Vicarious Dessert

Souzz and I are always looking for regional recipes–even by way of others’ travels–so we asked my sister and brother-in-law to scope out some fun dishes on their recent vacation to Alsace in the north of France. We figured they’d find a new recipe or two, and maybe we could bring a new creation to Buffalo over the holidays to share with Souzz’s mom (Alsace is where Souzz’s family is originally from).

Alsace is known for fine wines, great food, unique architecture, and picturesque villages– including the village of Riquewhir (population 1300), sometimes called a “wine village” because of its history as a trading hub for regional wines. Our “advance team” also discovered that Riquewihr is home to a number of small cafes and restaurants, including Restaurant au Dolder.

Restaurant au Dolder’s menu featured Tarte a L’Oignon (French Onion Pie), Choucroutie Garnie (a pickled cabbage that is an Alsacian staple), and a number of other local treats–including one of the region’s most famous desserts, kougelhopf. All of these dishes looked amazing to us as we thumbed through my sister’s photos afterwards. She assured us, of course, that all of her foodie pics were taken discretely (yeh, right, lots of locals casually wave their iPhones over their plates during dinner–but hey, they were doing us a favor!).

Not surprisingly, the recipes that we were able to find were written entirely in French, and with metric measures. Aaah, yes…the metric system, something that the US inexplicably abandoned in the mid-1970s. Apparently it was easier for Americans to remember English conversions–yet another one of 5,280 good reasons for Canada and the Continent to poke fun at us.

Kougelhopf–sometimes spelled kugelhopf, kouglof, or gugelhupf–dates to the late 1500s and takes many forms, with the one constant being the form itself. The name refers to the distinctive shape of a kougelhopf pan, a form that imprints an interesting fluting on whatever fills it (custard, dough, batter, maybe lime jello if you want to go low-brow). The kougelhopf featured at Restaurant al Dolder was a glacé (frozen dessert), but there is also a popular Austrian variation that is a raisin-filled cake made of yeast dough.

As for the recipes, metric conversions proved easy enough, but the French translations required a bit more effort. As I stumbled my way through Google Translate, I was reminded of Steve Martin, who once observed that “those French have a different word for everything!” Thankfully a friend was able to translate the tricky parts for us, which prevented at least 100 kilograms of kitchen mistakes.

The glacé version was pretty easy to make, just whipped cream, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and grapes mixed together and frozen in a six-serving form. The key was to keep things cool. By that I mean cooling the form ahead of time, cooling the simple syrup before mixing it with the egg yolks, and cooling the syrup/egg mixture before folding it in with the whipped cream. We topped with a thin layer of chocolate ganache and then plated it with a little kirsch in the middle, some thinly sliced fruit, and a dusting of cocoa. We let them sit for 10 minutes or so at room temp before serving.

Just for fun, we tried the raisin cake version, too, and it was also really good. It is light and airy, and takes on the flavor of most anything around it. Just make sure that you warm the milk to the right temperature to properly activate the yeast (~115F), let your butter come to room temp, and expect to take your time (there are three separate risings of the dough). We topped with ganache and a few sliced almonds before serving with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and a thin slice of orange.

With the recipes pretty well figured out, we brought them north to Buffalo for the holidays to share with Souzz’s mom. It was nice to enjoy an Alsacian treat along with some of Souzz’s family traditions (I doubt there’s any place in Alsace that would pair kougelhopf with home made egg nog, but that seems like their loss to me).

As for my sister’s trip, we learned about two good new dishes and we didn’t even have to leave the house. Does it still count as a travelogue if it’s somebody else’s trip?

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