London Broil

What comes to your mind when you read London Broil depends a great deal upon where you happen to live. If you are outside of English-speaking North America it probably means nothing. In Canada, it most likely conjures up an image of ground meat wrapped in a flank steak. In the U.S. the meaning has evolved over time and varies regionally. Some insist that London broil is a method of cooking flank steak. Others, especially in the Northeast, use the term to refer to a thick top round steak most often marinated and grilled. The origin of the name is unclear: Merriam Webster dates it to 1902; some say it was first used in the 1930s; others insist that it was not invented until the 1950s or 1960s. In any case, it is neither from London nor is it usually broiled. At our house, London broil is a thick (25 mm to 35 mm, 1” to 1½”) piece of top round marinated in a balsamic vinaigrette, grilled no more than to medium rare, and served thinly sliced diagonally.

I adapted this recipe from Sarah R. Labensky and Alan M. Hause, On Cooking: techniques from expert chefs (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1995), 298.

Ingredients

 

Olive oil

120 grams

4 ounces

Balsamic vinegar

120 grams

4 ounces

Fresh rosemary, chopped

30 milliliters

2 Tablespoons

Garlic, minced

50 grams

4 or 5 large cloves

Coarsely ground black pepper

15 milliliters

1 Tablespoon

Beef top round

about 1½ kilograms

about 3 pounds

Method

Combine the marinade ingredients in a suitable, non-aluminum, pan that fits the meat fairly closely. Alternatively, use a large freezer bag. Add the meat and turn over to cover both sides. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or, preferably, overnight. I sometimes let it marinate for a couple of days turning a couple times a day.

Heat a charcoal or gas grill until quite hot. Wipe the marinade from the meat. Place the meat diagonally on the grill. Cook for about four minutes then flip lengthwise.  After another four minutes, flip it again but at 90 degrees to create hash marks. Repeat for a total of another eight minutes. The meat should be medium rare, about 135°F (57°C).

Let the meat rest for at least ten minutes then cut diagonally across the grain into 6 mm (¼”) slices.

Pissaladière

DSCF1048This onion tart originated in Nice in the south of France where it is often served as an appetizer at room temperature. The name is thought to be derived from Ligorian for “salt fish,” referring to the anchovies that are an integral part of the dish. Recipes vary: some call for pie dough, some for pizza-like bread; some have goat cheese, others do not; some include potatoes, or not. They only mandatory ingredients are caramelized onions, black olives, and anchovies. I have reimagined pissaladière as a deep-dish pizza. The ingredients I used were what I had on hand. In place of the aged provolone and mozzarella one could use chèvre or feta. I included tomatoes because I had some that needed to used up. The olives in my version are Moroccan oil-cured but any tasty black olives would do.  Just do not scrimp on the anchovies. After all, they are what the tart is named for. You will notice that the ingredient list is a bit vague. That is deliberate. Make this dish your own.

Ingredients

One medium russet potato

Two medium to large onions

Olive oil

One half 14½ can diced tomatoes, preferably unsalted

Fresh chopped or dried thyme

Fresh chopped or dried basil

Dough for 12” to 14” pizza

Shredded aged provolone

Shredded mozzarella

A dozen or so pitted and halved black olives

A dozen or more anchovies

Salt and pepper

Method

Peel the potato and boil it until done, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool a bit then slice thinly.

Thinly slice the onions. Heat some olive oil in a skillet and cook the onions slowly until nicely browned. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Set aside to cool.

Add a bit more oil to the skillet and cook the tomatoes until most of the water has evaporated. Season with salt, pepper, and basil.

Preheat the oven to 400°F and set a rack near the bottom.

Roll out the pizza dough and put it into a 12” preferably cast-iron skillet that have been lubricated with olive oil. Spread out the dough, forming a rim around the edges.

Line the dough lightly with provolone then spread the caramelized onions on top of the cheese. Spread the tomatoes on top of the onions. Top with a bit more provolone and some mozzarella. Distribute the olives over the cheese and arrange the anchovies.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the cheese and the crust have browned. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Bagels

DSCF1023According to Wikipedia, the first written reference to bagels dates to 1610 in Kraków, Poland. Jewish immigrants brought bagels to the new world where slightly different versions became established in New York and Montréal. Today they are as American as apple pie but have suffered somewhat in the assimilation. As one gets more remote from the traditional Jewish communities on the East Coast they tend to lose their essential character. By the time you get to California what is passed off as a bagel is little more than a soft, puffy roll with a hole in it.

Funny story: some years ago, I was on a consulting assignment in Blacksburg, Virginia. When I mentioned that I had eaten a bagel for breakfast I was met with confused looks. As it happens, in the Appalachian mountain accent of the area a bay-gel is a dog you hunt with; the round bread with a hole in it is a bī-gel with a long “i.”

This recipe is for New York-style bagels using a hybrid of the traditional old-world sourdough sponge and the modern one using commercial yeast. If your sourdough starter is fairly lively and you have the time to let the sponge develop for 12 to 18 hours, you can leave out the yeast. If you don’t have a sourdough starter you can use 500 grams each of water and flour but increase the yeast to 3 grams (¾ teaspoon). Traditionally the dough is sweetened with malt syrup which usually available in the health food section of any large supermarket. At the risk of being charged with blasphemy you can use molasses. No one who is not from the Bronx will likely know the difference.

A note on units and measures: To get consistent results when making any bread you simply must use gravimetric units, i.e. weight. The amount of flour in a cup can vary by more than 10% depending on how you scoop it or whether the container has been shaken. Today, digital kitchen scales are inexpensive and every serious cook should have one. I prefer to use metric units because the math is easier—try dividing by 16 in your head. You really do not have to be familiar with the metric system to follow the recipe. Just set the scale to metric and read off the numbers..   

Yield: 12 to 15 bagels depending on how large you make them

The sponge

The first step to making bagels is to make a sponge which is basically the same as a French poolish or an Italian biga. In the days before commercial yeast was available, these pre-fermentations were used to produce enough yeast to leaven the bread. At the end of this step, a portion of the sponge would be set aside to start the next batch.

Ingredients:

200 grams 100% hydration sourdough starter

400 grams water

400 grams bread flour

2 grams (½ teaspoon) instant dry yeast

Method:

Place all the ingredients into the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment or a spoon mix to combine but not enough to develop the gluten in the flour. Place a lightly-oiled piece of plastic wrap directly on the sponge and cover the bowl with a towel. Set aside at cool room temperature for at least 4 hours or, preferably, overnight.

The Bagel Dough

Ingredients:

18 grams kosher salt

36 molasses (about 2 Tablespoons)

446 grams flour/16 ounces/ 3 cups

Method:

Add salt, molasses, and flour to the sponge in that order. Attach dough hook to your mixer and knead at the recommended speed for 8 to 10 minutes.  The dough is quite stiff, so keep an eye on the mixer lest it walk across the counter and fall to the floor.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cover with a cloth. Rest for about 10 minutes.

At this point I like to weigh the dough then either divide by 12 to get the weight of an individual bagel or divide by the weight I want each bagel to be, adjusting to get an integral for each. Typically, this recipe will yield a dozen large, 125 gram bagels, or 15 smaller, 100 gram ones.

Divide the dough into however many bagels you are making. I portion them on my scale so they are all the same. Form each piece into a ball and set on the counter, covered by a cloth, to rest for another 10 minutes or so.

Making the Bagels

Ingredients:

Water as needed

Baking soda, see method

Toppings, e.g. sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried minced onions, sea salt, etc.

Method:

Prepare sheet pans by lining them with parchment paper. I find that a half-sheet pan can accommodate about six bagels, eight if you crowd them a bit.

Preheat the oven to 450°F (425°F for convection).

Take a ball of dough and flatten it into a disc about two inches in diameter. Make a hole in the disc with your thumb then spin the bagel a couple of time around your index and middle fingers to enlarge the hole. Set of the counter. Repeat with each ball. Cover the bagels with a cloth and allow to rise for 10 to 15 minutes.

Flip each bagel over and allow to rise for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Measure water into wide pan to a depth of at least three inches. Add 4 grams (½ Tablespoon) baking soda for every 2 liters (½ gallon) of water. Bring to a boil then turn down to a slow simmer.

Put the toppings onto a plate and set next to the stove where the water is boiling.

Drop the bagels3 or 4 at a time into the simmering water making sure they are not overcrowded. After about a minute, flip them over with a large wooden spoon and let them boil on the other side.

Remove one bagel with a skimmer or slotted spoon and place onto the toppings. Using your fingers, quickly move each one around to coat and put, coated side up, onto the sheet pan. Repeat with the rest of the batch. Repeat until all the bagels are done.

Bake in the preheated oven for 12 to 13 minutes or until golden brown. I like to swap the pans from one rack to the other about halfway through to make sure they bake evenly.

Cool then store in a paper bag for a couple days or freeze for later use.

Skillet Cornbread

This Cajun-style cornbread is easily made without wheat flour and so is perfect for those avoiding gluten. I like to use a mixture of yellow cornmeal and masa harina. Some might insist that it be made with solid shortening but I get great results with half lard and half oil. Just oil will work as well. Of course if you happen to have some bacon drippings they would go very well.  This cornbread is perfect for cornbread and Andouille stuffing. I adapted the recipe from Emeril Lagasse’s Louisiana Real and Rustic (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1996).

Ingredients

 

Yellow cornmeal

150 grams

About 1 cup

Masa harina

150 grams

About 1 cup

Salt

5 grams

¾ teaspoon

Sugar

15 grams

1 Tablespoon

Baking powder

4 grams

1 teaspoon

Chili powder

1 milliliter

¼ teaspoon

Milk (I use nonfat)

About 380 grams

About 1½ cups

Egg

1 large

1 large

Finely chopped onion

50 grams

⅓ cup

Frozen corn kernels

50 grams

½ cup

Oil and/or lard

30 grams

2 Tablespoons

Method

Preheat the oven to 400°. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In another bowl lightly beat the egg and milk together. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl with the dry and mix well. Add a bit of water or milk if the batter is too thick. Fold in the onion and corn.

Heat the oil in an 8-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the fat is just beginning to smoke pour in the batter. Cook on top of the stove for 3 or 4 minutes until the edges are beginning to brown. Place in the hot oven and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Thai Red Curry of Pork with Peanut

The addition of peanut butter to red curry paste and coconut makes this a rich, satisfying dish. Like most Thai food, it features a balance of four elements: spicy, sour, sweet, and salty. It should be fairly spicy but you can adjust the heat level by adding more or less curry paste. I use prepared red curry paste I buy at my local Asian market but you can make your own. The peanut butter should be natural, i.e. without added sugar and preferably unsalted. Either smooth or crunchy is fine. I prefer to make my own coconut milk because I find it lighter than canned. If you use the latter, consider adding a bit of water to it. The pork should be fairly lean; I use sirloin but tenderloin would work equally well, albeit at higher cost. Serve modest portions over steamed jasmine rice.

(Recipe adapted from BBCGoodFoodShow.com)

Serves two generously

Ingredients

Pork

350 grams (12 ounces)

Unsweetened dried grated coconut

100 grams (1 cup)

Boiling water

600 milliliters (2½ cups), divided use

Vegetable oil

as needed

Red Thai curry paste

50 to 60 grams (3 to 4 Tablespoons)

Peanut butter

60 grams (2 to 3 Tablespoons)

Fresh coriander stalks, finely chopped

40 grams (½ cup)

Spring onion, thinly sliced

60 grams (small bunch)

Palm sugar or light brown sugar

15 milliliters (1 Tablespoon)

Lime juice

One lime, about 30 milliliters (2 Tablespoons)

Thai fish sauce

30 milliliters (2 Tablespoons)

Dry roasted unsalted peanuts

50 grams (⅓ cup)

Coriander leaves, chopped

for garnish

Method

Cut the pork into 25-mm (1-inch) cubes then slice each cube across the grain 3-mm (⅛-inch) thick.

Put the grated coconut with 250 milliliters (1 cup) of the water into a blender. Carefully blend on high speed for about a minute.

Heat a small amount of oil in a heavy pot (I use a cast iron chicken fryer). When hot but not smoking, strain in the coconut milk, reserving the coconut. Stir in the curry paste and peanut butter. Fry, stirring constantly until the water has been driven out and the oil starts to separate.

Stir the coriander stalks and spring onion into the mixture then fold in the pork. Stir fry for a few minutes until the pork has lost its exterior pink color.

Return the coconut to the blender jar, add the remaining boiling water, and blend on high speed for about a minute as before. Strain the milk into the pot and discard the coconut. The liquid should just cover the pork. If not, add a bit of water. Stir in the palm sugar, lime juice, and about half of the fish sauce. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the pork is tender. Check the seasoning and add a bit more fish sauce if it needs more salt.

Just before serving, stir in the peanuts. Ladle over hot jasmine rice and garnish with coriander leaves.

Chili Verde

Green chili is not well known in the Eastern US; I first encountered it on a business trip to Santa Barbara, California many years ago. The dish contrasts the natural sweetness of pork with the citrusy tartness of tomatillos rounded out with the moderate heat of jalapeños. Served over Mexican-style rice with a bit of queso fresco, a dollop of sour cream, or a sprinkle of shredded Monterrey jack or cheddar it makes a simple, satisfying one-dish meal. Or you can dress it up with some frijoles de la olla and perhaps a bit of guacamole for a festive meal. For variety, add a bit of pickled nopales or pozole. This is basic peasant food which is as good as it gets for my taste.

As presented this recipe serves two generously.

Ingredients

Garlic

2 or 3 cloves to taste

Jalapeño chilies

2 or 3 to taste

Onion, coarsely chopped

1

Tomatillos

1 28-ounce can, drained

Mexican oregano

15 ml (1 Tbsp)

Oil or lard

30 ml (2 Tbsp)

Pork sirloin or shoulder cut into 25 mm (1 inch) cubes

400 – 500 g (about 1 pound)

Pork, vegetable, or chicken stock

150 ml (2/3 cup)

Salt and pepper

To taste

Method

Place the unpeeled garlic cloves into a cast iron Dutch oven over moderately high heat and roast, turning from time to time until slightly blacked and soft. When cool enough to handle, peel and set aside.

Blacken the jalapeños under a hot broiler or, as I do, with plumber’s torch. Wrap in a towel and let cool. Using the towel, rub off the charred peel. Halve each pepper lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and placenta (pith). Chop coarsely and set aside.

Place the garlic, jalapeños, onion, tomatillos, and oregano into a food processor. Process to a smooth puree. Set aside.

Heat the oil or lard in the Dutch oven until just smoking. Add the pork cubes, working in batches if need be to maintain a single layer. Brown thoroughly on all sides and remove to a bowl.

Add a bit more oil to the pan if needed to have a light coating on the bottom and reheat to nearly smoking. Dump in the tomatillo puree all at once. Stir while it sizzles, scraping up any meat stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the reserved pork and stock, turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer until the meat is thoroughly tender, about 30 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot over rice.

Review: Uncle Tony’s

uncle tony'sLocated in the middle of the State Street college drinking zone and a stalwart of the famous (infamous?) Binghamton University commencement week Bar Crawl, Uncle Tony’s has been a local institution since 1983. In 2014 the eponymous Uncle Tony, Tony Basti, retired and turned the business over to friend and long-time employee, Bryan Whiting. Not much has changed inside but by participating in this Binghamton Restaurant Week, the new owner is signaling that he is moving up the food chain, so to speak. Being a connoisseur of bar food, I had to try it.   

When we arrived on a Wednesday a bit after lunch hour the place was neither crowded nor abandoned. A couple tables and few bar seats were occupied by business types. There appeared to be a few more Restaurant Week patrons there too, as well as a long-time weekend bar server from another local institution and the leader of a popular bar band. The bartender greeted us as soon as we sat down at the bar and took our drink order promptly. The selections on tap include the usual national swill and a nice selection of regional micro-brews. The bottled beer menu is similar and the wine selections are quite impressive. We ordered draught micro-brews that were served at the perfect temperature.

The deal with Restaurant Week is that each participant offers a limited three-course prix-fixe menu. One does not generally associate appetizers with bar food and the ones we chose were ok but not outstanding. My wife had a bowl of chili that she found a bit too salty. My Caesar salad was simply a small bowl of romaine lettuce with giant croutons and a generous helping of Caesar dressing on the side. The lettuce was nice a crisp and the dressing passable.

To me the best bar food are sandwiches and here Uncle Tony’s did not disappoint. My wife had shrimp salad on a croissant accompanied by onion rings. I had a buttermilk-breaded chicken cutlet with provolone on a roll and a side of French fries. The shrimp salad had just the right amount of mayonnaise and seasoning; the croissant fresh and flakey. The onion rings appeared to have been house-cut but were just a bit greasy. The chicken was fried to perfection: crispy without a trace of excess oil. The French fries were likewise perfectly done arriving too hot eat right away. Obviously the chef is a master of the deep-fryer as a good bar cook must be. Both servings were generous for lunch—I would not want to eat that much every day but for a treat it was great. We passed on the tiramisu-flavored gelato that was part of the prix-fixe because we were simply too full!

Service was exceptional: friendly, fast, and competent. Mr. Whiting clearly understands that the trick to building a lunch trade is to get good food out quickly. Most downtown Binghamton restaurants I have visited at lunchtime are simply too slow for someone on an hour lunch break. I do not know, yet, what the new Uncle Tony’s dinners are like but I would certainly recommend it for lunch.

Uncle Tony’s Bar and Restaurant

79 State Street

Binghamton, NY 13901

(607) 723-4488

Tinga de Pollo y Papas

Most of what we in the United States think of as Mexican food is derived from the post-conquest cuisines of the border states of Chihuahua and Sonora. The Spanish influence is seen in the heavy use of cheese and meat which were virtually unknown in pre-Columbia Mesoamerica.  Farther south in Puebla and Oaxaca the food retains more of its traditional character. Chef and cookbook author Rick Bayless champions this distinctly more interesting cuisine. This recipe, which I adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen (New York: Scribner, 1996), pp 322-323, is an example from Puebla. Traditionally, tinga does not contain potatoes but Bayless’s use of them gives the dish an interesting texture and flavor. And, after all, potatoes are in the same botanical family and originated in the same area of South America as do tomatoes. In Mexico City, tinga is served on crispy tostadas topped with queso fresco and a slice of avocado. I usually present it with a plate of warm corn tortillas, shredded sharp cheddar, and avocado if I have some.

Ingredients

Garlic, unpeeled

3 or more cloves

Canned chipotles en adobo

2 or more to taste

Tomatoes, diced or whole

1 14-ounce can

Chicken fat, oil, lard, or combination

30 milliliters (2 Tablespoons) divided use

Chicken thighs, skinless*

2

Boiling potatoes

3 or 4 medium, about 250 grams (½ pound)

Onion, yellow or white

1 medium, about 125 grams (¼ pound)

Dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1 teaspoon

Salt

To taste

Tortillas, corn or flour, to serve

3 or 4 per person

Avocado slices and cheese, to garnish

To taste

* bone-in are best.

 Method

Put the garlic cloves, unpeeled, in a small dry skillet over medium heat, turning from time to time, until they have softened. When cool enough to handle, remove the peels and put into a food processor or blender along with the chipotles and tomatoes with their juice. Process to a smooth puree.

Warm 15 milliliters (1 Tablespoon) of the fat in a heavy sauce pan over medium-high heat. When nearly smoking, pour in the puree and cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium-low and submerge the chicken thighs in the sauce. Cover and simmer until the meat is done, about 25 minutes. Remove the thighs to a plate, leaving as much sauce as possible behind. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones in large shreds.

Using the coarse grating disk of the food processor or a hand grater, shred the potatoes. Roll them into a kitchen towel and squeeze out as water as possible. Thinly slice the onion. Add the remaining fat to a large non-stick skillet (I use a 12” one) over medium heat. Cook the potatoes and onions, tossing or stirring regularly, until well browned. Pour in the sauce, sprinkle on the oregano, and fold in the chicken. Heat through and season to taste with salt.

Turn the finished tinga into a warmed serving bowl. Present with warmed tortillas and garnishes.

Salisbury Steak

salisbury steak (3)When I was a young Air Force Russian language student at Indiana University more than a half-century ago, I enjoyed visiting a restaurant called The Gables that, besides being on the site of the former Book Nook where Hoagy Carmichael claimed to have written “Stardust,” served a delicious Salisbury steak at a price consistent with my $100 a month airman’s pay. At this remove I can honestly say that I do not remember what it tasted like but I have had a soft spot for Salisbury steak ever since. The dish itself was invented in 1888 by Dr. J. H. Salisbury, a physician from Cortland County NY, between Binghamton and Syracuse, who was an early promoter of a low carbohydrate diet—in fact he recommended eating his steak three times a day. During the World War I mania to remove German names from common items, hamburger steak was often called Salisbury steak. Today, while the US Department of Agriculture mandates that hamburger steak be made of 100% skeletal beef, i.e. no organ meat. Commercially prepared Salisbury steak may by law contain up to 25% pork, beef heart, and up to 30% fat. This last, if nothing else, should convince you of the wisdom of making it from scratch.

Note: to make this recipe gluten-free use corn flakes pulverized in the food processor in place of bread crumbs and rice flour instead of wheat flour. The mushrooms are optional and can be simply left out.

Ingredients

Onion

1 medium, divided use

Mushrooms

6 medium

Garlic

1 or 2 large cloves

Butter and/or oil

30 milliliters (2 Tablespoons), divided use

Ground beef

340 grams (12 ounces)

Egg, lightly beaten

1 large

Worcestershire sauce

30 milliliters (2 Tablespoons), or to taste

Bread crumbs

30 grams (¼ cup)

Parsley, fresh or dried

15 milliliters (1 Tablespoon)

Salt and pepper

to taste

Flour

8 grams (1 Tablespoon)

Beef stock

about 250 milliliters (1 cup)

Thyme, fresh or dried

2 milliliters (¼ teaspoon)

Method

Peel the onion and cut into two pieces through the root. Thinly slice one half and set aside. Coarsely chop the other half and put into a food processor. Separate the mushroom stems from the caps. Slice the caps thinly and set aside. Add the stems and the garlic to the onion in the food processor and mince finely. Sauté the mince in a small amount of butter until the onions are translucent. Set aside to cool.

Combine the ground beef with the cooled onion mixture, egg, Worcestershire sauce, bread crumbs, and parsley. (I use my stand mixer with the flat beater, first beating the egg on medium speed then adding the rest of the ingredients and mixing on the lowest speed setting.) Form the mixture into two oblong rolls about the size and shape of a baking potato then flatten them into patties about 1 centimeter (½ inch) thick. Season on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat about 15 grams (1 Tablespoon) of butter or oil in a heavy cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and cook the patties for about 8 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil and keep warm while you prepare the gravy.

Reheat the skillet over medium heat, adjust the fat to about 15 milliliters (1 Tablespoon), and sauté the sliced onions until softened. Add the sliced mushroom caps and sauté until lightly browned. Sprinkle on the flour and cook for about minute, stirring constantly. Slowly add the stock a bit at a time stirring constantly. Be sure to let each addition come to a boil before adding the next otherwise you will not know just how think the gravy is becoming. Keep adding stock until the gravy is the consistency you like. (You can use water if you run out of stock.) Stir in the dried thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste.  

Serve the steaks with mashed potatoes and the gravy, accompanied by a green salad or vegetable.

Kümmelweck

kummelweckForget Buffalo wings, western New York’s real contribution to the culinaria of the Empire State is Beef-on-Weck, a sandwich of thinly-sliced roast beef on a crusty roll the top of which has been lightly dipped in the jus the meat cooked in. Not just any roll will do; it has to be a kümmelweck—literally “caraway roll.” Some who should know better (I’m talking about you, Bobby Flay) claim that you can turn a Kaiser roll into a kümmelweck by sprinkling it with caraway seeds and kosher or sea salt. But above the Niagara Escarpment people make a clear distinction between kümmelwecken and Kaiser rolls which are sold side-by-side in nearly every supermarket and bakery worthy of the name. The rest of us have to take matters into our own hands.

There are many recipes for kümmelweck online, all different and all claiming to be authentic. For no better reason than I use their flour, I adapted this recipe from one I found on the King Arthur Flour website. The biggest changes I made were to start with a pre-fermented poolish using my trusty sourdough starter and to add a bit of rye flour. If you have the time, you can eliminate the instant dry yeast and let the starter leaven the rolls. Being impatient I use a bit of commercial yeast. If you do not have a sourdough starter, simply increase the amount of water and of flour by 50 grams, increase the yeast to 2¼ teaspoons or one envelope, and skip the pre-fermentation altogether.  

A note on units of measure: It is simply not possible to achieve consistent baking results with volumetric measures. The weight of a cup of flour can vary by 10% or more depending on how it is scooped. Digital scales are so inexpensive today that every serious cook can afford one. All such scales display either Imperial or metric units making it easy to use the latter and to avoid having to try dividing by 16 in one’s head. It is not necessary to be familiar with the metric system; just set the scale and read off the numbers. The one exception I make is for small, non-critical amounts for which teaspoons are more convenient.

Ingredients

100% hydration sourdough starter

100 grams

Water

170 grams (divided use)

Bread flour

320 grams (divided use)

Rye flour

20 grams

Potato flour

25 grams

Sugar

6 grams

Salt

6 grams

Non-fat dry milk

15 grams

Unsalted butter, softened

30 grams + extra for brushing

Instant dry yeast (optional)

½ teaspoon (2½ milliliters)

Large egg

1 (approximately 50 grams)

Caraway seed

As needed

Kosher or coarse sea salt

As needed

Method

To make the poolish, combine the 100 grams of starter with 100 grams of water, 80 grams of bread flour, and the 20 grams of rye flour a bowl. I use the bowl of your heavy duty mixer. Brush a piece of plastic wrap with oil and place it directly on top of the dough. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside until bubbly, a couple of hours is best. The longer you let it ferment, the more pronounced the sourdough flavor will be.

Combine the remaining ingredients, except the caraway seed and kosher salt, with the poolish and knead for about 10 minutes until you have a nice smooth dough. Place in a large, lightly oiled proofing bowl, recover with the plastic wrap and towel, and set aside to proof until doubled in size—an hour or two depending on the temperature and the activity of your starter.

Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper. Divide the dough into six equal ball of about 100 grams each. Working on a floured surface, form each ball into a flat roll about three inches (75 mm) in diameter and place it on the pan. Cover with the towel and allow to proof for an hour or so until the rolls have roughly doubled in size.

Set a rack near the bottom of your oven and preheat it to 475°F (250°C). I use the convection setting in mine.  Wet a very sharp knife or a razor blade in water and cut an X into the top of each roll. Brush generously with melted butter then sprinkle with caraway seed and kosher or coarse sea salt to taste. When the oven is hot, put the sheet pan into the oven and spritz the interior with a spray bottle of water. Immediately turn the neat down to 425°F (220°C). Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.