Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today I'm chatting with Berlin based author Luisa Weiss about favorite recipes from her book, Classic German Baking including _______up for cooking and kartoffel strudel
Luisa Weiss: People need to know about strudel. It's much simpler than you think. And it's so impressive.
CK: Also coming up we learn a delicious recipe for lemon and shrimp risotto with fresh basil, and Adam Gopnik shares his thoughts on the pleasures and perils of luxury foods. But first is my interview with journalist Rowan Jacobsen His latest book Truffle Hound is an in depth look into one of the world's most elusive foods from dirt covered fungus to edible luxury. Rowan welcome to Milk Street.
Rowan Jacobsen: Thanks. Great to be here.
CK: So, let's ask the obvious question. What is a truffle?
RJ: A truffle it's actually it's it's like a mushroom. But it's a mushroom that never comes above the surface. It's the fruiting body of a fungus that lives underground and forms partnerships with trees. And when the fungus wants to reproduce, it makes a truffle which is a ball of spores and smells that sits underground, waiting for an animal to dig it up and eat it and spread the spores through the forest.
CK: So why do people go insane about truffles? You talk about in your book Truffle Hound the odor you know garlic cheese, earth, sex, gasoline. And then you talk about truffles make a sex hormone produced in the saliva of male boars. So, is there something chemically that's just drives people crazy or is this more myth than science?
RJ: Yeah, you know, that's the question it there's definitely a chemical, you know, sort of hormonal aspect to it, where somehow these, these fungi have figured out how to use certain smells to influence animal behavior. And it works really well on animals and seems to work pretty well on us. I mean, it truffles have a drug like effect on people. And for the very good reason that they're using smells and drug like ways.
CK: So that's, that's the game plan, emit these strong, like sex hormones or whatever they are. So, animals, dig them up, and then spread the spores.
RJ: Right? The big challenge for a truffle, as you're, you know, three to 12 inches underground, you need to get these fours spread, how are you going to do it? So, the plan that they that the truffles have hit upon is to just smell completely irresistible to animals and to smell so strongly that a passing animal with a really good nose will realize they're there underground and be compelled to dig them up and eat them.
CK: I was in northern Italy, Emilia-Romagna, in late September, two or three years ago, and there were a lot of white truffles, then. I would say they tasted like potatoes. I mean, they had almost no aroma and flavor. And they shaved them like by the pound. I mean, they were just putting them on every dish. So, what's the deal with that? I mean, you go to a restaurant, it's like 95 bucks with shaved truffles. And I don't know, do they have real flavor? A lot of these things?
RJ: Yeah. Well, you know, as soon as you said I was in Emilia-Romagna. In September, I was going to say like, oh, that was a little early. Yes. Yes. So there really are like fruits and a lot of ways. Like they have basically seeds or spores inside and they start off under ripe, and they don't have any smell. They don't want to be appealing to mammals yet. And then once the spores mature, then they really crank it on just like a fruit will turn red and start to smell good. So that's like one of the many issues and the truffle world is that many truffles get dug up and sold before they're ready. So, a lot of people get underwhelmed by their truffle experiences.
CK: So where to truffles come from?
RJ: Yeah, every country has its own truffles. The classic black winter truffle. The Périgord is found in France and Spain and Italy. The classic white truffle of Italy is actually found in Italy and throughout Eastern Europe. But the reality is that with black truffles, Spain produces about 70% of the world's supply on farms. The white truffle no one's figured out how to farm it. It's just purely wild harvested, which makes it sort of the dynamics of it more interesting. And most of those are coming from Central Italy and Eastern Europe now.
CK: Is there an opinion about white versus black in terms of flavor, aroma, intensity.
RJ: There are many opinions, and you know, you can pretty much guess. But if someone's French, they're going going strongly lean toward the black. And if they're Italian, they're going to think the white is the only game in town. I think of the white as almost like an intense electric, adrenaline rush smell a lot of gasoline and garlic, and a little bit of like, you know, like locker room. It's, it's kind of like this overwhelming smell that wakes you up. The black winter truffle has a richer, deeper, more chocolatey cured olive smell hazelnut, maybe it's a much warmer, more comforting smell. So, it depends, like what you want from your evening, you know
CK: Gasoline or comfort. I guess there's. So, let's talk about the the most fun part of this the truffle hunt. You spent some time doing this. I guess it was sort of like going to a deer camp. Right? But but what is it like what kind of dogs do they use? How often do you come across a truffle? What is it like?
RJ: I've had mixed experiences with the many truffle hunts that I talk to people in the taking me on. Sometimes it would be all night long, and we would get totally skunked like zero. And that's pretty depressing to like straggle in in the early morning and be cold and muddy and nothing. Other times it would be just like, truffle truffle truffle. And it's often a family activity, or it's a few guys, like you say more like deer camp, where they're out, just checking forests. Each one will have one or two dogs. And it's all-day hunting. And then coming back to you know, your crash pad and cleaning your truffles. And then getting on your cell phone. This is a weird part that I hadn't expected. And just emailing your clients who might be dealers across Europe or individuals. So, they'll have their truffles sold hopefully by the end of that night, and then it's off to DHL to ship the truffles the next morning.
CK: So, when I go to as I said a restaurant and they have huge upcharge you know, would you like truffles on that? And it's like a 50 or $60 upcharge? So, what are the economics of this between the person who finds the truffle and then it ends up on your plate at a restaurant?
RJ: Yeah, that's really a question. And that's something I'm hoping is going to change in the truffle world. I think I'm kind of seeing the first glimmers of maybe a bit of a paradigm shift in truffles, because they've always been this super luxurious thing. And the dealer's kept it luxurious and almost like a diamond like kind of ritzy. And yeah, those charges are just absurd. And the only reason that that's existed is because there's been so many middlemen in the truffle business. But what always struck me is like, here's this thing you can pay $3,000 a pound for, or you can hunt with your dog for free. So, I kind of think that truffles got left out of the whole farm to table movement. But now I think they're going to become something where the providence becomes more important. And connecting more directly with the the hunters or with the farmers is going to be the way things go and people are going to cut out those middlemen, and my hope is that once that happens, the price becomes more sane.
CK: So philosophically, the white truffle represents something that it's nonreplicable. You can't grow it. You can only find so many of them. It just doesn't give in to modern civilization, right?
RJ: Yeah, I think you hit it on the head there. It's it refuses to play any of like the usual games. And and that elusiveness like it's, it's this intense smell that then can totally disappear on you. And again, you're off on the hunt, trying to find where it went. There's something about that dynamic that is just it kind of goes to the core of desire and and and why eating is such a pleasurable and even intellectually satisfying enterprise.
CK: Well, desires always linked, I think in the best way to being elusive. Right,
RJ: Exactly. If it's too easy to get, you know, how much do you really want it?
CK: I think that's very true. Rowan, thank you very much. The history and the business and the aroma of truffles. Thank you.
RJ: Thanks, Chris.
CK: That was my interview with journalist Rowan Jacobsen. His latest book is Truffle Hounds on the Trail of the World's Most Seductive Scent with Dreamers, Skimmers and Some Extra Ordinary Dogs. Now it's time for my co-host, Sara Moulton and I to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking one on one. And she also stars Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.
Sara Moulton: You know, Chris, I've been thinking about your aversion to the salt and pepper combo. And I sort of know why you're against it, because it's just knee jerk and you believe the French always did that?
CK: No, it was because black pepper was imported into Europe, it was a huge, very expensive commodity and so salt and pepper were the two most common quote unquote, spices or seasonings available. It just based upon the commerce, right,
SM: Right, it didn't really have to do with flavor. But I have to say even so it's been making me rethink black pepper. And actually, how much I love it and in things that I never realized before. So, we go to this wonderful Jewish deli when we travel to my parents’ farmhouse, and we always get potato knishes, and we got them a couple of weeks ago, and I was like, oh my god, I finally figured out why I love these knishes so much it’s because of the black pepper in there. So, potatoes and black pepper is a match made in heaven. I mean, when you think about it's like cacio y Pepe, that Italian dish with pasta and black pepper. So black pepper really does have a place.
CK: Yes, you're right. It's very good against a bland partner.
SM: Yes. All right.
CK: But I will say the world of pepper is so much broader, like Aleppo pepper that red fruity pepper is now my go to pepper because it’s, so it has a much more complex flavor than black pepper. But you're right, cacio y Pepe would not be cacio y Pepe without pepper
SM: and that potato knish it's all about the black pepper. There you go.
CK: Okay, One knish down. Let's get started.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Ashley Roberts from Minnetonka, Minnesota.
SM: How can we help you today?
Caller: I've been trying to successfully make some gluten free bread in a Dutch oven. And it's just not coming out in the way that I would hope that it would come out. So, I was wondering if you guys had any advice or tips or if you know how to bake bread well in enamel cast iron Dutch oven.
SM: I think what's relevant here is not the Dutch oven. You said gluten free, right?
SM: Okay. Are you following a recipe?
Caller: Yes, I am.
SM: is it an author you trust?
Caller: No, it's just a random recipe I found.
SM: Okay. What kind of flour are you using?
Caller: All Purpose white flour, mainly rice flowers in it
SM: And are you adding any Xanthan gum?
Caller: Yes, just about a tablespoon of Xanthan gum.
SM: The gluten is what holds the carbon dioxide in. That's what makes a bread rise. And when you have a flour a quote unquote flour that's not really flour, not wheat based. You don't have that structure that allows it to rise and get that lift, which is why you need the right ratio of flowers and Xanthan Gum. I always reach for King Arthur Flour recipes. And also, they're gluten free flour is a really a nice mix of flours plus, which they have one that does not have Xanthan Gum in it, so that you can add just the right amount for whatever you're using the flour for. Okay, Chris, do you have anything to add?
CK: A few questions. So, this is a gluten free all-purpose flour mix you bought in the supermarket?
CK: And the recipe. What kind of bread are we talking about?
Caller: Kind of like a rustic loaf. It's a dome shape. And then it has one-inch-deep slits on the top.
CK: So, it's a boule okay, did a call for using the Dutch oven or this was something you thought you'd try?
Caller: It calls for using the Dutch oven.
CK: Well, my experience is making bread, especially a rustic loaf, you know, which is supposed to have a lot of chew to it and a crusty top is you've now chosen the hardest thing to do, I think in all of baking so I would start with as Sara said, Go find someone who has published a book and can do gluten free and follow that recipe because when you get to this kind of bread, the structure of that flour you know, brown rice flour, white rice flour, Xanthan gum, psyllium husk, potato starch, other things makes a huge difference. We found we couldn't use one gluten free flour recipe for everything. Each type of baked goods required its own formula. Go to Serious Eats. They're great. They'll probably tell you to make your own flour mix specifically for this bread. The short answer is the mix you bought needs to be customized for this recipe so you need to make your own mix is my guess. But good for you. If you succeed in doing a good rustic loaf that's gluten free. They're going to make a statue to you, but go to Serious Eats. I think they would be very helpful.
Caller: Yeah, I'll definitely check that out. That's awesome.
CK: Thank you. Thanks for calling. Good luck. Good for you. You are intrepid. Take care.
Caller: Bye. This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a kitchen mystery, please give us a ring at 855-426-9843 one more time, 855-426-9843or please email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Carrie from Santa Monica.
SM: Hi, Carrie, how can we help you?
Caller: Well, I am looking for a cooking technique for a crispy quail with Thai dipping sauce. I've been thinking about it for a while, and I have the marinade figured out and the sauce and a couple of options for cooking. But I thought you all might have some good tips for me. So, I'll tell you a couple that I had thought of and what I've tried. (Okay) I thought I could do it like a classic fried chicken with a heavy flour batter and that seems to thick for a tiny quail. I thought about doing them naked like a buffalo wing or using just a light dredge and cornstarch and frying it that way. And that's the one that I've tried. And it was good, but it wasn't as crispy as what I was looking for.
SM: How about more like a tempura batter, which is much lighter
Caller: A wetter batter than
SM: Yes, you know you can use seltzer and some cornstarch, some flour. Actually, I'll tell you my favorite all-purpose batter that you can really have thin is a beer batter. (Okay) where the flour part of it is like three quarters of a cup flour to one quarter of a cup cornstarch to a teaspoon or half a teaspoon of baking powder, soda, excuse me because we got the beer which got acid in it. And you whisk that all up. Add a cup of beer or even a little more if you want a little lighter. Take about a quarter cup of that out. Add the beer to the remaining part. Dust the quail with the bit you took out with a little bit of the flour, shake it off, dip it in the batter and then fry it and it just comes out really crispy. I haven't done it with quail I’ve got to be honest.
Caller It sounds great.
SM: Anyway, Chris, what do you want to say
CK: We have an unusual recipe for Thai style fried chicken which it's kind of weird. You have water a little water, egg white, some spices which you toast in a skillet. Mix that up. Put the chicken in or the quail. Let it sit for an hour in the fridge in a bowl. And then you fry it with a coating of cornstarch, and you don't use baking powder or anything. You rinse off the marinade and then put the cornstarch on it. But the cornstarch gives you a very thin crispy coating. So, you get the spices which I think would be great with quail, right? Coriander cumin, pepper, usually white pepper they use, egg white water and then just cornstarch a couple cups of cornstarch. Just the dredge and then fry. I remember that recipe is pretty good.
Caller: It sounds great. It sounds a lot like the marinade that I use to add cilantro garlic, brown sugar, coriander fish sauce, salt and pepper. So right up the same alley
CK: Yeah, it's very similar. Ours didn't have sugar I don't think but yeah, that's definitely worth trying.
Caller: Well, these are like two great alternatives.
CK: Thanks for calling.
SM: Kerry thank you.
SM: Take care.
Caller: Take care, bye
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next we chat with Luisa Weiss about classic German baking. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Luisa Weiss home cook and author of Classic German Baking. Luisa, welcome to Milk Street.
Luisa Weiss: Thank you so much for having me.
CK: So, you started in Berlin, West Berlin in the 70s. You moved away. You came back. What did you find when you came back was a very different?
LW: Yes, yes and no, I moved back to the neighborhood that I'd grown up in as a child. And my mother lives here and has lived here the whole time. So, I'd seen it over the years periodically. So, in some ways, Berlin, felt very familiar. But of course, an enormous amount changed. And, yeah, it's changing all the time. It's different now than it was 10 years ago.
CK: So classic German baking, let's talk about this. I spent some time in Austria because my wife's mother was born there. And many of the things you talked about in your book, ring a bell. So, is this baking of Germany? Is it similar to Austria is it similar to Eastern Europe or is it really specifically Germany?
LW: Well, Central European baking is definitely all of a tradition. That's why things that we see in for example, sweet baking in Poland, is quite similar to a lot of the sweet baking in Germany, Germany, I think does have, you know, many of its own baking traditions that go back for almost 1000 years. But yeah, I would say in general, Central European baking is a thing that is recognizable.
CK: You have to love the German language sometimes because it just makes you smile, like sunken apple cake, Versunkener Apfelkuchen you just go like, it just sounds great. And a lot of the things in the book was so interesting. You have obviously some more complex recipes, but you know, basically one layer cake, whether it's plums, or apples or something, they're actually sound like they're pretty easy to throw together, right?
LW: Yes, absolutely.
CK: So, what what is the typical batter for that? How does it work?
LW: Well, you have to imagine German sweet baking divided into the batter cakes and the yeasted cakes, and batter cakes, especially the really simple ones. They're just you know, a batter with eggs, butter, sometimes some milk, flour, sugar, lemon peel, lemon peel is a is an all-star. And then there's yeasted cakes, which are also pretty simple with the addition of yeast and a slightly different ratio of flour to eggs and butter and milk. And people are really evangelical about which cake base they prefer. Everybody has an opinion. So, some people will say oh, I love plum cake, but only if you make it with a yeasted crust. If it's with a batter crust, I won't it's not my thing. Or the other way around like with with poppy seeds, people will say oh yeah, I love poppy seed cake but only with a batter base and not with the yeasted base.
CK: So, this is what people all across Germany are sitting down and discussing with their coffee in the afternoon. Is there yes, they’re fighting about batter versus yeasted
LW: Yes, they all have an opinion. They all have family recipes and or a favorite bakery that makes it the way they like yeah, cake is a very, very big part of culture here.
CK: So, explain to me the sunken concept, like the like kuche versunken what is sunken mean? It means that the fruit sort of makes it look the top look sunken. Is that it or what?
LW: Yes, well, the fruit actually you make the batter, put it in the cake pan, and then you sort of drop the fruit on top and the fruit during the baking process sinks into the batter creating these little these little divots all over the top of the cake. And then when you cut a piece when it's cooled, you've got a slice of cake with fruit sort of suspended in it. It's very rustic. It's not going to win any beauty awards but makes for a really nice eating experience.
CK: One of the photos that I just went crazy the almond cream jam bars the eisenbahnschitten (LW: Oh yeah) that just like okay that he hit all the things I love
LW: I’m so glad that that spoke to you because that is one of the greatest recipes in the book in my opinion and it doesn't get made often because people are intimidated by it. I'm not sure.
CK: So just describe what it's like and what is like to eat
LW: It's a shortbread base topped with jam you can use either red currant or apricot In fact, I call for both so that you can have a little variation. And then you make a frangipane which is you mix almond paste with eggs and sugar. And you pipe this mixture on the edges of the shortbread base that have been filled with jam so you're creating sort of like a train track and then you bake them and cut them into little rectangles. And with each bite you get crumbly base, chewy sweet sour jam, and then this creamy, chewy, almond paste topping. It's they're really special and they keep really well. They're one of those amazing things that you can make and keep for a while.
CK: Well, you could make some for me and send some. They'll last about 24 hours in this household. So, this is really interesting. The black and white cookie the Americana. You said it's not named American. It has a totally different derivation. Then what I thought so so what is that?
LW: Right, so I mean, this is apocryphal, we're not 100% Sure, but the black and white cookie, I always associated it with New York, and I always saw them here in bakeries, and it was one of those things I always wondered about, why did this cookie make it over to Germany until I realized it was actually the other way around. And the traditional black and white cookies were leavened with Baker's ammonia. And so, the theory is that they were called ammonia Karna. German for ammonia is karnac and that that over time, turned into Amerikarna. And we tested the recipe with baking soda with baking powder and with Baker's ammonia, and it really really truly made a difference the Baker's ammonia, make them incredibly special. The textures, just really unique and wonderful.
CK: Okay, so let's have a discussion about sacher torte, I’ve been to Hotel Sacher years ago, had it a couple of times. You know, it was okay. It seemed a little stale at the one time I went the other time was a little fresher, but I was not, you know, it was not wow, this is amazing. You say, however, that if you make one at home, it is revelatory. So, do you want to like give me a commercial for sacher torte? Explain what it is, first of all, and how it's made?
LW: Yes. Oh, I'm so glad you asked about this because I could wax on about this for forever. I had the exact same experience as you every time I had a piece of sacher torte didn't matter where I was like, what is the deal? This is just kind of a dusty, not particularly chocolatey cake. It's not very good. It's often stale or it tastes like it's been in the fridge for a while. My husband and I even went to Vienna when I was working on the book to sort of do some, you know, on a business trip to taste things. And we didn't go to hotels, but we tried a bunch of different cakes in various places, and I remained underwhelmed and then I couldn't let go though and at home, I ended up testing a bunch of different sacher torte and I stumbled upon this one and I've it is truly revelatory. So a sacher torte is a very light chocolate cake, it has a thin topping, sort of enrobing of apricot jam. And then on top of that, a very thin chocolate glaze that has to be cooked. But when you pour it on top of the cake, it dries to this glossy mirror like finish and the recipe that ended up making it into the book is spectacular. It's light and yet chocolatey and it's moist but airy. And it's it's just incredible.
CK: I'm going to have to change my whole tune.
LW: Try it.
CK: Strudel. Could you explain, just define what it is. Everyone thinks of apple strudel, probably but I think you use it in a more in a broader sense. So, what defines a strudel?
LW: So, a strudel is a pastry made with this incredibly thin dough so thin that you can read a newspaper through it as they say, and you fit you can fill it with anything. You can fill it with apples, you can fill it with plums, you can fill it with savory things like sauteed cabbage and bacon, or mashed potatoes, which is excellent.
CK: That's Kartoffel strudel?
LW: That’s Kartoffel strudel that's my husband's favorite. And the understanding is that strudel dough actually came from the Ottoman empire
CK: I was just going to say
CK: Sounds like the phyllo yeah
LW: Exactly. And if you go on YouTube, you can see Turkish bakers, rolling out yufka or phyllo dough and Austrian bakers rolling out strudel dough, and then you see the connection immediately. And it makes perfect sense.
CK: I've watched that video. It's just unbelievable. I mean huge sheets that were less than paper thin. It's amazing. Yeah.
LW: Yeah, it's really cool. And I was sort of worried that I wouldn't be able to crack the strudel code for the home cook but what I discovered was actually that it's a much much easier thing than anybody would believe the dough itself is incredibly simple to make.
CK: Wait, wait, wait you're, we got to make this from scratch?
LW: Yes, yes. You have to enter so much fun. It's so much fun. It's such a great project.
CK: Well, okay, now I'm interested. So how do you make your strudel dough by scratch?
LW: So, strudel dough is just a very small amount of flour, sunflower oil, a pinch of salt and water. And the important thing is kneading it you need it for a very long time about 10 minutes. And then it's a very small ball that emerges it's about the size of the palm of your hand. And then this dough is incredibly forgiving, and you roll it out as much as you can. And then you start to tug it out, you sort of put your hands underneath it and using the backs of your hands and your knuckles you very calmly and slowly stretch the dough further and further and further. So, once you've pulled it out to this incredible gossamer thinness, you can actually just leave it there and fill it with whatever feeling you're using and then roll it in on itself. And then the the final trick to getting a really delicious strudel is basting it with melted butter throughout the baking process. And the basting of the butter combined with this gossamer thin dough creates flake. It's it's it's so much fun. It's the best science experiment.
CK: The first time you did this did it work?
LW: Yes, pretty much.
CK: That's why you wrote the baking book.
LW: Yes, because I thought wait a minute, people need to know about strudel. It's much simpler than you think. And it's so impressive. It's just such an incredible accomplishment.
CK: Gingerbread, you have led cooking old fashioned German Gingerbread, is that totally different than what we think of gingerbread over here?
LW: It's not totally different. I would say it's a cousin of fourth degree or something like that. German Lebkuchen, is one of the oldest cookies in the world. I think they have found Lebkuchen in, you know, cooking sites that are like 1000 years old. So, it's been around for a very, very long time. There are as many gingerbread varieties as there are breads in Germany, it feels like. Every region has their own version. And as a result, in my Christmas chapter, there are lots of different kinds of Lebkuchen. The most famous ones, I would argue are these ___ Lebkuchen, which are these round, almost cakey looking cookies that are very rich, they're made with an enormous amount of chop nuts, and marzipan. But there are also lots of other different kinds of Lebkuchen. For example, the old-fashioned gingerbread, which is a pretty lean dough that's made with flour, and a lot of honey, lots of spices and eggs and leavened with pot ash. And it ripens, the dough ripens for two months before baking. And because of the pot ash has this incredible crumb, and an incredibly complex, incredibly delicious flavor.
CK: So, what surprised you in doing the research for this book and doing the recipe development?
LW: Well, I grew up in this expat bubble really here in Berlin, my mother's Italian my father is American. And the people that I grew up with were all sort of German American, or a jumble of various cultures. And I learned a lot of German baking actually from a very dear friend of mine who is American but has lived here since the 50s. And so much of what I understood of baking, I always thought it was my friends influence and sort of her way, she's a very warm and loving person. And she would always bake for other people. And she expressed her love through baking. And I kind of always thought that was just Joni. But when I researched the book, I realized that actually she had learned all of that when she came here. And when she started to bake German things. Germans really use baking as an expression of, of love and affection. When a baby's born, it has been a tradition for hundreds of years to bring a braided yeasted loaf to the to the baby's christening, or to the new mother. And the same when someone dies. There's this incredible tradition of sweet baking, being a part of the celebrations and also the elevation of everyday life, that I'd always suspected it, but I'd never had it really confirmed in that way. And that's the thing that I think stuck with me the most about what I learned during the writing of the book.
CK: Luisa thank you so much. I love the book. I have so many things I need to make. Start starting with that sacher torte because I need to have a new experience with it.,
LW: Yeah Oh, I hope you love it.
CK: Louisa, thank you so much.
LW: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
CK: That was Luisa Weiss author of Classic German Baking. You know, German baking is a pretty good way to get familiar with the language itself. The blitz in blitzkuchen
means lightning, the schnieid in ____ schneiden means cut, and the ____ eingefallen in means sunken so after a while, you really start to think you're getting the hang of it until you stumble across a word like squirrel's tail, which is Eichktzchenschwanz. So, Wagner ever transferred German into opera’s well beyond me you're listening to Milk Street Radio, it's time to chat with JM Hirsch about this week's recipe lemon and shrimp risotto with fresh basil. JM how are you?
JM Hirsch: I'm great.
CK: Amalfi, you think of Amalfi you think about many things. But lemons is one of the things you're thinking about. You have spoken to cooks in Amalfi, who used lemons for many, many things. And this week, we're talking about a risotto dish that uses lemon.
JM: Yeah, you know, the thing that really impressed me with the cooks in Amalfi were that lemons aren't just like used in everything, but that every part of the lemon is used, you know, obviously the zest and obviously the juice, but even the leaves like the older leaves they use to smolder and smoke cheese. And the really young leaves, they batter and fry them in olive oil. And so, like nothing goes to waste. And this dish, in particular I was like kind of just fascinated with because they use lemon at so many levels of flavor in the single dish. So, you know, we it's just a lemon and shrimp risotto. You know, it doesn't sound like anything special. But they start out by infusing the broth that they used to cook the rice with lemon zest. So right there, you've got a big punch of lemony flavor that's going right directly into the heart of the rice. Then as the risotto cooks, they stir in more grated zest directly into the risotto. Then they finish the dish with lemon juice for like a big, bright acidic pop of flavor at the end. So, you're getting like these three layers of flavor that really enrich this dish.
CK: They also use a couple of other things to quote unquote enrich the dish an egg yolk and cream. Is that typical for risotto was that just their approach.
JM: It's typical for the risotto of this region, but it's not typical to like typical Milanese risotto because, you know, we think of parmesan cheese as being kind of the gooey rich part of that dish. But actually there's no cheese at all used in this one, as you say they use heavy cream and an egg yolk, but they whisk into the finished result or right at the very end, and it gives it this kind of creamy unctuousness that is really wonderful. Now there are two ways of making it you can make it with or without shrimp, and we opted to do it with the shrimp because in addition to infusing the broth with lemon zest, we can also infuse it with the shrimp shells or even another layer of flavor. And so, the result is a really complex dish for not a whole lot of ingredients
CK: And a little basil at the end.
JM: Yeah, little basil to brighten things up.
CK: Works on almost everything. JM thank you. This is a risotto from Amalfi with lemon and shrimp. Finished with basil full of flavor. Thank you.
JM: Thank you. You can get this recipe for lemon and shrimp risotto with fresh basil at Milk Street Radio.com.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Coming up Adam Gopnik wonders if luxury food should still have a place at our table, we'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball you're listening to Milk Street Radio right now Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Craig Sestero from Corpus Christi, Texas.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: Well, you know, my aunt runs our family bakery. And she had someone come in the other day and so they used yeast to raise their cookie dough instead of baking powder, baking soda. She never heard of that. So being a chef she turned to me instead of I'd never heard of that I hadn't. So, I figured I'd call you guys up and see if you've ever heard of it. And if you tried it, and if there's a benefit to it?
CK: What kind of cookie was it?
Caller: on the pan de polvo. It's like a shortbread?
CK: It's a good question. Because usually obviously, baking powder, baking soda, depending on the acidity of the dough. Yeah, you know, I've never made cookies with yeast. You could certainly use yeast. But actually, it doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever. Because you're not dealing with shortbread. It is shortbread is not a gluten heavy dough. It's not elastic, you're not getting a lot of rise out of it because the yeast only works well with a very elastic, developed gluten. So now I think about it. I have no idea why anybody will use yeast for a shortbread cookie,
Caller: Would it may be working something else like a chocolate chip cookie. I mean, it to me doesn't make any sense at all, personally, but that's why I'm calling you guys.
CK: It makes no sense to me unless somebody one day was out of baking powder, and they only had yeast this is how these things happen. And they just made it with yeast. And then everyone else made it with it. There's zero reason for rice, right? Unless there was some weird cold fermentation for two days in the refrigerator, and they developed flavor as a result. But I doubt that. I mean, the recipe I'm sure it's not sitting in the fridge for three days. So, you stumped me. I have no idea why you use yeast for a cookie dough. Sara? Yeah, no, I agree with both of you. I can understand if you wanted more rice and a fluffier texture, right? Yep, that I get. But these are more dense cookies. Right?
SM: Yeah, no, I agree with both of you.
CK: I can understand if you wanted more rice and a fluffier texture, right?
CK: that I get but these are more dense cookies. Right?
SM: Have you tasted her cookies?
Caller: I haven't. I just heard from my aunt. And I was like, that doesn't really make the whole lot of sense.
CK: We should say though, in passing that I mean, there are recipes for cookies with yeast, right? Yeah, there are one there are like spritz cookies and things. Yeah. Well, I would just confirm it was a long, slow rise. Maybe there's some value in the flavor, or if you wanted to fluffier texture, but otherwise
SM: Yeah, we all agree. Yeah
CK: Anyway, that was a fascinating question. Thanks. Thanks Craig.
Caller: Well, it's been an honor talking to you both. I appreciate it.
SM: Well, thank you
CK: Take care. Thank you. Bye.
SM: Bye. Bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a culinary question, give us a call anytime. Our number is 855-426-9843. That's 855-426-9843. Or email us at questions at Milk Street. radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street, who's calling?
Caller: Hey, this is Mallory from Red Oak, Texas.
CK: How are you?
Caller: I'm doing good. I was actually calling to follow up with you guys on the Old Fashion.
SM: Ah yes, I remember Yes.
CK: I spent four hours telling you how to make an Old Fashion.
SM: Chris really doesn't care about them at all.
CK: So, did you make it?
Caller: Yes, we made quite a few of them. And they're so good. They're fantastic. And now we cannot make them without mixing the rye and bourbon. I mean, that was just a game changer for one
CK: Isn’t it, that adds well, you tell me I mean, why did you like to mix?
Caller: The rye added a spiciness to it that sometimes the bourbon kind of lacks, when you use a rye and bourbon, you're like, wow, okay, I've not had an old fashion like this before.
CK: I think you're right; it balances because an old fashioned has a little bit of sweetness to it. Yeah, with sugar syrup or something. And so, you need the right to stand up to it. Let's talk about brands. What's your favorite brand or bourbon and rye?
Caller: Previously, we were Bullet fans and we tried to High West. And now we're officially High West fans.
CK: And what about bourbon?
Caller: Buffalo Trace has always been a favorite. And so when you mentioned Buffalo Trace, we’re like oh, perfect. We already have it.
CK: Let's go through the recipe for listeners. So, it's half bourbon half rye, a shot of Angostura, shot of maybe something else like an orange bitters, little bit of sweetener or raw sugar cube,
Caller: We did use the sugar cube. And when we muddled it, I don't know if we're not muddling it enough. But we still have like quite a bit of sugar left at the bottom when we go to pour the drink into the glass.
CK: If you have a Boston shaker, you know the two-part metal shaker. Put the cube in the smaller half doesn't matter really, with a bourbon and rye with the bitters and a splash of water. Because you need a little bit of water to really dissolve the sugar. And I muddle that. And then I put the two halves together and shake it maybe 15 or 20 times.
Caller: Okay, gotcha. Yeah, so thank you so much.
CK: Glad you liked it. I really am. That's great. Thank
Caller: Thank you guys so much.
SM: Thanks, Mallory.
CK: Take care of you too.
Caller: Bye. Bye.
SM: Bye. Bye. Hey, Chris. You know, I just thought about it. Do you have any idea how the Old Fashion got its name?
CK: Yeah, I did research said it was because it was the original cocktail. That's why it's called the fashion. It was spirits, some sweetener, sugar, syrup, and bitters, and maybe a little bit of water. And that was the original drink. Now they did it with lots of different alcohols. So, it wasn't just a bourbon cocktail, but it was the original drink
SM: When you say the original, what year are we talking about? Roughly?
CK: I think we're talking about late 1800s. Certainly, by the 1920s the, you know, the cocktail business was, yes, booming, booming. Yeah. But I think we're talking late 1800s, where it was sort of the original, you know, spirits, sugar, bitters mixture. And eventually, I think around the 1940s, or 50s, sort of became a bourbon cocktail.
SM: Huh, do you have any idea who invented or, you know, made the very first one and called it the old fashion?
CK: It was showing up in books or in newspapers as the old fashion, but nobody agrees about the first time because it was showing up in a lot of different places about the same time. But I think it's the best, it’s the perfect mixture as you can tell.
SM: Clearly, really, how do you really feel?
CK: Well, you know, sometimes the first thing is the best thing, right?
SM: Yup there you go
CK: This is Milk Street radio. Next up its regular contributor Adam Gopnik. Adam, how you doing?
Adam Gopnik: I am well, Chris, how are you?
CK: Pretty good. What's been on your mind recently?
AG: Chris, I don't know if your experience tracks mine. But I was thinking a lot lately about how when I was coming of age as an eater back in the 1960s and early 70s, it was still possible to eat or let's say at least to taste the most luxurious of foods with something like reasonable frequency not regularly or steadily, but sporadically and without feelings of enormous guilt or unreal expense. In the 1970s When my dad first developed a taste for wine, Grand Cru wines were available in Canada. sturgeon caviar was also something that was available in the 1980s I actually went with my wife to a wine dinner in Washington DC, where they served nothing but DRC wines, you know, the demand, Romany Conte, the Tosh and
CK: the most expensive wines,
AG: the most expensive wines yeah, it was a big deal, right. But it wasn't a ruinous or crazy big deal. Our host was a famous wine connoisseur of the time, who worked during the day as a neurosurgeon. Every night, he tasted great wines. And the next day he operated on people's brains. This, by the way, seemed like such a crazy combination of expertise,
CK: I was going to say,
AG: but my point, Chris, is that he was a neurosurgeon. Now I'm sure neurosurgeons make a nice living. But he was not a Raja, or a sheik, or the head of a hedge fund. I don't mean to over democratize those pleasures. And I don't mean to pretend that they were widely available in any sense. But not long ago, my friend Peter Hoffman, a wonderful chef and writer pointed out to me that a double bottle of DRC had just auctioned off for $50,000 $50,000. Right. So, we're talking now not about luxuries. We're talking about unobtainable pleasures completely. And Peter and I were talking about this and about how many of those things which were once attainable if infrequent luxuries had now become the exclusive property of the 0 O 1%. And we asked ourselves, was there anything left in that world of luxuries that we had been imprinted on his kids that was still around, and we realized that we could get a half bottle of Chateau e Kim, the greatest of all sweet wines for a price that you couldn't exactly call reasonable, but that certainly wasn't outside the realm of decency. So, we bought a half bottle and decided to make a dinner that would be dedicated to the one last luxury. And I made duck breast with pears, and I made an apricot souffle. But can I tell you the truth about that evening
CK: Are we headed to the dark side?
AG: Now we are headed to the dark side. You knew there would be I knew dark side. It was in weird way unsatisfying, because it seems to me that when you're enjoying something, part of the enjoyment is your knowledge that it's one in a sequence of things. We want luxury to be sort of like a birthday, not a rare visitation like a comet.
CK: So so let me ask you a question then. So, what do you think of young love? Something dimly remember from your past that was very sweet but fleeting? Is that a different thing?
AG: I think it's different in the sense that it's renewable. When I see my kids with their partners, I recognize that they're experiencing exactly the same young love that I did (good point) but when I taste a bottle of a largely unobtainable wine now, I can't think oh, this is a pleasure that I'll pass on. But here's what we can do. Display that it seems to me, and that is to redefine our smaller special occasions as though they were the grander luxuries. I mean things that we still take somewhat for granted, but that we ought to treat as though they would someday soon become unobtainable luxuries. Smoked salmon, for instance, right locks, it's easy to imagine a world in which smoked salmon would be as rare and special as caviar. And we would relish it in the same way. So, let's relish it now. Raw oysters, is there anything in the world that you would travel farther to taste if they were completely unavailable than a plate of great raw oysters, or even the occasional bottle of champagne? If we redefine luxury is as that which we can have sometimes, and frequently enjoy, we'll be able to remake our universe in a more meaningful way.
CK: So, luxury and abundance are connected?
AG: Yes, I think so. Luxury and abundance are connected, the things that we really take pleasure in the luxurious pleasures that we can genuinely relate to, and not just treat as a bizarre trip to a rich man's house. Those things have to be at least abundant enough to be available. And when a pleasure ceases to be available, even if it's at the extreme edge of availability, then it's no longer a pleasure, then it's simply an oddity and an extravagance.
CK: Adam, thank you very much abundance and pleasure are going hand in hand. Thank you.
AG: Pleasure, Chris, and a luxury.
CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer for the New Yorker. That's it for this week's show. If you tuned in to later, just want to listen again, you can download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcasts, Spotify wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street, please go to 177 Milk Street .com There you can download each week's recipe. Watch the latest season of our television show and order our latest cookbook Vegetables. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH, executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky. Production Assistant, Amelia McGuire, and production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Theme music by to Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX