28 September 2011

Street Food Memories

Putting together the photo book from my travels this year, I'm shocked by 2 things.

One, this photo book is MAMMOTH.  I'm wondering if they'll even be able to bind it once I'm done.

Two, how many pictures of food did I take?  It's embarrassing.  Really.  But not embarrassing enough for me to leave even one of them out!

Today, drooling is my inspiration.

This time it's not over something with a million layers of sweet cream and chocolate eaten in a room where everyone from Napolean to Reagan took their tea.

This time it's street food.

Wrapped in paper, no fuss-no muss.  I just gotta tell you about the Trdelnik, Lángos and the smoky ham on a spit!

It all started with a Vienna sausage.

It was our first night and we had tickets to the Opera, my first, and I was starving.  We only had 20 minutes.  I remembered we'd passed a Wurst stand across the street from the opera house so I grabbed Cody and off we ran in our fancy duds.

Beyond my expectations!  We shared a bratwurst and it was just what I needed to quiet my Belly Beast.  It was about a foot long, juicy, the skin had a nice pop and the bun was like panini bread--buttery and crisp.

The coolest thing about the sausage I can't show you--it was nighttime and the flash blew out the image--ugh.  But I can tell you about it.  They took this long bun and impaled it on a stick that looked like a sharpening steel that warmed it from the inside.  Then they squirted ketchup and mustard into the bread hole and shook it.  Finally, they plopped the bratwurst into the hole.  I think I applauded.  The bread was warm, fit the wurst perfectly and there was no squirting of ketchup or annoying bun splitting.  Genius!!

My favorite street food in Prague was the first thing I tried, the Trdelnik.  It's a very touristy thing I guess, but I can tell you it's a better memory than a pressed penny or a commemorative shot glass.

It's sweet yeast dough wrapped on a metal cylinder (trdlo) then rolled in cinnamon, sugar and ground walnuts.  They roast it over an open flame until golden brown.  The roasted bread is pushed off the cylinder onto a tray full of cinnamon and sugar to coat it again.  Then they wrap it loosely in paper and serve it to you warm.  Magical.

It's lightly sweet, crusty on the outside and soft and flaky on the inside.  I liked peeling the rings apart and dangling them into my mouth.  Have you ever peeled apart the individual layers of a Hungry Jack biscuit?  It's like that but 1000 times better!

They come in different flavors like vanilla, caramel, walnut, etc..., but the original is not only the best, but the only one worth trying.  The others were hard and flavorless. 

The first time I was in Prague I noticed these bands of men going through a lot of trouble (in the freezing cold) to build these huge fires in portable metal troughs.  Criss-crossing through Old Town Square over several hours it became clear that they were preparing to roast meat.  No, not just meat, ham.  Parma ham.

It was bitter cold and the idea of pulling my hands out of my gloves to stand in the street and chew on ham did not sound like a good idea.  Stupid.  This decision haunted me after I got home.  Why?  Why?  Why?

I got lucky and got a second shot at the ham this summer.  It was the first must-do on my list and as soon as I set foot in Prague, I made my way to those mad pit-masters and ordered a plate o' pork.  It wasn't cold this time, but it was pouring rain!
**Side note--I'm a big fan of bacon.  I like pork, but bacon's really the thing for me.  I can honestly say that I have never tasted better pork products than I have in the Czech Republic.  Bacon, ham, pig's knee...I had it all.  I don't know what they feed those pigs, but it was the most decadent, buttery pork I have ever tasted.**

How was it???





It was worth the wait.

I didn't bother with the bread.

Before heading to Budapest I read something about Lángos in one of my guide books.  I knew it was a fried bread snack of some sort.  I was focused on the pastry and the Turkish baths (don't judge it was AWESOME) so I didn't pay much attention.

I was a little giddy from exploring of the Great Market Hall when I stumbled onto the food stalls on the second floor.  It was crowded with people munching on these pizza-esque snacks from paper plates.  The toppings varied from plate-to-plate and before I knew it I was in line at the Lángos stand.

There were lots of choices for toppings, but they all started with garlic.  There was ham, mushroom, cheese, sour cream, ketchup, tomatoes, cabbage, the list went on and on.  I was staying away from cheese on this trip (among other things) and so I went with the garlic, ham, mushroom combo.

It was about 10-inches across and warm and more garlic than I have eaten in 6 months!  Salty and crunchy and satisfying.  This was not pizza.

I left thinking it was pretty good and I was glad to try it.  I also figured that the other ingredients like sour cream would have made a big difference.

So when I was on my eating binge in the rain in Prague later in the week I found a Lángos stand (Langose in Czech) and got in line.  For the record, Mr. "Doom" didn't scare me.

This time I went with the ketchup.  My thought was they wouldn't offer it if it wasn't fantastic.  Also, it's the first ingredient listed...major clue.  I have a similar policy about fried eggs--if there's a dish on the menu with fried egg on top that's what I'm ordering.  I know it's gonna be outrageous. 

No cheese this time either. Just garlic sauce and ketchup.  I know.  BUT, let me tell you, this Lángos was outstanding.  Much better than the one in Budapest.  It was chewy, still crispy and a little salty but not nearly as salty as the first one.  Less garlic, but still nice and garlicky.  The bread wasn't greasy either.

What really made this Lángos pop?  The ketchup!  It added acidic zing that rounded the whole thing out.

Garlic and ketchup on bread--who'da thunk it?  Just goes to show you that it's worth trying some things twice.  You never know what you'll discover. 

Ice cream and sorbet were virtually on every street corner of all the places I visited.  So much so that they apparently have a cone problem.  At least it's the 4th Don't on the list!

The yogurt gelato with blackberry coulis was addictive.  There's just something about the dairy products in Europe that make the tastes a little bigger (less pasteurization I think).

Even the soft-serve which I pooh-poohed in favor of the gelato, knocked my socks off once I finally tried it.  It tasted rich, like French Vanilla. 

In Prague, during my dairy-free jaunt, I went for a watermelon sorbet that tasted like pure, pureed watermelon.

So refreshing.

Look at the color!  It wasn't full of sharp ice crystals either.

If I knew their secrets I'd open a shop tomorrow and make millions.  Until then I'll just keep looking at my pictures and reliving every amazing bite.

23 September 2011

Gugelhupf Squared

"Is that a Gugelhupf?"

That's what I asked myself in Target yesterday.  I was on a mission for 9-volt batteries and toilet paper when I saw a sale display with what looked like a taller but smaller Bundt pan.  I'd had it in the back of my mind for months to find one of these and here it was outta nowhere AND on sale!  Love it when that happens.  So yeah, I bought it, brought it home and made pretty things in it.

Bundt cakes are kinda my favorite and yet I don't own a bundt pan!  Weird, right?  I bought an angel food pan and have used it a total of 1 time and I think that burned me on specialty pan buying, although I admit, it doesn't totally make sense.  There's so much more you can do with a bundt pan than an angel food pan.

Then there's the issue of storage (bundts don't nestle well) and cost.  I'm cheap and $30 for a pan for a cake I shouldn't be eating anyway?  Couldn't do it.  I've held them in my hands at different stores around town and put them back on the shelf every time--until yesterday.  Yesterday, I found the Gugelhupf pan.  It was taller and slimmer and cheaper (under $20) than the bundt's I'd flirted with before and then there was YOU.  I made a promise to you to bake my way through The Book and Gugelhupf is an important part of that.  I had to buy the pan--it's part of my job!  Done.

Gugelhupf is the German/Austrian grandfather of the American bundt.  I was under the impression that Gugelhupf was the name of the cake, but really it's just the name of the pan.  What's inside usually goes one of two ways:  a teacake very similar to the English pound cake or a yeasted dough filled with a combination of nuts and dried fruit or chocolate.  Both excellent with strong coffee and good anytime of day.  So I did the only thing I could do to fully understand the Gugelhupf.  I made both!

Gugelhopf (center) at Budapest's Great Market Hall

Oh, and if you're unlike me and you have a bundt pan--you can definitely use that to try these recipes.

SANDTORTE (Viennese Pound Cake)

I decided to start here.  The name refers to any type of cake that starts with creamed butter and sugar.  It gets sandy so you have a sand cake.  Yum?

This recipe comes from the head baker at Vienna's famed Hofzuckerbäckerei Demel (Royal and Imperial Confectioner Demel--yeah, it's been around a while and is a bit of a big deal!).  It's like a pound cake with a few tweaks.

First, the ingredient portions are different.  While the pound cake started as being 1 pound each of butter, flour, sugar and eggs most recipes at this point have strayed from that formula and even include baking powder, vanilla and/or lemon zest and sometimes milk.  Frankly, a straight-up pound cake isn't very tasty, but the modern version is irresistible.  So the Sandtorte has followed suit at least so far as changing the weights to 9 ounces each rather than the traditional pound.

Second, the Sandtorte uses the method of whipping up the egg whites separately and folding them into the "fat" like you do with the genoise.  There's no leavening in the cake other than the eggs so whipping them insures the cake is buoyant.

Third, the recipe calls for 1/3 cup of cornstarch which manages to "soften" (aka reduce the gluten) of all-purpose flour making the cake more tender.  In fact, there's more cornstarch in the cake than there would be if you used cake flour instead which gives the cake a little more chew.

What Happened:
This cake was easy-peasy just like pound cakes are.  It's also a cake you can usually make on the fly since the ingredient list is short.  Although having 5 eggs on hand on any given day could be a problem.

The Sandtorte is also pretty flexible in terms of flavoring.  You can add lemon or orange zest, vanilla, lavender, rosemary, thyme, nuts, chocolate chips, almost anything you want.  The cake is a blank canvas for your creativity and your cupboard.

It's pretty.  The pan makes sure it's beautiful to serve and you can dust it with powdered sugar or leave it naked.

Really there were no real challenges with this cake.

Things I Would Change:
  •  I would reduce the sugar by a smidgen.  It's not cloyingly sweet by any measure, but I like a cleaner finish so in the recipe here I reduced the sugar by 1/4 cup.
  • In my version I added lemon zest and lavender.  It's really good, but it would stand on it's own in Plain Jane form.  Perfect with berries or just a Cup o' Joe.
  • I changed the order of the steps in the recipe.  I hate washing dishes, so I whipped my egg whites first, set them aside in another bowl which I later used for sifting the flour, cornstarch and salt.  This way I didn't have to stop, go wash my mixer bowl and worry about fat being in the bowl and flattening my whites.  This way I just added the butter to the bowl where I had whipped the whites and proceeded with creaming the butter and sugar together.
The Results:
Delicious.  Tender, melt-in-your-mouth, airy and sweet.  It's moist, but not as moist or dense as a pound cake.  I like clean, simple flavors.  I'm not a frosting girl.  This is my kind of treat.

It keeps too. The flavors meld a bit after a bit of sitting so it's just as good the next day.  I didn't even wrap it.  It's been sitting on my counter on a plate under a cake dome.

But wait there's more...


As promised this is a two-fer.

Looking for info on the Gugelhupf I kept finding another recipe that was more bread-like.  Apparently, this is a cake that signals a holiday or special occasion.  To me, finally getting this pan was occasion enough.

I used Wolfgang Puck's base recipe.  He's Austrian, how could I go wrong?

What Happened:
Again, the ingredients are things that you probably have on-hand.  I like those kinds of recipes.

It took a little over 3 hours to make this cake which includes 2 rise times and an hour of baking.  So most of that time is hands-off.

The only challenging part was getting the rolled dough full of nuts and cranberries into the mold.  The dough is soft and when rolled and filled it's not easy to pick up all at once.  I managed to work my hands under the roll and inch the roll up onto my wrists so in the end I was almost cradling the log.  Then I eased the roll into the mold trying to make it so the seam was toward the inner tube of the pan--just in case it decided to open.  It worked out just fine.  I just didn't want it to tear, but if it did, I could have just pieced it back together in the pan before the final rise.

What I Would Change:
  • In the recipe here I have lessened the amount of yeast just a bit.  The recipes called for 1 ounce which is significantly more than 2 tablespoons.  That's a lot of yeast for the quantity of dough and it isn't necessary.
  • I added a second rise.  Some recipes had it, some didn't.  Seemed right to me.
  • I used orange scented cranberries rather than raisins.  The fact that I used any fruit at all is surprising--I did it for you Dear Reader!  While I am anti-cooked fruit, I wanted you to have the traditional experience.  You could say I'm a giver.  Will you please say it?!
  • Flavor-wise this is another blank canvas.  Use any combination of nuts, replace the fruit with chocolate chips, omit the fruit or add more, replace the cinnamon with cocoa, it's your Gugelhupf.
The Results:
The biggest and best surprise other than it was beautiful was the caramelized crust.  Buttering and sugaring the pan and the long bake time results in a nice, sweet, crusty-crust that made me wonder if it would have been worthwhile to sugar the dough before baking to get that crust all around.  Not sure if it would work since there's no pan contact to help the caramelization, but maybe?

The swirls of cinnamon and nuts make for a spectacular interior and the dough makes a very airy, spongy bread.  It's lovely.  Brioche-ish.  A little less buttery.  Toasting a slice and slathering it with butter is another delicious way to enjoy it.  I've even thought about using the stale leftovers for bread pudding.

And what of the fruit?  It added a nice zing when it appeared in a bite.  That's one of the great things about this "cake" is that every bite is a little different from the last.  As someone who tends to rebel against routine, this works for me.

So glad I went to Target yesterday!

15 September 2011

Budapest's Historic Cafés - New-York Café

New York?  This is Budapest, right?

Simple answer--the building was commissioned by the New York Insurance Company in 1894.  It was such an impressive building that it was, and is, called a palace.  The New-York Café occupied the ground floor of the "palace" and soon became one of the most exclusive coffeehouses in Budapest and certainly the most beautiful.

I've seen many coffeehouses at this point in my travels and they tend to range from simple Old World elegance to flirting with the ornate, but this one is the most extravagant by far.

Just look at it!

It reminds me of Marie Antoinette's summer house at Versailles.  Light and bright, but fussy with the details.  Rococo comes to mind, but I'm no art expert!

Tuxedoed waiters abound.  It sure is a lot of pomp and circumstance for coffee and pastry.  And it was kinda fun to be so well-served.

I admit I felt like a bumpkin in my rainy-day traveler duds (awful, right?!) , but they happily seated me so I pretended I was in my most fabulous summer dress and enjoyed my elegant afternoon indulgence.

I settled in and ordered a pot of lemon and ginger tea that came with a tiny chocolate chip cookie and a little petit four of chocolate and vanilla cake sandwiched together with apricot jam and dusted with powdered sugar.

Simple and satisfying. (Hint --Perfect to serve at a party)

But what pastry to order for my fancy-schmancy mid-day break?

The menu was full of the delicious Hungarian standards, but what caught my eye was the Ropogós mogyorós szelet.  Sounds good, huh?  All those letters translated to... "Nut Cake!"

Here it is...

I'm not going to beat around the bush about this--this was the single best thing I put in my mouth in Budapest.  Seriously.

From the first bite I was knocked-out!  KNOCKED-OUT!  What the hell was in this slice of heaven?

This is how I described it in my journal:

Nut cake.  Nut cake?!  Are you kidding me?  That is such an UNDERSTATEMENT.  My mouth is so happy!  It's about 3-inches long and 3/4- inches high (yeah, I take specific notes!) topped with a chocolate"leaf" and a white chocolate nougat truffle coated in chopped almonds.  The cake itself starts with a thin short crust (sweet pie dough), covered with an almond, peanut filling, followed by a thick hazelnut pastry cream-ish gelatin-y pudding, topped with a butterscotch fondant.  And the garnish...chopped peanuts and a slice of peach.  Even the peach works with these flavors!  I'm lingering over every bite.  I'm going to be thinking about this mind-blowing flavor bar for a long time.

Normally, when I'm out and about tasting pastries I eat 1, maybe 2 bites tops.  I ate all but 1 bite of this "nut cake."

When the waitress came by to check on me, I nearly grabbed her by the lapel.  What is this I'm eating?  It's no ordinary nut cake.  I told her with as many superlative adjectives as I could think of how fantastic this dessert was.  She said it was her favorite as well (they always say that!) and that it was one of two signature creations of the pastry chef.  I went on and on about it, but eventually let her get back to her job.

After I got home from my trip I couldn't stop thinking and talking about this dessert.  Who was this pastry chef?  It took some digging, but I finally found her--Dudok Mártonné.  I haven't found any more information about her, but I did find an email address.  So I did what every normal pastry obsessed person would do, I sent her a dessert "love letter."  Yep, that's a first for me!

I haven't gotten a response, but it felt really good to tell someone how much I enjoyed their work.  I know it would totally make my day to get that kind of email.  I just hope she can read English!!!

I came away from New-York Café not only with an excellent food memory, but a rule to never walk away from a fancy venue because I feel under-dressed cause I might just miss out on an outstanding flavor experience.

01 September 2011

Budapest's Historic Cafés - Centrál Kávéház

Second stop on the Budapest café tour--Centrál Kávéház.

It was a rainy Sunday morning and my guidebook told me it opened at 8:00am.

My guidebook lied.

So I hung around like a stalker waiting for the doors to open.  The rain made it particularly awkward. But it gave me a chance to take several photos and really look at the place.

It reminds me of the Cheers exterior.  Do you see it too?

Then it occurred to me that I could hang out at the Great Market Hall (top 5 Budapest experiences!) while I waited.  That wouldn't feel like wasting time and the guidebook said it opened at 7:00am daily.

The guidebook lied.


So I paced and lingered and tried not to look like a weirdo hanging at the corner while I basically looked like a weirdo hanging at the corner.

When I saw the staff at the Centrál finally unlock the doors at 9am, I waited about 2 seconds before I ran across the street to go inside.

I walked in shooting photo after photo--I know they thought I was annoying.

But look at the place.

Sure it's been renovated, but this cafe has been here since 1887.  Back then it was open 24 hours!

This was the place to be in Budapest at the turn of the century and was even the birthplace of radical literary magazine, Nyugat.

Finding a table was easy, but pouring over the pastry case was not.

 I think you can see why...

Ultimately, I chose pretty conservatively.  It was only 9:00am.

First, I ordered the Zserbó I had seen in the case.  The only translation was, "walnut & jam."

I learned Zserbo was created by Gerbeaud Cukrászda about 125 years ago.  It was so good that now most coffeehouses serve it too.

It's thin layers of sweet yeast dough separated by a combination of apricot jam and sugary ground walnuts topped with a smear of chocolate.  We'll bake it soon, but for now I can tell you it's rich (in a good way) and delicious.  I love sweets that are so packed with flavor that they can satisfy you in small doses.

Not quite done, I asked the waiter for his pastry recommendation.  He said to order the Diós Svájci Kifli (walnut danish) and he did not steer me wrong.

It wasn't too sweet thanks to the walnuts.  I also tasted the orange zest they added to the walnut filling to brighten the flavor and combat the natural bitterness of the nuts.

The pastry was nice and flaky with enough bread-y-ness to it that it wasn't a big, nutty, sugarball.  Yeah, that's how I would describe most Danish. 

Turns out Centrál was an outstanding start to my wet morning.

Definitely worth the wait in the rain.