We are moving into the third year of blogging, which is hard to believe! It’s been a fun road to travel, and we’re lucky you keep coming back. We started our Ethnic Exploration series with an Indian dish over a year and a half ago. Here we are, still cooking up dishes that are foreign to us and allow us to check out new parts of our neighborhoods. Hopefully you look forward to this time of the month as much as we do. As soon as we finish one Ethnic Exploration, it’s time to plan for the next. Amir decided this October would be a tribute to Germany. The tie-in is appropriate for the season full of Oktoberfests, and it is right in line with Amir’s fond memories of his time spent in Munich years ago. He knew just the place to go for a taste of German goods, so we would have no problem exploring new products and feeling inspired to experiment. We both ventured down to Huntington Beach’s Old World Village for a quick adventure before popping into the kitchen for a full day’s food affair.
I have never been to Germany, nor do I find myself eating German food often, but I have enjoyed my share of pastries and sausages. Meat dishes, noodles and breads also come to mind, as well as herbs and spicy condiments, when I think about German cuisine. Amir is much more specific with his knowledge. He was lucky to have visited the country and eaten many dishes that have remained favorites for him. One of those was blood sausage, also known as blutwurst. German blutwurst is usually a mix of pork, pork blood and spices. There are many variations of blood sausage, but the German blutwurst is well known. Blood sausage is not a common element of the average American diet, but you may find it, and other similar sausages, in smaller markets in cities with certain ancestral communities such as German, Polish, Belgian, Canadian, Cajun, and many others of Latin American, South American, Asian and Caribbean descent. When Amir said he wanted to make his own blood sausage, my jaw dropped to the ground. I also swore up and down to have no part in it, which is why he mixed, stuffed and poached his homemade sausages the evening before we met. To accompany his blood sausage, and also to have another treat on the table, we decided to bake a yeast cake filled with thick cream for the day’s recipe. In English, it is known as a German Bee Sting Cake–a cute name for a pretty pastry.
We were off to the market to poke around and experience a bit of Germany in Los Angeles. Old World Village is an eight acre space of restaurants and shopping in Huntington Beach. It has a quaint, antique feel to it, and you can find yourself quietly meandering between the alleys and walkways of the stores. They host an annual month-long Oktoberfest, and they even boast dachshund races for sausage dog lovers worldwide. On our trip, the lay of the land was very quiet–so quiet that it was hard to believe we stumbled upon the location’s last day of Oktoberfest. There seemed to be very little activity, except for a few folks snapping pictures here and there. We made our way down to Euro Market Bakery to see what we could find.
The Euro Market Bakery is small, but it is full of imported goods. Amir had actually been to this market before, but it was my first time visiting a German market like this. German beverages, jams, wine and beer, seasonings and canned goods lined the short shelves. A cold case of German pickled herring, varieties of butter, cheese and thinly sliced meats stood before us. We examined the deli counter where numerous people lined up to purchase meat for the upcoming week or order sandwich. Nearby, a bakery counter with fresh salt rolls, breads and pastries lay waiting for customers with a sweet tooth. Connected to the market was Old World German Restaurant, which was fairly busy during the weekend lunch hour. We walked around for a bit, checking out the wares. As to be expected, there were two massive packages of German blutwurst in the deli case for anyone who desired a few slices. Unfortunately, the bakery was out of bienenstich for the day. We would just have to get by with making our own.
Once we step foot into Amir’s kitchen, it was time to start the journey. Amir’s blutwurst had already been prepared, and both links sat in the fridge. We started the bienenstich. Bienenstich is a traditional yeast cake with a honey and almond topping and thick cream filling sandwiched between the layers. There are many recipes for bienenstich, and many of the revised versions omit yeast, instead replacing it with baking powder. Of course, we did not want to step too far away from tradition, so we pulled out the yeast for a King’s Arthur Flour based recipe. The cake recipe was interesting in itself. The dough’s ingredients–liquids versus dry–were not mixed separately then combined, the yeast was not activated prior to adding it to the cake, and the dough required two sessions of rise time. On top of that, we found many recipes with conflicting methods of preparing the cream filling. Some used packaged vanilla pudding, others incorporated gelatin, and only a few listed the process for a homemade vanilla custard. We wanted to make our own, so this would be a cake completely made from scratch.
Once the layers cooled, and the custard filling chilled, it was time to stack the cake. The custard itself was smooth, but it was obvious that the mixture wasn’t going to be thick enough to support the top cake layer. It was also obvious that we would use much less filling with our cake as we did not split either layer in half. As soon as we placed our honey and almond topped cake on the cream, it squished out from all sides like sweet soup. It reminded us of the experience shared by Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. We had quite a situation on our hands, or rather…on our plate. It’s one of those moments where you don’t even want to sink a knife into the middle because you know a mess is the only thing to expect. We managed to pull out a slice and ended up with cream everywhere. One thing we also noticed about the cake is that it was rather dense. The sweet almonds on top offered a nice crunch, but the cake itself had a chewy bite that seemed more in line with sweet bread than fluffy, buttery cake. The key was remembering to swipe up a bit of the cream with each forkful.
Are you curious about Amir’s blutwurst? Well, let’s just say that it’s back to the drawing board for that one. The blood sausage took on its characteristic black color, which was encouraging in terms of appearance. The texture and flavor from the mixture of ground pork, pork belly, onions and spices were not quite what Amir remembered from his days in Munich. He decided that another go would be necessary. Due to a comedy of errors and butcher mistakes, he has a gallon of beef blood in his freezer. Beef or pig’s blood may be used for blood sausage, but cow’s blood is remarkably darker. This will result in an even darker sausage should he use it. There are some recipes for blood sausage that incorporate cream and different carb-based fillers to adjust the texture, taste and binding quality of the sausage itself. It appears as though he has many options for the second go around. If it’s a success, you’ll see it here!
Our blogoversary and this month’s Ethnic Exploration are celebrated here today with a soupy cake, this is true. But you’ll forgive us, right? We rarely shy away from the opportunity to show you where we have flubs in the kitchen. The point of experimenting with your food is not only to find new and interesting ways to create, but also methods to make foods better. We have blood sausage and bienenstich on our list. We are also looking for ways to make our blog better. It’s a natural evolution. You’ve been on the ride with us this far. Here’s hoping you’ll stick around for what’s to come. You’re always welcome at the table.
2 1/4 cups flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup water, slightly warm
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons flour
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
3 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped or slivered
1. For the cake, place all of the ingredients, except the vegetable oil, in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat until incorporated. Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead on medium speed for 6 to 8 minutes until the dough is smooth.
2. Lightly grease a medium sized bowl with vegetable oil and turn the ball of dough into the bowl. Cover with a towel and set aside for an hour to rise. As the dough rises, grease and flour two 8″ round cake pans. Set aside.
3. After an hour, divide the dough into two even pieces and roll each one out slightly to fit the cake pans. Carefully place the dough into the cake pans, cover with a towel and set aside to rise a second time for 30 minutes.
4. Halfway through the dough’s second rise time, prepare the topping. Melt the butter in a small pan, then stir in the sugar, honey and cream. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the almonds. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
5. Once the dough has risen, split the honeyed almond mixture evenly over the top of both cakes. Spread the liquid and nuts evenly over the dough. Bake the cakes in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes in the cake pans. Use a knife to loosen the cake’s edges, remove the cakes from the pans and allow them to rest, nut side up again, on cooling racks.
6. For the custard filling*, place the sugar, flour and butter in a double boiler. Heat the milk over a medium flame in a separate small pot until it just barely begins to bubble around the edges. Pour the warm milk in with the sugar, flour and butter, whisking to combine. Turn the heat under the double boiler up to medium low and bring the water below to a simmer. Whisk the mixture continuously until it thickens, approximately 15-18 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and butter.
7. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the warm custard base into the egg whites. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the surface of the custard, and slide into the fridge to chill completely.
8. Once the custard has chilled, remove the bowl from the fridge. In a small bowl, beat the heavy cream and powdered sugar until thick and smooth, approximately 3-5 minutes. Fold the sweetened cream into the custard.
9. Place one cake layer, nut side up, on a cake stand or plate.** Spread the cold custard filling on top, then carefully set the second cake layer on top.
*To save time, the custard can be made a day or two before baking the cake.
**If desired, you can split both cake layers in half to create a four layer cake, spreading filling over three layers of cake. If you only have two layers, you will use less of the filling.
Click HERE for the printable recipe.