Twelve days of Swiss Christmas

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.

Ingredients

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.

Swiss alpine macaroni (Älpermagronen)

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.

Serves 4

Ingredients

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 milk
100ml double cream
salt
freshly ground black pepper

For the fried onions

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
20g butter
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.
10g butter
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.

Swiss new year

February 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yikes, we’re well into February, it’s almost the half-term holiday and I still haven’t written-up our New Year meal. It’s high time I put this right. We’ve been doing the new year thing since the big millennium celebration in 2000 and have taken turns hosting along with Neal & Shelley and Mike & Janet.

It fell to us to host this year and it occurred to me that despite my enthusiasm for all things Alpine I’d never yet chosen a Swiss theme. The challenge would be to avoid as many Swiss clichés as possible – cheese, chocolate, cowbells, cuckoo clocks and similar tat, and to keep the dishes relatively light so we’d all make it into 2012 feeling fit and raring to go.

Here’s the menu I came up with. You’ll see I didn’t entirely succeed with no cheese/light cuisine idea as the Malakoffs – deep-fried battered chunks of gruyère sound like the (Scottish?) first cousin of the deep fried Mars bar, but I couldn’t resist:

Canapés

(i) Bundnerfleisch (thin slices of air-dried cured beef)wrapped around celeriac remoulade; and (ii) Malakoffs – deep fried gruyère sticks

First course

Hay soup -light chicken/vegetable cream soup infused with meadow hay

Second course

Individual Luzerner Chugelipastete – puff pastry dome filled with braised veal pieces in cream and saffron sauce

Main course

Venison medallions with preiselbeer sauce, rösti and braised red cabbage

Salad

Lambs’ lettuce (the cutely named Nüsslisalat in German)

Pudding

Walnut and cinnamon parfait with mulled prune sauce and Zimtsternen – cinnamon star biscuits

Cheese

Vacherin Mont d’Or

Menu decided, next step was to set the scene. There’s never time to sort out a table centrepiece when you’re preparing a meal so I called in professional help in the form of Vicky Clements’ magnificent Swiss flag inspired floral arrangement in red and whie, a veritable alp in miniature (see her contact details below if you’re in or around S Manchester/Cheshire):

Vicky was responsible for the fairy-lit hearts too. Sehr gemütlich, Ja?

I dusted down my piping skills to write dinner guests’ names on an experimental batch of moulded biscuits using my newly acquired Swiss Springerle moulds. They were a little involved to make but I was quite pleased with these as my first attempt. My piping is rusty though and it took a few attempts to steady the hands and create something legible:

Air dried beef is usually served as part of a large platter of cured meats and cheeses in Switzerland. We chose to roll the beef around celeriac remoulade which created a light and fresh-tasting canapé packed with flavour. Janet made the celeriac – very simply made by mixing raw grated celeriac into a Greek yoghurt, lemon and parsley dressing – and assembled the canapés and very pretty they looked too. Celeriac makes a fantastic winter salad and we’ve eaten it several times already since then:

The doyennes of cookery and entertaining always tell you not to try out new recipes on your guests don’t they? Well, I think rules like this are meant to be broken, but sometimes minor disasters will ensue. I think it’s fair to say that the malakoffs didn’t work. Tim was banished to the garage to deep fry these battered cheese parcels. I can’t abide the smell of deep-frying fat in the house, so our deep-fat fryer lives very happily in the garage which means that, with the assistance of the barbecue it’s pretty easy to rustle up a mean steak and chips for al fresco consumption in the summer.

I thought we’d followed the malakoff instructions on the Swiss food blog http://www.fxcuisine.com to the letter. Maybe the batter was too light, maybe the oil was too hot, maybe we cooked them for too long, but when we came to consume the malakoffs, they turned out to be hollow as all the molten cheese had leaked out into the frying oil creating an unholy mess (which I have yet to properly clean up I’m ashamed to say). The fritters looked the part and retained enough of the ghost of a flavour of cheese to allow you to imagine how delicious a correctly cooked malakoff might be. Another time…

We began the meal proper with an unusual hay soup, expertly prepared by Shelley. This is a traditional Swiss soup, different versions of which come from the mountainous cantons of Valais and Graubünden. I’d tasted this in Klosters a couple of winters ago, and it looked so pretty presented on its bed of hay and garnished with dried meadow flowers that I had to put it on our menu.

I couldn’t find a definitive recipe but found several different versions by searching under “Heusuppe Rezept”. Our version used a hay-infused light stock, a flavour base of sweated vegetables and a little pearl barley to thicken. I think I’d like to try out the other versions before publishing a definitive recipe.

Sourcing the hay proved to be harder than I’d thought. I scoured farms in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales for an elusive handful of local organic meadow hay but without success – all I was offered was silage which I don’t think would make a very pleasant tasting soup. In the end, The Hay Experts (see contact details below) came to my rescue. They really do know their hays (even if the end consumer is usually a pet rabbit) and despatched just what I needed very promptly.

Our next course was a miniature version of the Luzerner Chugelipastete – an exuberant puff pastry dome filled with braised veal and veal sausagemeat in a creamy saffron flavoured sauce. In order to cut down on the pastry, I made pastry lids to cover the braised veal which was served in individual ramekins.
I posted last year on the subject of this dish:
https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2011/03/03/lunch-in-lucerne/

I used a couple of cheat steps when I made the miniature version of the dish. Short of time, I used Dorset all-butter puff pastry – reliably good if you don’t have time to make your own. Instead of veal forcemeat balls made from scratch I used a pack of veal meatballs from Waitrose. These are made from ethically sourced British rosé veal and are delicious and versatile. Actually, I didn’t follow the Marian Kaltenbach recipe for the sauce which I’ve quoted before at all. I flash fried strips of veal tenderloin, combined them with the cooked veal meatballs, added a little stock and cream, reduced the whole lot down to make a sauce and added grapes macerated in a Swiss grappa type schnapps to finish. I was reasonably happy with the end result:

We were now well set up for the main event, a fabulous-looking venison tenderloin supplied from The Blackface Meat Company who are based up near Dumfries in Scotland. I’ve used them a couple of times before for game and rare breed meat. They may be a little expensive but they supply top quality meat, expertly butchered and delivered promptly and efficiently to your door.

I did try and obtain some local venison from Dunham Massey. Each year, the deer are culled and just a few of the younger deer are butchered and sold to the public via a local farm shop. Unfortunately because of problems with poaching this year I didn’t know if my tenderloin was going to turn up on time. When finally I did get the call that the venison was available, I was a little disappointed with what the butcher had done as this tenderloin was nowhere near as expertly trimmed as the Blackhouse meat. So Dunham’s answer to Bambi is in the freezer ready for a future Sunday lunch.

The Blackhouse website lists useful recipes and I followed chef Mark Hix’s instructions for marinading the venison in red wine before flash-frying and serving with a red wine reduction. Not an authentic Swiss recipe but very Swiss in character as you’ll find lots of robust game dishes cooked with red wine in restaurants during the autumn and winter hunting season.

The venison was expertly cooked by Janet and was served with everyone’s favourite Swiss dish, potato rösti,braised red cabbage and a spoonful of Preiselbeer sauce. The Preiselbeer is a smaller, tastier European relative of the more familiar North American cranberry. It’s also known as the lingonberry in Swedish and here in England it’s known as the cowberry but is not a popular forager’s fruit as yet.

Sorry my pictures of the finished dish are too dark to be meaningful, but here are photos of the meat bathing in its marinade, the same meat cooked and carved, and a jar of the Preiselbeer sauce brought back from a little shop in Klosters:

Avoiding the temptations of triple Toblerone chocolate mousse and the like, I chose a simple walnut and honey parfait for pudding served with prunes cooked in red wine and spices to give a delicious festive mulled-wine flavour. Alongside the parfait and prunes I served a traditional Swiss/German advent biscuit, the Zimtstern – a cinnamon flavoured dough made like a macaroon from ground nuts, sugar and whisked egg whites, topped with a crisp meringue icing. These are nutty, chewy and delicious and a tad difficult to make. I’ve not given the recipe in this post as frankly it’s too long already, and they merit a post all of their own.

To conclude the meal as we approached midnight, a superb Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese from the Jura region of Switzerland, one of my favourite cheeses. It’s soft and creamy and can be spooned out of its wooden box when properly mature and ready to eat. It’s only available during the winter months. Ours came from the Duty Free shop at Zürich airport, but you can find it over here sometimes either in a specialist cheese shop or occasionally in Waitrose. If you find one, grab it, you won’t regret it.

I couldn’t possibly list all the evening’s recipes in a single post – in fact to help with the preparations, I photocopied and printed them all out and have enough material for a small cookery book!

I’m just going to give two recipes, both straightforward and both now in my regular repertoire.

Recipe for celeriac remoulade

My lighter, fresher version of this bistro classic, replacing the usual mayo with Greek yoghurt.

Serves 4 or more as part of a selection of salads

Ingredients

1 small or half a medium celeriac grated in a food processor
juice of half a lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons thick Greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons half fat crème fraîche
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped flatleaf parsley

Grate the celeriac quite finely (easiest to do this in a food processor) and in a medium bowl mix thoroughly with the lemon juice to stop the celeriac turning brown. You can prepare the celeriac to this stage then refrigerate it several hours ahead of time and it will still be fine. When you’re ready to serve, add the other ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.

Recipe for walnut parfaits with mulled prunes

Translated from the German and adapted from a little Swiss cookbook called “Geliebte Schweizer Küche”.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the mulled prunes

1 bottle fruity red wine
200g prunes
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod
2 cloves
1 large piece of peel from an unwaxed orange

For the parfait

2 eggs
2 dessertspoons runny honey
1 pinch powdered cinnamon
1 dessertspoon Grand Marnier
180ml whipping cream
50g walnuts, coarsely chopped

Begin by making the mulled prunes the day before you plan to serve the dish. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil then leave to cool and infuse overnight.

Next make the parfait. You can make this a couple of days ahead of time as it’s frozen. Mix the eggs, honey, powdered cinnamon and Grand Marnier together in a bowl. Using an electric whisk, beat together until the mixture is light and foamy. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream to the soft peak stage and combine with the egg mixture and chopped walnuts. Divide the mixture between 6 or more small moulds (china teacups or ramekins are fine) and freeze for at least four hours.

When you are ready to serve, dip the moulds briefly into hot water, loosen with a knife if necessary and invert onto individual serving plates. Spoon the prunes and red wine sauce around and serve.

Contact details

Vicky Clements – “Inside Out” flowers and gardening, Bowdon, Cheshire
Mobile 07762 387 372

The Hay Experts – suppliers of organic and other hays
http://www.thehayexperts.co.uk/

The Blackface Meat Company – suppliers of rare breed meat and game
http://www.blackface.co.uk/

Time to kill in Zurich?

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?

2 hours

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…

3-4 hours

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.

5-6 hours

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:

Contact details

Migros
www.migros.ch

Steiner
www.flughafebeck.ch

Confiserie Sprüngli
www.spruengli.ch

Brezel Koenig
www.brezelkoenig.ch

Brasserie Féderal
Bahnhofplatz 1
8001 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0)44 217 15 15
www.candriancatering.ch

Jelmoli
Seidengasse 1
8001 Zurich
+41 (0)44 220 44 11
www.jelmoli.ch

Péclard at Schober
Napfgasse 4
8001 Zürich
+41 (0)44 251 51 50
http://peclard-zurich.ch/

Schwarzenbach Kolonialwaren Kaffeerösterei
Münstergasse 19
8001 Zürich
+41 (0)44 261 13 15
www.schwarzenbach.ch

Mountain restaurants in Engelberg

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?

Skihütte Stand

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:

Bärghuis Jochpass

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:

Rossbodenhütte

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:

Flühmatt

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.

Contact details

Skihütte Stand
+41 (0)41 639 50 85

Bärghuis Jochpass
+41 (0)41 637 11 87
www.jochpass.ch

Rossbodenhütte
+41 (0)79 810 55 55
www.engstlenalp-rossbodenhuette.ch

Flühmatt
+41 (0)41 637 16 60

Susanne Kuhn’s carrot cake from Engelberg

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

Ingredients

5 eggs, separated
300g sugar
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.

Contact details

Hotel Edelweiss
Terracestrasse 10
CH-6390 Engelberg
Switzerland
Phone: +41 41 639 78 78
Fax: +41 41 639 78 88
Kuhn@edelweissengelberg.ch

Show Cheese Factory at the Engelberg Monastery
Klosterhof
CH-6390 Engelberg, Switzerland
Phone +41 41 638 08 88
Fax +41 41 638 08 87
odermatt@schaukaeserei-engelberg.ch

Lunch in Lucerne

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!

http://lamiacucina.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/luzerner-chugelipastete-fritschipastete/

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

Ingredients

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
1 onion
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!

Luxemburgerli – macarons from Zürich

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?

Swiss Cheese

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 ortieenfolie@hotmail.com. The tours run from 9.00 till 16.00 on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months.

Fondue Mongolian style

August 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

The yurt phenomenon shows no sign of going away: they seem to be springing up like a rash all over the place even in Langdale and the Forest of Bowland in my far flung neck of the woods.

We saw a night in a yurt advertised by the Montreux & Vevey tourist office during our recent visit to Switzerland and decided it might be fun to give it a try. We booked from the UK using the train company Goldenpass’s (the rebranding of what was formerly known as the MOB, Montreux Oberland Bernois railway presumably to appeal to English speaking tourists) efficient website.

The yurts are perched on the summit of the Rochers de Naye high above Montreux, and, bar a 5 hour hike, the only way up is on a little rack and pinion railway. We duly boarded our train late on Thursday afternoon and 50 minutes later we were in swirling mist on the summit. So much for the promised spectacular views…

We inspected our allocated yurt no. 3 first outside:

Then in:

There was little team enthusiasm for a short walk so Tim and I explored the vicinity whilst the boys were kept entertained by the little marmot zoo just below the summit.

Dinner was served at 7.00 in the transformed self-service restaurant. We gathered at the varnished pine tables for a prosecco apéritif along with 6 other parties, mainly Swiss family groups celebrating children’s birthdays. There was a simple menu choice between cheese or Mongolian meat fondue. It had to be the Mongolian fondue for us. A bubbling cauldron of evil-looking black liquid was shortly presented, along with a vast plateful of meat – a mixture of chicken breast and, bizarrely, ostrich. This would be a first in two counts, both my first Mongolian meal (though I do have a vague recollection of Mongolian barbecue establishments being the latest thing back in London in the 1980’s) and my first taste of ostrich:

The evil black liquid turned out to be a fiercely salted and spicy broth spiked with pieces of leathery fungus. This was clearly a variant on the more usual Fondue Chinoise. We were spared having to drink the broth afterwards which is what usually happens once all the meat from a Fondue Chinoise has been cooked.

Pudding was a crème caramel served in self-service coffee cups. To complete the meal, I couldn’t resist the offer of some Vieille Prune Action, which turned out to be a surprisingly mellow Swiss plum brandy.

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