It's All About the FoodChristmas Baking with SusieJ

How to bake Krautkuchen for your daughter

... Who is not actually the daughter of your blood, but the daughter of your heart, so of course you will make Krautkuchen for her and her love on their last night before they travel to New York City, and then back to Germany.

First, when she tells you the morning after she arrives that she wants to bake and eat Krautkuchen (and Zwetschgenkuchen, chili, and other house specialties), you remember that your aunt (who makes the best Krautkuchen you have ever eaten, and whose recipe you will be using) uses Schmalz from Speck to fry her Kraut. Although your daughter is practically vegetarian, she does still eat meat. When you make breakfast (buckwheat pancakes with bananas or blueberries, with bacon on the side), cook the bacon the only way your daughter likes bacon: in the oven like your other aunt (200C, on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet, 15 to 20 minutes) so that you can save the half cup of fat that will render from a pound of bacon.

Next, when you have returned from the new chocolate exhibit at the Academy of Natural Sciences, suggest drinking hot cocoa while the dough for the crust rises.

Now you need to make the dough.

Consider using your translation of the Salzteig recipe, throw out that idea, and work from the original German recipe. A double or single batch? Double, because it freezes well, and then it's ready for the next time you make Krautkuchen.

Realize that while the amount of flour is doubled four a double batch, the other measurements aren't, and that you are not quite sure if they should be. Decide to use the larger measure of all ingredients and fiddle until the dough feels right. The dough's never really seemed right before, so what's to be lost?

Measure 500 grams flour, 375 mL milk, 2 1/4 tsp. of dry yeast (one package), and 1 tsp. of sugar. The yeast measurement is a complete guess, because in Germany everyone uses fresh yeast, and your aunt used 40g of it. Make a well in the flour. Heat the milk to 40C (1 minute in the microwave on high), pour in the milk, add the yeast and sugar, and stir until a the yeast, sugar, and a bit of the flour have made a very thin batter. Leave this Vorteig to rise for 30 minutes in a warm place.

Make and drink hot cocoa.

Re-read recipe to discover you shouldn't have used all the milk in the sponge. Check sponge, conclude the yeast is happy. If the yeast is happy, you are happy.

Add 6 Tbs of canola oil (the recipe calls for three to four, but, hey, that could be for the half recipe) and 1 tsp of salt (your aunt wrote an Esslöffel, a tablespoon, but that can't be right). Turn on the mixer, and combine everything using the kneading hook of the mixer into a, well, honestly, a rather gloppy dough. Throw in another 50g or so of flour to make it less gloppy and actually come together. Cover, and sit on the oven, which you begin heating to 200C. Set a timer for 30 minutes.

Dice one white or yellow onion, and start frying it over medium heat in about 3 Tbs of the bacon fat you saved from breakfast last week. Shred finely half a small head of white cabbage. Eye it critically, shred another quarter of the cabbage. This should give you enough shredded cabbage to nearly fill a 3L bowl. When the onion is translucent and starts smelling like fried onions, add another tablespoon or two of bacon fat, then the cabbage. Stir to make sure the cabbage is coated in fat.

Pour a glass of wine.

Ask if anyone else wants a glass of wine. Your husband with the herniated disk will say he's taking a Vicodin that night. Your daughter who doesn't drink will decline, as will her love who is also not a big drinker. Consider drinking with the nine-year-old. Discard this idea. Drink the wine.

Keep stirring the cabbage while it cooks, and look for the other filling ingredients. Get out the old and new sour cream containers, and think it was unnecessary to buy another container. Open the old container, realize it was a good idea to get the new container, and measure out 200 mL of sour cream from the new container into a large bowl. Add 100 mL of heavy cream. Well, not heavy cream, because all the cream went into the biscuits that were breakfast. Use the half-and-half you bought for coffee in case your daughter's love drank coffee, but is unopened because no one drinks coffee. Add a heaping tablespoon flour. Remember that the family definition of "one tablespoon" is a heaping tablespoon, and add another for a total of about 50g flour. Estimate that half a teaspoon salt and quarter teaspoon pepper is sufficient for the filling. Stir until smooth. Stir cabbage and onions.

Address the Kümmel issue.

You dislike caraway seeds, but they are traditional, and should be added "to taste," like the salt and pepper. Hunt for the caraway seeds. Find three unlabeled bottles in the spice cabinet that could be caraway. Smell them all. One is certainly celery seed. One of the other two is very licorice. The other one in an old hexagonal honey jar is undefined. Worry the licorice is the anise. Check the baking cabinet for the anise, taste to compare. Come to no conclusions. Take the mystery spices to the family. On sight, daughter declares the anise-flavored one to be fennel. Make husband taste test. Husband declares the undefined one the caraway. And stale. Ask if anyone really wants caraway in the Krautkuchen. Daughter declares it up to you. Throw away caraway seed. Sip some wine. Save hexagonal jar. Stir the cabbage.

When the dough has risen, dust the counter (wait, wipe it off first) with flour. Cut dough in half. Knead one dough half with a few folds into a flat disk about a hand's-breadth wide, and dust the top with flour. Remember your favorite rolling pin is still dirty from biscuits. Get out the back-up rolling pin, and congratulate yourself on keeping two of everything. Quickly roll into a large circle. Get the 30cm springform pan from the cabinet. Drape the dough over it, and realize it's far too large, and thus will be too thin on the bottom. Try to get the dough to relax into a smaller shape. Fail. Stir the cabbage. Sip some wine. Decide to fold the dough back into a disk and re-roll. The dough is now too springy. Stir the cabbage. Sip some wine. Remember the other half of the dough. Re-dust the counter. Form the other half into a disk, re-roll into a smaller circle, drape into the pan. Sip some wine.

By now the cabbage has cooked far longer than the 10 minutes your aunt specified, has some nice brown spots, has reduced in volume, and is slightly translucent. The onions are fairly brown. Stir the cabbage into the sour-cream mixture until it is coated. Pour cabbage filling onto the crust. Fold crust edges over top of the filling, convincing yourself it looks "rustic." Bake for half an hour.

Sip some wine.

Set the table.

Make daughter happy.

[My borrowed daughter, Sarah, photographing Krautkuchen, copyright Susan J. Talbutt, 2014, all rights reserved]

Le Cordon Bleu Professional Baking and The Culinary Institute of America Baking and Pastry

My final go-to volumes for basic cakes are two textbooks from Le Cordon Bleu and The Culinary Institute of America given to me by my aunt-by-marriage, food writer Anne Mendelson. Both focus on basic technique and recipes &emdash; building blocks &emdash; rather than a specific dessert. Meant to be used in a retail or commercial bakery, the yields are usually triple a home recipe (six dozen cupcakes or six nine-inch cake layers). Very useful for wedding cakes, and other situations calling for insane amounts of cake.

Interestingly enough, they don't have the same recipes. From Gisslen's book, I bake the spice cake and angel food cake. From the CIA cookbook, I bake the lemon chiffon cake, creme anglaise, German buttercream, and cream cheese icing (which is equal weights of cream cheese and butter, and less powdered sugar). I refer to both for basic research when I need a new cake or sweet yeast bread recipe; they provide me with good ideas and point me in the direction to go.

From these basic recipes, both show how to build ever-more complex pastries up to architectural wonders.

If you don't want or need six dozen cupcakes (or you need twelve dozen, or four fifteen-inch layers), Professional Baking has a chart of how much batter to use for any size layer. Both teach scaling (how to increase and decrease a recipe for more or fewer servings) and basic recipe ratios. The also cover most baking ingredients, from all-purpose flour through lychees, and equipment from measuring spoons through steam-injection ovens.

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