Perhaps I’ve enjoyed a bit too much coffee this morning, but seriously folks, I’m all over the map – the dessert map, that is – when it comes to deciding which food adventures to share with you today. I’ve decided that I’m simply not going to decide. Instead, I’m going to indulge my sweet tooth and share a trio of German desserts… a foodie mosaic! I’ll let you decide what best captures your attention. Post a comment about your favorite photo below, and I’ll work on recreating the dish for a future post!
Any self-respecting home baker should try their hand at creating a loaf of sourdough bread at least once, if for no other reason than to participate in an ancient tradition. Baking with wild yeast sourdough can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians over 3,500 years ago, and has been modified in countless ways by countless human cultures ever since. How’s that for a bit of perspective, San Francisco?
Bavaria offers its own, well respected bread making traditions, and since I planned to stay for more than a few days, it seemed to me the perfect place to tweak my own recipe for Seven Day Sourdough Bread. It’s delicious with the alpine cheeses famous in Southern Germany:
Back to the sourdough… you really do need seven days from start to finish, even with a little help from a bit of cultivated/packaged yeast, because sourdough starter needs time to develop. Don’t worry – Days 1 through 6 each require only about 10 seconds of attention. You can do it. At the end of a week, you will be the proud baker of a wonderful loaf of sourdough, with plenty of sourdough starter left over. You can keep it forever as long as you give it a little love (flour) every once and a while, and you can also give some away. How about greeting the new neighbor with a loaf of fresh bread and a pint jar of sourdough starter?
Combine the following ingredients in a squeaky clean, quart size mason jar:
2/3 cup white flour
1/3 cup rye flour
1 teaspoon yeast (I used German yeast for a more authentic German sourdough, but really any yeast will work fine)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
Stir gently to combine (lumps are fine). Cover with coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. It’s important to let the sourdough breathe – do NOT use a jar lid! Place your jar in a warm location. 85 degrees F is widely considered “ideal,” but it is very important not to let the jar reach 100 degrees F, or the yeast will die. Every day for a week, add 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup lukewarm water, stir only once or twice, and recover with the coffee filter. You will occasionally see a liquid separate onto the top of the starter. This is normal byproduct of fermentation. Just stir it back in.
On Day 7, you are ready to bake! Remove 1 cup of starter for the recipe below, and continue feeding the remaining starter with 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup lukewarm water every day. If you only plan to bake occasionally, store your jar in the refrigerator and feed once weekly. Sourdough starter can last indefinitely, but if it turns a reddish color or starts to smell bad, throw it away and start fresh.
On Day 7, combine the following ingredients in a large bowl:
1 cup sourdough starter
3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups flour
Step 1) Combine ingredients with a mixing spoon, then dump onto a floured countertop and knead for 12 minutes.
Step 2) Place kneaded dough in an oiled bowl. Flip the dough over once so that the top is lightly oiled. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let rise in a slightly warm location at least four hours, or overnight. Don’t rush this – the longer the dough sits, the better it will taste! Dough should double in size during this step.
Step 3) Place dough on floured countertop again, and knead gently for one or two minutes. The flour which gets kneaded in feeds the sourdough and helps create a second rise. Shape the dough into a loaf (round or oblong, it’s up to you). Place your loaf on a baking pan coated in cornmeal. Let rise for two more hours.
Step 4) Using a pastry brush, coat the loaf with a bit of water. This helps create a nice crust. Bake your loaf in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting and serving. Don’t rush – this bread is worth the wait!
We’re moving South into the Free State of Bavaria, or Freistaat Bayern as it is known within Germany. Occupying over 27,000 square miles including a significant region of the German Alps, Bavaria is a unique and special place to visit. Life here seems a bit less formal than in cities to the North, with even greater emphasis placed upon leisurely enjoyment of traditional food and local bier. Expansive, interesting landscapes compel travelers to slow down and stay a while.
All of this sunshine and summery fresh air means that I still have watermelon on the brain. Watermelon and vanilla ice cream make a fine flavor combination, do you agree? Let’s make a batch of delicious Watermelon Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Topping!
2 cups pureed watermelon
2 cups sugar, divided into 1 1/2 cups (for step 1) and another 1/2 cup (for step 2)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon powdered pectin
1 vanilla bean
Step 1) Combine pureed watermelon, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and lemon juice in a large pot. Bring to a full, rolling boil, stirring occasionally so that the bottom doesn’t burn.
Step 2) Combine 1/2 cup sugar and pectin; mix well. Sprinkle sugar/pectin mixture all over the surface of the boiling watermelon mixture and stir until well combined.
Step 3) Stirring constantly, return pot to a full, rolling boil. Boil for one minute, then remove from heat.
Step 4) While mixture cools slightly, carefully cut your vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Use the tip of a paring knife to scrape out the tiny vanilla seeds inside the bean. Add the tiny seeds, just a few at a time so that they don’t all clump together, to your pot. Stir well to combine. When cool, store your ice cream topping in the refrigerator. Serve over real vanilla ice cream and enjoy, preferably while looking out over the Alps!
Optional – Step 5) This recipe is suitable for canning, and makes a great gift! Simply double the recipe and ladle into sterilized, half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Place lids and bands on jars, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 4, half pint jars.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender
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“My mouth – always so active, alert – could now generally identify forty of fifty states in the product or meat I ate. I had taken to tracking those more distant elements on my plate, and each night, at dinner, a U.S. map would float up in my mind as I chewed and I’d use it to follow the nuances in the parsley sprig, the orange wedge, and the baked potato to Florida, California, and Kansas, respectively. I could sometimes trace eggs to the county” (p. 95).
As a child, I loved reading The Chocolate Touch, by Patrick Skene Catling. To me, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is the grown-up, quirky distant cousin of a childhood favorite. Instead of a greedy little boy who learns it really is possible to have too much of a good thing when everything he touches turns to chocolate, Aimee Bender offers us Rose Edelstein, a precocious little girl with a most unusual and unfortunate gift. To Rose’s great dismay, she learns she can taste emotions cooked and baked into her food.
Rose’s peculiar and unshakeable ability might be tolerable if she weren’t surrounded by such an odd cast of characters. But that wouldn’t make for an interesting story, would it? Instead, Rose lives with a detached and clueless father, a melancholy and secretive mother, and an older brother who blends into the background most extraordinarily well. Rose finds grains of sanity in her friendship with Eliza, whose mother can be relied upon to cook happy tasting food, and her unlikely alliance with George, the surprisingly normal friend of her very strange brother.
In The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender accomplishes the extraordinary… she gives her food characters the same depth and development as many fiction authors give their human characters. The textures, flavors, scents, kitchen environment, and baker of Rose’s favorite lemon cake are described in several pages of detail, and lemon cake is just one food of many to receive such grand attention to detail. Foodies and fiction aficionados alike will enjoy this eccentric tale.
Bockwurst is a popular German sausage made from finely ground veal and pork. It’s relatively hefty size and natural casing means that bockwurst must be cooked slowly to retain its appearance and flavor. As long as you keep that one detail in mind, preparing a meal of bockwurst, potatoes, and peppers is very, very simple (see instructions, below). It was a perfect meal to cap a day spent exploring The Bach House and surrounding area.
Classical music aficionados in large numbers trek into central Germany during the summer months to visit The Bach House. This well reputed museum displays a comprehensive collection of Johann Sebastian Bach’s musical instruments, hand written compositions, and furnishings from his home. Meandering from floor to floor and room to room, visitors are treated to the sounds of professional musicians performing Bach’s compositions on Bach’s own instruments – pretty cool. Visitors may also settle into comfortable listening pods, pictured above, to listen to a wide variety of Bach pieces performed by a vast array of musicians. While admittedly a bit macabre, visitors also have the, er, interesting opportunity to learn how Bach’s likeness was recreated by exhuming his body (seriously) and using his skull as a model. [The cost of fame? Yikes.]
Whether you are touring The Bach House or simply popping in a CD, here’s a solid German meal to enjoy while you listen!
Bockwurst with Potatoes and Peppers
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 medium size potatoes
1 small onion, sliced
3 bell peppers (different colors if possible), sliced
1 tablespoon butter
black pepper to taste
Step 1) Wash potatoes and cut into bite size chunks. Place in bottom of a nonstick pan. Place bockwurst on top of potatoes.
Step 2) Cover bockwurst and potatoes with cold water. Water should completely, but just barely, cover the bockwurst.
Step 3) Cover pot and heat on low until water is just about ready to boil. Don’t turn the heat too high – it should take about 30 minutes for the water to approach boiling. Be patient!
Step 4) Just before the water boils (for example, when the surface of the water appears to vibrate, or very teeny tiny bubbles begin to appear on the edges of the pot), layer the onion and peppers on top of the bockwurst. Turn the heat OFF and LEAVE THE POT COVERED. Do not lift the cover for 20 minutes!
Step 5) Important – check the internal temperature of one bockwurst with a meat thermometer. The internal temperature should be at least 160 degrees F. If the temperature has not reached 160 degrees F, turn the heat back to low and cover the pot for another few minutes. Check the temperature again before serving.
Step 6) To serve, gently remove peppers, onions, and bockwurst from the pan. Drain most of the liquid off of the potatoes; leave just a little bit of water with the potatoes in the pot.
Step 7) Add butter and pepper to the potatoes and coarsely mash. Potatoes should be chunky; this is a rustic dish.
Step 8) Spread one scoop of potatoes on each serving plate and top with one bockwurst. Arrange onion and pepper slices on top of bockwurst. For added color, garnish with carrot shavings (optional). Enjoy!
Wartburg Castle, located in central Germany, is an amazing sight to see. Originally built in the eleventh century, Wartburg Castle was in a near constant state of active inhabitation and renovation until the early twentieth century. Wow! The most famous inhabitant of Wartburg Castle wasn’t a count or a prince, but rather a sixteenth century monk seeking refuge under an assumed name. In a tucked away room in Wartburg Castle, Martin Luther produced the first hand-written translation of the Bible from Latin into German. Even five hundred years later, Luther pilgrims continue to flock to the castle.
What does this story have to do with the watermelon cooler pictured above, you ask? Well, consider that Wartburg Castle is perched on a cliff 1,350 feet above the town of Eisenach. Here is a view from the top:
To preserve both the ecology of the cliff and the historic integrity of the castle, visitors are not permitted to drive to the castle. The hike to the top is steep – I mean STEEP – and I happened to visit on a rather toasty summer day. Exploring the castle exterior (free of charge) was very worth the hike, as you can see from the photos, below:
It was a lovely afternoon, but after trekking back down from the castle, I felt a bit as if I had fallen into a moat full of syrup. Not a refreshing feeling! Germany, as we’ve discussed in earlier posts, is a nation committed to energy conservation (much more so than the US, in any event). Air conditioning at the foot of the cliff was in short supply. Watermelons and mineral water, however, were readily available… the combination is far more delicious and an all-around better idea than a blast of toxic Freon. 😉
Feeling toasty? Simply cut a few small chunks of watermelon and freeze solid. Plunk them in pairs into tall glasses of sparkling mineral water, relax, and enjoy. You might feel refreshed enough to climb up to your nearest neighborhood castle!
Eisenach is a bustling town of approximately 40,000 people in the Thuringia region of central Germany. As the birthplace of composer Johann Sebastian Bach and nearest town to Wartburg Castle, Eisenach welcomes a significant number of tourists (mostly German) every year. Watching tour busses navigate the narrow, perilously steep roads near the town center is nerve wracking indeed!
Visitors can easily walk through Eisenach for hours perusing outdoor markets (see above), taking in museums, visiting churches, and enjoying fountains. During the summer months, Eisenach can get quite toasty warm. Air conditioning is not a common amenity, leaving sightseers to find other ways of cooling off. Thankfully, Eisenach cafes and restaurants take “Eis,” or ice cream, to whole new levels.
Crowded Earth Kitchen is sharing ideas instead of recipes for you today. Once you take a look at the photos from our ice cream adventures below, I don’t think you’ll mind. All you need are ice cream and toppings (fresh fruit is a must!) from your local market, and a little imagination. Have fun cooling off deliciously!