Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In Search of the Danish Colonel's Bread

or Obrist Holky's Mighty Loaf

Once upon a time, there was a savage war in central Europe. This war had some interesting characters who took on different faces depending on who they were talking to. The leaders blamed their enemies for the herecy and dystopia that would reign in their nations for all time should the call to proactively defend their nations not be answered. There was no mass media at that time; unless you consider The church of your nation-state as mass media. Regardless, people across central Europe took up the call.

Obrist Holky, or Heinrich Holk, was a landed noble in the Danish aristocracy who embodied the multiple-face, determinedly opportunistic aspects of the leaders of the day. Holk fought for the Christian IV's Danish Army against those complete and utter scoundrel Imperials led by Count von Tilly (under whom Rene Descartes was lucky enough to have served). That didn't work so well as Denmark was a small nation and the Hapsburgs were rather large, so Herr Holk decided to use his considerable horse-related expertise to serve as cavalry commander with the Imperial Army under infamous Bohemian mercenary, Albrecht von Wallenstein. Holk found his new calling successful, serving as a leader of pillagers and rapists for the Holy Roman Empire -- notorious even in an age of atrocities so saieth Olesen Jens, Danish historian.

Putting those political vacillations aside, Holk was known for his defensive contributions to the Danes and Pomeranians during the Siege of Straslund (incidently besieged by Holk's future commander, Albrecht von Wallenstein). Holk had reinforced the siege, but had to retire to seek additional forces. It was at this time, so the anecdotes go, that he had started his pillaging career in the neighboring Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was rather large at the time, extending from Silesia in the West all the way much into the Ukraine in the East. A grand breadbasket of the time that both the Empire and the Turks loved to bother, leaving small fry like Holk the freedom of destructive wunderlust that he so seemed to enjoy.

Besides being a fine pillager, Holk was a serious horseman and landlord of farmers. Being in the breadbasket, Holk found a variety of different grains completely alien to the windswept western edge of Jutland from whence he came. From burned village to burned village, he would gather these grains and their corresponding baked products to bring back at least some personal plunder commensurate with his small force.

Holk died from the plague, a few years after serving with Wallenstein at Luetzen against the Swedes. It was during the precursory dinner to that battle, that Holk's grand knowledge of grains became known to the officer corps of the Imperial Army, and even to Wallenstein himself. Holk had been tasked with guarding the supply train for the Army the previous week, and had tasted the poor excuse for bread the officers' chefs had been making. Holk knew that facing the Lion of the North (famed Gustavus Adolphus) at Luetzen might mean the death of the entire Army, so he resolved to use his learned expertise to bake bread worthy of this exceptional moment in time.

The bread was amazing and achieved great renown throughout the officer corps. Many of the officers requested the recipe, but given that they were to go through a horrific battle the following day, the need to procure that recipe after the battle was forgotten. The tastes were written about years later, after the War, but Holk had died with the recipe...or so it seemed.

The Holy Roman Empire, with whom Holk had both fought against and for, was always at odds with The Turk. Yet, those Empires bled both their men and their customs into each other's realms. The Conditorei and coffee houses for which Vienna has long been known slid into its consciousness by the Hapsburgs' ever-too-oft meetings with the Ottomans. In similar fashion, it was the Turks who preserved what became known as Holk's Prize, the Danish Colonel's Bread; for this bread was not actually his own recipe, but one from a village on the Polish-Lithuanian frontier which Holk (and the Turks) had visited. The recipe was then brought back to the streets of Istanbul to be enjoyed by the many bureaucrats of the Sultan's government.

As it so happens, Kim (who is of Lithuanian descent) came home with a spectacular bread full of wonderful flavor, unclassifiable grains and righteous density.
It is my conjecture that this fine bread which she encountered in Vienna (Virginia, that is) a bakery of Turkish origin ...
who uses the moniker Danish Kernel Bread (muddling the renown of Holk's discovery of whatever Polish-Lithuanian village had first created it) ...
is indeed a descendant of Holk's Mighty Loaf.
When I taste it, I taste the history of man's love of baked grains, and the secrets that are so difficult to uncover in the realm of baking, regardless of any spurious involvement with the tale of Holk's bread. I have not yet reproduced it fully, but I am definitely striving ahead. Here are the results of my experiments as of date:

Obrist Holky's Mighty Loaf

  • 1 1/3 c. water
  • 2 Tb Butter, softened
  • 3 Tb honey
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 c. flax meal
  • 1/4 c. spelt flour
  • 1 c. bread flour
  • 1/2 c. flax seeds
  • 1/2 c. sunflower seeds

    1. Liquids: In a mixing bowl (maybe for a mixer with a dough hook attachment), combine water, butter, honey, yeast and salt. Let sit about 5 minutes.
    2. Flours: Slowly add the flours and flax meal while the dough hook does its thing on a low mixing setting. Continue to mix until the flours and liquids are well incorporated.
    3. Seeds: Add the flax and sunflower seeds and continue to mix until the seeds are well integrated.
    4. Fold and Rise: Pull out dough and put on floured surface or silpat. Fold for about a minute and then let sit in a bread shape. Keep a semi-damp kitchen towel over the dough and let the dough rise for 2 hours.
    5. Preheat the over to 425 F with a bread stone at the bottom and space for a loaf of bread.
    6. Bake: Dust the dough with corn meal and put on the baking stone. Cook for 35 minutes.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Gourmet has died, but the Braising Season Begins least in the northern hemisphere, somewhat north of the Tropic of Cancer and yet south of the Arctic Circle for it is always braising season there, albeit their frozen wastes are splattered with the blubber-filled beasts who survive, or provide other not-so-blubber filled creatures with the sustenance they require, be they carnivorous, omnivorous or just blood-sucking.

    But today's meal is not about blood-sucking, rather marrow-sucking. If I was a zombie [and perhaps Gourmet would come back as such], I know that I would not just focus on brains or the flesh hanging from the calcium timbers of some rib cage of an unfortunate victim. Their skeletal goo would be feasted upon and relished. There is no table-side decorum in the zombie world. It is perfectly acceptable to pick the bone up and slurp out the marrow without worrying about what the other diners would think of you. Although there are many lovely accoutrements or settings, place or fish knives, strawberry, salad, or cake forks, cream soup or melon spoons, these might be appropo at a restaurant like Daniel, but to the zombie there is no reason not to just pick up the bone, gnaw the flesh and suck out the comforting marrow of the braised meat - if only zombies had the patience to braise...

    Today's post is a complete regurgitation of a recipe from Daniel Boulud's Braise: A Journey Through International Cuisine book. Some people ask what 10 albums (to use the term from the ancient English) you would keep on a desert island. This is definitely one of the 10 cookbooks I would bring to a desert island, unless of course the weather was supremely tropical and long-cooking was out of the question.

    Anyhow, buy the book, it's worth it for the rest of the recipes, too. Kim did a great job of foraging forward on this one

    Spicy Oxtails with Pears and Sweet Potatoes

  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 4# oxtails, excess fat removed
  • course sea salt pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (or more)
  • 1 2" piece of ginger, chopped
  • 1 Tb chili powder
  • 2 Spanish onions, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 c. dry vermouth
  • 1/4 c. light soy sauce
  • 1 Tb hoisin
  • 1 tsp red chili paste (or more)
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 Tb light brown sugar
  • 1 Tb toasted sesame seeds
  • 2# sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
  • 4 Bosc pears, peeled,cored, finely diced
  • 2 bunches of scallions, trimmed and cut into thirds

    1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275.
    2. In a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat, warm the olive oil. Season the oxtails with salt and pepper and sear until golden brown on all sides - about 15-20 minutes. Transfer the oxtails to a plate and spoon off all but 1 Tb fat.
    3. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the onions and the garlic, ginger, and chili powder. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes (do not burn chili powder). Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes.
    4. Raise the heat to medium. Deglaze the pot with vermouth and soy sauce, scraping up the bottom clingy bits. Stir in the hoisin and chili paste. Return the oxtails to the pot. Stir in 1 c. water, the sugar, and sesame seeds and bring to simmer.
    5. Cover the pot, transfer it to the oven and braise for 3 hours - adding sweet potatoes and pears after 1.5 hours, and the scallions after 2 hours.