December 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
On The Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
12 Chocolate Snowmen
11 Christmas Guetzli
10 Grilled Kalbsbratwurst
9 Glasses of Glühwein
8 Rhåtischebahn Engines
7 Rustic Chalets
6 Christmas Trees
5 Singers singing
4 Advent Candles
3 Christmas Stockings
2 Davos Sledges
and an enormous Cinnamon Star!
That’s more or less a summary of our Swiss Christmas,though we didn’t spend any where near 12 days there, and I haven’t even mentioned the skiing.
We have our mince pies and Christmas cake but the Swiss go nuts for their Guetzli – Christmas biscuits which are on offer in every bakery, household and public place throughout Christmas. The good Hausfrau will of course make her own to offer to guests and family. Leafing through my Betty Bossi Christmas baking book I see cosy colour pictures of Orangenschnittli (filled almond orange shortbread), fantastically embossed Tirggel, Orangenschümli (orange mini meringues), Pfeffernüsse (little spiced gingernuts) to name but a few.
Best of all in my opinion are the Zimsternen – cinnamon star biscuits. At their best they’re nutty and spicy, a little bit crunchy, a little bit chewy with a crisp meringue icing. These biscuits aren’t exclusively Swiss but can be found throughout the German-speaking countries.
The biscuit base, a mixture of ground nuts, sugar and egg whites flavoured strongly with cinnamon and lemon zest is half way beween marzipan and a macaroon. I’ve come up with my own version of the classic recipe compiled from 3 sources: (i)the recipe on the back of the special split “profi” star cutter; (ii) Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen”; (iii) Thorsten’s recipe on website Food.com. Dry matter per egg white varies from 225g to 275g and the percentage of ground nuts varies from 59% to 77% in the different recipes. This version uses 300g nutsand 200g sugar making 250g dry matter per egg white with 60% of the dry matter made up of nuts.
To make the biscuits using the method shown in my pictures you’ll need to get hold of a special split star cutter which releases the moist iced biscuits without sticking. I found mine in specialist kitchen shop Sibler in Zürich. If you have a standard star cutter then I’d recommend cutting the shapes out, placing them on the baking sheet then brushing with the icing.
Recipe for Cinnamon Stars
Makes about 34 biscuits in two rollings plus 15 small additional shapes with the soft trimmings.
For the biscuit dough
75g whole unblanched almonds
75g halved walnuts
100g golden caster sugar
60g egg white (about 2 medium egg whites)
pinch of salt
approximately 150g ground almonds (more may be needed to make a pliable, workable dough)
further 50g golden caster sugar
50g icing sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
For the icing
30g egg white (1 medium egg white)
small pinch of salt
175g icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Lightly toast the whole nuts. Allow to cool then blitz in a liquidiser with the 100g golden caster sugar until very finely chopped.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they reach the soft peak stage. Mix in the ground nut and sugar mixture, the ground almonds, caster sugar, icing sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Add additional ground almonds if necessary to make a workable dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and rest in the fridge for about an hour.
When the resting time is nearly up, make the icing. Whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt until stiff. Whisk in the sifted icing sugar a tablespoon at a time together with the teaspoon of lemon juice. You may not need to add all the icing sugar; stop when you reach a thick spreading consistency.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C (fan) and line two or three baking trays with parchment.
Dust a pastry board and rolling pin with plenty of sifted icing sugar then roll out the rested dough to about ½ cm thick. You can roll out the dough between 2 sheets of parchment if you prefer.
If you have a special split star cutter which can be squeezed to release the iced biscuit you can use this method to complete the stars: using a pastry brush, paint the surface of the dough thickly with the meringue icing and cut out the iced stars and carefully place them on a baking sheet a few centimetres apart. This gives a neat and professional finish but the drawback is that the icing is mixed into the dough when the trimmings are combined for rerolling making the dough wetter each time. To counteract this you may need to add more ground almonds each time you reroll. For my third rolling, I simply rolled the soft mixture into a log and cut thick disks. I didn’t ice this third batch but instead topped each with a whole blanched almond for a more macaroon-like biscuit.
If you have an ordinary star cutter, don’t try and pre-ice the biscuits as they will stick and not release from the cutter: simply cut out the star shapes, place them on the baking sheet then brush the biscuits with the meringue icing.
Bake the biscuits for about 15 minutes until baked through but still somewhat moist with crisp and uncoloured white icing. The biscuits will swell a little as they bake to end up 1cm thick. Leave on the baking sheet for a few minutes after removing from the oven before transferring to a rack to cool thoroughly.
You might like to bake any un-iced biscuits at a slightly higher temperature to give a more toasty flavour as there’s no icing to brown.
February 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
We spent a very chilly half term skiing in Engelberg in Central Switzerland once again this year. Views from the Titlis cable car were spectacular:
but the temperature was minus 21 degrees C up there. Brrr…
All the more reason to tuck into platefuls of that Central Swiss classic dish, Alpine macaroni (spelt locally as Älpermagronen on restaurant menus), a carb and calorie laden plateful of macaroni, potato, cheese, cream and a big dollop of apple sauce. Yes, that’s right, apple sauce. It sounds weird, but given that plain cheese and apple is a favourite lunchtime snack over here, maybe combining them in their cooked form is not so odd an idea after all. Oh, and it’s a great dish for vegetarians and children seem to like it too so no excuses not to give it a try.
Here’s the Alpine macaroni as served up at Engelberg’s Flühmatt mountain restaurant last week:
The recipe I give below is my take on the authentic Swiss recipe. For a double apple hit try the apple slices poached in cider as well as the apple sauce.
For the pasta
375g peeled, diced potatoes (use a yellow waxy variety such as Charlotte)
pinch of salt
375g dried maccaroni or similar small tubular pasta
250g gruyère cheese, coarsely grated (or other hard Swiss cheese such as Appenzell, Sbrinz or most authentic of all, mountain cheese from the canton of Obwald)
100ml double cream
freshly ground black pepper
For the fried onions
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, chopped
For the apple sauce
2 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2-3 tablespoons golden caster sugar (or to taste)
1-2 tablespoons water
For the apple slices (optional)
4 medium eating apples ideally with a reddish skin, about 500g before preparation. Cox or Gala are good.
1 cinnamon stick
100ml cider or apple juice
a little sugar to taste
Start by preparing the apple sauce. Put the apple slices, sugar and water in a heavy-based saucepan. Cover and place over a low heat. Stir and mash with a wooden spoon from time to time until the apples “fall” and become a thickish, smoothish sauce. Set aside.
Next, prepare the apple slices if you are going for the double apple hit (and I think you should). Quarter and core the apples, then cut into neat lengthwise slices, leaving the skin on as it looks attractive and helps the apple slices keep their shape.
Melt the butter in a medium heavy-based pan. Add the apple slices and cook for a minute or so over a medium heat, stirring carefully with a wooden spoon. Add the cinnamon stick, cider or apple juice and sugar to taste to the pan, turn down the heat and simmer until the apple is tender. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Now prepare the fried onion garnish. Melt the butter and oil together in a heavy based frying pan. Throw in the onions and garlic and cook over a low to medium heat stirring from time to time until the onion and garlic mixture is golden brown. This will take a little time – maybe 20 minutes; be careful not to let it burn. When ready, remove from the heat and set aside.
Finally, it’s time to prepare the pasta. This is a dish best served fresh and piping hot from the oven so I’m afraid it doesn’t lend itself to being prepped in advance and then baked as you might with any other pasta bake. That’s why you need to get the apple garnishes and onions ready in advance so you’re all set to go.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (180 degrees C fan). Warm a large empty baking dish in the oven. Cook the potato cubes and the pasta in boiling salted water until done. If you are confident about the timings, you can cook the potatoes and pasta together in the same pan as they should both be done in about 10 minutes. If you’re trying this for the first time, it’s probably safer to use 2 separate pans so both pasta and potatoes are cooked to al dente perfection. Drain and immediately layer into the warmed baking dish with the grated cheese, seasoning with black pepper and a little salt as you go. Go easy on the salt as the cheese is already quite salty. Start with a layer of half the pasta and potato mix, then a layer of half the cheese, then a second layer of the pasta and potato and finish with a layer of cheese. Spread the golden brown onions you prepared earlier on top. Pop the dish into the preheated oven to melt the cheese. Finally, quickly heat together the milk and cream in a small saucepan until almost at boiling point. Pour the hot milk and cream over the cheesy pasta and potatoes and return to the oven for 5- 10 minutes until piping hot. While the pasta heats through, gently rewarm the apple sauces and (optional) apple slices.
Serve onto warm plates and eat with a generous dollop of the apple sauce and a spoonful of the apple slices.
February 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
A busy January has just flashed by and it’s almost the end of an alcohol-free month. In anticipation of that glass of cellar-cool Châteauneuf du Pape that I have lined up for tonight, finally I’m in the mood to write again about good food and wine.
There’s lots to write about so I think I’d better catch up belatedly with the best bits of Christmas and New Year before moving on to the various food projects that have been keeping me busy this month.
We spent Christmas once again in Klosters in the mountainous and picturesque canton of Graubunden in Eastern Switzerland. During the course of 6 days, we ate our way through the Klosters pages of the Gault-Millau guide (4 restaurants collectively clocking up a whacking score of 59 Gault Millau points out of a theoretical maximum of 80), pausing only for a pizza on Christmas Day by way of respite. To be fair, our skiing lunches were pretty austere – Gerstensuppe (barley broth – a local speciality) or Gulaschsuppe for the most part – so we felt justified in going for it in the evenings.
Night 1 Rustico 13 GM points cumulative GM points 13
First up was the aptly named Hotel Rustico where we arrived curious to discover how the much fêted chef Vincent Wong would pull off the fusion of Asian and Swiss cuisine for which he is famous.
The Rustico certainly looked the part:
We were ushered out of the snow into the warmth of the cosy wood-panelled dining room and handed a menu of largely cheesy delicacies – essentially fondue or raclette. The boys were thrilled, but where was the Asian-Swiss fusion cuisine we’d come for?
There was just a hint of this on the menu – I ordered the scallop-filled Capuns (a local ravioli-like speciality of savoury stuffing wrapped in chard leaves traditionally made with meat and breadcrumbs).
It looked pretty enough:
But disappointingly the scallops garnishing the Capuns were overcooked and possibly had arrived deep frozen rather than fresh on the shell and the filling itself was just plain stodgy. A dish that could of have been inspired but sadly the kitchen didn’t pull it off.
The fondue and raclette (not really a speciality of this region) were absolutely fine but we remained mystified as to the restaurant’s reputation for fine cooking.
A bit of research afterwards solved the mystery. We’d gone wrong on two counts. First, my Swiss-German being not so good, I’d booked us into the “Prättigauer Hüschi” rather than the restaurant proper (a bit like booking in for a bar meal rather than the full Monty in a country-house hotel). Second, the Rustico seems to have a bit of a chequered history and has changed hands twice in the last year or so, but the 2012 Gault-Millau guide has failed to reflect this still listing Al and Renée Thöny plus chef Vincent Wong as the management team. In fact Stefan Stocker and Martina Schele took over last year and shortly thereafter handed over to the current proprietors Anja and Jörg Walter. Herr and Frau Walter list AC DC, Swiss folk music and motorbiking amongst their shared interests. Does this perhaps give us a clue as to the direction in which they’ll be taking the hotel and restaurant?
Night 2 Alpina 15 GM points cumulative GM points 28
The Alpina is conveniently situated opposite Klosters’ busy little railway station – a model railway set writ large. It’s a slightly unprepossesing modern chalet-hotel type building that the owners have done their best to clothe with alpine charm. The boys were particularly taken (and I was too actually!) with the polar bear snow sculpture which sits as a pediment above the underground carpark entrance:
We were seated on a prime corner table and presented with the menus. This was a little scary at first as both starters and mains were labelled rather severely as single words.
I opted for “Tomato” and followed it up with “Lamb”.
The obligatory amuse-bouche arrived followed-up mercifully quickly (we were hungry after a day’s skiing) with the starters. The menu writing may have been laconic but the food itself was rather more sumptuous, not to mention playful.
Here’s what “Tomato” turned out to be – a tomato Caipirinha (much more on-trend than a Bloody Mary), tomato mousse and the most intense clear essence of tomato and rabbit:
The restaurant clearly has high aspirations and cooking standards to match. Nevertheless the restaurant had a warm friendly atmosphere and we all felt comfortable. Yes, there’s a touch of pretentiousness about some of the menu wording – chef Christian Kaiser went under the moniker “Pleasure Composer” and the front-of-house team led by Jacques Revel and Patricia Reumschüssel were referred to as “Creators of Happiness” but the staff themselves were so efficient and charming you can forgive the odd purple patch in the prose. The hotel website gives idiosyncratic yet revealing profiles of all the key staff and Herr Revel certainly gets my vote with his love of mushroom-hunting and dislike of animals, “especially cats”!
Next to arrive was my “Lamb” – saddle; liquorice flavours; peas; tomato-sauce; olive oil”
This was a beautifully cooked and subtly flavoured dish but a bit lacking in starch. I had to help myself to some of the boys’ inviting looking potato rösti which set off the lamb a treat.
This is another attractive feature of the restaurant – as well as the high gastronomy on offer there are also simpler dishes to choose from (Wiener Schnitzel; veal sauté Zurich-style with rösti) which suited the boys well and made for a more relaxing meal for us. There’s a separate menu for younger children too which invites children to the upstairs play area once they’ve finished their meal. Someone has clearly thought about the practicalities of dining out with a family.
The pudding menu continued in the same single-word/quadruple dish style. I opted for the massive rumbling cheese trolley which competed with the trains running in and out of the snowy stations. The rest of the table pronounced the “Passion-fruit” as particularly good and big enough to share between two, maybe even three (panna cotta; soup; sorbet; crème brûlée):
And if you don’t fancy splashing out on pudding, just order coffee and finish your meal with the extremely generous plateful of petit fours and chocolates instead.
We’d definitely return for a special night out as the Alpina pulled off the trick of both providing top-class cooking and keeping two hungry not to mention fussy teenage boys happy.
Night 3 Walserhof 17 GM points cumulative GM points 45
In points terms at least, we’d reached the culinary high-point of the week. It felt slightly surreal crossing the threshold of the Walserhof for the first time rather than peering expectantly from the outside through handsomely draped windows into the opulent interior.
Other reviewers say the hotel is a simple chalet with a relaxed and welcoming feel but I’m not sure I agree. Yes, the exterior is low-key rather than glitzy and the welcome is attentive and charming but there’s the feeling that everything, absolutely everything, is carefully planned, checked, rechecked and “just so”. Having so many appraising staff eyes cast over one puts you imperceptibly on edge. With our thick down jackets and teenage boys in tow we felt a bit like the country mice visiting their smarter town cousins. The feeling of unease increased as we were seated too close for comfort adjacent to a couple clearly out for a special meal à deux. Something told me they weren’t going to enjoy fart jokes and football related banter…
The meal began with not one but two slender glass trays per person of amuse-bouches, each laden with triple or quadruple goodies. Here’s the more photogenic of the two:
Quite substantial for an amuse-bouche isn’t it? And strangely retro with all that kiwi fruit garnish and something that tasted suspiciously like prawn cocktail in a glass.
The bread basket proffered next was a thing of beauty – laugenbrötchen (pretzel-type rolls with a shiny salty coating); tiny square rolls topped with pumpkin seeds and finally brown walnut rolls. My goodness, after two helpings of the amuse-bouches and all that bread I was extremely full already.
The menu is full-on cheffy throughout – no comfort dishes sneaked in at the back here. This makes it a tad awkward not to say pricey to feed a pair of tetchy teenagers. Blimey, even at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, one of the world’s top restaurants no less, a lovely waiter leant over and whispered quietly in my ear that the kitchen could rustle up a freshly made pizza for the kids if that would be helpful.
I mused that this was notionally a hotel restaurant and wondered how parents managed to feed their children there, not only that but how it would be possible to eat in the restaurant more than once during a week’s stay given the quantity and richness of the food, and the time it took to eat it.
We’d all chosen the plainest starter we could find, the “Klosterser Chruutchräpfli mit Novaier Alpkäse” a gastronomic take on a local stuffed pasta speciality finished with mountain cheese. This doesn’t look like something from a rustic farmhouse kitchen though does it?
A still life on a plate isn’t it? We were busy admiring our food when Frau Amrein-Juon herself (she leads the front-of-house team and is married to chef Armin Amrein) tut tutted at our waitress and very carefully rotated each plate 180 degrees. That may be the way the chef wants it but frankly we didn’t mind if our plates happened to be upside down and it was rather intrusive to have our meal fiddled with in this way.
I’d ordered a main course based around turbot (the wonderfully named Steinbutt in German) mainly because I wasn’t in the mood for my other possible option, a darkly sticky braised veal cheek. The menu described the turbot as accompanied by Sauerkraut, Quarantina Bianca Genovese 1880 and white truffle. The combination didn’t sound immediately appealing and I had no idea what Quarantina Bianca was – I (wrongly) assumed it was a type of fortified white wine. I didn’t have high expectations for this dish but it turned out to be inspired cooking of the highest order.
This is how the dish looked:
I get quite excited thinking again about the lavish quantities of white truffle that our waitress carefully shaved over the dish. The aroma of white truffle as it hit the hot fish and mingled with the sauerkraut will remain in my memory for some time to come.
It transpires that the Quarantina Bianca is a special old variety of potato grown only in Liguria, Northern Italy. It’s waxy with a firm white rather than yellow flesh. It made the most amazingly flavoured and textured foamy pure white purée so ambrosial that I didn’t associate it with humble mash at all.
I’m not really a pudding person, but nevertheless chose a simply-named Iced Coffee from the section of the menu called “Walserhof favourites”. I’m not usually given to hyperbole about coffee-flavoured desserts either but this was divine, spoon after spoon of the most delicious iced, moussy, creamy concoction that I just had to finish served simply and unashamedly in a sundae glass. And yes, that tuile is sitting on a doilly like the ones your granny used to keep in her drawers:
Overall conclusion? I’d go again just for the Iced Coffee, but probably without teenagers making fart jokes. Definitely a Temple of Gastronomy where you the diner are subservient to The Chef, but goodness, he knows what he’s doing.
Save it for when you’re in the mood (and in funds for that matter) and fast for a week before you go!
Night 4 Chesa Grischuna 14 GM points cumulative GM points 59
The final stage in our gastro tour of Klosters. The Chesa Grischuna is yet another of the small, discreet and charming hotels that Klosters does so well.
No pictures of the dining room or any of the food I’m afraid as the lighting was just too subtle. You’ll just have to imagine a cosy wood-panelled room, linen clad tables, candles and the hum that comes from a room full of contented diners.
We had a lovely meal – in my case veal carpaccio, then vegetarian Capuns (yes, non-traditional Capuns again – see comments on the Rustico above). If at the Walserhof you the diner fall in with the requirements of the chef, here at Chesa Grischuna it’s the other way round – the impeccably polite and efficient waiting staff cater to your every need.
The place is impossibly romantic – I leant over and mentioned to my younger teenage son Arthur that as and when he felt like proposing to a future girlfriend, he could do worse than bring her here. Predictably enough, he turned bright red and commented “shut up Mum!”.
As we departed, we were given a small jar of homemade spiced winter berry jam as a parting gift. Some might think it twee but I was totally bowled over. We left in a warm happy fug and elder son George was persuaded to take our photo by the ice sculpture outside:
Rustico Hotel and Restaurant
Proprietors: Anja and Jörg Walter
00 44 81 410 22 (0)80
Alpina Hotel and Restaurant
Proprietors: Räto and Verena Conzett; Chef: Christian Kaiser
00 44 (0)81 410 24 24
Walserhof Hotel and Restaurant
Proprietors: Armin and Corina Amrein
00 44 (0)81 410 29 29
Chesa Grischuna Hotel and Restaurant
Proprietors: Guler Family; Chef: Michael Bless
00 44 (0)81 422 22 22
April 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’ve spend quite a long time hanging about in Zürich over the years returning home from various trips to the alps and much preferring to fly from Zürich rather than Geneva. If you find yourself in the same position and are feeling a bit hungry, then read on.
First of all, how long do you have before your flight home?
A trip to the Steiner bakery, Migros supermarket and Confiserie Sprüngli, all in the airport shopping complex will provide you with the wherewithall for a cheese fondue plus dainty dessert for your return home, or a superior snack to produce on your aircraft tray table to the envy of your fellow passengers.
And it’s your last chance to grab a Brezel, the chewy knotted bread addictively flavoured with lye (aka caustic soda – I kid you not) which was the European forerunner to the American pretzel. A far cry from the packets of dry industrial snacks we know as pretzels back home. Pick up a plain one or, if you prefer, a split and buttered one filled with cheese or ham to make a superior sandwich, at the “Brezel Koenig” (Pretzel King!) outlet at Zürich airport. Fast food with a Swiss twist…
Probably worth breaking your journey to the airport by getting off a couple of stops early at Zürich’s magnificent main station the Hauptbahnhof. Enjoy a last taste of Swiss food together with some great people-watching opportunities at the stately institution which is the Brasserie Féderal within the main station concourse. It makes me wonder why we don’t have decent restaurants in stations back home in the UK. We have to make do with a snatched stale baguette and a half gallon of overpriced milky coffee. I would love to see a proper station brasserie within Manchester’s characterful Piccadilly or Victoria station buildings but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon…
After your meal, you’ve probably still got time to wander into Zürich’s main shopping district to the Jelmoli department store, a bustling glass and steel building:
which hides its secret food hall, the Gourmet Factory, in its basement:
It’s a great place for browsing and for picking up odd delicacies like Hawaiian black salt, a handful of imported wild mushrooms, a pack of Piedmont rice to pop in your hand luggage.
Lucky you! It’s worth heading off to Zürich’s atmospheric Old Town for a light lunch or spot of afternoon tea at the glamorous Café Péclard at Schober. Café-Konditorei Schober was an old Zürich institution given a makeover in 2009 by restaurant entrepreneur Michel Péclard. Think of Péclard as a Swiss version of Oliver Peyton or Terence Conran. The building has been completely renovated but keeping the quirky charm of its various rooms – think chandeliers, exotic murals and red velvet chairs.
Péclard’s next step was to hire French master-pâtissier Patrick Mésiano, the 36 year old Niçois with a Joël Robuchon pedigree who now has outlets of his own in Antibes and Monaco as well as this new Zürich venture. Mésiano’s influence is immediately apparent in the displays of elegant macarons, pâtisserie and chocolate in the shop which fronts the café interior.
Gaze first of all at the elegant wedding cakes in the window:
Then head inside past the pâtisserie and chocolate displays and wait to be seated:
And enjoy a signature hot chocolate and a dainty morsel or two in one of the café’s elegant rooms.
A place to see and be seen, not just for entertaining your maiden aunt.
As you leave, you can’t fail to notice the inviting shopfront of Heinrich Schwarzenbach, tea and coffee supplier to Péclard at Schober plus supplier of groceries sourced from all over the world. A great place to browse by all accounts but sadly as it was a Sunday when I visited I had to content myself with window shopping:
8001 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0)44 217 15 15
+41 (0)44 220 44 11
Péclard at Schober
+41 (0)44 251 51 50
Schwarzenbach Kolonialwaren Kaffeerösterei
+41 (0)44 261 13 15
April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
A second post from our recent ski trip to Engelberg in central Switzerland. Truthfully, it’s not too difficult finding handy places to eat here because of the more compact nature of the resort compared to say Klosters or Zermatt. Also, the piste map helpfully lists contact details and thumbnail photos for all 16 mountain restaurants.
Nevertheless, here’s my choice of four of the best, just right if you’re planning a long weekend here perhaps?
At the top of the Stand cable car, or, if you prefer, at the end of the itinerary run down from Klein Titlis, you’ll find the traditional-looking Skihütte Stand. Don’t be fooled by the wood-cladding – it’s a relatively newly built structure which is just a little too close to the cable car for comfort as gazing out of the window at the metal gantries intrudes on the mountain idyll just a little.
The interior is rustic too – lots of wooden beams, bare slate and spectacular hunting trophies.
They do a reasonably priced dish of the day here, plus lots of Swiss classic dishes including, unusually, a refined version of the Vaudois speciality Papet, braised leeks and potatoes topped with a whole smoked sausage:
The Bärghuis (a central Swiss spelling of the Haupt Deutsch Berghaus) is a proper mountain hut with bedrooms as well as functioning in the ski season as a busy and popular restaurant. You’ll find the sturdy dark wood shingle-clad building at the top of the Jochpass chairlift.
Inside, you’ll be seated on shared refectory style tables and served by waitresses with the latest electronic gadgetry – no paper orders and bills here. The food is a mixture of hearty Swiss classics plus lighter pasta dishes and salads. Here’s the pretty-as-picture rösti with smoked salmon and horseradish which I ate here:
From the Jochpass, continue over the Graustock ridge taking the blue Engstlenalp run down to the chairlift. Incidentally you are now in the new canton of Bern with stunning views to the Haslital and beyond. Now follow the signposted path to the Rossbodenhütte, a 20 minute or so skate, push and shuffle along a lakeside path where you might see fisherman patiently sitting beside the holes they’ve cut in the ice, eskimo style.
We arrived here for an afternoon snack after climbing up and skiing down the nearby Graustock. Here am I basking on the sunny terrace with local guide Frédy.
They do a skiiers’ and walkers’ lunch here and lots of homemade goodies at other times of the day. We tried the apple tart and local speciality Haslikuchen, a dense Bakewell style start but made with ground hazelnuts:
A plate of the prettiest homemade biscuits arrived afterwards on the house. They were as fresh as could be, still warm from the oven. I would love to get hold of the moulds to try making these at home:
Finally, the Flühmatt, a farmhouse on the Brunni side of the valley. The Brunni ski area is rather under-represented in my mountain restaurant round-up as we skiied exclusively on the other side of the valley where the best snow was to be found. I’m not even sure you can reach the Flühmatt easily on skis but you can certainly walk there through the fields and forests. This is what we did on an evening outing organised by our hotel.
After a descent from the Brunni cable car our party of 40 hotel guests floundered through fresh snow half an hour or so before the welcoming sight of the Flühmatt came into view round a final bend. We were greeted on the threshold by steaming glasses of mulled wine (hot apple juice for the children):
We took off and hung up our snow-covered outdoor things and were ushered through into the cosy low ceilinged wood-panelled dining room. Just one dish was on the menu, the central Swiss speciality of Älplermagronen, pasta tubes baked with cheese and cream, topped with crispy brown fried onions and served with generous dollops apple sauce. Sounds weird but it hits the spot after a hike in the snow.
A riotous torchlit walk (or rather, slide) home through the forest rounded off the evening perfectly.
+41 (0)41 639 50 85
+41 (0)41 637 11 87
+41 (0)79 810 55 55
+41 (0)41 637 16 60
April 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
Peter and Susanne Kuhn are the charming and mildly eccentric (in the nicest possible way) couple who run the Hotel Edelweiss in Engelberg, central Switzerland, where we spent our half term skiing holiday this year.
Engelberg is just 50 minutes by train from Lucerne and its encircling mountains are dead ringers for Himalayan peaks.
Talking of Himalayan peaks, more than 200 Bollywood movies have been filmed in and around Engelberg, a peaceful stand-in for war-torn Kashmir. Engelberg is now a Mecca (please excuse inappropriate cultural metaphor!) for wealthy middle class Indians who flock here in droves. This explains the rash of multilingual notices pinned up everywhere:
The monastery which dominates the Engelberg valley adds a further “Black Narcissus” vibe to the village:
The monks who founded the monastery not only gave Engelberg its name “the Angel Mountain” but also endowed the place with its own dairy so you can combine a cultural visit with a little cheese shopping. Both a traditional waxed hard cheese and the newer soft-rinded bell shaped “Engelberger Klosterglocke” are made on site:
Engelberg is a weird mixture of charming family resort – the Belle Epoque architecture lend the village a quaint nostalgic feel – and freeride skiing paradise “It has glaciers, cliffs, endless pillow lines – and some of the sickest snow anywhere” to quote a recent article in Fall Line magazine, the ski bum’s periodical of choice.
Here’s the solid imposing bulk of the Hotel Edelweiss where we spent our week:
And here am I, with mountain guide Frédy, contemplating some of Engelberg’s perfect untracked powder (yes, there really is some truth in the ski mag hyperbole):
Looking at the Engelberg piste map, regular French Three Valleys skiers might be a little sniffy at the apparently scant number of mainly red runs here. But it’s quality not quantity that counts – remember that from the Klein Titlis at 3028m it’s more than 2km of vertical drop down to the village at 1050m. That’s a figure that most heliski operators would fail to match in a day…
The Kuhns promote the Edelweiss as a family-friendly hotel. During half term week the hotel was indeed packed with mainly Dutch families, children of all ages everywhere. This could have been hideous but in fact the comfortable, spacious hotel and Peter and Susanne’s attention to organisation meant that all ran smoothly and calmly. Imagine a Mark Warner or Ski Esprit style establishment but run by experienced grown-ups rather than hung over gap year students!
We had a very relaxed and comfortable week, and as we left, I was delighted that Susanne, hearing of my interest in collecting recipes, handed me a photocopy from her treasured handwritten family recipe book:
Here’s my translation of the recipe from the Schwyzerdeutsch. The picture is a bit of a cheat as it’s not a carrot cake made by either my or Susanne’s fair hands but was taken at the very handy Steiner bakery at Zürich airport. This looks to be a very different version of carrot cake from the American version we’re all used to. It’s got me wondering where the first carrot cake recipe came from – is it a mittel European recipe that was taken to America, made richer, bigger, coated with cream cheese and exported back again?
Recipe for carrot cake
5 eggs, separated
zest of 1 lemon
75g flour sifted with1 teaspoon baking powder
250g finely grated carrots
150g ground hazelnuts
150g ground almonds
Prepare a 26cm round cake tin, preferably springform, by greasing and lining with fine dry breadcrumbs.
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture becomes a thick, pale foam (you will need an electric mixer of some kind to achieve this).
Add the flour and baking powder mixture, the grated carrots and ground nuts.
Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage and fold in to the mixture.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and spread with a spatula to level.
The temperature and cooking times quoted are for a fan oven. Bake for 15 minutes at 170 degrees C then lower the oven temperature to 150 degrees C and bake for a further 30-40 minutes.
Turn out onto a rack to cool. Then ice with a mixture of 200g icing sugar mixed with 2 dessertspoons of lemon juice and 2 dessertspoons of water and, if liked, decorate with 16 marzipan carrots.
I haven’t tried the recipe yet so would love to hear any feedback. And if you know anything about the history of carrot cake and how it arrived in the US I’d be really interested in hearing about it.
Phone: +41 41 639 78 78
Fax: +41 41 639 78 88
Show Cheese Factory at the Engelberg Monastery
CH-6390 Engelberg, Switzerland
Phone +41 41 638 08 88
Fax +41 41 638 08 87
March 3, 2011 § 1 Comment
Next stop after Zürich airport en route to Engelberg for our half term ski holiday was Lucerne. The city is spectactularly situated by the lake we know in the English speaking world as Lake Lucerne but is known in Switzerland as the Vierwaldstättersee (lake of the 4 forest cantons).
Lucerne missed by a whisker being nominated as Switzerland’s capital city (rather than sleepy Berne) and has a definite cosmopolitan European capital feel with its lakeside concert hall, museums and galleries.
We spent a few days here last summer too and had one of the most perfect al fresco meals ever in the grounds of the lakeside Hermitage Hotel:
Lucerne can lay claim to a number of local specialities. Luzerner Birnenbrot, a giant fig-roll type affair crammed full of dried pears and nuts, can be found in most bakeries.
But arguably, Lucerne’s most famous dish is the “Ächti Lozärner Chügelipaschtete”, a giant vol-au-vent type pastry case filled with chunks of veal, sweetbread, sausage and tiny mushrooms in a savoury saffron flavoured sauce. With its magnificent egg-wash gilding and pastry decoration and its saffron flavouring, the dish has a medieval banquet feel and is unusual and delicious. Here’s the version we tried, toned down a little for modern appetites:
Back home, I’ve combed through my collection of cookery books for a recipe for this dish and have come across an authentic sounding one from Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen” which I translate and paraphrase below. This version doesn’t include saffron or sweetbreads which is a pity as they add to the character of this dish and were certainly present in the version we ate.
I also found this beautifully photographed and meticulously written Swiss blog entry on how to make a miniature version of this delicacy. I give the link below but you’ll need to brush up on your German if you want to read it!
Recipe for Ächti Lozärner Chügelipaschtete
From Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen”. Apologies in advance for any errors in translation which are mine alone!
Serves 4-5 people
For the pastry case
600-700g puff pastry
1 small bread roll plus a handful of tissue paper
2 egg yolks
For the filling
250g lean pork
250g lean veal
3 dessertspoons butter
1/2 litre white wine
approx 150g pork and veal sausagemeat
1 teaspoon each of ground coriander seed and chopped marjoram (more to taste if liked)
300 ml stock
2 dessertspoons flour
50g grapes macerated in 1 dessertspoon of Swiss pear Schnapps or Kirsch
Salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
a little cream
1 dessertspoon chopped almonds
Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of 4mm and cut out from it 2 circles approx 24cm and 32cm in diameter. Place the smaller circle on a dampened baking sheet. Wrap the bread roll in sheets of tissue paper until it forms a ball approx 37-38cm in circumference. Place it on the centre of the smaller pastry circle. Brush the border with water and place the larger circle over the top. Seal the join and crimp the border.
Roll out the rest of the pastry and cut strips approx 3mm thick and 6mm wide. Brush them with egg yolk and stick them onto the pastry dome laying 4 strips in the form of a cross and 2 others in the form of a ring. Place further strips around the base to cover the ends of the strips neatly.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Further decorate the pastry dome with star, heart and half-moon shapes cut from the pastry remnants. Finish with a large pastry rosette on top. Brush the lot with egg yolk wash.
Bake in the lower part of the oven where the temperature will be only 160 degrees C for 40 minutes. After 25 minutes, cover with aluminium foil. Remove from the oven when cooked and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Remove the top part of the pastry shell from the upper ring and take out the paper-wrapped bread roll.
(This all sounds a bit complex but the lovely photos from the La Mia Cucina blog to which a link is given above make it all visually clearer).
Now make the filling. Cut the meat into small cubes. Peel and chop the onions. Melt 1 and 1/2 dessertspoons of butter in a pan and brown the meat and onions. Add 50ml white wine to the pan and cook for 10 minutes.
Mix the sausagemeat with coriander and marjoram and form into small balls. Bring the stock to the boil in a medium saucepan and poach the sausagemeat balls for 10 minutes.
For the sauce, melt the remainder of the butter and add the flour to form a roux. Off the heat, gradually beat in the rest of the wine. Add the collected meat juices from the previous cooking steps to the pan together with the grapes and their soaking alcohol. Cook for 20 minutes. Add the meat and sausagemeat balls, heat through, season and thin the sauce if necessary with a little cream or additional stock.
Toast the almonds. Fill the pastry dome with the meat and sauce mixture, scatter over the almonds and top with the pastry lid
Variations: add a grated apple to the sauce; replace some of the meat with button mushrooms.
This dish is especially associated with “Fastnacht”, the night before the Lenten carnival, what we would call Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras. It makes whipping up a few pancakes seem like a doddle!
March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment
We’re still all going crazy for dainty pastel-coloured Parisian macarons. Meanwhile the Swiss firm of Sprüngli has quietly been making its own version going under the odd name of Luxemburgerli (little Luxemburgers) for some years now.
Above and below are displays at the very conveniently located Zürich airport branch of Sprüngli where we passed through last week en route to our half term ski holiday:
Pictured are a pyramid of vanilla Luxemburgerli plus trays of cinnamon (Zimt) and raspberry (Himbeer) flavours – I forgot to check what flavour the dramatic black ones on the left were. Dare I say it, these are daintier and more delicate even than the Parisian macaron, perfect for nibbling with coffee on the train journey to Luzern and beyond:
How do they come to be made in Zürich and how did they come by their odd name? According to the Sprüngli website www.spruengli.com the recipe originated at the Confiserie Namur in Luxembourg, a business with which the Sprüngli family had close ties. Patissiers from Zürich would go and work in the Duchy of Luxembourg and vice versa. It was in the late 1950s that one of the Luxembourg trainees started producing macarons in Zürich and they were given the nickname Luxemburgerli (the Swiss are very fond of the diminutive) in his honour.
Demand grew gradually and Sprüngli today produces 650kg of Luxemburgerli every day making them the company’s best seller.
So maybe the current trend for Parisian macarons is more than a fad and is here to stay?
September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
In this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness I’ve been thinking about apples. I’ve always thought of them as the quintessential English fruit but looking at data on world apple production collated by the United States Food and Agriculture Association. I see that China rules the apple world producing an impressive 31 million tonnes in 2008. The US is in second place producing a mere 4 million tonnes. The UK languishes in 37th place with its meagre production of 243,000 tonnes, narrowly pipped (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun) by Switzerland’s 255,000 tonnes.
Apples featured during our trip to Switzerland this summer. The Swiss, like the English, claim the apple as their own. After all it was an apple that Swiss folk hero William Tell shot from his son’s head to prove his prowess in archery.
We saw this luscious golden version of William Tell’s apple in the sculpture park at Martigny, Switzerland which we visited in August. The artist is French sculptor Claude Lalanne (b. 1924)
And here is the real thing, apples growing in a ProSpecieRara orchard in what might be called William Tell Country, the shores of the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne to the English speaking world, with iconic Swiss mountain Pilatus in the background. This was a view from the second week of our Summer 2010 Swiss trip as we ascended the Bürgenstock on foot rather than usual tourist option of funicular railway and spectacular outdoor lift.
By the way, ProSpecieRara http://www.prospecierara.ch/ is the Swiss Foundation for the Cultural and Genetic Diversity of Plants and Animals, a sort of super Brogdale. They hit the headlines recently with a taut-skinned longlived rare apple variety which is now being used in a facecream used by Michelle Obama.
I digress so back to the fruit itself. Apples from our neighbours’ garden greeted us on our return home in early September. Their enterprising daughters were giving away these beauties door to door in return for a donation to charity. I’m not sure what variety they were but they were crisp and sweet and worked well for both cooking and eating:
I was inspired to depart from the usual pie or crumble option and to try out two different apple recipes. The first was a new one for me, a traditional Brown Betty pudding, the recipe taken from the ever reliable Four Seasons cookbook. The second was the resurrection of what’s become a family classic, an apple and walnut cake from Nigella Lawson’ “How to be A Domestic Goddess”.
The apples turned out to be one that held their shape after cooking rather than “falling” into a delicious fluff in the way that Bramleys do. The Betty would have been better with a Bramley type apple I think as all the ingredients would have melded together. Served with a dollop of proper custard, it was nevertheless a satisfying conclusion to a ribsticking Sunday lunch:
Now that I’ve tinkered with Nigella Lawson’s cooking instructions (I’ve found that a lot of the recipes in the Domestic Goddess book need road testing and refining before they’re safe to use) this is a reliable recipe for an unusual but easy to make cake. The flavours of walnut oil and lemon zest, plus the grappa soaked sultanas (my refinement to the recipe which originally specified rum) marry perfectly with the apples and lift their flavour. You can almost kid yourself its good for you too.
Here are the two recipes in case you too have a glut of apples on your hands. They’re both good enough to go out and buy apples for too if you don’t have any homegrown ones.
Recipe for Apple and Apricot Brown Betty
From Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book. I’ve tinkered with it only to adjust the dried apricot instructions as these days all you can find are the ready to eat type so no need to soak overnight.
1/4 lb (115g) dried apricots, the soft type ready to eat type, roughly chopped
1 and 3/4 lb (800g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
6 oz (175g) coarse fresh white breadcrumbs
2 and 1/2 oz (70g) melted butter
2-3 oz (55-85g) blanched almonds
grated rind of 1 small orange
4-6 oz (115-175g) brown sugar (I used a dark soft Muscovado)
more butter for dotting
Toss the crumbs into the melted butter so they absorb it evenly. Spread a thin layer of crumbs onto the base of a porcelain soufflé dish. Cover with a mixture of the coarsely chopped apples, apricots and almonds. Sprinkle with a little orange rind and some of the sugar. Repeat the layers until the dish is full, finishing with a layer of crumbs. Dot with butter and sprinkle over any remaining sugar. Bake at 180 to 190 degrees C until golden and crisp. Good with cream, perhaps clotted cream, or proper custard.
Recipe for Apple and Walnut Cake
Adapted from a recipe in “How to be a Domestic Goddess” which in turn started life in Anna del Conte’s “Secrets from an Italian Kitchen”
150 ml walnut oil (or half and half mixture of walnut oil and extra virgin English rapeseed oil which I used)
200g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
350g plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 and 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
450g eating apples (don’t use a Bramley type apple for this recipe as distinct nuggets of cooked apple are what’s required in the finished cake) peeled, cored and cut into small cubes (1/2 cm dimension is about right)
zest of a lemon
Put the sultanas into a small saucepan and bring to the boil then set aside to plump up.
Line a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin with bakewell paper and preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.
Beat the oil and sugar together in a large bowl, and add the eggs one at a time, beating until it looks a bit like mayonnaise. A wooden spoon and some elbow grease work fine here. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, folding in with a metal spoon. Stir in the apples, lemon zest, sultanas with any residual grappa and walnuts. The batter should be fairly stiff.
Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin, level the surface and place in the preheated oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 160 degrees C. After a further 30 minutes, check the cake and if it’s browning too quickly, cover the top with a disc of foil. The cake will be ready after an hour, or maybe an hour and fifteen minutes. Check with a skewer after an hour.
Let the cake stand for 20 minutes before turning out. It’s delicious eaten slightly warm but will behave better in terms of cutting into neat slices, if left overnight, wrapped in foil before you try it. I can’t comment on its keeping qualities as it’s never lasted more than a day or so in our greedy household!
August 19, 2010 § 1 Comment
Swiss cheese is much in evidence at the show dairy in the hamlet of Pringy on the outskirts of the village of Gruyères in Western Switzerland. And I don’t just mean the vast wheels of the stuff in the maturing cellars. There’s lots in evidence in the twee on-site restaurant and most of all in the knick-knack laden gift shop.
Picture-perfect Gruyères with its castle, quaint winding streets and Maison de Gruyère show-dairy is definitely a tourist magnet. On the day of our visit it was overrun with visitors of all nationalities including two improbably grown-up and portly troupes of boy scouts. We duly joined the queue for tour and museum tickets and after a short wait we were taken step by step through the story of the cheese. It all starts here with the alpine pasture:
Well it does and it doesn’t as only the specially designated Gruyère d’Alpage is made in the summer from the milk of cows grazing the high mountain pastures. Just 56 dairies produce 400 tonnes per annum of this rare commodity whereas a total of 200 dairies produce 27,500 tonnes per annum of Swiss AOC (Appellation d’Origine) gruyère. Talking of AOC gruyère, the museum maintains a dignified silence on the subject of so-called French gruyère. The French cheekily awarded their own product national AOC status back in 2001 and subsequently went a step too far going for Europe wide PDO (protected designation of origin) status. Earlier this month the European authorities, quite correctly in my view, threw out the French claim. It’s a bit rich the French trying to protect their own so called gruyère cheese when they come down like a ton of bricks on smalltime producers of elderflower champagne…
Back to the genuine article. Swiss AOC gruyère can only be produced in a relatively small area centred around Gruyères itself within the cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Bern. The milk comes not from what I think of as a traditional Swiss light brown cow but from the black and white or reddish-brown and white Fribourg breed. Each cow eats an astonishing 100kg of grass per day and produces as a result just 25 litres of milk. The traditional 35kg round of cheese is made from a generous 400 litres of milk. At the show dairy, they work with vats holding 4,800 litres of milk to produce 12 cheeses at a time. The morning milk is added to the previous evening’s milk (which has been stored overnight at a temperature of between 15 and 18 degrees C) before the cheesemaking process begins.
Gruyère cheese is often described as unpasteurised, but as the museum visit makes clear, the milk is gently heat-treated (to 57 degrees C compared to the 71 degrees C of the pasteurisation process) during the production of the cheese. The milk (presumably skimmed to remove the luscious Gruyère crème double much fêted in this part of Switzerland) is first heated to 32 degrees C before adding a natural starter culture (lactic acid fermentation agent in whey) and subsequently animal rennet. The starter culture matures the milk and the rennet causes it to coagulate into a mass. The coagulated milk or curd is then cut using large blades into small pieces. Judging the exact moment to begin the cutting is reckoned to be the trickiest part of the whole process.
The cut curds are then heated to 57 degrees C until the mixture becomes elastic and firm to the touch and the cut curds shrink to the size of small peas. At this point the whey is drained off and the curds ladled into moulds and pressed to form the virgin gruyère cheeses.
The fresh cheeses, vulnerably pliable at this stage, are soaked in a 20% brine solution which gives the cheese half of its ultimate salt content. Finally, the cheeses are placed on shelves of untreated pine (picea abies, the Norway spruce aka the Christmas tree) and left for a lengthy maturation process at a constant temperature of 13 to 14 degrees C. The cheeses are turned daily and brushed with salt solution as they mature. This no doubt used to be carried out by hand but the ever-ingenious Swiss have devised a robot to carry out this repetitive task. There is a certain fascination to be had watching the robot progress up and down the aisles of cheese.
5 to 6 months’ maturation produces a doux (mild) cheese; 7 to 8 months’ a mi-salé; 9 to 10 months’ a salé; +10 months’ a réserve; and finally 15 months’ a vieux. Older is not necessarily better in my book and I rather enjoyed the mild flavour of the youngest gruyère. Visiting the show dairy is a multi-sensory experience and helpfully you are given samples of 3 different ages of cheese to taste the difference. They become progressively more intense and savoury as they age.
You’re not normal if at this stage you haven’t developed an intense salivating urge to buy more cheese to take home. Might I suggest that you restrain yourself from joining the horrendous crush in the end-of-tour store and take a stroll up a grassy hill in the direction of the town of Gruyères itself. On the way, you will pass this traditional farmhouse:
Ring the bell and the farmer’s wife will cut for you a wedge of authentic Gruyère d’Alpage. She also sells the fresh whey cheese known as sérac, a by-product of the gruyère cheese making process. This is what the local farmers used to eat themselves as the gruyère itself was far too lucrative a commodity for home consumption.
I initially thought that sérac must be a marketing man’s invention to make a plain cheese more enticing with a mountain-themed brand identity. A sérac is, as any mountaineer will tell you, the name of the rough ice lumps that form when a glacier undulates. It transpires that it’s the other way round. The cheese was named sérac first, with a possible derivation from the Latin word for whey, serum, and the glacial formation was named after the cheese in a fit of whimsy.
The farmer’s wife suggested eating the sérac as it came with salt, pepper and fresh herbs or using it as a cooking ingredient. I found a handy recipe for cooked sérac posted on the www.genevalunch.com website on 15 March 2010 by Jonell Galloway.
Finally, if all this sounds too touristy for you, how about a day’s foraging for wild plants in the lush Fribourg countryside? I saw an enticing little flyer for just such an adventure pinned up on the Maison de Gruyère noticeboard but didn’t have the time to take up the opportunity. The lady leading the foraging walks is Christine Brinkerhoff-Meier tel 00 41 (0)26 928 1429 firstname.lastname@example.org. The tours run from 9.00 till 16.00 on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months.