Though travel is invigorating and inspiring, sometimes we can’t travel as much as we’d like. No fear, we can still enjoy the flavors of other cultures from home through baking.
For me baking is invigorating as it involves more than just the next meal. Indeed, baking almost always includes a sweet, savory, flaky, and mouth-watering creation that you made from scratch. What could be more empowering than that?
The Tradition of the Alps
Today, I am going to share three recipes inspired by the culture of the Alps. This magnificent mountain range covers nearly 750 miles across France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, and Slovenia.
Because the high mountains are remote in nature, Alpine culture is strongly dependent on living off of the land via farming, cheesemaking, and woodworking. Think of the cool smell of crisp, clean air, grassy pastures, and car-free villages (yes, such towns do exist). This visualization is the epitome of the Alps.
The Alps are rejuvenating and peaceful. No wonder creating a recipe inspired by the lofty mountains would design an aurora worthy of your time.
I thought I’d share three of my favorite Alpine recipes so you can get away when you can’t get away.
Zoph is the traditional Sunday Switzerland milk-and-butter bread. Why Sunday? Most bakeries are closed on Sundays so many Swiss people make their own zoph on Sundays.
Ingredients for 2 loaves:
1 ¼ cup milk
½ cup butter
1 tbs. yeast
1 ½ tbs. salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 eggs – 1 to mix in the dough, 1 to brush on top of loaves before cooking
4 cups of flour
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Put milk and butter in a microwave safe bowl. Place the bowl in the microwave and warm the milk and butter, mixing the ingredients incrementally until well blended.
Add the yeast and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. Add in the salt, sugar, and egg and beat together well. Finally, stir in the flour ½ cup at a time.
Once the dough is formed, spray cooking oil over it, cover with plastic, and let it rise for 30 minutes. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it well. Add more flour if needed, but keep in mind that the dough should feel slightly tacky (sticky).
Separate the dough into six portions, and roll each one into a long roll. You will need three rolls for each braid. Once both loaves are braided, place them on a cooking sheet.
Brush the loaves with a beaten egg for a shiny, golden brown finish. Place the loaves in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
Let the bread cool and enjoy it plain or topped with butter and fruit preserves.
Lavender Shortbread Cookies
Lavender is native to the Southern Alps and grows plentifully there due to the high elevations of the slopes. According to Provence and Beyond, Provençal peasants of the 16th century produced lavender oil to heal wounds and expel intestinal worms.
1 cup butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
3 tbs. honey
2 cups flour
⅛ tsp. salt
2 tsp. dried lavender
Cream butter, sugar, and honey together. Add the flour, salt, and lavender until combined. Divide dough in half and roll into two logs or loaves. Freeze for 30 minutes or refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the cookie dough from the freezer or fridge. Slice into ¼- to ½-inch cookies and place them on a cookie sheet. Bake the cookies in the oven for 15–20 minutes or until they’re golden brown. Let them cool and enjoy!
Dark Chocolate Carac Pastries
Carac pastries are a popular dessert in the Alps. They take time to make but when time passes in the Alps, it is time well spent.
Ingredients for 12, 2-3” carac pastries:
1 cup flour
⅓ cup almond flour
3 tbs. powdered sugar
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup butter; cold, cut into chunks
1 egg yolk
1 tbs. cold water
¾ cup heavy cream
8 oz dark chocolate; high quality, broken into pieces
2 tbs. butter
¾ cup powdered sugar
1½ tbs. heavy cream or water
¼ tsp. almond flavor
2 drops green food coloring (optional, but traditional)
Directions for Pastry:
In a food processor, mix the flour, almond flour, sugar, and salt. Drop in the butter chunks and pulse briefly until crumbly. Drop in the egg yolk and cold water and pulse briefly until it forms a dough ball. Wrap and chill until firm; about 30 mins.
Cut dough into four equal pieces; then cut each of those into three pieces. Using a muffin tin, or individual tart pans, press the dough in evenly all the way to the top edge.
Line the tarts with a tiny circle of parchment and place pie weights or beans on each. Bake for 10 mins at 350F. Remove weights and bake for 5 more mins until golden and crisp. Allow to cool completely before filling.
Directions for Filling (Ganache)
In a 1 quart heavy bottom saucepan, place the heavy cream over medium low heat. Do not boil. When it is hot to the touch (about 110F), add the chocolate pieces. Remove from the heat and stir vigorously until chocolate ganache is completely smooth. Drop in the butter and stir.
At this point, while the chocolate mixture is still runny, you can spoon the ganache into the cooled pastries. You may find it easier if you pour it into a plastic zip bag, snip off the corner and pipe it into the pastries.
Reserve a bit for the traditional chocolate “dot” on the top. Allow filling to cool and become solid before adding the topping.
Directions for Topping
Combine the powdered sugar and liquid. Add the almond flavoring and green coloring as desired. Mix until completely smooth. Pour the icing into a plastic zip bag, snip off the corner and pipe it evenly onto the cooled and firm ganache layer. Take it all the way to the edge so that no chocolate is visible.
When dry, warm up the reserved ganache (warm water or brief microwave) and pipe a single “dot” into the center. Or you can get creative with a squiggly design. Allow the pastry to cool. It is best served on the day made (at room temperature), but caracs will last a few days.
There you have it. Dim the lights and put your feet up as you enjoy these three excellent, Alps-inspired recipes. Close your eyes as you take a bite and savor travel without having to travel far.
What is your favorite foreign recipe? Where you did first taste it? Have you tried to make it yourself? Which of these three recipes looks the most tempting to you? Please join the conversation!