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Ryebread – Cutting it too thin?

In Danish, Dutch, Eats, Swedish on September 25, 2010 at 11:23 am

I tend to be easily influenced by the people around me, that means new habits rub off quickly and without conscious awareness. Often, I don’t realize it until I receive comments like: ‘do you always eat your sandwiches open?’ – the Hawaiian wwoofer asked as he passed me the top half of a sliced-open crusty bun to complete my sandwich.


Yeah, I’ve picked up a new habit of eating dense ryebreads while living in Copenhagen for 5 months earlier this year. Rye is a cereal grain that is higher in fibre, darker in colour and stronger in flavour than wheat. It is nutritionally better than its wheat counterparts, keeping one full for longer (not to mention, more sensory satisfaction) due to its high soluble fibre content. However, because of its heat-stable amylases that break down the weak gluten content, rise of the dough is greatly inhibited, and this is partially mitigated by the use of sourdough starters to inactivate the rye amylases by creating an acidic environment. That of course, results in a sour and dense-but-not-so-dense-as-it-would-otherwise-have-been product, that is sliced thinly because of its density but threatens to crumble into ruins if you try to sandwich more than a slice of cheese between it.


And then the habit of snacking on crisp rye bread (a long-shelf-life dried cracker-like bread) caught on, and I grew to love it as an alternative base for my open sandwiches–2 meals of rugbrød a day is enough.

And during my recent backpacking travels through N.eastern Europe, I fell in love with the dense yet soft wheat-rye breads of Czech Republic and Poland. These breads are soft enough to be made into typical sandwiches (if you wish to), but dense enough to be sliced very thinly (<1cm) without being able to see your dining partner through it.

While I once used to marvel at the thinness of these breads after being used to the thick fluffy slices all my life, the novelty has mostly worn out over the past year….

UNTIL I SAW THIS:
With a thickness / thinness of <4mm, the Brabants roggebrood leaves me confused whether to eat 2 slices or 6 for breakfast. With 15 slices in a loaf for 85 euro cents, a slice works out to about 25 calories and <6 cents each. I ate 2 slices with Camembert cheese (another habit I picked up from my recent travels), and I’m satisfied for now. For Now. I guess it’s a great way to fool the brain that is used to portion control by the number of slices.

I had thought the Danish ones were thin enough at about 1cm thickness…..why cut this so thin then?
(1) obsession with low carb diet?
(2) to complement the delicatessen ingredients popular in the south without engulfing them in fluff?
(3) value for money? 7 breakfasts for 85 cents?
(4) so lunch takes up less space in the bag?

Why? Why? Why? I wanted an answer,… so I asked a Dutch man. His reply was:
Because the Dutch don’t like the taste of ryebread.” LOL.

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So Long, Scandie #3 – the Unpronounceables

In Danish, Danish, Eats, Recipes on June 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Usually, when I travel to non-English-speaking countries, the only words of the local language I could speak would be hello, thank you, and the words on a menu. Usually, those words and a few hand gestures are more than enough to satisfy me (it gets me the food I want) and satisfy my server (who happily serves me the food I want). But after FIVE months of eating rugbrød (rye bread) sandwiches and smørrebrød (open sandwich) in Denmark, and hearing their names being pronounced a million times by a million different people….I still can’t say it right. Anyway, whatever you’re saying in your head right now, is probably not right too.

Photo credits: <http://magnesiumagency.com/2010/01/17/the-food-we-hate-to-love/&gt;

The way I hear my Danish housemate say it, rugbrød sounds something remotely like ‘ROALLB-BPLOALLH’ or ‘ROW-BLOW’ pronounced with a frikadeller/fishball in each cheek; and smørrebrød uhhhh…sounds s o m e t h i n g like ‘SMOUHR-BPLOALLH‘. Even if I’m given a script of ten random words and an audio guide, I don’t think I can manage to pick out which word is rugbrød and which one is smørrebrød. I’m thankful that at least ‘Thank you’ is as easy as ‘tak’ (pronounced as it looks)…. though the response of *##$@$* that I hear from the cashier almost every other day has never ever been understood by my Asian ears.

Smørrebrod is a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich that originated from the words ‘smørre og brød’ or ‘butter and bread’. It’s usually served on rugbrød, which is a Danish dense rye bread that is as healthy as it looks (very high fibre low calorie – 9g fibre and 180kcal / 100g while keeping you full for twice as long) and definitely a lot more flavourful and moist than it looks (thin and almost-black rectangular slab of grains bounded together). Unlike most other sandwiches that are dominated by the bread, Smørrebrød features the sandwich ingredients while the rugbrød quietly supports from under with pleasing contrasts in flavours and textures. And unlike most other sandwiches that are modes of nutrient delivery, smørrebrød is a work of art, pleasing to the eye and extremely easy to impress the observer.

The basic idea of smørrebrød is to TOTALLY cover the buttered rye-bread with toppings such as salad vegetables, shrimps, fish, meat, egg, cold cuts, sauces, cheese, liver paste… whatever you have in the fridge in the combination that you would like to eat them. DON’T even try to pick it up with your hands. Eat with fork and knife.


How to make your own Smørrebrød (Video instructions here!)
1. Cut a piece of rugbrød in half.
1*. Lavish butter on it (I didn’t have butter with me then)
2.-4. Start stacking your ingredients until you can’t see the bread.
5. Stack more ingredients.
6. Put sauce or something with a sauce (I had a last bit of marinaded herring in mustard)
7. Add more ingredients until your sandwich threatens to topple…. then, DEMOLISH IT!

That was my version from ingredients that were available in my refrigerator at that time. Check out these typical Danish combinations from the Danish Food Culture Website!

Smørrebrød. Rugbrød.
It’s healthy, delicious, pleasing to the eye. I’ll miss you, roallb-bploallhh. I’ll miss you, smouhr-bploallh.

FAB – Hands-Free Bread

In Baking, Friday Afternoon Baking, Recipes on June 5, 2010 at 6:49 pm

For these past 10 months in Europe, I have been forced to give up my normal diet of tropical veggies / soy products / surimi / seafood/ kueh / malay and indian foods and adjust to a diet very much based on seasonal vegetables, dairy and bread products. I think the largest change I had to deal with going from Singapore to Europe would be this difference in the variety of food, but also the absence of like-minded superduperly-food-obsessed companions (I think other cultural changes are slightly easier to deal with haha). There is no better homesick-therapy than dining with a friend who explodes in fireworks of joy over bakkwa (Chinese sweet bbq pork) and a bowl of plain rice porridge.

But 10 months is also long enough to start feeling at home in this different world of food, and one of the things I will miss very much as I delve back into my Asian food haven this summer would be the crusty and flavourful European breads. Perhaps it was a sign to start nurturing my bread-baking skills when this week, Fakta slashed the price of high gluten wheat flour from 18kr (2.4 euros/SGD$4.20) per 2kg to a third of its price.


Honestly, my experience with bread-baking is almost entirely limited to theoretical knowledge. Apart from knowing that the requisites include a high-protein flour (to form strong gluten networks to trap the gas bubbles and give the bread a good structure) and yeast (that generates CO2 bubbles and lotsa lotsa lovely aroma compounds as it ferments the starch)…. I’m pretty useless when it comes to practical bread-baking. Hence for starters, I’ve decided to try Steamy Kitchen’s No-Knead Bread recipe, that is apparently ‘so easy even a 4 year old could do it’.

My bread-baking skill level is evidently lousier than a 4-year old because I had some trouble following the instructions and ended up with quite a mess in the kitchen. I aborted the plan and decided to just shove my dough into the oven anyway and ended up with a pretty good result 🙂 Crispy crust and a soft spongey interior, though lacking in some saltiness and flavour. Well, I never eat my breads plain anyway — so I enjoyed it with a slop of salted butter and sweet thick honey. Delicious. 🙂 Goodbye <Gardenia>… Goodbye <Sunshine>….
Kneadless Bread-Baking adapted from Steamy Kitchen

  • 350-400g bread flour
  • 1/4 yeast cake- I’d double it next time for better flavour (1 yeast cake ~ 2.5 tsp instant yeast)
  • 1 tbsp salt ( I misread it as 1tsp and hence learned the importance of salt in bread flavour)
  • 350ml warm water
  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water then mix with the flour and salt using a spatula.
  2. Cover mixing bowl with plastic wrap and leave to ferment overnight. Dough becomes puffy and stickier.
  3. Fold dough around in bowl with a spatula, flouring the surfaces of the dough to reduce sticking to the spatula. After 5min, dump it into a floured loaf tin and leave aside to rise for another 2 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 230˚C half an hour before baking. Cover loaf tin with aluminium foil and bake for 30 min. Uncover and bake for another 20 min or until golden brown and crusty.

Chinese Steamed Bun – 包子

In Chinese, Recipes on May 19, 2010 at 8:19 am

I’ve always thought that I needed one of these in order to steam my food:

Apparently not! As long as you have a pot / pan (with a lid) that is big enough to enclose some kind of container on a stand (e.g. small bowl), steaming is just as easy as putting a pot of water to boil. Here’s how I do mine: fill the base of a large pot with 3-4cm height of water, place a bowl in the centre, then I lay the plate of food to be steamed on top of the bowl. 🙂

Great. Now you have no excuse not to try out steamed recipes.

Steaming food is a healthier choice because it doesn’t require the addition of oil and nutrients are not leached into boiling water. Moreover, the steam keeps the food moist and tender…AND busy / lazy people don’t have to watch it closely (as long as the water at the base does not dry out, your food and house will be safe) so it’s easy to cook the food well without spending much time at the stove.

Evidently, it isn’t used much in Western kitchens, but Asians use this method to cook almost anything — fish, meat, sweet potatoes, eggs, rice, soups, noodles, cakes, breads… Perhaps the common usage of this healthy method is part of the answer to the Westerner’s constant dwelling on ‘why are Asians so skinny’, apart from ‘burning energy picking up food with chopsticks’ lol. I guarantee that you can expect more steamed recipes to pop up soon!

First up, here’s a simple recipe for the Chinese steamed bun a.k.a. baozi (if filled) / mantou (if unfilled), which I often grab from the school canteen in Singapore for 60cents (30 euro cents, 2.5kr). Steaming bread is faster than baking it, and produces a texture that is both soft and moist. With many sweet and savory fillings to choose from – char siew, cabbage, corn, red bean paste, yam, lotus paste, etc etc… it is one of those grab-and-go breakfasts / snacks that is both satisfying and comforting. 🙂

Steamed Chinese Bun recipe adapted from standard baozi / mantou recipe

  • 400g plain / cake flour — I used 340g plain + 60g potato starch (usually corn starch)
  • 1-2 tsp yeast / half a yeast cake
  • 1 tsp baking powder (optional)
  • 50g sugar
  • 180ml warm water / milk
  • 2 tbsp oil
  1. Mix the yeast and warm water together.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together then rub in oil evenly (tenderizer by limiting gluten formation)
  3. Combine and knead into a soft dough.
  4. Cover with a damp cloth and leave aside to rise for 2h.
  5. Shape dough into a log of about 4cm in diameter. Cut into 2-3cm segments, flatten / roll into a round and wrap your desired filling (any finely chopped stir-fries or sweet pastes or anything you’d willingly eat with soft white bread – I had in mine cabbage and corn stir-fried with garlic, onions, chili, pepper and oyster sauce). Place on a square of baking paper to prevent it sticking to the plate.
  6. Steam for 8-10min and serve warm!
  7. If you’re lazy to make the filling, you can make mantou from the dough by rolling it out into a sheet, then rolling it up like a swiss roll, and cut to desired shape. Here’s a good pictorial instruction. Good to eat with anything with a gravy (e.g. Singaporean Chilli Crab!!) or your stir-fries (you can serve it on a side like the Europeans do with boiled potatoes!)

Note: Remember to leave enough space between the buns, it expands about 50% of its size after steaming!

Refrigerate the extras and just pop it into the microwave for 30s and… voila! Soft chewy buns!

FAB – Soft German Pretzels

In Baking, Friday Afternoon Baking, German, Recipes on March 29, 2010 at 1:48 am

Friday Afternoon Baking (FAB) is my new venture into regular baking. I love to bake goodies for special occasions such as festive seasons (Chinese New Year and Christmas), as well as for parties and birthdays. But why should I wait for such occasions in order to bake? Loving to bake IS good enough reason to get myself away from boring lecture notes and whip up some yummylicious goodies. My theme for FAB is the search for quick and easy recipes with affordable common ingredients that I can whip up in a jiffy and give away to friends weekly without burning a hole in the pocket.

I first learnt about pretzels through Auntie Anne’s, a pretzel chain that is ever so ubiquitous in Singapore. In fact, Auntie Anne’s is pretty much synonymous with pretzels to almost any Singaporean. I’ve tried it once but never quite liked it because the one I had was soaked in an incredibly soggy amount of fat. Never really wanted another pretzel since then (in 2003 maybe?) until I had the fresh soft pretzels (mit Weißwurst und süßer Senf ) in Baden-Württemburg when I was there for a music festival in October 2009. The roasty flavour of the crust, with its soft interior and specks of saltiness was absolutely addictive. I was instantly hooked and each time I pop over to Germany (I was studying in Wageningen, NL for 6 months before Copenhagen), I’d always make it a point to grab a bag of these ‘steering wheels’.

Pretzels are pretty simple to make, they’re affordable and they make a great breakfast or mid morning / afternoon snack. They are also particularly interesting, from the perspective of a food scientist. If you’ve had any hint of a chemistry education, you might have heard of Maillard browning — the non-enzymatic browning reaction that makes our lovely roast chicken brown and bursting with caramelic roasty aromas. The Maillard reaction is a very complex one, involving a cascade of reactions that begins with sugar and protein (I shan’t go into details of Schiff base formation)… but one interesting fact is that this reaction is promoted by a basic (opposite of acidic) environment, enhancing the extent of browning and flavour development. This is the key to the pretzel’s beautiful dark brown crust. Check out khymos for more chemistry!

Here’s my first attempt at pretzel-making. Not exactly how it would look in a German bakery, but it tastes good, alright! Recipe was adapted from The Fresh Loaf, but I made 9 smaller pretzels instead of 6, sprinkled some poppy seeds and used yeast cakes instead of instant yeast (matter of availability). Enjoy!

Soft German Pretzel Recipe

  • Half a yeast cake (or 1 tsp instant yeast)
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar / malt sugar / any sugar
  • 2-3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Baking soda bath (about 2 tbsp sodium bicarbonate in about 500ml water)
  1. Disperse yeast in warm milk.
  2. Mix 2 cups of flour with salt, sugar and milk-yeast mixture.
  3. Add additional flour until combined into a soft dough. Knead until smooth (about 5 min), cover with plastic wrap, then set aside in a warm water bath to rest for an hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 220˚C while preparing to shape dough.
  5. Shaping of dough: divide dough into as many portions as you want pretzels (how big do you want your pretzel to be?), stretch into cylindrical lengths of dough (I find it easy to grab two ends and gently flick it like an elastic rope). Shape as desired.
  6. Dunk the pretzel in a simmering sodium bicarbonate bath for about 5 seconds, then transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt / sesame / spice mix / poppy seeds / cinnamon sugar / really, anything you want on your pretzel.
  7. Bake for 12-14min or until golden brown.