a few seconds. Then knead it with 100gr of 00 flour (i.e. all purpose flour).

IMG_7236  Step 4 & 5 : flex your muscle!!

repeat step 3 twice, at at least 3h interval, either on Friday afternoon if you’re using Good Friday to nurse Pasquale, or on Friday evening for those who have a life!! Get a good night rest, there’s a day of kneading coming up!!

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step 3 / 4 / 5 : knead 50gr of leaven with 50gr of water and 100gr of 00 flour for a couple of minutes.
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after 3/4hours (or up to 8hours if needed), it should have doubled in size.

While you’re  nursing Pasquale like a hen hatching her eggs, you can also make sure that you have all the required equipment for the next stage. I got most of what I was missing at Bakery Bits, in particular the cases, the pearl sugar and the candied orange, the delivery should take up to 3 days so plan it ahead.

for the next steps you will need:

– 475 gr. Manitoba flour (i.e. Canadian strong flour)
– 185 gr. soft butter
– 135 gr. cast sugar
– 200 gr. tepid water
– 6 egg yolk
– 15gr honey
– 4gr salt
– 1 vanilla pod
– 1 orange peel
– 300gr of candied orange peel

columba pasquale paper tin 1kg
Bakery bits Colomba tins

 

End of the adventure now published there