Saturday, August 18, 2007

Nectarine and Blueberry Kuchen

...aka the upper body workout, as indeed any yeast cookery is if you don't have a food mixer with a dough hook (I don't). Nevertheless, I love baking yeasted things. I like the slow speed with which one must approach them (it's psychological: if I am attempting this, I must be having a relaxed, slow few hours pottering around the house); I like the smell as they rise and then bake; and I love putting a small dense ball of dough in a bowl, leaving the room, and then returning to find it risen and plump and airy, twice its original size. And then punching it down is fun too...I could go on. It's a fantastic combination of science and art.

This morning, Matthew arrived on the red-eye from New York. I have worked too many hours this week, so we have plans to do nothing except sleep and possibly, if we are feeling particularly energetic, going to see The Bourne Ultimatum. My flatmate was at the premiere, and I've heard good things also from friends in the US who have already seen it. But for now, he is sleeping and I am waiting for the sweet kuchen dough to rise. I think one of the reasons Matthew likes these for breakfast so much is the fact that they take over an hour to make from start to finish, which gives him all that extra time for sleeping after I have got up. (He likes his sleep, and is quite incredibly good at it.)

When the dough is magnificently swollen, I shall punch it down, knead briefly then stretch and pull and push it into a big flat oblong, against its springy desires, and then top it with sliced nectarines and fat blueberries and bake. After about 35-40 minutes, I shall wake the boy up to a wonderfully scented breakfast - or more accurately, brunch - of delicately sweet, golden dough weighed down with warm juice-oozing fruit. Who could resist?

For the dough:
  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 2 sachets (14g) dried yeast
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • approx. 200ml milk
  • 75g butter, melted

  • For the topping:
  • 3 - 4 ripe nectarines
  • 150g blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons flaked almonds (non-essential)
  • a couple of tablespoons of milk or beaten egg to glaze the edges of the dough

  • First make the dough. Combine the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and spice in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Beat the eggs in a measuring jug, then add enough milk to reach the 250ml mark. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the melted butter and egg mix. Using your hands or a round-bladed knife or metal spoon start to pull the flour into the well of liquid. It will start to turn in to a straggly mess, at which point you have to use your hands. Yeast dough is the opposite of pastry - you want it nice and warm so the yeast will do its job - and you have to handle it a lot and quite roughly. Turn the mix over and over with your fingers, putting wet bits into the dry areas of the bowl. It should gradually start to cohere, at which point start squeezing lumps together. If it is way too dry and never going to come together add a splash more milk and mix again. Conversely, if you have a sticky clump gluing itself to your hands, add another tablespoon of flour. (Pour it onto your dough-covered hand and then rub them together to remove the dough and add the flour to the bowl in one easy step.) The amount of liquid flour absorbs depends on its type, milling, the weather and what you wore last night, making precise directions for the quantities you will need impossible. What you are aiming for though is a dough which is soft and holds its shape without being sticky.

    Once you have a ball of non-sticky dough, you have to knead it. This is where the upper body workout begins. Lightly flour your work surface, then place your dough on it. Put the heel of your right hand against the centre and push down and away from you. Put your fingers under the far edge you've just pushed away and fold it back onto the top of the ball. Turn the dough round about a quarter turn. Place your hand on top again, push down and away, fold, and turn and repeat and repeat and repeat... With practice you will get into a rhythm and the fold and turn will become one motion, and then you will find that the whole process merges to a fluid, rolling repetition. You must keep kneading until the dough becomes smooth and springy, which will take about 10 minutes. Even if you've never done it before, you will notice the dough changing consistency as you knead - the change is really very marked, so don't worry if you don't know quite what you're looking for. Trust yourself!

    Once you've got yourself well warmed-up from the exertion and think you've done enough, put the ball of dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with clingfilm to stop the top drying out. Put it somewhere fairly warm but not hot (yeast is a living organism and needs warmth to work, but slows down if it's too hot - just like me) and leave for about 50 minutes, until it has doubled in size. Meanwhile, switch the oven on to preheat to 200°C.

    When the rising time has been sufficient, punch down the dough. This is exactly what it sounds like: make a fist and punch down, listening as the air, or rather carbon dioxide, whooshes out of the dough. Knead again very briefly then shape into a neat ball. Place this on a lightly oiled baking sheet and press down. It will spring up again. Keep pressing and gently stretching and pushing the dough to ease it in to a large flat oblong, being careful not to tear it. You could use a rolling pin, but I find it unnecessary and cumbersome. Brush around the edges with the milk or beaten egg. On to your base, slice the nectarines into crescents about 3mm thick. I do the cutting in mid-air above it, so none of the juices are lost. Bake at 200°C for 10 minutes (this kills the yeast and stops the dough rising too much more) then turn down to 180°C. Bake for another 15 minutes then sprinkle over the blueberries and scatter a few flaked almonds. Return to the oven for a final 10 - 15 minutes, until the edges of the base are a dark gold-brown and the blueberries are oozing pinkly.

    Remove for the oven and leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before sliding onto a serving board to eat or a wire rack to cool.

    1 comment:

    Matthew said...

    I wrote the following poem on a very lonely Wednesday evening this past week. Anyone who has had to travel for work may empathize. It's nice to be home. And the kuchen decribed above is my favorite.

    Homeward Bound Haiku
    One in a sushi bar
    Wishes he was enjoying
    Eleanor's Eats