Friday, December 28, 2012

Behold the kranz!

You know the bit in Julie and Julia when Julie needs to debone the duck? The kranz was sort of the equivalent for me (albeit I'm not attempting to cook all of Jerusalem, that would be slightly insane). But the kranz comes with a warning that it's "neither easy nor quick to make", i.e. not generally what I go looking for in a recipe. So I decided it would be a nice challenge for those lazy, cooped-up days around Christmas. It turned out more of a challenge than I expected, and not for the reasons I thought. Suffice to say, it's supposed to sit overnight but it took three flippin' days to make. Something didn't quite go as it was supposed to, though I managed to fix it. Still, this is a labour of love.

I still haven't gotten round to explaining what  a kranz is: it means "crown" in German and is a uber-Askhenazi cake (one of the few in this more Mediterranean-centred book) with a chocolate filling that is made into two "braided" parts (hence the crown or garland). Here is my recipe, with my adaptations and the further adaptions I plan to make should I attempt to repeat the experiment.

270 grs flour
50 grs caster sugar
half a cube of yeast (the original recipe calls for "fast-action dried yeast". Now, if someone happens not only to be really reading here but also to be British,can you explain what this is? Because I don't get the point of fast-action yeast in cake that's supposed to sit overnight)
60 mls of water (probably more water is needed)
1  egg (possibly will put 2 next time. That's when dividing by 2 becomes tricky, if you have 3 eggs in the original meant for a ginormous and ravenous Jewish family)
1/3 tsp salt
70 grs butter
sunflower oil
Ingredients for the filling
25 grs icing sugar
15 grs cocoa
70 grs dark chocolate, melted
60 grs butter
The original recipe calls for pecans. I don't really do pecans. 
Place the flour, sugar and yeast in a mixer and stir everything together (I'm going to do this by hand next time). Add the eggs and water and continue stirring until the dough comes together. Add the salt and start adding the butter, a few cubes at the time. Continue mixing for about 10 minutes until the dough is elastic and shiny. Place the dough in a large bowl, brush with sunflower oil, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight.
This is where the drama began, because the dough didn't grow overnight and I didn't get to sleep in for no reason! So I left it to sit the whole day, out of the fridge this time, and ended up adding a bit of water. So, by the evening, it had finally grown and could move to second part of the recipe. I'll leave out of the fridge next time.
Melt all of the ingredients in a saucepan.  Spread the dough with a rolling pin and cut the edges so that it's more or less rectangular.  Now the scary part comes, which isn't really so scary. Spread the chocolate paste on the dough. This caused further drama, since the filling was liquid, I assume it's supposed to be a Nutella-like paste. Maybe more chocolate would do the trick? Anyway, if I say so myself, I brilliantly solved the problem by later putting the roll in the fridge. Brush with water the long end further for you, then start rolling the long section that's closer to you. You end up with a rolled-up sausage. Put in the fridge so the filling becomes solid. Then, more of the not so scary scary part: cut the roll lenghways and weaves together the two parts, ideally letting the sectioned part up so that the chocolate "drawing" shows. Put in a baking tin and leave in the fridge overnight. Bake for 40 minutes at 190 c.

Now, once the feat was accomplished, what did the kranz actually taste like? It tasted nice, but not as heavenly as to justify all this work. This is a recipe that definitely needs fiddling with and practice. But I definitively learned some things from it, namely how to create plaited cakes with filling.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Chicken thighs with clementines and arak

The dish before and after being basted with sauce!

Arak was a big (alcoholic) discovery of my trip to Israel last summer. I'm not a fan of aniseed in general and the few times I had tried arak before in Lebanese restaurants I had disliked it. But yet somehow (after many shots?) it has grown on me, so I decided to buy a bottle at the duty-free in Ben Gurion airport before leaving (interestingly enough, it's Jordan-produced). So I was quite intrigued by Jerusalem's chicken with clementines and arak recipe. I'm very happy with the results, it might have been the one, so far in the experiment, that turned out the best. You can do it with an entire chicken that's been cut out or with chicken thighs, I did latter because I'm not going to cut a whole chicken apart and I'm not feeding a huge Jewish or Arab family. The recipe is right out of the book, minus fennel seeds that I couldn't get hold of, and  with quantities for two people:
2 chicken thighs
50 mil arak (apparently you can use ouzo or pernod instead)
3 tbsp of orange juice
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsb grain mustard
2 medium fennel bulbs
4 clementines  sliced horizontally (supposed to be unpeeled, I peeled them)
1 tbsp thyme leaves
oil and black pepper
chopped flat leaf parsley, to garnish

Put the arak, oil, lemon and orange juice, mustard, sugar a in a mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper. Trim the fennel and cut each bulp in half lengthways. Cut each half in 4 wedges. Add the fennel to the liquids, along with the chicken pieces (it works better if you cut the thighs in two), clementine slices and thyme. Stir well and leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees. Put the chicken and marinade in a dish big enough to accommodate everything in a single layer. The chicken skin should face up. Once the oven is hot enough, place to roast for 35-40 mins, until the chicken is cooked through.
Put the chicken and other ingredients in a serving plate, cover and keep warm. Pour the cooking liquids into a small saucepan, place on medium-high heat, bring to boil and simmer until the sauce is reduced to a third. Put the hot sauce over the chicken, garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

What was nice about this dish was the smell and taste of arak, fennel and other nice things throughout the preparation. The sauce (that can be soaked up with pitta pieces) was particularly yummy. If anything, next time I might try adding some more arak.

In other news, stay tuned because I bought some fenugreek! I'm still not sure what it is but I can use it now!

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Being busy has kept me away from cooking experiments, but I've not given up, the November hyatus is over! Muhallabieh, apparently an Arab classic, is a milk pudding. I haven't really altered the book's recipe, except for the garnishings:
50 grs cornflour
500 ml milk
200 ml water
80 grs sugar
Whisk the cornflour with 100 mls of the milk until they make a smooth paste. Pour the remaining milk, along with the water ans sugar, into a medium saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. When the milk mixture begins to release steam, whisk in the cornflour paste. Stir in until it becomes like a thick custard. Pour in individual cups, cover with cling film so that a skin doesn't form, and place in the fridge for three hours. Decorate with pistachioes (that mine were Iranian pistachioes amuses me immensely)

Pretty basic, isn't it? Problem was, the recipe includes a syrup to pour over the puddings, and the syrup includes bay leaves...And I wasn't able to find bay leaves anywhere, I'm not even sure what they are, to be honest. Hence, I gave up on the syrup, which wasn't a good idea, since without it the pudding is ok but, well, a bit mealy. Since I haven't eaten all of my puddings, I'm going to try adding some melted chocolate, which might not be the authentic Jerusalem way to do things, but which I feel might be an improvement.