Sunday, December 20, 2015
Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Mankato, Minnesota
The region Mankato is part of was once home to different groups of Native Americans, and over time, when the East Coast began to be populated with more European Americans, the Native Americans were displaced and many ended up relocating in the Mankato area. European Americans also followed suit and began settling in the area in February of 1852.
Mankato as a city, was formed on May 11, 1858, by a man named Henry Jackson. Legend has it that the town was intended to be called Mahkato, the Dakota word for Greenish Blue Earth, but there was a clerical error, and it was entered as Mankato. The railroad came to Mankato in 1868, connecting it to the greater world and making it much easier to travel to and from.
"Fun" Fact: Mankato was the location of the largest mass execution in United States history. On December 26, 1862, the US Army executed 38 members of the Dakota tribe for their role in an uprising known as the Dakota War in 1862. 303 Native Americans had actually been sentenced to death, but President Lincoln pardoned all but 38.
You may be asking why I chose Mankato, out of all the cities in the state of Minnesota, why such a random, obscure town? Well, the answer is simple: Little House on the Prairie. Not the books, the tv series. Mankato was sort of the go-to town that the people on the show traveled to for trading and other business. And one of my rules in life is, if you can connect something to Little House on the Prairie, you do, no questions asked! And so, here we are!
The Food: Scandinavian Christmas
So, I have had a bad cold and was unable to do this blog project for two whole weeks. This set of food was actually scheduled for last week and I was going to take the food to a family gathering to share, but I was too sick to cook and too sick to attend the gathering. I was very sad to miss out, especially since one of the items was tied to a date. In the end though, I decided to do it this week instead and freeze the results to bring for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
December 13th is St. Lucia Day, and though St. Lucia is a Catholic saint, she is highly celebrated in the mostly-Lutheran Scandinavian countries. If you have ever seen drawings or pictures of blonde girls with wreaths and lit candles in their hair, this is it. Traditionally, the eldest daughter in the family dons the wreath and candles and serves her family Lucia Buns, which are a saffron-flavored and -colored sweet roll.
I have had this recipe for Lussekatter for years. Every year around Halloween, I pull out my holiday recipes and decide what I'm going to make for the year, for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every year I pull out the recipe and I say, "I'm gonna make these finally!" and every year, I don't, and then I put it back till next year, where the ritual is repeated. When I started this blog project, I thought this would be a great opportunity to finally make these. And in keeping with the tradition, it fought me every step of the way. First off was getting sick when I was supposed to make them. I wondered if I should forget it, yet again, and put the recipe away for another year. But then I decided that I am neither Scandinavian, Lutheran, nor Catholic, so what the heck did it matter if I did it on the proper day or not? So, I did it, a week late, but I did it! And then there was preparing to make it. When you bake, one of the most important things to do is get your mis en place, this is a French term that basically means "getting your sh-- together". You make sure you have all the stuff you need before you get too far into the process and find out something's missing and your project is ruined. I had just gotten back from the store with ingredients for my other recipe, yet did not look at the ingredients for this one. Of course, it turned out I didn't have enough yeast, so back to the store I went and bought yeast. Then I was able to get started!
Traditionally, these buns have saffron in them, but if you can't find it or afford it, you can use turmeric instead. This particular recipe does not have either in in, but as a nod to it, I added a pinch of turmeric to the egg wash I put on the tops before baking to turn it a bit yellowish. If I had thought of it ahead of time, I would have added it to the milk and let it color the entire dough itself, which is how it's supposed to be done.
Here is the recipe:
3/4 cup milk
2 pkg. dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2/3 cup sugar
5 cups flour, sifted(I did not notice this part, I would definitely sift it)
1/2 cup softened butter
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 cup seedless raisins(You need two per roll, so a total of 64)
1 egg white, beaten slightly with 1 Tbsp. cold water(I used the whole egg after realizing it should be a yellow dough, I added a pinch of turmeric too. It worked pretty well, I think.)
Scald milk and cool to lukewarm. Add yeast to lukewarm water and mix until yeast is dissolved. Add milk, sugar; mix well.
Add two cups flour and beat until smooth. Add butter, egg, salt, and cardamom. Beat to well mixed. Gradually add in the remaining three cups of flour until well-incorporated. Turn out on a floured board. Knead to smooth and elastic. Place in bowl. Let rise until double in bulk. Punch down and repeat.(Note, I did not repeat, I went directly to the next step. I have never heard of a bread dough where you let it rise and punch it down two times before moving on to the formation and final rise step. You can try it and see what happens, but I can't vouch for it...)
Divide dough into 32 pieces. Roll each piece until about 16" long. Cut in half. Place two side-by-side and curl up ends. (As usual, I didn't actually really read the recipe as I went along and didn't do this. I rolled each piece out as much as I could and then rolled it up into a sort of S shape, making 32 rolls. This is possibly why they came out a bit on the dry side, because they were too small.) Place raisins in curl.
Cover-let rise until double. Brush with egg white and bake at 350 degrees for 11-12 minutes.
The cardamom flavor in these rolls is amazing! I really love the flavor of cardamom, it's a nice change from cinnamon. It's a prominent flavoring in Scandinavian cooking and baking. I like to think about the history of food and these buns are a good example. How do cardamom and saffron, spices from Asia or the Middle East, make their way to the northernmost parts of Europe? Why, the spice trade of course! You can see the geography and history sitting right there in the roll, and you can taste it as you eat it. Portable, edible history is always the best kind, I think.
The next recipe is a Christmas cookie recipe I have also had for a very long time but never tried. I decided it fit in very well with the buns and the theme of the blog meal. There is an icing for these cookies, but I did not make it yet. Since I froze the cookies to take to Christmas Eve and Day, I will make the icing fresh and put it on the thawed cookies. They were pretty awesome even without it, though!
Scandinavian Almond Bars-Source: Taste of Home Magazine
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp. almond extract(I have to thank the tall man at the grocery store for reaching to the very back of the top shelf for the almost extract, or I would have been stuck with the imitation stuff!)
1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. milk
1/2 cup sliced almonds, chopped(These are so thin you can actually crush them in your hand and not need a knife and cutting board to chop these up)
1 cup powered sugar
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1-2 Tbsp. milk
In a mixing bowl, cream sugar and butter; beat in egg and extract. Combine dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture and mix well. (The recipe does not call for chilling the dough, but I do think this type of dough would benefit well from it. If I was to make this recipe again, I would chill the dough.)
Divide the dough into fourths; form into 12"x3" rectangles. Place 5" apart on greased baking sheets. Brush with milk; sprinkle with almonds.
Bake at 325 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until firm to the touch and edges are lightly browned. (I found 18 was too much and the first batch was a bit overdone. I did 15 minutes for the second batch and it turned out better. 14 would probably have been best.) Cool on pans for 5 minutes, then cut diagonally into 1" slices. (I found mine stuck to the pan, use a spatula and carefully remove each rectangle to a cutting board ASAP.) Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Combine icing ingredients; drizzle over bars.
Makes: About 4 dozen
These have a texture akin to biscotti, and I thought it could have stood to have a bit more almond flavor. Next time I would double the amount of extract I used to help bring that flavor out a bit more. I am also curious to see what the icing will do to the flavor. I am not generally an icing person, but it will add more almond flavor, so I'll try it out.
Though neither of these recipes turned out perfectly, I really had fun making them, and that's all that really matters. I would make them both again, with the small changes that I think would make them even better. If you are of Scandinavian descent or just enjoy the cuisine, I highly recommend both of these! You can have St. Lucia buns next December 13th!