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hansjoakim

The Easter holiday is drawing to a close, but I felt not quite done with baking before holiday was up... I was also running short on bread, so yesterday evening I mixed dough for my regular sourdough bread. Basically the kind that keeps me going throughout the week. Below is a copy of the formula.

It's one that I keep returning to because of its simplicity and because it's easy to fit into an otherwise hectic schedule. After bulk fermentation and shaping last night, the bread was proofed in the fridge overnight and baked this afternoon. Here's my most recent specimen, just pulled from the oven:

Below is another shot, of the bread and... it's offspring?? No, some jødekaker (directly translated as "Jewish cakes") that I baked this afternoon. These are common in some parts of Norway (i.e. you'll find them packed in bags of four in virtually every grocery store), and especially where I live in the south west. According to Wikipedia, these were brought to Scandinavia by Sephardic jews sometime in the 1600s. They were originally made with egg, flour, sugar and some sort of vegetable oil and the dough was kept rather dry so the cookies would keep well. Once in northern Europe, the oil was gradually replaced by butter, hence e.g. the Dutch joodse boterkoeken ("Jewish butter cookies" - please correct me if I'm wrong, any Dutch TFL'ers!). The Norwegian variety is very basic, typically made with flour, sugar, melted butter and first milk of cows. The latter, although not impossible to obtain, is usually replaced by soured milk these days. I used kefir in mine, and, although not spectacular by any means, they turned out quite alright.

Here's the mandatory crumbshot of the loaf:

 

I'm becoming more and more fascinated about our traditional (or "national/typically Norwegian") recipes in baking and cooking. Much of our "national cuisine" is characterised by simple, hearty and humble dishes, fit for farmers that toiled long days with intense physical labour. Food had to be preserved for a long, cold winter (which resulted in some delicious cured fish and meats), and it had to be stretched as much as possible (i.e. leftovers found good use in new dishes). In turn, many inventive and characteristic dishes were made, and each part of the country has its own take or variation on the same basic dish. I feel that learning the traditional dishes somehow offers a link back to past generations, and I find it very rewarding to enjoy this food with friends and family.

Another thing I wanted to try this Easter, was the traditional Norwegian fyrstekake, or "royal cake". According to my Google search, the recipe was introduced in Norway in the 1860s by a young apprentice at a pastry shop in Trondheim, and has since become a staple in the baking repertoire of grandmothers around the country. Sadly, most of the fyrstekake consumed these days is of the store bought variety, which tends to be rather dry and bland. I'm not sure when I last had a decent slice of fyrstekake, but it must've been years ago, and most likely at a family get-together. In other words, time is definitely ripe to get to grips with this cake and have a go at it myself.

I didn't have a recipe for the cake (though I knew it ought to be made with a buttery shortcrust and have a dense almond macaroon filling), so Google to the rescue once again. Funnily enough, one of the first hits I got, was Breadsong's blog! Apparently, Solveig Tofte, a Norwegian baker based in Minneapolis, brought two very fine specimens to a BBGA conference in Chicago in 2012. Breadsong's full write-up, including photo, linked to right here. Some further Google hunting also produced the recipe (courtesy of BBGA and Tofte): Link to recipe at BBGA.

Although it looks splendid, I must admit that I didn't follow the Tofte/BBGA recipe precisely. I already had a pâte sablée crust in the freezer, so I used that instead for my version. The sablée crust is probably a bit denser and slightly more buttery than the one in the BBGA recipe. Also, for a 22 cm diameter cake, I increased the amount of ground almonds to 230 gr., while keeping the weight of powdered sugar unchanged (i.e. 170 gr.). I used 3 egg whites to get a relatively smooth consistency of the macaroon filling. Since almond is such a key component in this cake, I would recommend grinding them yourself if you've got a suitable almond mill for the job.

Below is a photo of me getting ready to put things together: One lined tart form, strips for the top (re-rolled scraps) and the macaroon filling.

And here, the almondy, buttery goodness is ready for the oven:

Here is the finished cake, which I was quite pleased with. I think I would've liked a slightly lighter crust (some baking powder and a bit less butter would do the trick, I think), but apart from that I was very happy. A rustic sort of cake that keeps very well in the fridge.

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hansjoakim

Well, I'll be...! I finally got some photos to share and some material to put up on my blog! Even though I've not posted anything in the blog the last...oh well... nearly 12 months, I've visited TFL on a daily basis to try to keep up with what's going on in this wonderful community. One can find endless inspiration, stimulating discussions and plenty of food for thought in this place, and it just keeps getting better every day. After some starts and stops, I'm now easing back into my regular baking habits, and I usually bake a loaf or two per week. Just enough to keep me stocked with decent bread.

If you don't mind, I'll go ahead and pretend that it's been, ehm, some two weeks since my last blog post and not nearly 12 months... So... where was I?

It's Easter, which means a few days off work, and time to indulge in my favourite hobby once more. Judging from the recent score of blog entries, Easter seems to be the season for miches... Outstanding loaves people have baked, no doubt!! This week, I decided to bake a multigrain sourdough bread so that I avoided having to compete with the rest...

This is a rather straightforward formula, some 15% each of whole rye and whole wheat, and 70% bread flour. The rye comes from a ripe rye sourdough starter. As for the soaker, it's basically the same soaker as in Hamelman's five grain levain, but with chops instead of cracked rye. It's also a cold soaker, since I didn't use any cracked rye. Hydration comes in at about 102%.

Combine everything with a spatula into a shaggy dough and let rest 30 mins, just to let everyone get acquainted and allow the flour to fully hydrate. Finish mixing a few minutes on second speed.

Bulk ferment for me was just shy of 2hr 30mins, with one fold midway through. Preshape, shape and then proof at least 8 hours in the refrigerator. Bake directly from the fridge, using the steaming setup of your choice, until the crust is wonderfully golden and the kitchen is filled with a most agreeable smell.

It turned out quite good, and I'm very happy with the flavour of the bread. The rye sourdough and the grains in the soaker give it an intense smell and flavour; very robust and wonderful with butter and cheese. I think the formula needs a bit of tinkering and optimisation, but for now I'm happy to enjoy a pretty decent multigrain sourdough until the next batch.

 

As you might have noticed from previous adventures into the world of flour, I like to follow-up a bread with some pastry. Yesterday I put some puff pastry together, for the first time following Bo Friberg's instructions. The overall recipe is similar to any other recipe for the stuff, but Friberg instructs to put some of the flour into the butter block itself, making it more pliable and similar to the dough in the way it feels. A made the small-batch version from his book, and to prepare the butter block, I let the butter soften at room temperature for about an hour, put it into a large mixing bowl, and incorporated the flour (and a bit of lemon juice) with a spatula. The butter was then smeared into a 15 cm x 15 cm rectangle on cling film, wrapped well, and chilled overnight. The next morning, I let it sit out on the kitchen table for about an hour to soften a bit, while I prepared the dough.

I've made puff pastry some times in the past, but I'm always a bit nervous going into the ordeal. I have the impression that even the smallest of mistakes in the early phases (especially during mixing of the dough and then encasing the butter block afterwards) will magnify over the course of repeated rolling and folding. I'm glad to say that it went like a breeze this time, and it's probably the best puff I've made so far. I'm not sure if that's due to flour in the butter block, if I was simply lucky or if gained experience weighed in this time around, but I know that I'll be returning to Friberg's recipe next time the world calls for some of my puff. Below is a photo snapped by a happy baker, after completing the fifth and final fold. Wrapped in plastic (just like in Twin Peaks), and ready for the fridge.

So... what to do with these carefully layered sheets of dough and butter? I visited my parents for a cup of coffee this afternoon, so I decided to bake some pastries to accompany that. Below is a photo of made-up puff pastry diamonds; a layer of pastry cream at the bottom (left), then some spoonfulls of chunky apple filling on top of that (right). Egg wash and off they go.

They came out wonderful, and as I said, I was really thrilled with this batch of puff.

 

After two looong days in the kitchen, time for some comfort food for the busy baker. The crust is all sourdough, made with some excess ripe rye sourdough, and mixed with durum and bread flour. Sauteed onions, salted anchovies, olives and thyme on top. A glass of red wine to go along with it. Very happy.

Have a lovely Easter all!

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hansjoakim

There are a few cookbooks that I have on my shelf that I find myself coming back to time and time again. The last few days, I've enjoyed browsing and re-reading sections in three such books, namely Jane Grigson's classic «Charcuterie and French pork cookery» and Fergus Henderson's more recent cult classics «Nose to tail eating» and «Beyond nose to tail».

These books have a few things in common: They're mostly, and in Grigson's case exclusively, dealing with pork. And I love pork. Every thing about it. Apart from a common love of pork, they also have that in common that their recipes are rather vague, oftentimes omitting measures and timings altogether. In a day where most recipes are measured with exactness down to the gram and braising times are given in minutes (rather than the more sensible «cook until the meat tender»), this feels extremely refreshing. They both use simple and cheap ingredients and cuts of meat, but manage to take an otherwise bland cut to another level by a deep respect for even the humblest of ingredients on hand.

Finally, both Grigson and Henderson convey a wonderful British sense of humour in their books. Henderson, for instance, compares shelled walnuts rolled up in salted fatback with «eating grown-up peanut butter». In his recipe for «duck legs and carrots», Henderson instructs to «press the duck's legs into the carrot bed, skin side upwards, season the dish and pour chicken stock over until the duck's legs are showing like alligators in a swamp». In her book, Grigson often paints a slightly negative picture of the food and ingredients available in her native England compared to the wonderful abundance found in France. I'm sure things have improved in England since she wrote her original text back in 1966, but it's her vivid and delightful descriptions of French preparations that gets me every time. Her book shares many similarities to those of Elizabeth David, I think, and her style probably owes quite a bit to that of David. In her description of Pieds de Porc à la Sainte-Ménéhould, pig trotters prepared in the Sainte-Ménéhould manner, Grigson writes «spiced with quatre-épices and rolled, like pieds panés, in breadcrumbs, they have been cooked for so long – 48 hours – that they can be eaten bones and all. This gives three textures – crisp, gelatinous and the hard-soft biscuit of the edible bones. ... One charcutière told me that it's the addition of a certain vegetable or herb that causes the bones to soften, as well as the prolonged slow cooking. Local sceptics tartly hint at 'produits chimiques'

In this day and age, I feel very lucky to live close to two first class butchers, that gladly take orders for more unusual cuts. Inspired by the two cookbook authors, I placed an order for a pig's head, some ears and a handful of trotters. The plan? Grigson's Fromage de Tête and Henderson's Trotter gear. The ears I were not sure of what to do with.

Both Henderson and Grigson advocate the use of a strong brine to pickle meat. Salting of most pork cuts greatly improves flavour, but a brine can be used for some limited storing of the meat as well. Time spent in the brine can vary from a day up to weeks – depending on the cut and dish that is to be prepared. Prior to collecting my order, I had cooked and cooled 12 liters of a classic English brine, after Henderson's proportions (150 gr salt and 100 gr sugar per 1 liter water – bring to a boil, then add a piece of tied muslin with peppercorns, juniper berries, cloves and herbs and leave to cool completely). In went the head, which was luckily divided in two equal halves, the ears and trotters. Below is the bucket used for the head and some trotters, the remaining bits and pieces went into a smaller bucket. It just fit into the fridge...

After pickling for 48 hours, I was all set to get things underway, heads and all.

It looks happy – I trust it had a happy and carefree time. I hauled out my largest casserole, and placed the two head halves and three trotters in it. Filled up with water, and brought slowly to a boil to flush skum and excess salt away from the meat.

Throw out the filty and salty water, clean the meat and the casserole, and put everything back along with plenty of stock vegetables and top up with water. Cook up again, and leave to simmer until the meat is tender, anything from 4 to 8 hours.

Now, while this is simmering away, I had ample opportunity to take care of the remaining trotters for the trotter gear.

The strategy is very similar – just get your court-bouillon going with whatever it is that needs to be cooked tender. These trotters were simmered in some of the duck stock from last weekend, so I guess this is the trotter gear royale version. I could in principle have cooked them in the pot for the Fromage de Tête, as there was room enough for it all in there, but I feared that too many trotters in there would bring about too much gelatine and cause the stock to become hard as rubber once cold; a nice Fromage de Tête is characterised by meat suspended in a firm, but giving, jelly. It should not be rubbery hard, but rather instantly melt on your tongue when you eat it. Thus, three trotters went into the pot with the head, and (I'm jumping a bit ahead here) this resulted in a perfectly set and giving jelly.

I threw a couple of ears in with the trotters for the trotter gear – the ears are done after roughly an hour, so they were fished out of the pot, flattened, sliced in two lengthwise, rolled in butter and lightly toasted breadcrumbs, pan-fried and enjoyed with a blue cheese salad with a lemon-walnut vinaigrette (i.e. a take on the Oreilles de Porc Grilées Sainte-Ménéhould - to further emphasise the poshness, the breadcrumbs were pain au levain breadcrumbs. Enough already).

I've had pig's ears on occasion before, and I'm usually more enthused about the contrasting textures in the ear than the flavour itself. The cartilage that runs down the center of each piece is a chewy contrast to the soft and giving flesh on either side. Oh, and pan-fried pig's ears is a perfect dish to make just before you're going to wash and scrub down your kitchen. It spatters and spits like you wouldn't believe, so that makes perfect sense.

By now, the trotters are just about finished, and ready for potting:

My fridge is now, as Henderson advises, no longer «without its jar of Trotter Gear». Just got to figure out what to do with the lipsticky goodness next...

It turned out to be a marathon day in the kitchen, but one that was hugely rewarding and rich in taste, smell and fatty pieces of pork (which I love). By now, the pot with the ingredients for my Fromage de Tête had simmered close to 5 hours, and the jaw loosened easily from the head itself. A sure sign of doneness according to Grigson. Using the sturdiest piece of kitchen utensils I own, I somehow managed to wrangle all the meat out of the scorching hot simmering liquid without making a mess or getting second-degree burns. *phew*

It's heavy! The whole head weighed in at roughly 8 kg, but both halves made it out of the pot okay. Now's when the real work starts: Tearing all the flesh from the skull while it's still hot (easier to do so then, compared to when it's cold), chopping it into fine dice, and adding a healthy glass of white wine to about a litre of the cooking liquor. This is reduced slightly to make sure it sets up properly once cold, and mixed with some lemon juice to help cut the fatty flavour of the meat. Most of the meat from the head comes from the two tasty pork cheeks, but there are also interesting bits from the snout – not all that dissimilar to the slightly spongy mouthfeel feel of a boiled tongue. Quite delicious. Season with some pepper and crushed cloves (or quatre-épices if you get it – in either case, go easy on it), and spoon into loaf pans lined with cling film:

Pour in enough of the reduced cooking liquor so that all the meat is covered, slam the loaf pans a few times against the kitchen table to make sure everything is well packed in, cover the surface and refrigerator overnight. I anxiously pulled the fromage from the fridge the next morning, carefully unmoulding it from the loaf pan... Would it collapse in a puddle or would it hold its shape and be sliceable?

Victory! This is my first attempt at this dish, so I'm not sure if it stacks up with the rest of them – I'm most uncertain about the dice; too fine? I was afraid that a larger dice would cause the fromage to collapse upon cutting, so I kept it on the small side. Size of dice apart, it is truly utterly delicious and one of the more rewarding dishes I've cooked up.

So, what to have with a cold slice of unctuous goodness that just melts on your tongue? Grigson recommends: "French mustard (to my mind essential with most pork dishes, particularly the smooth, gelatinous ones), hardboiled eggs, green salad dressed with 2 tablespoons of raw chopped mild onion and 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley as well as oil and vinegar and seasonings. Mashed potato is a standard accompaniment to charcuterie - slimmers might prefer thin toast, or wholemeal or rye bread." To be honest, I find the brawn plenty rich enough as is, so I didn't exactly jump on the idea of having this with a pommes purée. Mustard and rye it was for me, all the way.

A celebratory meal was prepared with the fresh brawn: Accompanied with a loaf of rye sourdough, French mustard and a nice brew. A simple meal I enjoyed almost as much as preparing it.

PS: The rye sourdough was a slight modification of Hamelman's 80% rye sourdough with a rye flour soaker – I simply omitted the yeast, added some boiled rye berries and increased the hydration to about 90%. The perfect vehicle for the brawn.

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hansjoakim

While part 1 of this week's blog entry explored the wonderful world of rye, part 2 is fully devoted to the good things that come from the duck. I don't use duck that often, but when I do, I like to buy a whole duck and book the whole weekend for fun in the kitchen. Even though it can be quite delicious roasted, I personally think it's better to work with the different parts of the duck separately. If you roast the whole bird, you know that when the breast pieces are perfectly cooked, the legs will be partly done and far from tender. Roasting the bird longer will make the legs more palatable, but the breasts will be dry... So why not break it down and cook each part on its own?


My plan for the weekend was to pan fry the duck breasts, make a stock from the bones, render duck fat from the skin and confit the duck legs. The legs are rubbed with coarse sea salt, some crushed pepper and cloves, as well as a little thyme and slices of garlic.


Leave the legs in the dry cure at least overnight, or up to 48 hours, and make sure you wash it off with cold running water before continuing with the confit. Just rubbing the salt off might leave you with overtly salty duck legs (a shame after so much work!!).


Marching onwards, render fat (for the confit) and cook stock with the bones.


A duck stock is a nice substitute for chicken stock, and is perfect in a risotto for your duck breasts. You could also braise the legs using the duck stock as a nice alternative to the confit method of preparing them. To extract as much flavour as possible, I like to roast the bones until well-browned, before adding to a pot with stock vegetables and topping up with cold water. Skim, skim, skim and let it simmer for a few hours, and then reduce it to the concentration you're after.


While the stock is simmering away, get some pasta going:


and if the stock still needs some time before it's done, this is a nice time to cook the breast pieces and enjoy them with pasta, some greens and a crisp white wine:



This left me rather exhausted, so I called it a day and came back fresh and relaxed the following day to get the legs going (literally). As mentioned, cleanse them under cold running water, pat well dry, and snuggle them tightly into a cooking vessel. The amount of fat needed to poach them tender is very dependent on your cooking vessel; this time, I only had two legs to confit, so I used an ovenproof baking dish for the job. Melt the fat and get it close to 100 dC, before pouring it over the legs and into the dish. Put the dish in a low oven (roughly 90 dC - 95 dC), and let it work its miracle for 4 - 6 hours, depending on how melting-and-falling-off-the-bone tender you like them.


Previously, I've tried to prepare the confit on the stovetop, but I found it very hard to keep a constant simmering temperature (I want somewhere between 85 dC and 90 dC for the duration of the cooking time), and the meat ended up tasting slightly "stringy". I think this can be due to cooking the legs at too high temperatures in the fat; a low oven and an instant read thermometer inserted into the cooking vessel is a much more convenient way, I think. After it's time was up, I left the legs to cool in the fat:


These would sit very well right where they are, but preferrably in the fridge, for weeks. Another use of the confit, is to make rillettes, probably my most favourite bread and baguette spread:


It's hard to make shredded and potted meat look delicious in a photography, but I hope you believe me when I say it tastes wonderful. Moist, spreadable and intensely duck flavoured. After all, this is pure duck; the leg meat is simply shredded and moistened with fat and the jelly from the confit cooking vessel. Kept air-tight, the rillettes can be stored for weeks. It also makes the most astonishing ravioli filling:


Phew! That was a long weekend, but it was also a ton of fun. I like to shift around and work in the kitchen, and putting all the bits from an animal to good use, feels rewarding. Stored (confit jelly, confit, and/or rillettes in the fridge, raviolis made up and frozen), this duck will keep me happy for a long time to come.

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hansjoakim

Some urgent matters (i.e. doctoring and trying to save a dying (possibly contaminated) sourdough starter) kept me away from blogging last weekend, so I'll try to make up the lost ground with a two parter this week. Due to the, ehm, subject matters, I think dividing this into two parts makes a whole lot of sense. (The starter made it through in the end (yay!), so I've put the stetoscope away for the time being...) First up: The bread bits.


Having the rye starter all pampered and fired up, I wanted to bake some filling rye breads this weekend. I particularly enjoy baking in the pans I brought back from Kharkiv; much as I like eating the free form rye breads that are shaped and proofed in bannetons, there's also a place close to my heart for the dense, often seeded rye breads that remain moist for more than a week.


When asking for chorny khlib in Ukraine, I was usually given rye bread that reminded me of the Borodinsky rye in Whitley's "Bread Matters". This is a rather straight forward rye, that's notable for being slightly sweetened and flavoured with crushed coriander. Coriander can be an acquired taste (well... come to think of it, I guess rye really is an acquired taste too...), and is rather dominant in terms of flavour, so this is not a bread I would enjoy eating day in and day out, but it's a particularly good companion to sharp blue cheeses.


As the taste of the coriander ryes from Ukraine is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to have a go at recreating it at home. I mixed up an 80% rye that was flavoured with a bit of honey (4.5% of the total flour weight) and crushed coriander (0.75% of the total flour weight). I think that whole rye berries, soaked overnight and then cooked al dente in the soaking water, add a lot of character to rye breads, and I tend to include at least a healthy sprinkling of them in my breads. For this one, the rye berries weighed in at roughly 15% of total flour weight. They'll plump up and add a lot of weight during cooking, so the weight is referring to unsoaked, uncooked berries. 30% of the flour came from a rye sourdough that had been fermenting overnight. The mixed dough was rather wet and loose, but easy to shape with wet hands. Baked off after roughly 2 hour proof:


I was very happy with the flavour of the bread. The crumb is quite light, as it's not a 100% rye, and the flavour of coriander was just right for me. I wouldn't go over 1% with the coriander, but then again, I am a bit...boring/conservative/cautious when it comes to spices in bread ;)


Another idea I've had for a rye bread, is for a free-for-all style muesli bread. So rather improvised and "what sounds good goes in", the mixing bowl turned into a bit of a mess:


Starring (clockwise from top-left corner): Diced apples, pumpkin seeds, some lemon peel, soaked raisins and dried apricots; toasted hazelnuts and walnuts; rye berries (soaked and cooked); rye sourdough. (Flour and salt underneath.) This was mixed together to a shaggy mass with a spatula, given a rest to properly hydrate the flour, and then mixed on 2nd speed for 3 mins. Panned and proofed just under 2 hours:


The bread had a lovely smell while baking, and a burst of fruity scents arose when I first sliced into it. Very moist and I'm sure it must be healthy. I'm a bit reluctant to be very sophisticated when it comes to toppings on slices of this muesli bread - either as is, or gently blanketed with butter is about as far as I go. That said, it's wonderful with most cheeses as well (both fresh and aged ones), but save the pickled herring and cornichons for another loaf.


In the rubble left after the duck cookery (stay tuned for part 2), I realised I had some odds and ends left in the fridge with nowhere in particular to go. This included some pastry cream, homemade ricotta, a dash of heavy cream, a couple of eggs and 3 limes. It all came together somehow, in a tart filling. The limes were used to make a lime cream (the lime equivalent of the lemon curd), which was folded into the pastry cream. This was combined with the ricotta and eggs. A nice buttery crust sounded like the way to go to "cut" the tanginess of the lime, so a pâte brisée (unsweetened, flaky and crisp tart base) was pre-baked, and filling poured in. Briefly baked to set the filling. To tell you the truth, it didn't turn out that bad, all considered... It was a bit tangy (just a touch too lime-y perhaps), but I ran out of pastry cream and ricotta that could mellow it out. Anyways, I'm not complaining.

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hansjoakim

I've just returned home from a highly memorable and breathtaking three weeks in Ukraine. I love travelling, and whenever possible, I try to take my time and move along at a relatively slow pace. Instead of rushing through cities and catching the main tourist attractions, I find it frequently much more interesting and memorable to move slowly through a country, taking the time to see how they go about their daily lives, take the same buses and trains that they do, and get a grip of the atmosphere and the day to day life in the place I visit. I've long had a fascination with European history, culture and society, and particularly that of Eastern Europe and what was the East bloc. Inspired by previous journeys through Romania, Hungary, the Czech republic and Slovakia, I had mapped out a similar trek through Ukraine for 2012.

I spent three weeks travelling from Kiev to Lviv and on to Odessa, the Crimea and Kharkiv before returning to Kiev. I arrived in Kiev on Friday April 13, the start of the orthodox Easter weekend. This was a lovely time to spend in the city, and there were large crowds attending services and visiting the many cathedrals in the capitol. Particularly moving was seeing the large crowds of people - children, elderly, young couples, friends; people from all age groups and all layers of society - flocking to the cathedrals on the first day of Easter. All carrying their own basket with traditional bread and bottles of wine. Below is a photo from just outside the Church of the Assumption in the Kievo-Pecherska lavra complex of Kiev.


On my return to the city centre from the Lavra, I bought a paneton from a small bakery. The crumb was a lovely light golden yellow and feathery light. Some dried fruit and a sprinkling of crystal sugar on top made for a delicious afternoon snack.


Coming from a largely secular society where religion and the respect for religious celebrations is dwindling, I was fascinated by the spirituality and the fact that both young and old came together to mark the Easter celebration.


While staying in Kiev, I also participated in a day trip out the Chernobyl and the ghost town of Pripyat. Below is a photo of the ferris wheel in Pripyat.

Walking around in Pripyat, surrounded by apartment blocks, trees and rusted billboards and only hearing the sound of wind in the trees and the song of birds was haunting and unreal, and reminded me somewhat of the post-apocalyptic scenes told by Cormac McCarthy in "The Road". I understand that the Ukrainians themselves in general have mixed feelings about Chernobyl turning into a weird tourist attraction (something I perfectly understand), but I still found it enlightening to participate in the trip north to the scene of the accident and learning more about what happened during that decisive period back in 1986.


From Kiev, I caught a plane to Lviv - a wonderful and elegant city close to the Polish border.

A wonderful city full of art, grand architecture, open squares and cobblestone streets. Definitely a bit rough around the edges, but if anything, that simply added to a slightly romantic sense of decay and authenticity. A great city to walk around in, enjoy a central European cafe and pastry tradition (some of the cake slices to be had in this town rivals the best of Budapest IMO), and a wonderful countryside.


An overnight train ride brought me to sunny Odessa.

I spent three nights here, enjoying the beaches of the Black Sea, some great parks and a bustling and energetic city that never really sleeps or slows down.

Mark Twain said about Odessa that "there were no sights to see and that the best thing to do is idle about and enjoy oneself." I do think there are some lovely sights not to be missed, including the famous Potemkin stairs, the peaceful, well-kept Primorsky boulevard and the busy seaport itself, but the city is great for idling about and general enjoyment. Oh, and they sell terrific ice cream here, no doubt about that.


Another overnight train ride brought me to Crimea, where I spent four days based in Sevastopol under a scorching sun, close to eclectic Soviet beach resorts and fascinating landscapes that in places reminded me of the Calanques outside Marseille. Sevastopol made for a very convenient base from where I took old marshrutka buses to neighbouring areas, including Yalta

(above is the Livadia palace in the western suburbs of Yalta, the site of the famous 1945 Yalta conference, and the seaside Lenin statue in Yalta. Lenin is now facing a McDonald's; I wonder if he ever thought that McDonald's could be the ultimate consequence of the NEP...), the old Crimean Tatar capitol of Bakhchisarai (here a shot of some cliffs on the outskirts of the city):

and Balaclava.

An overnighter from Sevastopol brought me to the sprawling city of Kharkiv, in the north-east of the country. The city suffered particularly hard during the famine in 1932-1933 and again during WWII; Kharkiv was occupied twice by the Germans, and few original buildings remain. However, the city has managed to fuse the new with the old, and a sizeable student population means that there's always something interesting happening.

As in most Ukrainian markets, the Kharkiv central market had a glorious display of pork cuts to be had for a very reasonable price.

While there, I sampled some varieties of the (in)famous salo; pure pork fat cured with salt and spices, not unlike bacon, and sliced thinly, typically served with cloves of raw garlic, slices of toasted Borodinsky rye and a sprig of parsley. Absolutely delicious and a true celebration of everything great about pork.


From Kharkiv, I rumbled on back to Kiev - below a night time photo of the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev.

The opera and ballet in Kiev is certainly world class; I was fortunate enough to catch performances of both Carmen and Swan Lake, and though I'm not that familiar with ballet, I was gripped and utterly fascinated by both performances. An Easter oratorium in the Kiev philarmonic was also stunning.

The memories and impressions from the trip are still very fresh, unsorted and raw, and I'll need some time to sort through my thoughts, feelings and photos. Old, vibrant cities, natural beauty, spirituality, breathtaking landscapes and a fantastic cultural tradition are some of the impressions I take home with me, but also disturbing pictures of poverty, injustice, social and economical differences and a people that has suffered hard for so long in modern times. Although the language barrier is not to be underestimated, I still felt a connection with the people while I was there; people that are deeply spiritual, emotional, humble and sincere. I hope to go back later this year, to explore some more inaccessible areas to also get a glimpse into what life is like in the rural heart of Ukraine and old-time Europe.


I brought some souvenirs back home to friends and family, and for myself I bought some bread pans from a seller on the central market in Kharkiv:

For ages, I've been looking for tall pans like these, so I was thrilled when I saw these as I was making my way out of the pork section of the market! When I got back home, first thing I did was to unload my backpack and then get my starter out of its three week hibernation so that it could make me some bread again:

The two loaves turned out very well I think (at least for an improvised dough), simply made with rye flour, toasted sunflower seeds, boiled whole rye berries and flaxseeds.

Perfect for the Ukrainian cheese and canned fish that found its way back to my place.

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hansjoakim

Today is the final day of Easter, and I thought I'd like to put up a couple of things that I've enjoyed puzzling with in the kitchen over the weekend.

 Worth waiting for, part 1

Pasta is one of those things that I love making during weekends. There's something about weighing up flour, heaping it up on the work surface and making  a little mound in the middle for some eggs and a dash of olive oil, that just feels right. Like bread, the basic ingredients are so simple, but the variations are virtually endless. A little over a year ago, I bought an Atlas 150 pasta machine that I'm happy to say has been in use on an almost weekly basis since then. Fresh pasta - delicious and fun to make – what's not to like?

 I had my sister over for dinner on Saturday, and wanted to prepare a light pasta dish as our first course. This time I settled on some raviolis (perhaps tortellini or cappeletti is a more accurate name for the final shape of these?), filled with homemade ricotta and spinach.

 

I find that the main advantage of making one's own ricotta (apart from the satisfaction of making it from scratch, of course), is that the cheese has a much smoother mouthfeel than the otherwise coarse and crumbly industrial product. It keeps in the fridge, well covered, for up to 2 weeks, so it's worthwhile to make a fair batch while you're first at it.

 

Filling and shaping these rascals take time, so setting out making these on a busy week night is not something I would recommend! They're perfect for a lazy weekend afternoon, accompanied by good background music and a glass of crisp white wine.

 

There! An Italian grandmother would probably not fully approve... but hey, at least they look handmade... there's something to be said about the «rustic» quality of that though, right?

 

Anyways, both me and my sister enjoyed these as our first course – here accompanied by some greens, cherry tomatoes, more ricotta, a dash good olive oil and a grinding of pepper.

 Worth waiting for, part 2

I'm very, very fond of salted, dried cod (clipfish), and that's what I planned for our main course on Saturday. Spanish fishermen fishing cod at Newfoundland were the first to salt and dry their catch, and this was a method of conservation they started sometime during the 16th century. The practice of salting and drying cod was brought to Norway by the Dutch Jappe Ippes in the 1690s, and the method was further established in this country by some Scots in the early 1700s. Since then, particularly Kristiansund, a town on the Western coast of Norway, has been known for excellent salted, dried cod.

As the availability of fresh fish increased, Norwegians looked upon salted and dried cod as a «poor man's fish», and most of the conserved fish was (and is) exported to Spain, Portugal, France, Brazil and other Latin American countries. Export of salted, dried cod (and also un-salted, dried cod) is still a large industry, but thankfully, with the help of popular gourmet chefs, this product has been re-discovered by more and more Norwegians over the last decade. Now, a wide range of salted and dried cod products can be found in most well-stocked grocery stores; from the cheaper tail end pieces suited for casseroles, to highly expensive, gracefully aged loin pieces, comparable to some of the finest cured sausages.

 

For our dinner, I chose some mid-range loin cuts that are well suited for grilling, pan frying and baking. The cod needs to be reconstituted in several changes of cold, fresh water before they can be cooked; this re-hydrates the meat and extracts some of the salt from it. Soaking can take anything from half a day for the thinnest pieces to more than 4 days (and 4 – 5 changes of water) for the thicker, neck pieces from the fish. Ours took roughly 2.5 days and 3 changes of water to be ready.

 

We enjoyed the fish on a bed of Puy lentils and root vegetables, thin slices of salted pork belly and Nantais butter sauce (begin by simmering shallots and white wine in a sauce pan, as for a beurre blanc, add a dollop of crème fraîche after 5 mins, continue to simmer until slightly thickened, then beat in cubes of butter over low heat, whisking vigorously, taste for salt and pepper).

  Worth waiting for, part 3

 Well, yes, there needs to be a loaf up here as well... Equally inspired by a Hamelman formula and David's wonderful walnut and raisin sourdough loaves that he told us about recently, I felt a craving for bread with walnuts in it. I came up with a formula rather similar to the one in "Bread" for a sourdough rye with walnuts, but with slightly less walnuts, some whole-wheat flour in there and a higher hydration.

I wanted to focus on the flavour of a nicely ripened rye sourdough, the flour composition and the walnuts, so the recipe and formula itself is rather minimalistic and straight forward. It was the first time I tried it this morning, so it's not fully optimised yet, but I still feel it came out well-balanced hydration wise and in terms of bulk fermentation time and the final proof. It could hopefully serve as a decent baseline if anyone would like to bake a similar bread.

Below is a photo of the dough after bulk fermentation, just prior to pre-shaping. As the bulk fermentation was roughly 2 hours, I feel that a (very) gentle fold is required midway through. This strengthens the dough significantly, and makes it much more responsive and easier to shape afterwards.

If your time runs out, or if you're baking on a week night, you could probably retard it immediately after final shaping, but I think I would reduce the amount of pre-fermented flour somewhat if you're heading that route. I proofed and baked the loaf without any retardation; in that case, a final proof of approx. 1hr 45mins was right for me. It will definitely depend on your ambient temperature and the vigour of your sourdough, so start poking gently after some 70 - 80 mins.

Here's a shot of the loaf, directly from the oven:

It had a nice, singing crust as it cooled down, and filled the kitchen with a most lovely smell. The singing crust and smell of the baked loaf is one nice perk of baking at home... And the crumb:

This will keep me happy the coming days, I expect!

I hope everyone enjoyed their Easter, and that you were able to spend it with friends, family and your loved ones. The days around Easter are always welcome as a respite from hectic weeks on either side of the celebration, and one can find a bit of peace and time for reflection.

I'm set for more time off in a few days, as I'll be taking my vacation early this year. I'm flying to Kiev on Friday, and I'll be spending three weeks travelling around in Ukraine, a country that has fascinated me for a long time with its rich culture and proud (but also, at times, tragic) history. I won't be freshloafin' much during those weeks, but I will make sure to sample Ukraine's range of baked goodies while I'm there. Hopefully, I'll have some photos to share in my next blog post. Until then, au revoir!

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hansjoakim

It is finally getting a bit warmer here, but nights and mornings are still bitterly cold. We have winds from north, and they chill you to the bone if you're not well packed in. The weather has been beautiful the last couple of days, with clear blue skies and some warmth coming from the sun. Still, things don't thaw up before lunch time, and summer is clearly still a few months away.

I live next to a farmer, and he has kept sheep the entire winter on a small patch of grass just next to our house. By the looks of it, they're enjoying the sun just as much as us two-legged ones are. I love the view these days, here a photograph from Saturday, taken while I was waiting for a loaf to finish baking...:

Just this morning, I noticed what I guess must be the first lamb of the season on the farm - a cute and fragile newborn that's been tumbling around next to his mother all day today. I feel this is truly a wonderful time of year - bursting with vibrant colours and scents, and there are signs of life, birth and re-birth everywhere. It all feels so much more intense these first few weeks after the long, dreadful winter.

Although I try to spend as much time out in the sun as I possibly can, the cold, frostbitten weekend mornings are still excellent for dough handling and bread baking. I've baked two multigrain rye loaves this weekend; the first, the boule below, was an improvised 50% sourdough rye, with some flaxseeds, sunflower seeds and rolled oats added to it. The hydration was a bit over 90%, so this loaf has kept fresh for several days, just improving in flavour.

 

The second loaf was one of my old favourites: Hamelman's flaxseed rye from the Modern Baking website. I baked this regularly before, and I can't believe it's been over a year since I last tasted a sample of this one (shame on me). High time to get everything together in the mixing bowl (clockwise from top: old bread + flaxseed soaker, rye sourdough, bread flour and whole rye flour)!

Usually I scale and bake these formulas as roughly 1.2 kg loaves (they keep so well, one might as well bake a large one while at it), but this time I settled for a smaller 800 gram batard. The dough comes together quickly, and is easy to work with.

I was very happy with the result; a bread with a deep, full-bodied rye flavour, and a crisp crust. The good thing about smaller loaves, is that you can bake them more often ;-)

 Have a wonderful Easter everyone!

Edit: Below is a copy of the formula for the flax seed rye bread above. Hamelman's original recipe in Modern Baking can be found here.

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hansjoakim

***brushing dust off of a forgotten blog***

:-)

Hi everyone, this will be my first post in a good years' time, I think. I have been keeping up to date with TFL regularly, and I'm very happy to see a lot of new faces around, baking wonderful breads. And of course, I've followed the impressive efforts of old friends, who keep on supporting new, budding bakers and that are always happy to share new recipes and lessons learned from their baking experiments. This community is one of a kind, and I'm very happy to be a part of it.  

The last year has seen some changes for me personally (moving from Trondheim to a much smaller village outside Stavanger, Norway, and starting in a new job), but everything has worked out for the better. I've also been pursuing some other hobbies and interests, and haven't really found space for much bread baking before now. After being away from baking for a good 12 months, I felt the inspiration gradually returning a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to mix up some rye flour and water to get a new sourdough going (my old, reliable starter didn't join me for the move). Sure enough, within five days it was good to go, and ready to leaven bread.

For my first breads in about a year's time, I settled on some old, well-worn formulas. Baking is almost like playing tennis or riding a bike; at first, your coordination might be a bit off, but with a little patience and effort, it comes back. The scent of baking loaves, and the sound of crackling, singing crust as the sourdough loaves were pulled from the oven reminded me of why I love baking so much in the first place. It's something immensely rewarding that we can share with our friends, relatives and neighbours, and it's an activitiy that somehow connects us with our ancestors as well.

Below are some snaps from this weekend's bake; first a "pain au levain", made from a rye sourdough:

 

Spring has just arrived, so I was lucky with the natural lighting in these photos. Below is a photo of a 40% rye; I wanted to ease back in with rye flour, so this 40% was a very nice way of getting to grips with the slightly sticky, clay-like consistency of rye doughs. The bread had that unmistakable, poignant rye flavour in the crust, and a soft, even crumb. In short, 40% whole-rye, roughly 75% hydration, and 20% of the total flour weight from a rye sourdough. Approximately 2 hour bulk followed by 75 mins final proof. Very satisfying.

 

As a cold and/or warm accompaniment to the newly baked breads, I roasted a boned pork shoulder butt (I believe that's the English/US name of this cut of pork). A beautifully marbled piece from a local farmer - it was simply rubbed with fresh thyme, chopped garlic, salt and pepper and then roasted on a bed of some vegetables until done.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone!

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hansjoakim

Yeast-less. Again??


To tell you the truth, I've been a bit low on the breadbaking front recently. My love of food and cooking have never been greater, however, and I don't think I've ever spent more time in the kitchen than I have during the last couple of months. The downtime in breadbaking means that I get the chance to broaden my other culinary horizons, and I thought I should put together some photos of what I've been up to this weekend.


After the heart-attack-but-in-a-good-way of last week's duck confit, I wanted to focus on "lighter" things this week. "Lighter" being savoury puff pastry stuff, huh? Eh, it's all relative though...


First thing I wanted to share is a nice potato blini, photo of mise en place below. Cook, peel and rice about 300 gr. potatoes. To that, add 2 Tbsp bread flour, 2 egg yolks and enough milk to make a thick cream. Add salt+pepper+herbs+spices as you wish. Freshly grated nutmeg works great. Whip 2 egg whites to max volume on medium-high speed, and gently fold into the potato cream. Spoon small cakes into a hot pan and cook both sides in butter.


Potato blinis


The potato blinis are very versatile and a great weeknight snack or appetizer; I had them with some sardines, sour cream and caviar.


Potato blinis


 


Also this week, I wanted to put together some savoury dishes using puff pastry. Just as with confited food, I don't find puff to be at all greasy or "heavy". On the contrary, light, delicious tarts or flans can be quickly put together if there's some puff in your fridge. Puff is one of those things that might appear hard to make, but comes together quite effortlessly if you've done it once or twice before. And it's easier to make than croissants. I've made quite a few batches of puff, and I thought I could put up some of my own thoughts and recommendations regarding the process in this post. For the dough:



  • Put flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add cold water and melted butter, and mix with a fork until the dough starts to come together. Turn it out on your work surface and knead it a few times until it's a coherent, shaggy mass. It should be just a bit sticky, like pasta dough, but not smooth. Put in the fridge for at least an hour to relax the gluten and chill. Remember that you want the dough and butter block to be at the same temperature/consistency throughout the process.


For the lamination:



  • The butter should be "plastic" at all times - it should not be melting between the layers or seeping out of the dough, and it should not be rock hard and fracture into pieces as you roll the dough.

  • Don't press down too hard on the rolling pin, that'll distort/destroy the layers. Try to maintain an even pressure on the dough, so that the thickness is the same over the entire length of the dough.

  • Flour your work surface, but not excessively. You don't want the dough to stick and rip, but you want just a slight "friction" between the dough and your work surface. That way it's easier to roll it thin enough.

  • Roll the dough to approx. 1 cm thickness each time before folding in three. That way you'll get nice, even layers throughout your dough.

  • Wrap the dough tight in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 45 - 60 mins. between folds.

  • Ideally, do the lamination the day before you actually need the pastry. That way the dough gets to relax and chill sufficiently first.


For the make-up:



  • Cut off a sufficiently large piece of your pastry, flour it well but brush off excess flour, and roll to desired thickness, commonly 2 - 3 mm thin. Work quickly when the pastry is this thin, as the butter will quickly heat up and become soft.

  • Roll sheeted pastry up on your rolling pin and transfer to a lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 15 mins. Do this before you cut out the shapes you want, otherwise the dough will shrink and distort after you cut it.

  • After cutting and shaping, egg wash and return to the fridge for a good 20 - 30 mins before baking. This will reduce shrinking during baking.


If you've never made puff before, I recommend starting out with a small batch, with say 500 gr. dough and 250 gr. butter block. A small batch like this is easy and quick to roll out during lamination, and this is a practical size to start out with in order to gain some experience and "understand the pastry". Below is a photo of my pastry with these measurements during the 5th fold.


Puff pastry


My first application was some simple tomato flans, and, to tell you the truth, they don't come much simpler than this. Simply cut out rectangles, egg wash, dock with a fork and put tomato slices on top. Finish with salt, pepper, olive oil and herbs/spices of your choice.


Tomato flan


Bake in a hot oven, approx. 200dC for 20 mins or until done, and serve with a green salad and a delicious slice of salt cod (Morue et flan de tomates?):


Tomato flan with salt cod


 


Puff pastry diamonds are also very versatile and simple to make - below I've filled one with some green leaves and served with salmon carpaccio:


Puff pastry diamond and salmon carpaccio


Next on my list of things to try out, was an oxtail and duck liver terrine. I love any old-fashioned oxtail soup, and I'm also a fan of liver as an "exotic" ingredient bringing unexpected flavour and texture to the table. I've previously used it to good effect in salads, with pasta or as the main ingredient, and I find most livers go well with sweet flavours of honey, orange liqueurs and juices, figs and dates. I wanted to serve this terrine with a nice piece of pastry, but get those oxtails tender first! Bring to a boil and keep boiling over low heat for 3 hours or until the meat is easy to pick off the bone.


Oxtail and duck liver terrine


 


Oxtail and duck liver terrine


Save that broth!


From here on in, it's simply a matter of rolling slow-baked duck liver slices around oxtail meat to make a tight log, and chill for at least 2 hours. To serve with the terrine, I baked a sheet of puff pastry with weights on top to make a thin, crispy layer. I then sliced it into slim rectangles crosswise, and slathered each with a carrot-chevre cream (soft chevre puréed with boiled carrots, olive oil and lemon zest) and topped it with small carrots that were poached in orange juice infused with toasted caraway seeds. Absolutely scrumptious:


Oxtail and duck liver terrine


 

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