Something like Sachertorte, and Thoughts on Moving from Austria to Appalachia

Between June and September, I packed up all my things (in June, one giant suitcaseful, and in September, one hatchback-sized-carful) and moved from Austria to Appalachia, with stops in Croatia and New Jersey in between. Austria, a place of skiiers and singing nuns, the sophisticated Viennese and Mozart…to Appalachia, which is seen as backwards by most of the U.S.

As I was riding my bike on one of the few sunny days we’ve had recently, I was struck by the similarities between Austria and Appalachia. A fellow history major once mentioned her fascination with Appalachian coal culture when we were discussing research interests, and said “Mountains breed such interesting things.” And it’s so true.

Austria has the Alps, and many smaller mountain ranges, which divide up the countryside into so many different dialects you almost don’t know what the person from the next village over is saying. Appalachia, too, has it’s own distinct dialect–a lilting or twangy speech that cannot be found anywhere else in the U.S.

And both have strong folk culture traditions. Those same little villages in Austria whose speech is discernible to the Viennese each have their own way of celebrating the holidays, based in pagan traditions and isolation from outsiders. In Appalachia, or at least in West Virginia, every town has at least one unique festival.

And speaking of festivals, lots of West Virginia towns celebrate ramp season big time. Now, I had never had ramps until this past spring in Austria, when everyone went crazy for Bärlauch (ramps). For the most part in both places, you don’t have many eating out options. In Austria it’s Austrian, Italian, or Turkish (if you’re in a city), and in rural West Virginia it’s “American” or plain ol’ fast food.

There’s the history, too. When I told some friends I was moving to West Virginia, one of them commented on how I always end up in places with complicated histories of ownership–Washington D.C. (north or south, Maryland or Virginia?), Berlin (communist or free?), Austria (also divided post-WWII), and now West Virginia (the Union or Confederate thing still thrives). Huh.

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Moving on to this month’s semi-appropriate Daring Bakers challenge: Sachertorte. Sachertorte is an Austrian cake invented by Franz Sacher, who later went on to open the Hotel Sacher. The cake itself is a dense, dark chocolate cake topped with apricot jam and chocolate glaze. Sound familiar? My favorite gelato flavor is Sachertorte.

Because the Sachertorte is so unique and such a specific dessert, we were asked to make no variations in the recipe. I may have slightly broken this rule. While I kept the ingredients and proportions exactly as those that were given, I scaled back the recipe to make Sachertorte cupcakes. Austrians, while a rather traditional bunch, aren’t against innovating their beloved sweets (see again, Sachertorte gelato).

I was, however, a bit disappointed with this bake. It didn’t scream SACHERTORTE to me. Also, the cupcake thing didn’t totally work out. More on that in a minute. The flavors were trending in the direction of Sachertorte–chocolate, with a bright, slightly sour flavor from the apricot jam. The chocolate glaze was more like a doughnut glaze, thin and sweet, rather than the rich, thick, dark chocolate frosting I was expecting. Overall, I found the cake a bit too sweet, which I have never found with an Austrian dessert. I suppose I could’ve used chocolate that wasn’t dark enough, as I used a combination of 72% and 56%. Next time, if there is one, I will be using all 72% for sure.

Now, the cupcake thing. I chose to make cupcakes because it would 1. make a finite number of servings and 2. be cuter. It probably would be really cute if you took a lot of time and were extremely neat. I have been wanting to learn more about cake decorating and plating to make my food look prettier, but at the moment I’m still bumbling along and learning as I go. Turns out you need a lot of glaze to pour over eight cupcakes, and I did not have enough, or enough chocolate to make more. Oops.

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Daring Bakers is about challenging yourself in the kitchen, maybe trying some things you wouldn’t have made otherwise. It’s always interesting to see the results, even if they don’t turn out quite how you wanted!

Sachertorte Cupcakes

makes 8 cupcakes

from epicurious

The October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Korena of Korena in the Kitchen. She took us to Austria and introduced us to the wonders of the Sachertorte.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 3 T butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 T + 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • pinch salt

For the apricot glaze

  • heaping 1/3 cup apricot preserves or jam
  • about 2/3 T water

For the chocolate glaze*

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Instructions

For the cake: Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease and flour a muffin tin–it should make 8.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over medium heat. Set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar until light and creamy. Add in egg yolks, one at a time, and continue beating. Beat in chocolate and vanilla, until the color of the mixture lightens and full incorporated.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to the soft peak stage. Begin by beating the egg whites, and once they begin to foam, gradually add the granulated sugar. The soft peak stage is reached when the egg whites hold their shape but the tips curl. Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture vigorously, then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites. Sift flour and salt together over the batter, and gently fold in.

Gently spoon into the tin, dividing it evenly. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then remove and invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Once cool, use a serrated knife to slice the cupcakes in half along the equator.

For the apricot glaze: Place the cooling rack with cakes still on it over a cookie sheet to catch any drips. Boil jam and water in a small saucepan. Let cook 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens slightly. Strain (for the smoothest effect). Brush over the top of the bottom half of each cupcake and let sit for a few minutes, then replace the top. Spread remaining glaze on the top of each cupcake. Let cool completely before covering with chocolate. *If you want to cover your cupcakes fully in glaze, you will need more than the amount suggested above.

For the chocolate glaze: Boil water and sugar until the mixture reaches 234ºF, about 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Use a candy thermometer, or familiarize yourself with how to test the stages of boiled sugar using a glass of cold water. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate. If it thickens, add a few drops of water and return to low heat until the mixture thins. It should be very runny. Pour over the cakes, using an offset spatula to smooth as needed. Let the glaze set before serving. Leftover glaze can be stored in the fridge and mixed with hot milk to make hot chocolate. *In the above instructions, I’ve included the original amount since I was seriously short on glaze. You can 1/3 this amount, as I did, if you don’t want to coat the cakes completely.

Traditionally, Sachertorte (and most Austrian cakes) are served with whipped cream, either unsweetened or only very lightly sweetened, and a small cup of strong coffee, at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Posted to Show & Share Wednesday!

Somun {Bosnian Flatbread}

Chewy flatbread, inspired by the Balkans and wanderlust.

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Back in June and July while traveling around Eastern Europe, I had the chance to try a lot of new foods. Some of the things I had were totally new (veal, yes, I had never eaten it before because baby cow), some were variations of things I was familiar with (like this bread).

There’s this children’s book called Everybody Bakes Bread, a companion to Everybody Cooks Rice. In the book, a girl is sent out to borrow something from a neighbor and ends up visiting many houses to find it. At each house she visits, bread is being baked. Her neighbors are a multi-ethnic bunch, so she learns about challah and chapatis and pita, among other things. While my explorations in June weren’t quite as varied as that, seeing as I was traveling through one region, I did get to sample many different types of bread.

somun02aYou know those people who post photographs to Facebook months after an event? Well, I have a friend like that. She was also in Croatia this summer–at a different time than I was–and she finally shared some of her photos. Looking at them made me want to return to Europe.

Since that wasn’t (and unfortunately still isn’t) an option, I did the next best thing: whipped up one of the many things I tried while traveling.

I mentioned somun in this post about Sarajevo’s old town. It’s a soft, chewy flatbread served with cevapi. Somun resembles pita bread, in some ways, but the crust and the interior have two different textures whereas with pita it’s all basically the same. Traditional somun is covered with little blisters from being baked in a brick oven at high heat, and has a hatched pattern. I tried to create this pattern on mine as you will see, Reader, in the instructions below, but they disappeared during baking.

While I had this bread in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is also a staple in Serbia, where it is known as lepinje.

Somun or Lepinje

makes 8

from about.com

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 T active dry yeast
  • 7 oz warm water (7/8 cup)
  • 7 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 T salt
  • 2 more cups warm water

Instructions

In bowl of your stand mixer*, mix together yeast, 7 oz warm water, sugar, and 1 T flour. Set aside to let the yeast activates and become very foamy, about 10 minutes. Add in flour, salt, and water and mix to incorporate. Using your dough hook knead briefly, about 5 minutes. You will have a very soft, sticky dough. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a draft-free place until doubled, about 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes.

After the first rise, punch down the dough and knead a few times in the bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled again, about another hour.

After the second rise, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into eight equal pieces. Cover and let rest 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Roll each ball of dough into a circle about 1/2 an inch thick. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Immediately before placing in the oven, brush each with water and use the back of a knife to draw a cross-hatched pattern on the somun.

Bake until the bread starts to turn golden brown, then reduce heat and bake for another 10-15 minutes.

*Note: This is a really sticky dough. I’m sure there is a way to do it without a stand mixer, but I don’t how to best go about it.

Posted to Sweet and Savoury Sunday and Show & Share Wednesday!

Flourless Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies {GF}

Chewy oatmeal cookies rich in peanut butter flavor and studded with chocolate chips.

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Chocolate and peanut butter. What a winning combination. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record but it’s just so true. Anyway, in almost a year and a half of blogging, I’ve only shared three chocolate-peanut butter recipes (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C). I believe that means I can share one more. Or, you know, possibly several more, but we’ll start with just one for now.

Some people don’t like oatmeal cookies. I don’t understand this. But then, I eat a lot of oatmeal–either hot oatmeal or granola or a granola bar every day. Or all three. I think some people (some of my relatives included) don’t like oatmeal cookies because they usually have raisins. What raisins ever did to them, I don’t know. But, relatives and those of you suspicious of the oatmeal cookie, here is an oatmeal cookie recipe with not a raisin in sight.

Instead, just creamy peanut butter and chocolate chips. Nothing to argue with there.

These cookies fall into the “chewy” cookie category, which I think I prefer. But because of the old-fashioned oats, they still have a bit of a bite to them. I made mine very rustic looking (on purpose, of course) but you could tidy yours up by actually rolling them into balls then gently pressing onto the cookie sheet. Or you can roll with the rustic look. They’ll taste fantastic, no matter how round they are–or aren’t.

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Flourless Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes 14-16 cookies

from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup old-fashioned oats*
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup peanut butter, room temperature
  • 6 T brown sugar
  • 1/2 chocolate chips (I used dark)

*Be sure to use gluten-free oats if you want these to be gluten-free.

Instructions

Toss oats, cinnamon, and baking soda together in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat egg.  Stir in peanut butter and brown sugar until combined. Pour in dry ingredients; mix to fully incorporate. Fold in chocolate chips.

Cover, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line 1-2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Scoop dough onto baking sheets in spoonfuls of about 1.5 T. They will not spread much during baking, but do not overcrowd the baking sheet.

Bake 9-10 minutes. The cookies will still look underbaked, but after a few minutes out of the oven, they will begin to look more “solid.” A longer baking time will give you a crispier cookie, which I suppose you could do. Cool about 10 minutes on the pan before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely…or to be eaten.

Posted to Happiness is Homemade and Sweet and Savoury Sunday!

Chocolate Babka

Enriched bread dough swirled with chocolate chunks makes a versatile bread perfect for breakfast, snack, or dessert!

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I love chocolate. You might have realized that already, judging from the number of recipes on this site that involve that wonderful food. I also love bread (who doesn’t?!), and it’s particularly great when it’s fresh from the oven. Earlier this year, I started honing my bread and yeast techniques, and now have shared quite a few different types of bread recipes, from basic loaves to bagels to enriched breads.

(Enriched doughs have butter, oil, eggs, or milk in addition to the basic flour/water/yeast mixture and as a result are usually softer and sweeter.)

So what happens when you marry chocolate and bread? You get babka, of course! I mean, there are probably other things that could be produced, but this Chocolate Babka is all pretty and swirly on the inside, in addition to consisting of two fantastic culinary staples.

See?

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The dough itself is a variation of a brioche. The chocolate–well, it’s chocolate, whatever type you please. Dark chocolate is my favorite. The assembly is done basically like cinnamon or sweet rolls, or Cinnamon-Raisin Bread. Except unlike  either of those, the snake of dough at the end gets twisted around itself like a rope for extra swirlies on the inside.

This bread is guaranteed to impress. I brought it to a family event and everyone said something like “Oh my god, is that bread with chocolate in it?”

Yes, yes it is.

P.S. A few days ago Deb from Smitten Kitchen, whose recipe I used, published an updated babka recipe, which I have yet to try…guess I’ll just have to do more baking!

Chocolate Babka

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

makes 3 loaves (or make a third recipe for 1 loaf, which I have done–I used one egg + one egg yolk for the dough, and the remaining egg white as the egg wash)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk
  • 1 1/2 T active dry yeast (2 1/4 oz. packets, if you use those)
  • heaping 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large whole eggs, room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour (I used a combination of white and white whole wheat)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cups butter, room temperature and cut into pieces
  • 2 pounds chocolate, finely chopped, or chocolate chips
  • 2 1/2 T ground cinnamon
  • 1 T whole milk

Instructions

Activate yeast in a large bowl or the bowl of your standing mixer by mixing milk and yeast with a pinch of sugar. Let sit about 5 minutes until bubbly.

In a separate bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, vanilla, 2 eggs, and the 2 yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add flour and salt, and beat until incorporated. Switch to a dough hook on your mixer (if using) and slowly add 1 cup butter. Beat for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and sticky, and all ingredients are fully incorporated. Turn dough onto a clean, floured surface and knead briefly. Place in a large, buttered bowl and cover. Let rise in a draft-free place for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

In a large bowl, mix together chopped chocolate, remaining butter, and cinnamon. This part is sort of like making biscuit dough–you may want to use a pastry blender or your hands. Butter three loaf pans and set aside. Beat remaining egg with milk and set aside.

After dough has rise, punch down and transfer to a floured surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Divide into three equal pieces. Take one piece of dough and roll it out to about a 16″ square that is about 1/8″ thick. Brush edges with the egg wash, and sprinkle 1/3 of the chocolate mixture onto the dough, leaving a 1/4″ border. Roll up the dough into a long snake, then twist over on itself a few times to resemble rope. Place into one of the prepared loaf pans, and repeat with remaining sections of dough. Reserve some of the egg wash for brushing on top of the loaves.

Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes and preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Brush the loaves with the remaining egg wash and bake until golden brown and hollow sounding, about 60-70 minutes. (The original calls for 55 minutes at 350 and then 15 at 325, but I did not do this, I simply covered my loaf with aluminum foil for the last few minutes of baking).

Can be frozen for up to one month.

 Posted to Super SaturdaySweet & Savoury Sunday and Show and Share Wednesday!

Whole Wheat Walnut-Rosemary Fougasse

A hearty whole wheat and walnut loaf in a festive shape to welcome fall.

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Reader, due to unforeseen circumstances I missed another Saturday post.  I should probably stop saying that I’m fully back in the blogosphere since things keep coming up that prevent me from being so.  I’m pretending this is being posted on Saturday, so just use your imagination to that extent.  Just don’t imagine so much that you miss work tomorrow.

This bread was on my list of things to bake for many months before I finally got around to doing it.  I actually made it several weeks ago, but it seems like the perfect bread to post at the beginning of fall.  It’s hearty, nutty, and would be perfect with any soup…particularly butternut squash or pumpkin soup, which I have yet to make this season but am craving.  Not to mention it’s shaped sort of like a leaf!

(OK, Wikipedia has just informed me it is supposed to be shaped like an ear of wheat.  I made my loaves leaf-shaped because I thought that’s what they were supposed to be.  And I think they look rather fetching as such.)

Well, whether you want your loaves turn out like ears of wheat or leaves or whatever else, give this bread a try next time you need a showstopping loaf of bread!

Whole Wheat Walnut-Rosemary Fougasse

makes 2 loaves

adapted from the New York Times

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 T walnut oil or olive oil
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose or bread flour + more for kneading
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large spring fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped

Instructions

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve yeast and sugar in water.  Let sit for about five minutes until bubbly.  Then add the oil, whole wheat flour, salt, and about 1 3/4 cups of the AP or bread flour.  Begin mixing, either by hand or with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer.  Once incorporated, switch to the dough hook if using a mixer, and continue to work for 8 to 10 minutes, adding the remaining 1/4 cup AP flour as needed.  Total kneading time if working by hand should be about 10 minutes.  The dough should be elastic.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl that has been lightly oiled (I suggest olive oil for this).  Cover and set in a draft-free place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

After the first rise is complete, punch down the dough and place it on a clean, lightly floured surface.  A handful at a time, knead in the walnuts and rosemary.  It may seem like they don’t want to become incorporated, but they will!  Reshaped, return to the bowl, and cover for 15 minutes.

After the dough has rested, divide it into two even pieces.  Flatten or roll dough into desired shape–something like an oval or rectangle–in the range of 7×9″.  If you have trouble with the dough, let it sit for 5 minutes and then return to it and continue shaping.  Once shaped, slash the dough to resemble the veins of a leaf using a very sharp paring knife, leaving a 2-inch border around the dough.  Gently pull the dough apart at the slashes.  Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.  Now is a good time to start preheating your oven to 425ºF.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and hollow sounding.

Posted to Sweet & Savoury Sunday and Happiness is Homemade!

Dark Chocolate Frosting

Rich, dark, but still sweet — this Dark Chocolate Frosting is a fantastic topping for any cake!

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Reader, I finally got Internet in my apartment!  Woohoo!  Because I had Internet at work and also have a new, shiny smartphone (my first!) I almost felt like Internet at home was unnecessary, but now that I have it life is so much easier.  I can do things like read and write blog posts again.  Especially since my last multi-day training for work ended yesterday.  Which means I should be able to be a lot more active in the blogosphere than I have been for the last few weeks.

Training has been mixed, which I suppose is usually the case with most workplace trainings.  I have never taken so many personality tests in my life (who knew that in order to manage people you needed to take personality tests?!), but I also got to do a few fun things, like clean and repair gravestones and bond with my fellow AmeriCorps members.  Training has been pretty draining, and I’ve only done a little baking in the past few weeks.  Now things are more settled, I hope to be able to do more in the kitchen.  Plus, I get paid on Tuesday, which means I won’t feel like I’m needlessly spending money if I splurge on a few special ingredients at the grocery store.

Today I’m sharing a recipe that might be a splurge if you’re on a diet but shouldn’t be a splurge for your wallet.  This Dark Chocolate Frosting, which is another Martha Stewart recipe, is decadent but only requires ingredients you probably have in your pantry.  I paired it with her Yellow Buttermilk Cake to make a delicious three-layer birthday cake last month.  Some thought that the frosting was too rich for the cake, but I thought it was a great pairing.

This frosting is seriously chocolatey.  It’s got melted semi-sweet chocolate chips (a whole pound!) as well as a cocoa paste made from cocoa powder and boiling water.  And, of course, it’s got the typical frosting ingredients of butter and powdered sugar.  The result is super smooth and shiny, rich and dark, sweet…a winner for when you want to change it up from a basic buttercream!

Dark Chocolate Frosting

From Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Makes about 5 cups, or enough to frost the layers and top of a triple layer 9” round cake but not the sides

Ingredients

  • 1 pound semi-sweet chocolate (I used chocolate chips)
  • ¼ cup + 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder (Martha recommends Dutch-process)
  • ¼ cup + 2 T boiling water
  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup sifted confectioner’s sugar*
  • Pinch of salt, to taste

*may need a little more than this

Instructions

In a double boiler, melt chocolate until smooth. You can take it off the heat when there are still a few lumps left—these will disappear when stirred.  Be careful not to let any water come into contact with the chocolate or it will seize.  Let rest until cool before using, about 30 minutes.

When chocolate is cool enough to use, mix together cocoa powder and boiling water until cocoa is dissolved, and set aside.  Beat butter, salt, and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add melted chocolate, beating until combined.  Add in cocoa mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed.  If the consistency is too thin, chill until set just enough to hold on a cake (1-2 hours, depending on initial thickness and consistency).

Posted to Sweet & Savoury Sunday!