Friday, 30 September 2011

Cooking the Books: Frank Tallis

When I started this blog I thought half of it was going to be about baking. It turns out, though, that whenever I bake something I always just end up eating it before I remember to take pictures. This is obviously not good enough, and so I have come to a decision. This decision is that whenever I read a book with really exciting food in it I am going, in the spirit of research, to make that food. And I am going to blog about it.

The rules of the game are as follows:

1) The foodstuff must, obviously, appear in the book in question.
2) it must be mentioned by name.
3) Preferably it should be described in some way.
4) Bonus points if the description is sexually delicious.
5) I really do have to take pictures of it. Google images will not do.

The first food-centric book on my list is Death and the Maiden, by erotic pastry writer extraordinaire Frank Tallis. I've written before about Frank Tallis's probably very Freudian relationship with cake, and also about how reading his books makes me want to go bury my face in the front window of a Patisserie Valerie.  

Death and the Maiden, it turns out, is not as sugar-laced as Frank Tallis's previous efforts (I felt somewhat cheated - I want cake with my death!) However, cake still gets mentioned by name nine times (that's not counting savoury foods or all the times the characters are just 'eating pastries'), so the foodstuffs I get to choose from for my first experiment are: Guglhupf, Mohnstrudel, Topfenstrudel, Apfelstrudel, Palatschinken, Mannerschnitten biscuits, Sachertorte, Marillenknodel and Vanillestern biscuits. Of these, Mannerschnitten turn out to be wafers that come in plastic packets, Marillen are apricots, which are not in season, Schinken are pancakes, which are not very inspiring, Mohn means poppy seed, which is not exciting either, Apfelstrudel we all know far too well anyway and I had Sachertorte in the actual Hotel Sacher last year and thought it was disgusting.

So I went with the Guglhupf. It is described in Death and the Maiden, with masterful brevity, as
a sponge slice, sprinkled with icing sugar
Which is perfectly delicious sounding, but not particularly helpful to someone actually trying to cook it.

Now, I've been fascinated by Guglhupf for quite a while. It keeps coming up in Austrian-themed books, quite mysteriously. No one seems to ever quite be able to describe what it is, although it is unanimously seen as A Good Thing. It turns out, once I began to scan Google for recipes for it, that no one on the internet can agree on the recipe for it either. Sometimes it has chocolate in it, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes it has orange juice and raisins and rum, often (but not always) it has almonds, sometimes it is made with icing sugar and, most interestingly, sometimes the recipe calls for yeast. This, I think, is the important thing, since when I went onto Wikipedia in desperation I discovered that -hupf means jump. A jumping cake! I like it.

In the end I went with a recipe without chocolate (since I think that would be Schokoguglhupf and slightly different) and with yeast: basically, this one from but without the almonds (I hate almonds) and with more sugar (Guglhupf can be savoury sometimes, and that is fine for other people but very definitely Not What I Was Going For). Yes, it's in American, but proper cup measures are fairly easy to find in England these days and if you don't have those there's always the miracle of Google.

So, in the name of Science, here's my modified Guglhupf recipe.

The romantic ideal
Yeasty part
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Cake part
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon dark rum
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 tbsp sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 

Heavily butter a Guglhupf tin, or a Bundt tin (which is what I have), or any other sort of round and holey cake tin you fancy.

Heat the milk in a saucepan until it is lukewarm. This took an astonishingly short time - I ended up overheating it and then having to wait for it to cool down. Basically, ten seconds will do it. Pour the milk into a bowl, add the yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons turns out to be one of those little Hovis fast-action packets, so save time and just chuck the contents of one of those in), stir it about and add the flour. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place.
Rum raisins. Excellent.

MEANWHILE! Add the rum to the raisins in a bowl and let them sit. I'll be honest, I added more than a tbsp of rum - it seemed somewhat stingy. I like rum.

Watch 20 minutes of Celebrity Masterchef. Return.

Fluffy yeasty bit. With lemon.
For the ordinary cakey bit, cream together butter, sugar (90g of each, if you don't have a US tablespoon) and salt, then add the vanilla and the lemon zest. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, THEN add your puffed-up yeasty mixture. The original recipe is so bloody vague about the difference between 'dough' and 'sponge' that I did not notice this direction and just went straight ahead and added the rum and other flour. So don't be like me. Add the yeast stuff, mix; sieve the rum out of the raisins (leave the raisins out for later) and add that, mix; add the rest of the flour, mix; let the mixture sit.

Watch 10 minutes of Celebrity Masterchef. Return.

Dough. Buttered.
Beat the dough a bit more, until it's smooth and elastic (I think what you're doing here is equivalent to kneading) and then beat in the raisins (and almonds, if you're using them). At this stage the batter tastes somewhat like Stollen, that is, nice and yet odd.

At this point, the recipe says  
Scrape the dough into a buttered bowl and turn it over so that the top is buttered. 
I find this direction confusing, mainly because it seems so deeply unnecessary and also makes me have to wash up another bowl. I did do it, but I suspect the cake would be OK without it. Now cover this new bowl of yours with cling film and leave it in a warm place to rise again. (There is a lot of rising in this recipe. Definitely not one for the temporally challenged.)

Do 20 minutes critical reading that you should have done before you watched Celebrity Masterchef but you didn't want to. Return.

Scrape your batter into your mightily buttered cake tin, then cover with a tea towel or some buttered (!) cling film (what is it with this author and buttering things?). Then leave in a warm place 'until it is doubled'. The recipe helpfully makes no mention of how long this should take, and 30 minutes after I first left it IT HAD NOT RISEN AT ALL. I got so desperate that I put it on my desk so it could get the sun. Unfortunately this did not seem to do anything for it.

Ready to be ovened.
After 45 minutes I got bored and annoyed and just turned on the oven to 190 C (or 170 C for a fan oven) to preheat. Fifteen minutes later, I put in my stubbornly un-hupfy Guglhupf and left it to bake it until 'well risen and deep golden' - the recipe says about 40-45 minutes but it took my oven 30. This may have had something to do with the lack of rising beforehand. (Pro tip for cake doneness measuring: Stick a fork into it and if its prongs come out clean you're there.)

Out of the oven.
Take it out and leave to cool for ten minutes, then flip over and get it out of the tin. GENTLY. Leave to cool the rest of the way and then sprinkle with icing sugar for fancy effect.

And there you have your Guglhupf.

I'm sure it was because I abused the yeast in some unknowable way, but I am a bit sad at how very un-hupfy my Gugl turned out. It seems to make the time I spent sitting about waiting for it to rise slightly futile, in retrospect. This Schokoguglhupf recipe seems much more achievable (whipped egg whites instead of yeast) and I may try it for contrast some time.

The not entirely romantic reality
But then I took the finished cake to dinner at a friend's house, and it actually turned out to be very nice. It definitely did have a bready Stollen sort of thing going on - buttery lemony raisiny goodness with that nice tangy kick that booze leaves behind when it cooks. As one of my friends pointed out, it would be especially excellent at Christmas time (she also suggested adding a few plastic reindeer and Father Christmases around the top but I think this would be down to personal taste). I admit that it was a bit heavy - you could probably hurl it at someone and do them a fair injury - but this is because of my mistake rather than any fault of the poor recipe's.

Anyway, a tasty if slightly perplexing recipe, and one that convinces me more than ever that Austrian baking is Where It Is At. And now this book is most definitely on my Christmas wish list. (I bet Frank Tallis would like it too. You know, in case you were trying to find a present for him. Which you might be. I don't know your lives.)


  1. Tante Hertha's Viennese Kitchen is a lovely book with two guglhupf recipes. I'm hazarding a guess that the rum may have killed the yeast at a critical stage, or that you had a duff packet which is what happened to me earlier this week.

  2. I did wonder if the rum had something to do with it - but why did the recipe tell me to add it then? Very odd.

  3. I agree that you may have just had a bad packet of yeast, or maybe it was a bit stale? I think the use by dates on those are extremely optimistic. Also, warm area was probably not warm enough. I find it has to be REALLY FUCKING WARM or else nothing happens and I'm disappointed.

    Also, Eva Ibbotson is full of Austrian food, including Guglhupf and Sachertorte. What was wrong with the Sachertorte you tried? :( So sad, I've always wanted to make that. :(

  4. It was delicious! You should absolutely make it, or some version of it. And I am SO TEMPTED to cook everything in the Eva Ibbotson books and have a Viennese party.