Since I moved to the country, I’ve developed a passion for baking bread. I loved baking cakes in the past, but bread was never my forte. In Paris, I lived in the 7th arrondissement surrounded by ‘maîtres boulangers‘ (baking masters) – all I had to do was run down and follow the scented bread trail. Baking is extremely rewarding, and if ever there was a smell to describe love and family, then freshly baked bread would be it.
I once read a story on Marie-Antoinette and how she introduced an Austrian light tube cake to her friends in Versailles – she was homesick and longed to have her favourite childhood food. This cake was called Kouglof, filled with raisins and crowned with almonds. It became one of the most fashionable cakes in the court of Versailles – everybody could have a little piece of their queen’s history.
I find it very glamorous to bake these old-fashioned cakes – not only for their past and present beauty, but also for the magic of transforming water, flour and yeast into heavenly crusted works of art. Bread baking can hold fears for some people, but once you have understood the purpose of yeast, the basic element of baking, then it will all start to make sense.
Ingredients: (Serves 8)
20 g active yeast
70 ml water
100 g plain flour
For the main dough:
450 g plain flour
250 ml lukewarm milk
80 g caster sugar
1 tsp salt
130 g butter
100 g de dried dark raisins
40 ml rhum or kirsch
For the lining of the kouglof mold:
25 g butter
80 g blanched flaked almonds
Soak the raisins in the rum or kirsch. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine 70 g lukewarm water and yeast and leave to dissolve and froth for 5 minutes. Add the 100 g flour and mix well – knead for 5 minutes, make it to a shape of a ball. Cover the ball with the remaining 450 g of flour, cover for 20 minutes in a warm place. I always place dough (to be risen) in an unheated oven, and I place a small bowl of boiling water – like this the oven will be humid and warm, a perfect environment for rising dough. After 20 minutes, add the eggs, lukewarm milk, sugar, salt and butter.
Start kneading (pulling and pushing) the dough for 15 minutes of more – consider this as a form of exercise for the arms! The dough should become elastic. Add the soaked raising add the rest of the rum or kirsch in the dough.
Spread butter generously around sides and bottom and into crevices of the kouglof mold. Arrange almonds in bottom of mold. Gently shape dough into roll about 10 or 12 inches long and arrange in a circle in mold. Cover and let rise in a warm spot until dough doubles and is level with rim of mold for about 1 hour.
Pre-heat oven to 180 ° degrees/ 350 F. Place mold on center rack and bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. When ready, take out of oven and place let it cool for 5 minutes. Then un-mold on a plate.