German food, it’s fair to say, has not had the best reputation over the years. Rather like traditional British food, it can be heavy and plain. On a recent trip to Leipzig, I are at a 15th century restaurant, and while I loved the atmosphere, all dark wood panels, starched waiters in white linen, the meal was an expensive disappointment.
But the Germans do the basics very well. They have great ingredients, dark healthy bread, wonderful pastries and cakes, with 40% of customers buying organic as compared to less than 10% in the UK. Germans are also obsessed with white asparagus, looking forward to the ‘spargelzeit’ season from April, like the French used to look forward to Beaujolais Nouveau in November.
For this month’s column, I urge you to enjoy the traditions of Oktoberfest, spookily close to Halloween. A strong theme in German culture is witches or ‘hexen’, but they celebrate their witches festival ‘Walpurgis’ on the first day of May rather than the 31st October. The centre of Hexen culture is the Harz mountains in the former GDR or East Germany where I visited the ‘Hexentanzplatz’ a witches dancing place, by cable car.
Here is a recipe for making your own large soft pretzels that you will find in any beer garden, hanging on hooks on the bar, dipped into mustard alongside a series of beers. For dessert, I suggest a typically German cake, Black Forest Gateau. Wearing dirndls and lederhosen is optional.
This Halloween I’m hosting a Mexican style supper club on October 29th. Tickets still available at this link £50 BYO.
Big Soft Pretzels for Oktoberfest
- 5 g fast acting yeast (double it for fresh)
- 6 g sugar
- 6 g salt
- 410 g strong white flour
- 230 ml warm not hot water
- 1 litre water
- 4 tbsps baking soda
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp water
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- Mix the dry ingredients together, making sure the yeast doesn't touch the salt directly, then add the water and knead for 10 to 15 minutes. (Or put in a food mixer and mix for 3-5 minutes on a low speed).
- Put the dough into the bowl and cover with a plastic bag. Leave to prove for an hour until double in size.
- Knock back the dough and divide into sections of about 70g using a digital scale.
- Roll each ball of 70g into a long sausage of about 10 cms. Leave for a few minutes to rest, it become easier to work with and doesn't 'ping' back. Continue to roll out the other balls.
- Then roll the rested 'sausage' into a longer rope of around 50-60cms.
- Loop it into a circle, take two ends and twist them twice, then loop back into the traditional 'praying' pretzel shape. The pictures will make this clearer.
- Place your formed pretzels onto a greased baking sheet or silpat.
- Let them rise for ten minutes.
- Then put the water and baking soda or lye into a saucepan and bring to the boil, then simmer. Preheat the oven to 220C.
- Gently lower a pretzel, using a slotted spoon, into the hot water and cook for 15 seconds each side. You will see that they expand.
- Place boiled pretzel onto a greased baking tray and repeat until all the pretzels are done.
- In the meantime, mix the teaspoon of water and egg in a small bowl and egg glaze the pretzels with a brush.
- Sprinkle with kosher or large salt
- Bake for 15-20 minutes at 220c or on the top shelf of the Aga baking oven until the pretzels are a golden brown.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- Eat with mustard and a pint of micro brewed beer.
Black Forest Gateau
- 80 g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
- 200 g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 40 g cocoa powder
- 280 g caster sugar
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 2 pinches sea salt
- 240 ml milk
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 400 g black cherries in kirsch, drained, retain the kirsch
- 600 ml double cream
- 250 g fresh cherries
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Grease and flour the tins.
- Either in a stand mixer or by hand in a bowl, beat the butter until pale and fluffy, then mix in the flour, cocoa powder, caster sugar, baking powder and salt.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla extract. Pour half into the butter mixture, beat, then add the other half. Tip half into each tin. Smooth the tops.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the sponges spring back when lightly pressed with a finger. Turn out, and leave to cool.
- Skewer the cakes all over and pour in the kirsch.
- Whip the cream to soft peaks.
- Spread 1/3rd of the whipped cream onto the first cake, leaving a border all round.
- Add half the drained black cherries and top with the second sponge layer. Spread the rest of the cream all over the top. Top with the rest of the black cherries, then add the fresh cherries in a pyramid shape on top. Dust with icing sugar.
Msmarmitelover is hosting a lo-energy (candles and fire cooked food) Mexican themed Halloween supper club on the 29th October. Tickets available here: https://msmarmitelover.com/product/day-of-the-dead-halloween-supper-club
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