One thing that does seem to cross international lines successfully is baking.
I never visit a country without sampling their baking. I visit bakeries and want to try everything, from Mexico’s delicious tortillas served warm with butter, to Indian naan breads just from a tandoori oven.
Here in France during the winter, the windows of pastry shops are lined with all sizes of Galettes de Rois, disks of caramelized puff pastry filled with almond paste. Alsation bakers offer sweet, doughyGugelhofs with plumped raisins and toasted almonds with freshly-grated citrus peel. And even though the world is mired in cultural misunderstandings, wars, and hostility, perhaps the United Nations might consider sending an International Baking Brigade around the world to promote cross-cultural baking traditions.
So while that ain’t likely to happen in my lifetime, I was thrilled to receive a new book from Nick Malgieri of baking recipes from around the world. I was fortunate to meet Nick years ago when I was starting my career writing cookbooks and he was overtly generous giving me advice about writing and publishing. Fortunately for bakers everywhere, Nick shares his vast knowledge of baking in his many well-written books. He perhaps knows more about baking than anyone I’ve ever met and is one of my heroes.
His latest cookbook, A Baker’s Tour, is a terrific and comprehensive overview of the world’s most delicious baked goods.
So when last week I trekked out to Vandermeersch for their amazing Kugelhof, I was distressed to learn they’re only available on weekends. (Of course, being in France, if I had gone out, say…Thursday, I would have discovered, “Desolé Monsieur, We make kugelhofs every day…except Thursday.”)
I was delighted to find a recipe in Nick’s book and decided to bake a yeasty Kugelhof myself. It also gave me also the opportunity to use the beautiful ceramic Alsatian Kugelhof mold that I found while pickling through some neglected boxes at a vide grenier, a neighborhood flea market, a few weeks ago in Paris.
Nick calls this a Gugelhof, which is the Austrian name for this cake. He advises to measure flour by spooning it into a graduated measuring cup, then leveling it off. I made an orange flower water syrup to soak the cake, an inspiration from Vandermeersch bakery, as suggested in Dorie Greenspan’s book, Paris Sweets.
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, not instant
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon dark rum
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped (see note below)
1/2 cup sliced almonds, for lining the cake pan
One 6 to 8-cup kugelhof pan, or you can use a bundt pan
1. Make the sponge by warming the milk over low heat in a small saucepan until it’s tepid. Pour into a bowl, and mix in the yeast then the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until bubbly, about 20 minutes.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the raisins and the rum, then set aside.
3. In a standing electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar and salt with the paddle attachment until soft and light, about 3 minutes. Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla.
4. Beat in the egg yolks until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl, add the sponge, then beat another minute.
5. Drain the raisins then beat the rum into the dough, then beat in the flour. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes and let rest for 10 minutes.
6. Beat on medium speed until smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes.
7. Slowly beat in the raisins and chopped almonds.
8. Scrape the dough into a butter bowl and turn it so the top is buttered. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until the dough just begins to puff, about 20 minutes.
9. Butter the kugelhof mold well the scatter the sliced almonds over the inside of the mold, turning to coat it evenly.
10. Scrape the dough into the kugelhof mold and cover with a towel or buttered plastic wrap.
Let rise until doubled.
11. About 15 minutes before the dough is fully risen, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the kugelhof until it’s well-risen, and deep golden, about 40-45 minutes.
Cool the kugelhof for 10 minutes, then unmold.
To make a nice, moist syrupy glaze; bring 1/3 cup of water and 1/3 cup of sugar to a boil. Remove from heat once the sugar is dissolved and add 1 ½ teaspoons orange flower water and 2 tablespoons finely ground almonds (optional, but good).
Liberally brush the syrup all over, on top of, and around the cake.
Cool completely before slicing and serving.
Note: To peel your own almonds, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the untoasted almonds and let cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and drain. Once the almonds are cool enough to handle, the skins will slip right off.
Toast the almonds until golden brown for best flavor before using. I snap one in half to make sure they’re crispy all the way through.
Most nuts benefit from being toasted in a 350° oven for 10 to 12 minutes.
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