Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Kougelhopf

First published Canberra Times Wednesday 27 April 2011

I am standing in one of the three boulangeries in Chatenois, enticed by its sumptuous treasures, so vibrantly and artfully arrayed in the window. What’s not to like about crispy pralines coated in a layer of chocolate so thin it cracks when you bite into it, or salted chocolate caramels or glistening strawberry tartlets? These are the dilemmas faced on a daily basis.

With a population of just over 2000 in Chatenois, these boulangeries have a constant stream of locals filing through, invariably departing with at least a freshly baked baguette or two tucked under their arm. The boulangeries in France are like pubs in Australia, an essential part of the village DNA and infrastructure.
It’s tough going, with a boulangerie on almost every corner, testing my resistance at every turn. However, once through the threshold, I’m gone, succumbing to the mouth-watering chocolate box treats and the smell of the freshly baked breads in all shapes and sizes. Then there’s the Kougelhopf, an Alsatian yeast cake. They are often placed in pride of place on the counter wafting their subtle scent to tempt the unsuspecting customer.
Unlike the locals, who seem immune to the charms of a fresh raspberry tart or a flaky mille-feuille, when I’m asked what I would like to buy, I panic, and just point my finger at anything and say “ça”, which is how end up leaving the boulangerie rather unexpectedly clutching a Kougelhopf.

The Kougelhopf is cooked in a high sided, crown-shaped mould and can be found in various forms across Europe. It is believed to be of Austrian origin although there are a number of conflicting stories around. Some say it was brought to France by Marie Antoinette when she married Louis, others say it was Careme, the legendary patissier, who popularised the cake in Paris and others believe that Napoleon even had his finger in the hopf. Roughly translated, the name means “jumping ball”, because it rises so much as it cooks.
While snooping around some antique and collectibles shops in Alsace, I have come across a number of old ceramic Kougelhopf moulds in various sizes. I am told that the older the mould, the better the cake turns out. I choose one that still smells of butter and flour and its aged and blackened patina perfectly illustrates its provenance. While the mould I have chosen is very old, the tourist shops here are full of modern reproductions. I have since found that there a number of modern metal Kougelhopf moulds available in stores in Australia, but this cake can also be cooked in any ring or bundt pan.
It is usually served for Sunday breakfast with butter and jam, but is also eaten as a morning or afternoon tea-cake served with sweet Alsatian white wine. It is generally prepared the day before as the flavours intensify when the cake is a day or so old. It can be sliced, similar to a brioche or panettone, and toasted and served with sweet toppings and cream or mascarpone. I like mine served warm as a dessert with poached and alcohol laced fruit and cream.
As with all yeast cakes, the Kougelhopf is a bit fussy to make, but worth persevering as you will be rewarded with something quite spectacular and unique. Because the dough is quite wet and sticky, I would recommend using the dough hook on an electric mixer, otherwise you will need plenty of elbow grease to do it by hand. There is something ultimately satisfying about getting down and messy to make your own bread or cakes, and the smells wafting from the oven when the Kougelhopf is baking are sensational.
I could not find a warm enough place in the kitchen that would allow the dough to rise, so I placed the bowl of dough in a very low oven covered with a tea towel. I covered the top of the cake with baking paper to reduce burning. Don’t be tempted to trim the bottom of the cake when it’s cooked, as the raggy edge adds to the rustic nature of the Kougelhopf.
There are many variations of Kougelhopf recipes around but this one is by Chef Emile Jung, formerly of Au Crocodile restaurant in Strasbourg, France.
Quantity filled a 22cm mould when measured across the top.
300g plain flour
50g sugar
2 sachets of dried yeast
120ml lukewarm milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbsp dark rum or kirsch
120g unsalted butter, softened and cubed
extra butter for greasing the mould
large pinch of salt
35g flaked almonds, and extra for the mould
45g raisins, soaked in hot water
icing sugar for dusting

Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, combine the yeast with a small amount of milk to make a smooth paste, then add the remainder of the milk. Form a well in the flour and pour in the milk mixture, eggs and rum. Mix to combine with a wooden spoon.
Mix the dough vigorously for 10 minutes, this can be done with an electric mixer using a dough hook. Add in the softened, cubed butter and continue mixing for another 8 minutes. The dough will be very sticky and elastic. Add the almonds and drained raisins, mixing again to combine.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let the dough rise for 30 minutes in a warm spot or a very low oven. After the first rise, punch the dough down and knead it again briefly.
Butter the pan generously, right up and over the top sides. Place the extra almonds in the bottom of the mould. Spoon the dough into the mould and return it to the warm spot. Let the dough rise again to fill the mould, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C, and place a cup of water in a heatproof bowl in the base of the oven. Place the Kougelhopf in the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until crusty and brown or when tested with a skewer that comes out clean. Place a sheet of baking paper over the cake if the top is browning too quickly. I adjusted my oven back to 170C after 20 minutes.
Let the mould cool until just warm on a rack before gently turning out. Kougelhopf keeps for a few days, tightly wrapped in a clean tea towel. Slices can be toasted or you can freeze part or all of the loaf.
Photos by Steve Shanahan

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Easter in Alsace

First published Canberra Times 20 April 2011
With blossom trees and bulbs exploding into flower, heralding the arrival of spring and Easter festivities, the traditional Easter imagery is unleashed in France. The shop windows of the boulangeries and patisseries across Alsace are groaning under the weight of gaudy bunting, providing a backdrop for the traditional images of the chicken, lamb and rabbit, the timeless symbolism of renewal and rebirth.

Across France, the church bells fall silent between the Thursday before Easter and Easter Sunday. The kids are told that that the bells have flown to Rome to see the Pope and gather sweets, returning on Sunday morning to drop chocolate chickens, bunnies, and eggs from the sky.

In Alsace, the traditional French Easter celebrations are treated slightly differently to the rest of France, with many of the traditions revolving around the rabbit, that fertile breeder and friend of the moon that reappears at Easter in various forms. Like their Australian counterparts, the kids believe it’s the rabbit that hides chocolate eggs around the garden.

Lamb also figures prominently in the seasonal imagery, particularly where food is concerned. Oschterlämmele, are lamb-shaped brioches sprinkled with sugar, baked in terra cotta moulds and elegantly attired with a ribbon around their necks to grace boulangerie display windows. Even the traditional Kougelhopf, an Alsation yeast cake baked in a ceramic fluted mould, departs from its usual shape and reinvents itself as a lamb.

On Easter Sunday, the kids in France wake up in the morning, to find eggs scattered in their bedrooms. They then go to their garden, to retrieve beautifully decorated Easter eggs, hidden in little nests and have egg rolling competitions.

With spring finally here after a particularly cold and long winter, the village gardens are transformed from bare earth to ploughed, fertile fields and garden beds are ready for spring planting. House shutters and windows are thrown open, airing doonas, pillows and rugs ready to catch the first rays of spring sunshine. It’s as if a switch is silently turned on.

Restaurants are busily replacing their winter menus with the lighter spring ones, which is a huge relief to us. We can already see the asparagus, crayfish and lamb dishes appearing accompanied by young spring vegetables. Fromage Blanc is used with lemons to create fresh and light ice creams and desserts more suited to the warmer conditions.
Marzipan shapes
Lamb makes an appearance at Easter, as the traditional Navarin of Lamb, which uses the new season lambs and spring vegetables as its main ingredients. However in Alsace, again the tradition deviates slightly where Bäeckeoffe, a dish comprised of a leg of lamb or shoulder is cooked in a traditional clay pot with layerings of thick potato slices, sliced onion and pieces of meat, layered until all ingredients are used.

Bäeckeoffe is prepared using the celebrated Alsation Riesling as its signature ingredient. The wine is used as both a marination and cooking liquid, providing a unique, citrusy taste to the meats. Locals have a passionate belief in terroir; one that demands the mix of beast, vegetable and wine sourced from the same land, delivers a harmonious blend of flavours.

To ensure the melt in the mouth consistency of the meat, the clay pot is cooked in the oven for 3½ hours and sealed by placing a thin roll of dough around the lid, locking in the flavours. When cooked, the dish is taken to the table and the dough is broken allowing the delicious cooking smells to escape.

If you don’t own a clay cooking pot, any heavy based oven proof casserole dish will also work.



Serves 6

500g boneless pork shin
500g boneless lamb shoulder
500g beef
3 onions, chopped
2 crushed cloves of garlic
large pinch of table salt
ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
3 juniper berries
600ml Riesling for cooking and 300ml for the marinade
1.5 kg thickly sliced potatoes
for the dough seal, 150g flour mixed with a little cold water to make a dough

The day before cooking, cut all the meat into large cubes and combine in a large pie dish with salt, black pepper, sliced onions, thyme, bay leaf, crushed juniper berries, garlic cloves and the wine for the marinade. Blend all the ingredients with clean hands, cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, pre-heat the oven to 175C. Into the casserole dish place a layer of the marinated ingredients, then a layer of potatoes and repeat the layers until the dish is filled. Pour over the left over marinade and the rest of the wine.

Cover with the lid of the dish then take the dough you have prepared in a small bowl, and roll it out into a long 'snake' and push it in to the joint between the lid and the pot to seal the lid to the base.

Place in the oven and cook for 3 ½ hours. When cooked, open the dish at the table by cracking the dough crust with a knife in front of your guests. This dish should be accompanied by a crisp green salad and a fresh Alsation Riesling.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

First published Canberra Times, 13 April 2011

After a couple of attempts at securing a dinner reservation at one of Beaune's more popular restaurants, Caves Madeleine, we finally snag one for the evening of our last night's stay.  


This restaurant was highly recommended to us by Marjorie Taylor of the Cook's Atelier cooking school in Beaune. She told us the food and service was honest and unpretentious, but consistently good and the Caves Madeleine large communal table was a deliberate strategy to break down the traditional separation between guests and staff.
Caves Madeleine is situated just outside the old city walls of Beaune and we notice, while walking along the street, it is one of a number of restaurants and bars targeting the wine tourism market. We hope this isn't just another tourist trap.

Lolo at work
  Our reservation is for 7.30pm and the restaurant is practically empty, apart from one other table, a couple with a baby. We are shown to our table by a rather shy, but polite waitress casually dressed in jeans and runners. She tells us her English is poor and we let her know it's better than our French, this generates a smile as she fills us in on the plat-de-jour and menu specials. Our reserved table for two is on the raised platform in the front window, of what appears to have been a former shop, this is interesting!

The restaurant isn't large, with 5 small tables and the long communal table running down one side. As we are thinking about what to order, the place starts to fill up. Sitting near the door, we are privy to the number of people turned away without reservations, and it's obvious this is a haunt for locals and tourists in the know. It also reminds us that our reservation time of 7.30pm is not particularly fashionable - and I make a mental note. 

 While the restaurant is quickly filling up and the one waitress is coping competently, a young man arrives through the kitchen door, clad in shirt and jeans wearing a motorbike helmet. He divests the helmet and gets straight to work circulating, chatting and taking orders. He turns out to be the softly spoken but charismatic owner and maitre d’ Monsieur Laurent Brelin.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Given that wine is the main game in Burgundy, it's hard to ignore one wall stacked from floor to ceiling with wine bottles and the use of stacked full wine boxes as partitions is novel. As part of her repartee, the waitress explains, there is no wine menu, as you can walk around the walls and choose your own bottle. This explains why there are a number of people browsing the wall of stacked bottles.

By now the place is abuzz and the waitress and Monsieur Brelin are working the room like well rehearsed performers, although still providing individualised attention and service, with much of the discussion centred on the selection of wines.

With our meal choices made, we ask Monsieur Brelin for his local wine recommendation and he suggests a bottle of 2006 Volnay from Domaine Regis Rossignol-Changarnier. We go with this and he decants the wine at the table, letting us know it will soften and round out beautifully in 10 minutes. He also asks us to call him by his nickname Lolo.

Our soup starters arrive, I have Jerusalem Artichoke Soup and Steve has the Langoustine Bisque. The first taste of my soup reveals an earthy, musky and nutty flavour that is enhanced by the poached egg and smoked ham on top. Steve and I quickly taste each other’s soup, both groaning with pleasure.

Steve goes for boeuf bourguignon and I go for duck filet, both a perfect match to our now mellow red. Both meals are delicious and my duck is lightly cooked, tender and served with a side of vegetables. Thankfully, with no sign of stacks, dots or sauce flourishes of any description.

After our mains we sit and enjoy the wine and are lured to dessert by an adjoining table's enticing selection. The nougat ice cream I chose was soft and velvety with a creamy texture sitting in a berry coulis puddle while Steve’s chocolate fondant was fudgy and warm.

Boef  Bourguignon
Lolo kindly shares his recipe for Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with me, explaining carefully that Jerusalem Artichokes bear no relationship to globe artichokes which are a completely different variety. Jerusalem artichokes are a tuber, similar to a potato and resemble a thick piece of ginger root. It is neither an artichoke or is it from Jerusalem and the name appears to have a convoluted origin.

Soup is one of the easiest ways to use Jerusalem artichokes and they contain copious amounts of iron, five times that of potatoes and are comparable to the iron content of red meat. When choosing Jerusalem artichokes avoid those that are soft or sprouting and pick those of similar size as this will ensure they cook evenly. They're at their best from autumn through winter and are an ideal vegetable to grow in the Canberran climate. Just remember to plant them in a container as they can be invasive otherwise you may have an unwanted crop each year.

Because of their muted and nutty flavour, Jerusalem artichokes are incredibly versatile and match with a range of foods, in particular butter; extra virgin olive oil; truffle, vinegar; mustard; onions; garlic; fish; veal; beef; chicken; and game meats and of course wine.
Nougat ice cream

Quantities below serve 4.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup from Lolo
450g Jerusalem artichokes peeled and diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 celery branches, diced
1 small fennel bulb, diced
2 eschallots, chopped
1 rosemary twig
3 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp crème fraîche or pure cream
parsley, chopped
sea salt flakes

4 eggs, for poaching at the last moment.
good quality smoked ham, shredded and sauteed

Heat the butter in a large heavy based saucepan and sautee the smoked ham and set aside for the garnish. In the same pan add the eschallots and cook with the rosemary for a few minutes without browning. Add the remaining vegetables and cook on medium heat for about 8 minutes.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender. Remove from the heat and whizz in a blender until velvety smooth or pass through a fine sieve.

Mix in the cream fraiche, the salt flakes and parsley and taste for seasoning. Serve topped with a warm, runny poached egg and the sautéed shaved ham

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gougeres at The Cook's Atelier

First published Canberra Times Newspaper 6 April 2011.

It is a short walk from our apartment in the heart of beautiful Beaune to the kitchen studio where we are to spend the day with Marjorie Taylor, the “cook” at The Cook’s Atelier. I pause on the doorstep before pushing the buzzer realising the moment is finally here. Not only are we staying in a beautiful town in the heart of Burgundy, with its vineyard landscapes, medieval architecture and culinary traditions, I am actually excited at the prospect of getting my hands dirty in a professional kitchen again.

I chose this workshop after months of research and arrive bruised by a previous less than good experience at a cooking school in the Perigord region that was targeted to the English tourist and palate, which just wasn’t my cup of tea. There is a plethora of cooking schools available in France, but the ultimate hook for my decision is that in 2006 Marjorie had worked with Anne Willan, a well-know food personality and cookbook author. Anne, who ran Chateau du Fey La Varenne, what was then, a popular cooking school in Burgundy split her time between her schools in France and the U.S. There is something reminiscent of Julia Child about her and I am a big fan of Anne’s work, having done a cooking class with her many years ago.

Marjorie, who hails from Phoenix, Arizona, fell in love with France and now calls Beaune her home. She created The Cook’s Atelier after a number of years in the restaurant game in the U.S. and now runs the workshops, assisted by her daughter, Kendall, who has formal qualifications in wine making. Marjorie conducts her classes with an obvious passion for the food she is cooking, a professional informality and a focus on seasonal and local produce that uses ethical and sustainable production methods.

The menus are market inspired and highlight the local artisan producers such as Madame Loichet, who brings produce from her garden to the Saturday market; Vossot the boucher; Madame Petit, the elderly egg woman at the weekly market and Monsieur Ménager, of La ferme de la Ruchotte, who raises heritage breeds of chicken and black pigs from the Gascony.

She teaches her classes in English, providing hints and tips on exploring french cooking techniques and Kendall providing information on the beautiful Burgundian wines. Marjorie will tailor the program to suit the individual based on their experience and preferences, including one-on-one classes, groups, market tours or simply just lunch or dinner with the cook.

Whatever you choose, most of all she insists you relax and enjoy the experience while having fun. My class is a one day workshop that includes lunch for two based on the fruits of my labour and Steve is there to document the class with his camera.

Marjorie begins by sharing the back story of how she came to be in Beaune operating a cook’s atelier and describing how the day will progress. Given that we have a very full day ahead of us, the normal approach of cracking open a bottle of Cremant de Bourgogne at this point is temporarily postponed. As it turned out, not for long!. The gougères are cooked, and in traditional French fashion, the bottle is cracked open mid morning.

Our menu for the day is, traditional gougères (a savoury choux pastry), a great match to the Cremant; orange, fennel and radish salad; pommes dauphinoise; filet of canard from Monsieur Vosset’s; blood orange sorbet; Monsieur Hess’ cheese selection and lemon cream tart with soft cream.

After we finish the cooking, the entire menu is presented to us as a mid-afternoon lunch (based on French time) delivered by Marjorie and Kendall, while we sit under an antique chandelier at a beautifully set dining table. The meal is accompanied by a perfect bottle of Burgundian pinot noir, finishing with coffee and fleur de sel chocolate cookies, completing the restaurant-quality experience.

The cream on white workshop in the 17th century apartment is flooded with natural light. It streams through the French windows into the kitchen, a compact space dominated by Marjorie’s pride and joy, a six-burner double Lacanche oven (in a rich cream colour, of course). Marjorie’s use of French collectible kitchen implements and equipment gives an authenticity to this back to basics experience. Cooking with ingredients that have been sourced direct from the producers or from the markets, right outside the front door earlier in the day completes this idyllic picture.

Did I mention the food? It is above restaurant quality. The duck filet is probably the best I have had, tender and full of flavour; the potatoes dauphinoise are to die for (and you just might with the amount of fat), but what a way to go! The intensity in flavour and colour of the food comes from using seasonally fresh and locally grown products while using traditional french cooking techniques.

The ingredients of passion and love for the produce, a beautiful setting and great company – a recipe for a perfect day.

Makes about 30 x 5cm hors d’oeuvres


1 ¼ cups water
10 tblsp unsalted butter
1 tspn sea salt
1 cup plain flour
5 eggs
¾ cup Gruyère cheese, grated
A little extra grated Gruyère for topping

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. To make the choux paste, combine the water, butter and sea salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a full boil.

Immediately remove from heat, add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the mixture has formed a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan. This will take a few minutes. Beat the mixture over low heat for a minute or so more to dry it.

To make an egg glaze, whisk one of the eggs in a bowl and set aside. With a wooden spoon, beat the remaining eggs into the dough one by one, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat just enough of the reserved beaten egg into the dough until it is shiny and just falls from the spoon when held up. Lastly, beat in the Gruyère cheese. Transfer the warm dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip, and pipe rounds onto the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with the egg glaze and lightly sprinkle the top with the extra cheese.

Place the gougères in the oven immediately and bake until they have puffed, are nicely browned, and feel light for their size, about 25 minutes. These are delicious served warm straight from the oven. Or, let cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to a few days, and re-crisp in a 180C oven for 5 minutes.

Traditionally, these are served just as they are with a sparkling white wine or you can fill with a savoury cream cheese filling.

Photos by Steve Shanahan
Recipe from Marjorie Taylor - The Cook's Atelier.