Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts (folgt noch)

"Would you like to see my new book?" was the message from Heike Kevenhörster, a friend and former colleague from Public Address Press Agency in Hamburg (where I counseled students for many years, as online-"Dear Abby").

"Craft Cocktails by Val"
Two weeks later I found my copy of "Craft Cocktails by Val: Drinks Inspired by Hillary Rodham Clinton", Heike's self-published book, in the mail.

Bartender "Val", the alter ego of Hillary Clinton, played by herself in an episode of "Saturday Night Life", doles out drinks and sympathy to a full-campaign-mode, hyper (and slightly tipsy) "Hillary Clinton" (played by Kate McKinnon).

This hilarious skit, and the catchphrases thrown at us during last year's presidential election campaign, were the inspirations for the cocktails Heike presents in her book.

Hillary fans will appreciate the "Glass Ceiling" (with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur and lemon balm), "Woman Card" (with raspberry liqueur and cream) or "Shoulder Shimmy" (with gin and cranberry juice)

But her opponents can have their cocktails too: "The Swamp" (with gin and caperberries) and "Bye, bye, Bernie" (with vodka and Blue Curaçao).

Heike, who studied British literature, journalism and history, loves cooking for family and friends, but, also, worked for several years as weekend-chef at Karo Ecke, in one of Hamburg's trendy quarters. One of her hobbies: creating new cocktails.

Heike Kevenhörster (photo: Public Address)
Like many Europeans, she didn't miss a beat of the innuendos of our (seemingly never-ending) election campaign.

Heike dedicated her book "to the 65.844.610 people who voted for the first woman to win the popular vote for President of the United States of America".

Whimsical photo collages, created by American artist Sarah Sole in real time during Clinton's campaign, capture the spirit of each of the 47 cocktails, and make the book a fun read.

Normally, this blog is devoted to my love for baking, especially breads. But "Craft Cocktails by Val" tempted me not only to spend (an outrageous amount of) money on fancy liqueurs, but, also, post about one of Heike's crafty cocktails.

Though I mostly drink beer - the best of all husbands gets migraines from wine, but can split a Dos XX or Guinness with me - I do like a cocktail, when we are in a restaurant. The liquor bottles in our pantry are almost solely used for cooking or baking, and last for a long time.

(This was not always the case: when I was still living in Germany, the growing pile of oversized juvenile sneakers in my mudroom was mysteriously connected to a shrinking level of cooking liquors in my kitchen!)

For Heike's delicious take on a "Long Island Ice Tea", I only needed to buy a bottle of gin, everything else I already had in my pantry. And we drink Earl Grey tea every day.

Grey Gardens

GREY GARDENS (adapted from "Craft Cocktails by Val" by Heike Kevenhörster & Sarah Sole)
(2 servings)

2/3 oz (2 cl) vodka
2/3 oz (2 cl) gin
2/3 oz (2 cl) white rum
2/3 oz (2 cl) tequila blanco
2/3 oz (2 cl) Cointreau (I used triple sec)
1 tsp Earl Grey tea leaves
1 oz (3 cl) fresh lime juice
2/3 oz (2 cl) simple syrup*)
2 oz (6 cl) Coca Cola (or to taste)
ice cubes
2 lime slices, for garnish

*) In small sauce pan, bring to a boil 1/2 cup water with 1/2 cup sugar, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Let cool. The syrup can be stored in a jar with lid for at least 2 weeks in the fridge.

Vodka, gin, white rum and tequila are infused with Earl Grey tea leaves

In a small teapot (or bowl), combine vodka, gin, rum, and tequila. Add Earl Grey leaves to a tea filter or small strainer (I used the filter of my regular teapot), and let them steep in the liquid for 4 minutes.

Tea-infused alcohol mixture

Remove the filter or strainer, and pour the infused alcohol in a shaker. Add Cointreau, lime juice, and simple syrup, and shake on ice. (Or, like I did, simply refrigerate the teapot with the mixture until using).

Fill two Collins glasses (high, straight glasses) with ice cubes, add the tea-infused alcohol and top with coke (to taste, depending on how sweet you like your drink.)

Serve, garnished with a slice of lime.


Friday, October 27, 2017


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

Whenever I'm visiting my hometown Hamburg, I check out new bakeries. Two years ago I noticed people lining up in front of Bäckerei Jochen Gaues, in Eppendorf quarter, where my Mom lives around the corner.

Taking this as a good omen, I joined the waiting line. The shelves full of loaves and rolls looked promising, all with fairly dark crusts - boldly baked, as Ken Forkish ("Flour, Water, Salt and Yeast') would call it. A paradise for crust lovers!

Like Forkish, Jochen Gaues is a purist baker, his breads are made with flour, water, salt and yeast. No dough enhancers, no preservatives, no artificial flavoring. Only sourdough and passion for his craft. And he shared his recipes in a beautiful baking book, too.

His sunflower seed rolls are hearty, crusty and delicious. (I tweaked the recipe a bit, of course, as I always do). The crumb is rather light and more airy than chewy. You can enjoy them with cold cuts, German meat salad, honey or jam. 

The rolls have a thin, crisp crust and a somewhat airy crumb

SUNFLOWER SEED SQUARES  (adapted from Jochen Gaues' "Brot")
(8 square rolls)

  10 g/0.3 oz recently refreshed rye mother starter (100%)
  10 g/0.4 oz water, lukewarm
  10 g/0.4 oz rye flour

  25 g/0.9 oz cracked rye
  25 g/0.9 oz flaxseed
  50 g/1.8 oz water 

Final dough
  30 g/1.1 oz starter (all)
367 g/12.9 oz water (95°F/35ºC)
    3 g/0.1 oz instant yeast
475 g/15.8 oz bread flour
  50 g/1.8 oz old sourdough bread, ground and toasted
  25 g/0.9 oz medium rye flour
  25 g/0.9 oz sunflower seeds, toasted
  14 g/0.5 oz sugar
  14 g/0.5 oz salt

egg white, mixed with a little bit of water, for brushing
sunflower seeds, for topping

Seed soaker and rye starter

In the morning, mix starter ingredients in small bowl. Leave, covered, at room temperature for 4 - 6 hours, or until it passes the float test (a teaspoonful should float in water).

In second small bowl, stir together soaker ingredients. (This extra step is not absolutely necessary, but hard ingredients like rye chops and flax seeds benefit from longer soaking.)

In the afternoon, mix final dough at low speed until all flour is hydrated, 1 - 2 minutes. Let dough rest 5 minutes, then knead at medium-low speed for 6 minutes. Dough will be soft and sticky, but pull back from sides of bowl. 

Dough will be sticky, but pull back from sides of bowl

Transfer dough to lightly oiled work surface. With oiled hands, pat and pull it into a rough square. Fold dough from top and bottom in thirds, like a business letter, then the same way from both sides.

Pat and pull dough into a square...
...then fold in thirds, top down, and bottom up... a business letter.
Repeat folding from both sides...
... until you have a neat package

Cover dough package with the empty mixing bowl (if necessary, re-oil works bench). Let it rest for 10 minutes.

Repeat stretching and folding the dough 3 more times, at 10 minute intervals. It will gain strength and starting to resist. Place dough in oiled container, cover, and refrigerate overnight (a square container helps with shaping later).

...and after fermentation: it has doubled in volume

Remove dough from fridge 2 hours before using. It should have doubled in volume.

Preheat oven to 475ºF/240ºC (no steam).

Place dough on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle with a little flour (it will still be a bit sticky), and gently pull and pat it into a rectangle, then cut into 8 square pieces. Place squares on parchment lined (or perforated) baking sheet.

The rolls are cut, not shaped

Brush rolls with egg white, then sprinkle each with sunflower seeds, gently pressing them down to stick. Cover, and proof for about 25 - 30 minutes, or until a finger-poked dimple remains visible. (Since the dough is cut, not shaped, it is puffy and doesn't need to rise much more - basically only until the oven is hot).

Ready for the oven

Bake rolls for about 20 minutes (rotating them halfway through), or until they are a dark golden brown, and register at least 200ºF/93ºC on an instant read thermometer.

Freshly baked Sunflower Seed Squares

BreadStorm users (also of the free version) can download the formula here.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

Before my friend "The Rye Baker" Stanley Ginsberg went on his mission promoting European rye breads to American bakers, he had published another remarkable baking book: "Inside the Jewish Bakery - Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking".

I was among his test bakers. One of my test recipes was the Polish Potato Bread - Poylner Kartoffelbroyt - with its unusually high potato content an interesting recipe, but, as I soon realized, somewhat challenging in its preparation.

My first Post-It notes about the recipe

I had problems gauging the necessary water amount, first the dough seemed too dry, then turned sticky from the potatoes.

Not only that: Stanley had warned of dire consequences if you tried taming the gooey dough with more flour - it would turn into a brick!

Somewhat intimidated, I jotted down on my note pad: "No shaping possible".

In the end, somehow, I managed to get the sticky glob into the pan. Or I wouldn't have (later) rejoiced in its "excellent taste!"

At that time I had no whatsoever experience with stickier doughs. Meanwhile, I know better how to deal with the tricky potato bread - the extra flour needs to go on the work surface, under the dough, not into it! 

 Potato Bread tastes especially good when toasted

The excellent taste encouraged me to bake the Potato Bread again and again, while tweaking the recipe a little bit, especially withholding some of the water to (slowly) add it during the mixing later.

Allowing the dough to rest in the fridge overnight, I could reduce the amount of yeast a bit.

This favorite loaf really deserves to be presented at Zorra's World Bread Day 2017,

Golden brown and wonderfully moist

POLISH POTATO BREAD (adapted from Stanley Ginsberg's: "Inside the Jewish Bakery")

227 g/8 oz Russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled or unpeeled *), cut in chunks
170 g/12 oz potato cooking water
4 g/1 tsp instant yeast
250 g/8.8 oz first clear or high-gluten flour
34 g/1.2 oz whole wheat flour
9 g/0.3 oz salt
vegetable oil, for brushing

*) I like using local red potatoes with thin skins and don't peel those

Drain cooked potatoes and reserve 170 g of the cooking water

Cook potatoes in about 2 cups of unsalted water until soft, then drain, reserving 170 g/6 oz of the cooking water. Mash potatoes, and let both cool to room temperature.

Our local red potatoes don't need to be peeled

Mix mashed potatoes, flours, yeast, and 150 g/5 oz of the reserved cooking water at low speed, until all flour is hydrated, 1-2 minutes. (Dough might seem a bit dry at first, but potatoes will add more moisture).

In the beginning the dough seems relatively dry...

.... but soon becomes sticky from the potatoes

Add salt, and knead at medium-low speed for 10-12 minutes, very slowly adding remaining 20 g/2 oz water. Dough will soon become (and remain) sticky, but in the end pull back from sides of bowl. Don't add more flour, if you don't want to end up with a brick!)

Ready for its slumber in the fridge

Place dough in oiled container, cover, and place overnight in the fridge. (Using a square container helps with shaping the bread later.)

Overnight the dough has doubled in volume

Remove dough from refrigerator 2 hours before using. It should have doubled in volume, but will still be sticky. Grease a 9 x 5-inch/23 x 13 cm loaf pan.

The dough will still be sticky - flour your hands and bench knife!

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. With floured hands (or bench knife), pat and push it into a rough rectangle. Lift one shorter end up and fold it over a little bit, pressing gently down to seal. Continue rolling up dough in the same way into a log.

Place loaf, seam-side down, in the prepared pan

Re-flour your hands, (or bench knife), and - this is the tricky part - lift the loaf cylinder up and place it, seam-side down, into prepared pan.

Brush top of loaf with oil, cover pan, and proof until top of dough has reached rim of pan, and a dimple, pressed with your finger, will not fill up at once (about 45 - 60 minutes).

Preheat oven to 375ºF/190ºC (no steam).  

Ready to be baked

Score loaf lengthwise (snipping with scissors works better for sticky a dough than a lamé.)

Bake bread for 20 minutes (no steaming), rotate pan 180 degrees for even browning, and continue to bake for about 20 minutes more, or until loaf is golden brown (internal temperature should be at least 195ºF/90ºC.)

Freshly baked Polish Potato Bread

If you like your crust to stay crispier, leave bread in switched-off oven, with door slightly ajar, for an additional 10 minutes to dry. Then turn loaf out onto rack and let it cool completely.

STORAGE: The bread keeps for at least 3 days, wrapped, at room temperature. It, also, freezes well. If you slice it before freezing it, you can take out single slices for toasting.

Baked with German flour type 1050, the crumb looks a little darker

BreadStorm users (also of the free version) can download the formula here:

Sunday, August 20, 2017


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

This month Mini Oven challenged fellow Fresh Loafers to create a special bread to commemorate the upcoming total eclipse of the sun. Spurred by astronomic ambitions I began to ponder how to go about this.

Just a new bread? Where was the connection to the total eclipse?

A two-toned dough? Once I baked a marbled rye bread and found its taste rather underwhelming.

Squid ink as a black dye? Not my cup of tea!

So it had to be a two-toned decoration. Black and white sesame seeds are in my pantry. Only a suitable recipe was missing. It couldn't be a loaf whose oven-spring would tear and destroy any decorative topping.

The answer was a flat bread that would spread more than rise.

I found a good starting point in Austrian baker Dietmar Kappl's Fladenbrot, tweaking it to suit my needs: with a long, cold bulk fermentation and the introduction of a little whole grain flour (I tried it with rye and emmer - both tasted great).

To emulate the eclipse I needed a ring-shaped utensil to press the outline of the moon into the dough. A large yogurt tub had just the right diameter (11.5 cm/4.5 inches).

We were so happy with my crusty, nutty flat bread that I baked it again, two days later, for my customers at A&B Naturals.

Baked again for my customers: Solar Eclipse Bread

SOLAR ECLIPSE BREAD  (adapted from Dietmar Kappl/
(3 small breads, à 300 g)

25 g bread flour
25 g emmer flour (or other whole grain flour of your choice)
50 g water (lukewarm)
10 g recently refreshed and active starter (100% hydration)

Final Dough
110 g starter (all)
400 g bread flour
50 g emmer flour (or other whole grain flour)
325 g water, lukewarm
15 g olive oil
10 g salt
1.5 g instant yeast (or 3 g active dry yeast)

black and white sesame seeds (or use poppy seeds instead of black sesame)

Specal tool: glass or plastic container with approx. 11-12-cm/4.5-inch diameter, like a large, empty yogurt tub (to imprint the outline of the moon).

In the morning: mix all starter ingredients. Cover, and leave for 4-6 hours at room temperature, or until a few tiny bubbles appear on the surface, and a teaspoon of dough floats in water (float test).

The Ankarsrum makes short work of kneading the dough

For the final dough, mix all ingredients about 1 minute at low speed until all flour is hydrated. Knead 1 minute at medium speed, let rest for 10 minutes (autolyse), then resume kneading for about 3-4 minutes, until dough pulls somewhat back from sides of bowl (or, for the Ankarsrum, from roller) (dough will be sticky).

Using wet bowl scraper, fold dough all around from sides to the center

Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Using wet (or oiled) bowl scraper, fold dough all around from sides of bowl to the center (about 8x).

Let dough rest for 10 minutes, then repeat the folding process 2-3 times at 10-minute intervals, until dough has developed enough strength and shows resistance to folding. It will still be a little sticky.

Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight (no need to de-chill).

After 2 sets of folds the dough looks quite smooth already

Preheat oven to 475ºF/250ºC, (including steaming device). Adjust rack to middle position.

Place cold dough (it will still be sticky) on lightly floured work surface. Dust top with a little flour, and divide into 3 equal sized pieces (about 304 g). Shape into rounds.

Divide dough in 3 equal pieces and shape into rounds

Place breads, seam-side down, on parchment lined baking sheet. Mist with oil (or mist plastic foil cover with oil) and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 45 minutes, or until they are a bit puffed and a dimple, poked with your finger into the dough, remains visible. 

The moon outline must be deeply imprinted into the dough

Lightly oil the rim of the glass or plastic tub. Press down deep (almost to the bottom) into the dough (breads will spread and flatten.)

I tried to create different "stages of the solar eclipse"

Mist breads with water. Using a teaspoon, carefully sprinkle with black sesame (moon shadow) and white sesame (sun.)

Bake breads, with steam,  for 10 minutes. Remove steam pan, and reduce temperature to 450ºF/230ºC. Bake for another 10 - 13 minutes, or until breads are golden brown and register at least 200ºF/93ºC.

Let breads cool on a wire rack. (When cooled, they can be frozen, wrapped individually in foil, and placed in a freezer bag. Let come to room temperature, mist with water and re-crisp in the oven at 375ºF/190ºC).

Baked solar eclipse!

BreadStorm users (also of the free version) can download the formula here:

And this is the perfect music for a Total Eclipse:

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

When I started reading American cookbooks and food magazines, I noticed that their recipes almost always call for large eggs, whereas the typical egg in German recipes is medium-sized (Kl. M).

Though (supposedly) everything is bigger in the US, I was wondering about this. Why should American cooks and bakers in general use larger eggs than their European counterparts?

My experiences with the differences between European and American flour types and dairy products taught me that I should better not automatically assume that a "large egg" in Maine is the same as "ein grosses Ei" in Hamburg.

Contrary to what some people believe, size doesn't always matter - at least not for eggs - it's all about the weight!

The typical American recipe egg is "large" - but only medium-sized!

        EU-STANDARD                                                     US-STANDARD  

Class      Weight per Egg                                   Class       Minimum Weight per Egg
XL              73 g or more                                     Jumbo                   70.9 g (30 oz)
L                 63 g - 73 g                                        Extra Large           63.8 g (27 oz)
M                53 g - 63 g                                        Large                    56.7 g (24 oz)
S                 53 g or less                                       Medium                49.6 g (21 oz)
                                                                             Small                    42.5 g (18 oz)

Okay, then a US standard "large" egg equals an European "medium" egg. Right? Well, it's a bit more complicated.

When I want to know the weight of cups and tablespoons of baking ingredients, I check my friend The Rye Baker Stanley Ginsberg's NY Bakers' Ingredient-Weight Table (based on the USDA Nutritional Values Database.) And there I find a regular "large" egg listed with a weight of only 50 grams/21 ounces. That's almost 7 grams/0.25 ounces less!

The New York Times and other newspapers, as well as foodie magazines, like Cook's Illustrated or Bon Appétit, all base their recipes on this average Joe 21-ounce egg.

Whether your breakfast egg is standard size or not - who cares!

But should you really care whether your breakfast eggs meet the standard minimum weight? Probably not.

These little differences matter if you bake egg-rich pastry (where the difference compounds), or need to work with halves, or fractions of whole eggs.

To adapt large cakes to smaller versions - which I often do, since we are only two people - I use the practical Pan-Conversion-Tool von Keiko's Cake. For this calculation I need to know the weight of each ingredient.

With miniature cakes, like the glorious Bohemian Hazelnut Torte or traditional Dresden Rhubarb-Eierschecke-Torte, a difference in the egg content does have an impact on the results.

Miniature Bohemian Hazelnut Torte

Before I knew better, I would have simply taken either the yolk or white to get to 1/2 egg. But too much egg yolk makes a batter tough and dry.

And, after once being served a low-cholesterol scrambled egg, made of egg whites only, I knew why you should better not divide an egg like that: the white scrambled egg was bland and tasteless!

How do you divide an egg? Very easy: you crack it into a cup, stir well with a fork, and then weigh the desired amount.

Dan Lepard's Ale Crust Potato Pasties with a golden, egg washed crust

The egg leftovers you can work into your next scrambled eggs, or use as glaze for other pastries, for example Dan Lepard's tasty Ale Crust Potato Pasties.