Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to Use Leftover Bread

This post is about two kinds of Austrian dumplings that are made from old bread.

The first is best made with bread that is a few days old, bread that is dry, but not brittle.  If you let your bread sit for more than a week, so that it's completely hard throughout, you can make the second dumpling.

The first dumpling, made with days-old bread, is the serviettenknoedl, which literally translates as "serviette dumpling."  Much like the French word torchon, which means towel, servietten implies that the dumplings are shaped into cylinders by rolling in a towel or serviette.

The old bread is first cubed and soaked in milk, butter, and egg (full recipe below).

Then the mixture is rolled into cylinders.  Traditionally this was done with a towel or napkin, but plastic wrap and aluminum foil are more common these days.

The rolls are steamed or poached until the egg has set, about thirty minutes, though cooking time depends on the diameter of the dumpling.  Once cooked the rolls can be chilled overnight, then sliced into rounds.

The rounds are often seared in butter for a bit of colour and crispness.

In Austria, serviettenknoedl are most often served with stews and braises.  Below you can see them with Maibocgoulash (May deer goulash) and cranberries.

They are also an important ingredient in a regional dish called Tirolergroestl.  Tirol is a province in Austria, and groestl simply means hash.  Tirolergroestl usually includes ham or speck, potatoes, vegetables, knoedl, and a fried egg with a runny yolk.

Napkin Dumplings

  • 1 lb bread, between one and seven days old, dry but not brittle
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 4 oz unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  1. Cut the bread into cubes, anywhere from 1/4" to 1".
  2. Mix all remaining ingredients and pour over the bread.  Using your hands, gently toss the bread until all the liquid has been absorbed.  Let the mixture sit for 1 hour.
  3. Shape the mixture into a cylinder 2-3" in diameter.  Do not compress the bread, as this will yield a dense, tough, dumpling.
  4. Poach the rolls in gently simmering water until firm throughout, about 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from the water and let cool overnight.
  6. Slice into rounds of desired thickness.
  7. To serve, fry the rounds in oil and butter until golden brown and crisp.

If you find yourself with bread that is more than a week old, bread that has gone completely dry and brittle, you'll be better off making broeselknoedl, or breadcrumb dumplings.  Use a food-processor to pulverize the stale bread into crumbs.  The procedure is then similar to making napkin dumplings, only breadcrumb dumplings are typically shaped into balls, not cylinders.

This dumpling also traditionally accompanies stews and braises.

Breadcrumb Dumplings

  • 1 lb bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  1. Combine the eggs and melted butter.  Stir in the breadcrumbs, flour, and salt.  Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes so that the dry ingredients can absorb the moisture.
  2. Shape into balls with a 2.5" diameter.  Poach in gently simmering water until cooked through, about 8 minutes, depending on the size of the dumplings.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Irish Cream

Cream, rich as an Irish brogue;
Coffee, strong as a friendly hand;
Sugar, sweet as the tongue of a rogue;
Whiskey, smooth as the wit of the land.

-a traditional toast accompanying Irish coffee

There are two drinks that we go through in unholy quantities this time of year.  The first without question is rum, as it is used in all kinds of preserves, baking, and cocktails.  The second is Irish cream, consumed on its own, or diluted with a bit of milk or coffee.

For years my standby has been Bailey's, but this year I decided to make my own.

Irish cream is comprised of cream, sugar, and Irish whiskey, usually but not always flavoured with coffee.  It is around 20% alcohol by volume, and has a rich, viscous mouthfeel.  It is basically an Irish coffee (whiskey, sugar, and cream stirred into a cup of coffee) with the ingredients in different proportions.

If you plan on consuming Irish cream in coffee, there's probably not much point in flavouring it with coffee.  I'm after a drink to be enjoyed on its own, so I've included strong coffee in my recipe.

I've come across some recipes online that use condensed milk to approximate the thickness of commercial brands.  The truth is that it's not the thickness of condensed milk that gives the final drink a rich mouthfeel, it's the sugar content.  Sugary liquids have a high specific gravity and give the impression of viscosity on the palate.  Granulated sugar and cream therefore work just as well as condensed milk.

The following recipe is a reasonable facsimile of commercial brands, though with a more distinct coffee flavour.  Obviously you can adjust the whiskey content to suit your taste.

Irish Cream
a working recipe

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 50 g granulated sugar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 70 mL strong, high quality coffee, chilled
  • 33 mL heavy cream
  • 140 mL Irish whiskey, preferreably Jameson's
  • 1.25 mL vanilla extract
  1. Whisk the sugar and salt into the egg yolks.
  2. Whisk in the remaining ingredients.  Let stand in the fridge overnight.

Yard of Flannel (a het pint...)

Yard of flannel is hot ale, laced with rum and spices, and thickened with egg.

Though there's a surprising number of beer and cocktail blogs that have tried out old recipes of yard of flannel, there's very little information on the history of this drink available online.

I've found no documented link between these two drinks, but yard of flannel is nearly identical in recipe and preparation to an old Scots cocktail called het pint (literally "hot pint").  The only difference is that the Scots version typically uses whiskey instead of rum.

Het pint was once an important part of Scottish celebrations, especially Hogmanay, the Scots New Year.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, public houses made het pint on New Year's eve, and villagers would buy a copper-kettle's-worth to take home for the festivities.

Kettles of het pint would also be carried through the streets by "first-footers."  The first person to enter a house on New Year's day was said to be a foretoken of the prosperity of the coming year.  The first-foot was ideally "a man, tall with dark hair... carrying gifts, including whisky, tea, coal, or salt, symbols of good health, good fortune, good luck, a warm home, and a full larder."[1]  In some traditions the first person to cross the threshold is a more or less random event.  In others young men would travel from house to house with gifts.  These first-footers often carred pots of het pint with them as they walked through the town, offering the drink to passers-by.

Het pint was consumed at many other celebrations, notably rural weddings on Orkney.[2]

Not only are recipes for het pint and yard of flannel consistenty nearly identical, they both use the same technique to develop a tall foamy head on the drink.  When agitated, the egg proteins develop a head that is much more stable than that of beer alone (think: meringue).  The head on het pint and yard of flannel is traditionally produced by pouring the drink back and forth between two mugs in a tall cascade.

Ale makes up the bulk of the drink, so the choice of ale to be used is the most important decision made by the cook.  Nowadays "ale" refers to a beverage that undergoes a warm fermentation with a top-fermenting strain of yeast, typically producing an aromatic, fruity, floral beer.  It's counterpart, "lager," goes through a colder, longer fermentation with a bottom-fermenting strain of yeast, resulting in a cleaner, crisper drink.

Until atleast the nineteenth century, in Great Britain the word "beer" referred exclusively to hopped beers (a Bavarian invention), while "ale" was reserved for the traditional, unhopped, British drink.  Therefore the "ale" called for in old het pint recipes refers to this ancient style of British beer.  Many contemporary beers made in the UK are reminiscent of these older styles, though they do contain some hops.  Here's a description of modern Scottish ale:

Scottish Ales traditionally go through a long boil in the kettle for a caramelization of the wort. This produces a deep copper to brown... brew and a higher level of unfermentable sugars which create a rich mouthfeel and malty flavors and aromas. Overall hop character is low, light floral or herbal, allowing its signature malt profile to be the highlight.[3]

This style of beer makes perfect sense for het pint, as the malt and caramel flavours compliment the rum or whisky.  The pronounced hops flavour of most contemporary beers would probably be out of place.

I've hear that the "yard" in yard of flannel refers to the yard-long glasses in which the drink was once served, and the "flannel" refers to the rich, soft mouthfeel developed by the heated eggs.  I can't find a reliable source for that information.

I don't imagine this drink will be everyone's cup of tea, as the modern man doesn't like the thought of drinking hot eggs, but I have to say it's a well-balanced cocktail with a fantastic mouthfeel.

Yard of Flannel (a het pint...)
adapted from Back to Basics

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/6 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • fresh grated nutmeg to taste
  • 341 mL your favourite English pale ale, Scottish ale, or possibly brown ale
  • 1/6 cup golden rum
  1. Whisk together egg, sugar, and salt.
  2. Gently heat ale and nutmeg in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Do not let the ale boil.
  3. Once the ale mixture is starting to steam, slowly pour it into the egg while whisking.  Adding the ale too quickly may curdle the egg, which would be bad.
  4. If you're a stickler for tradition, you can develop the head by pouring the mixture back and forth between two mugs.  As you can probably imagine, this quickly cools down the drink.  You can get just as good a head by whisking vigorously while the flannel is still in the bowl.

1. Duncan, Dorothy. Feasting and Fasting: Canada's Heritage Celebrations. ©2010 Dorothy Duncan. Dundurn Press, Toronto, ON. Page 313.
2.  McNeill, F. Marian.  The Scots Kitchen.  ©2010 The Estate of F. Marian McNeill.  Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Page 309.
3.  Beer Advocate.com

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Towards a Theory of Eggnog

For the last two years I've been using this method to make eggnog:
  • whisk egg yolks with some sugar until pale and foamy
  • whisk egg whites with some sugar until soft peaks form
  • fold the two egg foams together and stir into milk and cream
  • add rum and nutmeg
The problem with this method, first of all, is that if it sits for even five minutes, the eggy foams separate from the milk and cream. I wouldn't mind a bit of head on the nog, but the foams make up about 90% of the volume.  Even during the brief moments in which all the ingredients are properly incorporated, the light and airy texture of the nog doesn't seem appropriately robust and nourishing.

So I've done some experimenting with my nog method.  First I tried simply whisking all the ingredients together, by-passing the egg separation and foaming.  This version also separated, which absolutely baffles me, as whisked eggs don't separate if you leave them in the fridge.

Out of sheer curiosity I tried cooking out a mixture of milk, cream, and yolks, à la crème anglaise.  It was a bit thick, even once thinned with rum, but before repeating the process with a lower yolk content I decided that the cooked-egg taste is also inappropriate to the ideal nog.

For now I've settled on using just yolks.  Somehow this isn't as satisfying a concept as drinking whole eggs, but it's tasty.

Eggnog: A Working Recipe

  • 4 oz egg yolks
  • 8 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 16 fl oz whole milk
  • 4 fl oz heavy cream
  • 16 fl oz golden rum, I use Appleton's
  • nutmeg to taste
  1. Whisk sugar and salt into egg yolks.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients and whisk to combine.

The final important piece of information I came across this year was that properly boozed nog can be made well, well before consumption, and aged in the fridge.  Michael Ruhlman has successfully aged eggnog for two years, if you can believe it.

I put up a large jar of eggnog on the first of December, with the intention of cracking it open on the solstice or Christmas.  It lasted maybe fours days in the fridge.  A replacement batch is currently ripening on the bottom shelf.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wild Rice and Barley Pudding

A variation on a Christmas classic, using some local pantry items.

I had some cooked barley in my fridge, remnants of a barley-broth.  I decided to employ the rice pudding method to save the left-overs.  (Rice Pudding Method: a lengthy secondary cooking in sugar and milk.)  The barley sucks up a lot of the milk and releases some starch into the pot.

Once a porridge has formed, cooked wild rice and dried cherries are added, and the whole lot is thickened with butter, egg yolk, and a touch of cream.

Since the wild rice and cherries are added at the end, they stay firm for textural contrast.

Wild Rice Broth: A Weird Digression

Have you ever noticed that the water you just cooked wild rice in is aromatic and flavourful and has a fantastic colour and is relatively clear?

It is.

So much so that I've started saving my wild rice broth, usually to be subtly incorporated into the same dish as the rice.  I might, for instance, reheat the rice in a bit of its own broth.

But, if you reduce the strained broth and infuse it with a bit of garlic and celery...

...I think it's good enough to be consumed as a first course.

That's weird.  I'm sorry.

Let's get back to the pudding.

Wild Rice and Barley Pudding
  • 235 g cooked pearled barley
  • 300 g whole milk
  • 30 g dark brown sugar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 stick of cinnamon
  • 50 g cooked wild rice
  • 20 g dried sour cherries
  • 30 mL brandy
  • 1 egg yolk with absolutely all remnants of white removed
  • 20 g butter
  • 30 g heavy cream
  1. Soak the dried cherries in the brandy.
  2. Put barley in a heavy-bottomed pot and cover with milk, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Stir to combine.  Bring to the boil then simmer until most of the milk has boiled off or been absorbed, about 40 minutes.
  3. Strain the cherries from the brandy.  Reserve the brandy.  Add the cherries and wild rice to the barley.  Remove the cinnamon stick.
  4. Return to a simmer.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat.  Stir in the butter, then the egg yolk.  Adjust the consistency of the pudding with the heavy cream.  Serve immediately, accompanied by a taste of the cherry-brandy.
Makes 3-4 servings.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bread Pudding as God Intended It

When I say, "As God Intended," I mean using actual, stale, left-over bread heels.  Buying fresh bread just to tear it up and dry it out is like using striploin to make sausage. Or rolling a torchon of foie gras just to melt it into cooking fat.

Soaked in milk and cream, mixed with eggs, sugar, and rum-soaked raisins, pressed into a casserole and baked:

The classic accompanying rum sauce: two parts icing sugar, one part butter, gently cooked to remove the starchy taste of the sugar.  Finished with a bit of egg and a lot of rum.

Once the pudding has been drenched in the rum sauce, I like broiling the dish until there are a few burnt patches.  This is a trick I picked up at Jack's.  The charred bitterness sets off the sweetness nicely.

Mincemeat 2011

I might be in love with the idea of mincemeat more than the dish itself. It's an absolutely medieval combination of flavours: dried fruit, spices, liquour, and suet.

Last year I tried Alton Brown's recipe.  It was good, though not what I was expecting. His pie is fruity, tart, and sweet.  The texture was unique: the dried fruit partially reconstitutes during baking, making for an interesting chew.

This year I made some changes:
  • I added meat to my mince.  Most recipes, including Brown's, contain only suet, but I know that my grandmother's also had beef chuck.  I heavily browned the meat before adding it to the other ingredients to develop flavour texture.
  • I used lamb suet and shoulder, instead of beef.  I happen to have lots of lamb right now.
  • I processed the mixture for a finer, more consistent texture
  • I plan on adding bread crumbs to the mincemeat before I bake it in a pie shell.  Last year the liquor and fruit juices and rendered suet bubbled over the crust.  I think that the bread crumbs will help keep that moisture in the pie.
This mincemeat will age in my fridge until the winter solstice.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

2011's version, grafting my grandmother's recipe to Alton Brown's, and using lamb instead of beef

  • 2 tart apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
  • 8 oz sultana raisins
  • 4 oz dried sour cherries
  • 4 oz dark brown sugar
  • 2 ounces lamb suet, coarsely chopped
  • 6 oz ground lamb shoulder
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/4 cup spiced rum
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground clove
  • bread crumbs
  1. Heavily brown the ground lamb in a hot, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan.  The meat should be a deep amber on all surfaces.  Strain the meat to separate it from any rendered fat.  Chill thoroughly.
  2. Combine all ingredients except bread crumbs in a food processor.  Pulse until ingredients are well-combined and desired texture is achieved.  Pulsing 10 times will give a mincemeat with a coarse texture.  I prefer a finer, more homogeneous texture.
  3. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge atleast 1 week before using.  Keeps for 6 months.
  4. Before adding to pastry, fold in breadcrumbs.