Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Majestic Kugelhopf Surprise

"A Taste of Alsace" by Sue Style was published in 1990. Wonderful pictures of the region and conversations with the people, many intriguing recipes: rabbit terrine; ravioli of snails with poppy seeds; paupiettes of veal stuffed veal kidneys; baby asparagus mousse.

A better known regional specialty is Kugelhopf, usually a sweet yeast cake studded with raisins baked in a swirly-sided bundt pan. A folk tale traces Kugelhopf's origins back to the three Maji and is the probable link to Kugelhopf's frequent appearance at Christmas time. However the sweet cake is wonderful year-round.

Ms. Style tracked down the elusive, savory Kugelhopf au Lard, and better still, its ultimate incarnation: Kugelhopf Surprise. In the book, the recipe outlines the plan for a tower of finger sandwiches of thinly sliced ham or proscuitto. I've found that smoked salmon is a wonderful upgrade, bringing the K.S. to a whole new level. You may already have been clued in to the inherent porkiness of the bread by the "au Lard" in the title. Bacon is involved in the Kugelhopf loaf so ham or proscuitto results in a bit of a one note song. Smoked salmon delivers a brighter contrast between bread and filling while not compromising a bit of richness. I also layer in hot-house cucumber slices for a welcome, moist green crunch.

Upon presentation of an early Kugelhopf Surprise, one fellow exclaimed "Wow, that looks like something from the midnight buffet on a cruise ship!" High praise indeed and the rave reviews confirmed that this is truly worthy of the Spectacularly Delicious mantle. I just made one for a party at my friends Tom and Craig -- again, a remarkable hit, every crumb devoured. The caterers asked for the recipe. And good to know that once assembled, wrapped tightly in foil, the Kugelhopf Surprise travels well.

It's best to plan this as a two-day operation. Bake the Kugelhopf au Lard on day one, assemble and serve the next day. You'll want to be able to take your time that first day, the two risings can vary widely. Don't be a prisoner to the clock -- it's all about letting the dough grow to optimal volume. The wonderful Laurie Colwin's books taught me this -- yeast doughs operate on their own time schedules, it's best to let them be until they announce themselves ready.

Kugelhopf pans (8" diameter) are easy enough to find and the distinctive pattern they create is essential.

Kugelhopf au Lard

3 1/3 all-purpose white flour
1/4 oz. rapid rise dry yeast
1 t. salt
10 T. unsalted butter at room temperature
3 eggs
7 oz. milk (just shy of a full cup)
1/4 lb. finely diced bacon
1 small onion, finely diced
12 walnut halves to decorate the crown of the loaf
1/4 c. chopped walnuts

In your heavy duty stand mixer, using the bread hook, slowly blend together the flour, yeast and salt. In goes the butter, bash it around until evenly distributed. Mix the eggs with a fork and add them, then slowly pour in the milk. It will be soft and sticky.

Beat very thoroughly for 10 minutes. By then it should start to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If not, add small teaspoons of flour until the dough forms a ball. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel and leave to rise until it doubles in volume -- at least 1 1/2 hours, likely longer, let it really swell up.

Meanwhile over low heat in a heavy pan sweat the bacon, careful not to brown or crisp it. Remove the bacon, and in the remaining fat slowly cook the onions, 'til translucent but again, not browned.

Grease the Kugelhopf pan well, especially the central column. Pam spray works well. Place a walnut half in each of the runnels at the bottom of the pan.

Knock down the dough and again using the bread hook, work in the bacon, onions and chopped walnuts until well distributed. Turn out the dough into the Kugelhopf pan, stretching it evenly around the ring. Cover again, leave to rise again until it climbs above the rim of the pan. An hour or longer.

Bake at 400 degrees for 40 - 45 minutes, the top will be golden and the loaf will sound hollow when tapped. Turn over onto a rack, let cool a bit, then remove from the pan. Any sticking is likely to happen around the center column, use a knife to loosen and knock the sides of the pan, it will drop out. Cool thoroughly, wrap, and keep at room temp until ready for phase 2.

Creating the Kugelhopf Surprise

5 oz cream cheese with garlic and herbs, I use the Boursin brand
1 c. sour cream, creme fraiche or quark if you can find it
3 T. finely chopped capers
1 lb. thinly sliced smoked salmon -- ask for the smokiest, strongest flavor
1 hot-house/English cucumber

With a good serrated bread knife, take a thin slice off the top of the loaf, the walnut halves intact. Continue to slice the loaf thinly into 10 rings and keep track of the them from smallest (at the top) to the largest, leaving a last ring at the base. You'll end up with the decorative ring for the top, a firm ring at the bottom for the base, and 10 thin rings from the middle to make the sandwiches.

Mix the herbed cheese, the sour cream and chopped capers. Slice the cucumber on the thin blade of your food processor.

Starting with the largest sandwich ring, spread the filling on one of each pair of slices. Top with the salmon, then the cucumber slices. Use the last of bits of the filling to dot the tops of the cucumber slices so they will grip the sandwich tops. Make five sandwich rings.

Place the base on a serving plate -- you can garnish as you wish, I used watercress this time, decorative leaves are also lovely. One by one, starting with the largest, put each sandwich ring on a cutting board and slice evenly into eight or so wedges, whatever you think will be easiest to handle. Smaller sandwiches are good for finger food, make them larger if you will be serving onto plates. Transfer the sliced ring onto the base and continue slicing and stacking until you have rebuilt the Kugelhopf to its former glory. Place the nutty crown on top. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


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