Sunday, September 24, 2006

Oktoberfest Fun - WHB

Fall is really the best time of year in Munich and the surrounding areas.

The weather in summer can be either hot and humid, or cold and rainy. Spring brings rain, snow, hail, winds, heat, sun, clouds and cold, usually all on the same day. Often within hours of each other. It’s the effect of the nearby Alps. Winter, although beautiful in the mountains, is a grey, damp, cold, messy affair in the city, with piles of crusty old snow riddled with yellow and brown dog droppings.

But autumn, sometimes quite warm, sometimes bringing the first snow by the beginning of October, is usually punctuated by beautiful ‘Indian Summer’ conditions. Painfully blue skies, crisp air, bright leaves, and of course the Oktoberfest. Certainly one of the world’s biggest parties. Causing over a million people to visit Munich in a two week period. Beginning in mid- to late September and ending every year on the first full weekend in October, which is why it is called the Oktoberfest.

But beyond the Oktoberfest, Autumn is the best season because Bavarian food is keyed to a cool or cold climate. A bit on the heavy side, at least by California standards, lots of roasted pork, smoked pork, things cooked in pork fat, with the world’s best beer to wash it all down. Stuff intended to keep your internal fire burning to stave off the cold nights.

As fall slowly descends on SoCal, the temperatures drop from the 90’s into the 80’s, sometimes even lower, the evenings begin to cool to the point that you really need a jacket. Sometimes dew appears on the lawns in the mornings.

Maybe we don’t have to huddle in a beer tent, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of others, noshing on crackling crisp roasted pig knuckle and gigantic dumplings and drinking beer in liter mugs. But if we could, we probably would!

With all that in mind, I went a little Bavarian with ‘Zwiebelkuchen’, or Bavarian Onion Tart. Something I learned about while living in Munich. A simple dish, based on the most common vegetable, the yellow onion. And, of course, roasted pork fat. Plus some caraway seeds. For , sponsored by .

In Bavaria, the dish is more oniony. As you move west across southern Germany to Schwabbbenland, the Black Forest and Stuttgart area, it turns more and more into an eggy, quiche like dish. Mine is sort of in the middle, with a quiche-style filling on a more bready base. But the key is still the yellow onion.

The common yellow onion seems simple, but is not. Their high sulfur content causes the eyes to water profusely while chopping. Long, patient sautéing is required to coax out a golden, caramelized sweetness from their sharp bite. And often, something like caraway seeds are added to help relieve potential discomfort from eating too many of them.

Maybe the most common vegetable, onions come in a variety of colors and degrees of pungency or sweetness. Related to leeks, shallots, garlic, chives, they seem to be integral to almost every cuisine around the world.

A few links:
yellow onions
wikipedia Yellow_onion
wikipedia Onion

To get the most flavor out of an onion, they need to be sautéed over medium heat for a long time. Until the liquid trapped in the onion cells has evaporated away, and the starches in the onion have caramelized and sweetened. The initially while onion flesh turns to a deep golden brown, and loses most of its volume. You have to have patience to get to this point without burning the onions first. At least 30 minutes, if not more, of patience.

Since I don’t have access to authentic Bavarian style smoked pork belly, I used some good quality applewood smoked bacon. I sautéed this slowly, to render the fat, resulting in crisp tasty bacon bits. After pouring off most of the fat, this was used to sautee the onions. As mentioned, I let them cook over medium to low heat for about 45 minutes, turning more often as the liquid evaporated.

The onion and bacon mixture is then mixed with eggs, cream and caraway seeds, poured in a yeast dough shell, and baked.

The resulting ‘Zwiebelkuchen’, or Bavarian Onion Tart, makes a wonderful snack on a cool day. In wine drinking regions of Germany and Austria, they drink it with something called a ‘Heurigen’, which is newly bottled, very young wine. In Vienna especially, they are wild about this stuff in the fall.

But you can also enjoy it with a Munich style beer. After all, it is Oktoberfest!

Bavarian Onion Tart

Recipe translated from ‘Bayerisches Kochbuck’, 53rd edition, by surfindaave

375 grams flour (I used 300 gr whole wheat, and 75 gr white)
1 packet dry yeast
¼ liter warm milk
80 grams warm butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ¼ kg yellow onions, peeled, sliced very thing into rings
1 pound smoked bacon, cut into small pieces
3 eggs, beaten
½ cup heavy cream
caraway seeds

Make the dough:

In a large bowl, combine the flours and salt. Make a mound of the flour, with a depression in the center. Add the yeast to the depression, along with a few tbsps of the warm milk. Sprinkle with flour. Cover the bowl with a towel, and let rise until doubled or more in size.

Add the softened butter, egg and most of the remaining milk to the bowl. Begin mixing the yeast ball into the flour (I use my hands for the whole procedure, but you can also use a wooden spoon). Mix the ingredients until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, and all the flour is incorporated. Use additional milk if necessary to incorporate all the flour.

On a lightly floured board, knead the dough vigorously, adding as little additional flour as possible, for a good 15 minutes.

Place the kneaded dough in a lightly buttered bowl, and cover with a towel. I let my dough rise at room temperature to get a finer pore structure, but you can also put it in a barely warm oven. At room temperature, it takes about 3-4 hours to rise the first time. I punch it down lightly after about 2 ½ to 3 hours.

While the dough is rising, in ah large heavy skillet, render the bacon over medium heat. When crisp, remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels.

Pour off all but a few tbsps of fat from the pan, and return it to medium high heat. Add the onions, tossing to coat with the fat. Add the bacon bits. Let the onions sautee, tossin often, and reducing the heat slightly as they cook and begin to caramelize. They should cook at least 30 minutes, till they are very soft, and a deep golden color. Keep the heat low enough to avoid burning the onions as they cook.

Remove the onions to a bowl to cool

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

In another bowl, mix the eggs, cream, and caraway seeds. Mix the cooled onions with the egg mixture.

Press the dough into a shallow baking dish, pressing it up the sides.

Pour the onion mixture into the dough shell. Place the tart into the oven, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the filling is puffed, golden brown, and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center.

Remove the tart from the oven, and let cool. Cut into pie shaped slices, and serve with a green salad and a glass of very young white wine. Enjoy!

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Blogger Kalyn said...

Another masterpiece. I can't wait to see what your favorite herb is going to be, since I think you've written about more unusual herbs than anyone else I can think of.

3:15 PM  
Blogger gattina said...

I really like this recipe, wish I could get the authetic pork bell though, still, may give it a try. Thanks!

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a feast! Oktoberfest fun, indeed!


8:16 PM  

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