Where do you start when you have so much to tell? These holidays have been dense in events and encounters. They started out in Strasbourg, continued in Heidelberg, lingered in the German Nordfriesland, continued briefly in Denmark and culminated in the Netherlands… what a journey. 7000km of roads and feelings, fine rain and high winds, stifly heat and watery cloudy days, endless skies, close friends, relatives and associates, jokes, Nordic blues, bright greens, misty horizons, sunsets, ships, lighthouses, shoals, islands, castles, Vikings, channels, rowing boats, pools, bicycles, waffles, berries, fish sandwiches, barbecues… So many things? 25 days go a long way or so it seems. So I returned with my eyes filled with images, my suitcase full of ingredients from distant lands and heaps of recipes to try… Yes, proper cooking is the only thing I’ve really missed in this trip.
So I have the intention of writing several posts illustrating the places we have visited on vacation. Although I don’t make any commitment about it, because of the naturally chaotic flow of my mind and the demands of the times ahead, with the start of school involving a million things to do.
At our first stop, Strasbourg, Alsace, France, we stayed at a cute little hotel some thirty kilometers of the city, in a lovely Alsatian region called Little Switzerland. A dog and two cats dwelt in that hotel, and my kids fell in love with them all. A charming innkeeper looked after us very well. The city of Strasbourg, a name that we are used to connect to the headquarters of the European parliament, houses a beautiful old quarter, criss-crossed by numerous canals deriving from the River Rhine and full of medieval houses in half-timbered façades. I don’t know why, but in these old streets I was all the time expecting to find a stinking mob cheering some poor prisoner’s execution just around every corner…
Perhaps the only frustration this trip has left in me, apart from having spent too little time with friends, is not having bought a traditional kugelhopf mold in Strasbourg. Does this word sound familiar? For those who’ve never heard about it, kugelhopf is a sweet bread enriched with butter and eggs, related to brioche, with a characteristic grooved shape and a central hole. Its introduction in France is attributed to Marie Antoinette (originally from Austria, therefore) and its name appears to derive from its resemblance to a hat used in the Middle Ages, named gugelhut. This cake is completely naturalized now in the Alsace region, where there is no family gathering or celebration without it. It is baked in a terracotta glazed mold from Soufflenheim, nicely decorated. I didn’t buy one not only because they’re not exactly cheap, but especially for its bulky size.
But as I did buy a book with typical Alsatian recipes, here goes the famous bread. I do have a kugelhopf-like silicone mold, although less tall.
Kugelhopf or Köjlupf (recipe from Mon Alsace gourmande, Simone Morgenthaler)
For 2 molds of about 20cm diameter
- 900g bread flour
- 150g sugar
- 15g salt
- 300g unsalted butter
- 4 medium eggs
- 400ml milk
- 40g fresh baker’s yeast
- 150g raisins (I didn’t add them, my kids wouldn’t have eaten the bread)
- 75g whole almonds
- 1 small glass kirsch (optional)
- Icing sugar for sprinkling
- Let all the ingredients get to room temperature.
- Prepare a leaven with the yeast, half the milk and the right amount flour to make a batter-dough of medium consistency (I added 120g, but according to the subsequent results, I advise to add at least twice as much for the reasons explained below). Leave to ferment, well covered in a warm place.
- In a different bowl mix the remaining flour with the salt, sugar, eggs and remaining milk. This second dough was tough as a brick in my case, even after having reduced the amount of flour in 100 grams from the original. I think I messed up and more flour is needed in the leaven, so that the second dough is more manageable. Or maybe larger eggs should be used… Knead for 15 minutes. In my case I was on the verge of getting hurt because of the toughness of the dough and I added a bit more milk.
- When the leaven has doubled in volume, add it to this second dough. I sweated and toiled to mix something as soft as the leaven into something so hard, I almost lost my tendons in the attempt. And I appreciate my tendons a lot, they’ve been with me all my life… But surely the funniest task of all was adding the butter, after the leaven was incorporated… I had great fun, as well as getting sore hands and get into butter up to my eyebrows. I had to do this in three runs, because the dough was rebellious and shameless. After a while (I lost track of time…) the dough was reasonably uniform and elastic, so after ignoring the window-pane test, I locked the dough in a bowl (step back, you rogue!) and covered it in case it wanted to escape… or attack me. I left it to proof. Although I knew it would proof only if it wanted to… such a character. It took about two hours.
- Once doubled, tip the dough on the countertop and flatten with your hands to deflate, and incorporate the raisins and kirsch if desired. Anything containing alcohol is a good addition. I tell you. Although I should have added the alcohol to the damn dough while kneading, to narcotize it… Butter and flour the molds. I only have one Kugelhopf-like mold, so I used a loaf pan too. Placed the almonds on the bottom of both molds. Divide the dough and place it in the molds, which should be filled to something in between 2/3 and 3/4 of the height.
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC (air) while the dough undergoes the second fermentation, it should reach the edge of the pans. Bake in the oven about 20 minutes, after which the temperature can be lowered to 190ºC if the tops brown in excess. Continue baking another 20 minutes, that is 40 minutes baking in total. You can also cover the breads with foil. Remove the breads from the oven and unmold on a wire rack. Leave to cool and sprinkle with the icing sugar.
The breads were a bit too brown because of not having used the super-perfect-dreamy terracotta mold… when I say I «need» something it’s because life is difficult without it. The bread is delicious, not sweet at all and with a salty punch. And if you have leftovers, it’s perfect for French toasts… yum.
I’m sending this bread to Susan’s Wild Yeast for the weekly YeastSpotting.