Saturday, 26 June 2010

Historical Coffee Controversy

So I've put in the time and done my research on my delicious Rhubarb and ginger coffee cake from last week, and what never fails to surprise me is the amount of controversy that is wrapped up in the history of food!  First there was the English cake/biscuit court case I discovered, and now an official call made by Pope Clement VIII on whether or not coffee was the beverage choice of Satan!  Let us begin...

Coffee was first brought to Europe by Venitian traders with strong ties to the Middle East, importing it's coffee into Italy in 1615.  It was then that Italy began it's love affair with coffee, and the Italian espresso-style coffee began what is now a multi-billion dollar industry and an eventual globalisation of the coffeehouse culture, a culture only prevalent in the Middle East at that time.  Italians are now famous for their coffee, their style of making and serving coffee, and for the prestige that comes with being a barista in Italy.  The coffeehouse culture is one that may now be associated with intellectuals, artists, writers and academics however at the time that it was first introduced to Europeans it was a different story.  According to many accounts, a group of Christian clerics tried to have coffee banned before it had become widely available. They came to Pope Clement VIII (1535-1605), claiming that coffee was for Satan's followers, and that Christians who drank it might lose their souls to the Devil. However before Pope Clement would ban coffee he insisted on tasting it. After drinking his first cup, the Pope was so impressed with the flavor, that he reasoned that such a drink could not possibly be the work of Satan and instead declared that coffee should be baptized to make it a true Christian drink.  That's right, coffee was baptised.

The first person recorded in history to brew coffee in England was an international student named Nathaniel Conopios from Crete, who was studying at Balliol College, Oxford. This simple act, which happened in May 1637, was recorded by both scholar John Evelyn and historian Anthony Wood. Although, shortly afterwards Conopios was expelled from college, his influence had a lasting effect on Oxford, as it was in Oxford that the first English coffeehouse was opened in 1650 by Jacob, a Lebanese Jew. Even though Jacob moved to London a few years later to repeat his success, he had begun a trend that saw many more coffeehouses open in Oxford during that decade.

I would like to take a moment just to thank Mr. Conopios from Crete for his tenacity by brewing that first cup of controversial coffee in England and starting the momentum for coffee culture to (albeit very late as it was fighting with the tea culture) to catch on, the eventual coffee shop on Putney High Street to be built, several hundred years later.  That coffee shop was where I spent many weekend afternoons studying when I was in graduate school and it was where I met my husband.  Surely if Mr Conopios were still alive I would have invited him to our wedding. 

Now how did we get from coffee to coffee cake?  The custom of eating some sweet yeast bread while drinking one's coffee probably began in the 17th century in Europe. Dutch, Scandinavian, French and German immigrants all brought a recipe for some sort of breakfast bread when they came to North America. All the recipes used flour, eggs, yeast, sugar, nuts, spices and dried fruit and probably were more bread- than cake-like. Over the years, people experimented with those recipes and began adding creamy fillings, cheese, yogurt and sugared fruit.

By 1879, coffee cakes were well-known in America and there were already countless recipes for crumb cakes, streusel cakes and streusel/crumb-cake combinations. Streusel cakes have that swirl of cinnamon/brown sugar throughout the center while crumb cakes have a topping of crumbly flour, sugar and butter and cinnamon.

Many of today's coffee cakes are made with a Bundt pan (a ring with a hole in the center, but clearly not the one above!). The Bundt pan is actually a fairly recent innovation.   It was created in 1950 by H. David Dalquist of Nordic Ware. Two of his Jewish customers told him how they missed the heavier European cakes they had grown up with but needed a cake pan with a hole in it. The holes allowed heat to penetrate the heavier batter and did not leave unbaked dough at the center. The women showed Dalquist a ceramic kugelhopf pan and he made a similar version in all-purpose aluminum. However, while kugelhopf pans are spherical with folds like a turban, Dalquist introduced fluted folds into the fluted edges and patented the design.

So little did I know when making my Rhubarb and ginger coffee cake last week, how much my personal history was tied into the history of what I enjoyed eating!  The recipe, which is so worth making, was found on one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen.

‘Big Crumb’ Coffeecake with Rhubarb
Adapted from The New York Times 6/6/07
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Butter for greasing pan

For the rhubarb filling:
1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

For the crumbs:

1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger**
(So I meant to only but in 1/2 teaspoon but as I was sprinkling it in and just eyeballing it, a huge clump fell in so it ended up being about 2 tsp- was fantastic and a touch spicy!)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, melted
1 3/4 cups cake flour (I was out and used all-purpose and it worked great)

For the cake:
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour (ditto on the all-purpose flour–worked just fine)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.

1. Preheat oven to 325F/ 175C degrees. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan. For filling, slice rhubarb 1/2 inch thick and toss with sugar, cornstarch and ginger. Set aside.

2. To make crumbs in a large bowl, whisk sugars, spices and salt into melted butter until smooth. Then, add flour with a spatula or wooden spoon. It will look and feel like a solid dough. Leave it pressed together in the bottom of the bowl and set aside.

3. To prepare cake, in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and set aside.

4. Scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb over batter. Dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb; it does not have to be even.

5. Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. They do not have to be uniform, but make sure most are around that size. Sprinkle over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter (it might be moist from rhubarb), 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Coffee cake in a teacup...

So I'm cheating.  Rather than not do my homework on the history of coffee cake; the delicious treat I cooked up this weekend for a quick trip to the in-laws, I thought I would give you a preview to wet your tastebuds with a photo of the rhubarb and ginger goodness and promise a thorough report including history, sights, smells, tastes and reactions to follow.

Are you salivating yet?  I am!  I also must confess instead of accompanying our coffee cake with well, coffee we had ours with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It's almost like coffee...

Sunday, 13 June 2010

One proud pickle

So after a long week of salivating each time I walked past my pickling jar, stopping myself from doing what I did with most of the savings bonds I've ever been given (cashing it in early), I let my four green pickles sit in their brine day after day until I believed they had reached their highest possible worth of deliciousness. 

While they were pickling they made for good company for our fish Spike for the week, sitting along side him in their nearly matching glass jar.  Despite Spikes gripes that they looked at him a bit funny from time to time, I think he was sorry to see them go today.  Nick and I however were not, and we celebrated the occasion by making burgers (done the Heston Blumental way where all of the grains of your meat line up the same way vertically so the burger breaks nicely when you bite into it... not to be confused with the Heston way where you take 3 days to make a stock out of truffles which you have picked yourself, which you then marinate with boars eyeballs over dry ice for another 3 days before you douse it in propane and light it on fire and mold it into the perfect shape to accompany your starter). 

Needless to say this recipe resulted in the salty, garlicy, crunchy dill pickle that has always had a place in my heart.  My only regret is that I only bought four cucumbers...   

As promised, here is your recipe.  Please make these.  For my sake.

Dill Pickles from Michael Symon and Michael Ruhlman


3 tbsp kosher salt
1 bunch fresh dill
10-15 garlic cloves (I went more towards 10 and still found it to be very garlicy)
1 pound pickling cucumbers (ideally young and small)


Combine 3 3/4 cups water with the salt, dill and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt is dissolved.  Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

Arrange the cucumbers in a nonreactive container and pour the brine over them.  *I ended up having to make double the brine as the liquid needs to fully cover your cucumbers.  You can also weigh the cucumbers down with something if they continue to float back up to the surface* 

Place in a cool place (like by your fish tank) and allow to ferment at room temperature for one week.  Taste the cucumbers.  If you want them to be more sour leave them out for 2 more days.

To store them, strain the fermenting liquid into a nonreactive pan and bring to a boil.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Pour the cooled brine back over the cucumbers, cover and refrigerate for up to one month.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

An Ode to the Pickle

 Pickles... possibly one of the biggest things, food wise of course, that I crave from life in the US, and more specifically life in Cleveland.  Now I'm not talking about your standard 'gherkin', the most widely represented cucumber pickle that you can find in Great Britain.  I'm not talking about your bread and butter pickle either, although those too are nice at times.  I am speaking directly and specifically about the classic Jewish deli accompaniment to any decent sandwich worth your time; the Kosher Dill Pickle.  This is what I dream about, what I gorge myself on during our trips back to Cleveland (a city which has once had the highest percentage of Jewish people per capita outside of Israel), tucked in the vinyl booths of Jacks Deli amongst the geriatric populations out for 'a bite to eat'.

It's not that the British can't pickle- believe you me they pickle.  They love their pickled beets with their pickled herring, next to their ploughmans sandwiches with Branson pickle and their pickled onions.  Even one of the buildings in the London skyline has been lovingly nicknamed the 'gherkin', but yet no matter where I have tried the deli's never seem to be 'Jewish' and the pickles never seem to be 'dill'.

It's not that the 'Kosher Dill Pickle' is actually kosher.  There is no rabbi I know of whose job consists of going around to all the picklers and blessing their fermenting cucumbers.  The term comes from the style of pickling first done by the Jewish deli's in New York City, back in the 19th century where garlic was added to the dill brine.     

So after my mother's visit last week I am now in possession of a wonderful Michael Simon book.  (A hometown Cleveland chef turned TV chef personality and owner of three restaurants in C-town and one it's it rival city; Detroit.)  It contains many recipes that remind me of Cleveland in the best of ways, along with what I hope to be a fantastic recipe for kosher style dill pickles.  Before I go posting the recipe willy nilly, lets make sure the outcome of this week-long brining process delivers the results I crave. 

Should I be successful my next post may entail my quest to find a deli here who puts more than two slices of meat on their sandwich to partner my pickling accomplishments... 

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Cooking the Generations

Things I would do with my mother more if we were living in the same city;

-Get our nails done more often than twice a year together
-Go to the movies and see girly things our husbands couldn't be dragged to with bowls of popcorn
-Hang out in our pj's and linger over coffee in the morning
-Spout off ideas for dream jobs, dream vacations, dream homes etc.
-Take turns giving each other cooking lessons while cooking things from both of our childhoods.

So while we did get to some of the things on the list (the movies will have to wait for the next trip) one of my favorites from my mothers trip to the 'big (foreign) city' was making my great grandmothers 'Lochshen Kugel', a dish both she and I had growing up.  It's familiar taste and smell reminded us both of our childhoods, a double pleasure I'm sure for my mother watching her 'baby girl' (nearly 30 now) pick at the raw mixture the same way I did when I was little.

Kugel is a baked Jewish pudding or casserole, similar to a pie, most commonly made from egg noodles (lochshen kugels) or potatoes, and can be made sweet (which is what we always had) or savory by the use of apples, pineapple, apricots, raisins, spinach, broccoli, cranberry, or sweet potato.

The name of the dish comes from the Germanic root meaning 'ball' or 'globe'.  The Yiddish name, a derivation of the German name seems to reflect a different shape than the kugels Great Grandma Bess used to make out of a rectangular dish, so it is likely that the shape changed over time (perhaps Pyrex has something to do with this...).

The first kugels were made from bread and flour and were savory rather than sweet.  Then, about 800 years ago, cooks in Germany replaced bread mixtures with noodles or farfel. Eventually eggs were incorporated. The addition of cottage cheese and milk created a custard-like consistency which is common in today's dessert dishes.

Kugels are a mainstay of festive meals in Ashkenazi Jewish (Jews of Eastern European descent like me) homes, particularly on the Jewish Sabbath and other Jewish holidays.  In fact some Hasidic Jews believe that eating kugel on the Jewish Sabbath brings special spiritual blessings, particularly if eaten in the presence of a Hasidic Rabbi.  However as Judiasm is now more than ever a culture as well as a religion, there is no reason or need to wait for the timing of a holiday to make and eat kugel.  Kugel is special because it is a simple form of comfort food.  It is easy to make, easy to pick at while making (a requirement of mine for any good comfort food), and grants its recipient the satisfying creaminess and sweetness of the filling, coupled with my favorite starch of choice- noodles.

Kugel is what we ate around family- whether it was my grandmother who made it for break the fast at Yom Kippur (a holiday based around the idea of asking forgiveness from others and forgiving yourself), or whether it was my mother planning one of our daily family meals, kugel was never eaten alone.  It was and is something to be shared and enjoyed with family, whatever the occasion.

Great Grandma Bess's Lochshen Kugel

500g/ 1lb wide egg noodles
4 large eggs
1 stick butter
6oz can crushed pineapple
1/2cup sugar
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2- 2/3 cup flour or bread crumbs
*cream cheese or sour cream to taste optional*


Cook and drain noodles.

Melt the butter in your 9" x 13" casserole dish in a hot oven 175C/ 350F.  Swirl the melted butter around in the pan to coat it.  Then pour the remaining in with your drained and cooled noodles.
Add all other ingredients, saving the eggs for last so the mixture will have cooled down enough so as not to cook them.

Mix well.

Bake for 45 minutes, checking periodically to insure the top is becoming crispy, but not burnt.

Cool, cut and enjoy for breakfast lunch or dinner with your momma!