Saturday 10 September 2011

CC Bookshops, pretzel buns, burgers and corn salad

It's been a week of good food but nothing much else is working.  And the pretzel buns I made only just passed muster.  They were touch and go.  Better than my car which bears the marks of another car driving into the back of it (because I had to stop for that pedestrian)!  Or my oven which will not light and satisfy my baking urges.  Then there is E's computer that has threatened to give up the ghost and his guitar tuner battery has ceased to work.  In the end the pretzel buns worked and they were so good with bean burgers and a corn salad that I was much happier.

I am glad that I managed to make the pretzel buns before the oven stopped cooperating.  Kneading a gorgeous soft dough is such pleasure.  And Sylvia is developing such a great kneading action.  But the story starts long before the dough.  It started with a trip to the city in my lunch break. 

I had decided to buy Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction.  However I am still not really into online book shopping.  I wanted to touch a book, flick through the pages, look at the pictures (or lack of) and browse the contents before I buy.  Despite being impressed with some recipes I have seen on the blogosphere I just didn't like the feel of the book.  Instead I came away with Vegan Yum Yum and Veggie Burgers Every Which Way.  Two glossy cookbooks full of photos and tempting recipes. (More details at My Cookbooks)

I tell this story of buying new cookbooks partly because I passed four bookshops that have recently closed on the way to Dymocks bookshop.  It is odd to realise the city no longer offers the shelves of books I used to browse at Readers Feast, Borders, Angus and Robertson and McGills.  Nay, it is disturbing.  There is no greater pleasure than sitting in a comfy chair or even on the floor with a stack of cookbooks to browse.  I wonder how it will change the books that we buy if we can only buy books sight unseen online.  I love the internet, but one of its benefits is that it increases our options.  I want a life offline too.

Speaking of offline, back to dinner!  The theme for the Cookbook Challenge a few weeks back was Baked.  As I love baking, this was hard to narrow down.  Cakes?  Muffins?  Slices?  Biscuits?  Gratins?  Bread?  I decided to use my new Veggie Burgers cookbook.  I chose the pretzel buns which intrigued me.  I have always wanted to make pretzels.  They were perfect dark brown orbs with a little cross and sprinkle of rock salt in the photo in the book.  You can see mine weren't anything like that.  Mine demanded a slotted egg flip (see above photo) at so many stages of the process.

The dough was glorious and soft.  It rose beautifully.  However when the buns rose and needed to be dropped in boiling water, they stuck to both my silicone mat and baking paper.  Above is the first one that I did.  I reshaped this one and didn't boil it very long.  It was the best of the bunch.  Though so much smaller than I expected from the photo in the book.  I scraped the rest off the paper, trying to keep their shape and time them in the boiling water.

My pretzel buns came out of the oven and refused to come off the silicone mat/baking paper.  Some very aggressive action with my egg flip was required.  They were the oddest shapes and some had soft bits where I think they had got too soggy.  Soggy pretzel buns do bad things to your stomach.  But all was not lost.  Most of them were as pretzels should be.  Not skinny but they were chewy on the outside, rather salty and soft inside.  They were interestingly different from other yeasted baking I have done.  I want to make them again because they are so intriguing.  I am sure I could do better next time.

But I didn't stop at the burger buns.  No.  I made bean burgers to go inside them and some roasted corn salad to have on the side.  I chose both recipes for their simplicity.  A wise decision given that the pretzel buns were even more challenging then I expected.  (And just in case you think I had all day to do this, I made it after taking Sylvia to play with her neighbour, swimming lessons, getting a quote on the car and shopping at the supermarket!)

The corn salad was simple.   My main problem with it was my inability to read a recipe.  In this case, it was due to the confusion I find with some American terms (despite enough years of blogging to understand them).  I read that the corn was cooked on a skillet.  I think of a skillet as a frypan.  I got as far and starting to fry the corn on the frypan when I checked the recipe for how high the heat should be.  When I read 180 C the penny dropped.  I put it in a roasting dish and the rest was straightforward.

I was delighted to discover the salad was roasted.  I suspected it might have been a case of mind over matter.  The next  Cookbook Challenge after Baked was Roast.  (For those who are confused, baking uses no oil and can involve an increase in volume, whereas roasting involves oil and often involves some shinkage.)  It seemed just so convenient, if a tad cheeky, to tick off two challenges in one meal.  But I was convinced that it was to be fried.  Sigh!  It might have helped if the pretzel buns hadn't addled my brain so much that I didn't notice that the salad was actually called Roasted Corn Salad.

The salad was delicious.  Spicy, salty, sweet and refreshing.  A great accompaniment.  The burgers were nice.  A little stodgy.  I wondered if it was because I had added too many extra breadcrumbs.  When I had a little bit of leftover cold burger in my lunch the next day I could appreciate the flavours far better.  Having said that, these burgers were never meant to be the star of the show.  They were great for a hunk of protein to accompany some buns and salad.

We ate the burgers in the pretzel buns with cos lettuce, tomato, corn salad and tomato sauce.  The buns were so small we had to cut the burgers in half.  I also enjoyed wrapped the rest of the burger and some of the salad in cos lettuce leaves.  Even better was the second night when we reheated the burgers on the grill and used leftover baked beans rather than tomato sauce.  Heaven in a bun!  I am looking forward to trying more of the interesting burgers from the book.

To see what else my Cookbook Challenge colleauges made for Baked and Roast go here.  I am also submitting these pretzel buns to Yeastspotting.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: PPN Tofu-Ricotta, Zucchini and Pumpkin Lasagne
This time two years ago: Chocolate cookies and pizza
This time three years ago: PPN: Soy bombs with two tomato sauces
Roasted Corn Salad
Adapted from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way
Serves 4 as a side dish

1-2 tbsp olive oil
kernels of 3 cobs of corn
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
juice of 1/4 lime

Toss corn, onion and green chilli with olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Roast for 30-40 minutes at about 200 C.  They should be shrunken and maybe a little charred (but not necessarily).  Toss with lime juice.  Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Easy Bean Burger
Slightly adapted from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way
Serve 4

400g tin of beans, rinsed and drained (I used borlotti but you could also use chickpeas, kidney beans or cannelini beans)
2 eggs
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped (about half a bunch)
1/4 finely grated parmesan
2 tsp seeded mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
3/4 cup dried breadcrumbs (or a bit more - I used 1 cup)
1-2 tbsp olive oi

Mash beans in a medium mixing bowl.  Stir in eggs, parsley, parmesan, mustard, salt, pepper and lemon juice to make a nice gloopy mixture.  Add in the breadcrumbs and leave for a few minutes so they absorb the liquid.  If the mixture is still too moist add some more breadcrumbs so it comes together into a ball easily.

Divide into four and shape into flat patties (about 10cm in diameters).  Heat some oil in a heavy bottomed non stick frypan and fry for 6-10 minutes on either side until well browned.  Bake in oven at 200 C for 12-15 minutes.  Serve hot or warm.  (Also delicious cold for lunch the next day.)  I reheated mine under a hot grill (or broiler) the next day.

Pretzel buns
From Veggie Burgers Every Which Way

3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup water
2 tsp dried yeast
3 tbsp olive oil
3 - 4 cups flour
1 tsp plus 1 tbsp salt
1/4 cup bicarbonate of soda
rock salt or salt flakes to sprinkle

Warm milk and water to lukewarm (I put mine in a large mixing bowl and gently heated them in the microwave).  Place warm milk, water and yeast in large bowl and leave for about 5 minutes.  Add olive oil and about 3 cups of flour.  Mix to a soft dough.  Knead for about 10 minutes, gradually incorporating more flour - I didn't measure this as Sylvia was busy sprinkling flour every which way!  Scrape out the mixing bowl.  When dough is smooth and not sticky, place in bowl and cover with a damp tea towel.

Leave dough to rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.  (Mine was done after 1 hour.)  Punch down and cut into 12 pieces.  Briefly knead/shape each piece into a small ball and place on a lined tray about 10 cm apart.  As discussed above, I found it hard to get my buns off the tray to boil and once baked so maybe the tray needed greasing too?

Cover buns with a dry tea towel.  Leave to rise for another 1-2 hours until doubled in size.  (Mine took an hour.)  Towards the end of the buns rising, fill a large saucepan about 10-12 cm with boiling water (I did a bit more than this because I didn't read the instructions).  Gradually add the truckload of bicarbonate soda (1/4 cup isn't a typo), which will make it fizz like a witches cauldron, and salt.

Now here is where I had trouble.  The recipe said to just take them off and drop them in the water.  I tried but mine stuck to the tray so persistently that they went from smooth fluffy orbs to wrinkled deflated balloons as I gently scrapped them off the tray with my eggflip.  The one that I reshaped into a ball once it came off the tray was the most successful so I would do this in future.

The recipe says to boil for a minute either side but gauging by some soggy bits in buns at the end, I think I would go easy on boiling them and do only about 30 seconds each side.  Watching them in the boiling water was quite a lot of fun.  Getting them in and flipping them over and removing them was a puzzle.  I found the slotted eggflip most helpful.

Now the recipe says to make a cross at the top of each bun.  I tried but you can see it wasn't easy.  Top right corner is my favourite bun.  Sprinkle with rock salt (I used flaked salt).  Bake at 200 C for about 20-25 minutes.  The buns should get a deep golden brown.  Cool on a wire tray (NB Mine stuck to the tray and needed my slotted eggflip to get them off the baking tray).  Leave at least 10 minutes after they come out of the oven before eating.

These pretzel buns are wonderful warm out of the oven.  I froze a few and grilled (broiled) the ones that were still hanging about the next day. 

On the Stereo:
The Count Meets the Duke - Duke Ellington and Count Basie


  1. Hi Johanna,
    Thanks for your recentl comments on my blog. Iapologise for not responding as i have been away from the computer and have only just returned, hence catchign up with blog reads. I really know what you mean about touching a book, I don't think I could read book contents via a computer screen I too want to touch those pages and moreso look at images that make it more appealing. I envy your recent book purchases, I haven't made any new or second hand since losing my job. Okay, off to catch up with the rest of your post.

  2. Love the sound of pretzel buns! I think I may need to give these a try. And yours look like a lot of love went into them so who minds if they don;t look just like the picture in the book. Home made bread always tastes better than the picture in the cookbook (I have had to develop this motto for myself lol)

  3. I was sure a skillet was a frypan too! I'm sure I've seen recipes for "skillet cornbread" which are of cornbread cooked in a frypan? Or maybe the frypan goes in the oven.., oh, these thoughts are too complicated for 11pm when I've been sick for days and am exhausted :P

    Instead I'll simply say that I hope all the techno bits and bobs in your life start working again asap, and thank heavens some of us still frequent real bookstores! xo

  4. Homemade buns! Wow. Looks like you had a really great little helper. Love that you're training her in young.

  5. I'm sorry to hear about your week :-/ I hope the oven is fixed soon (I can't imagine not having one, although I thought that about our microwave too recently!), your car is easily repairable, the computer hangs on, and the guitar tuner battery is easily replaceable!

    I'm also with you wholeheartedly on real bookshops, although I confess to using the online options too. Your new cookbooks sound great, and these buns look that way too :)

  6. Sylvia's kneading technique is amazing!! :-) WOW! So cool! :-) I had pretzel bread this week too, but from a bakery, so I am super impressed that you made your own! Gorgeous pretzel bread too!

    I hope your car feels better soon! I'm so sorry to hear someone rear-ended you... :-(

    I too will always cheer for real bookstores! :-)

  7. Sorry to hear about the troubles you had with the buns sticking but they look really nice and soft! :D Oh I find that things tend to break down together!

  8. Thanks Shaheen - glad you have returned to the computer - hope you had a nice break - wish I could loan you some of my books - though you sound like you have lots of cookbooks to pour over as you keep coming up with interesting recipes

    Thanks Chele - yes I agree that home made bread tastes nicer (the exception being when it is soggy at the edges) - am glad I am started on the pretzel journey - would love to hear how you go with this recipe

    Thanks Hannah - sorry to hear you have been sick - sounds like there is too much ill health in your family right now - I have had the same thoughts about skillets - it is not the first time I have been caught out by them

    Thanks Rivki - you try and keep her away from a lump of bread dough - actually the hardest bit is to stop her eating it raw - but she is learning

    Thanks Kari - I am still waiting on a few repairs - sylvia is waiting for the man to get the machinery on the car - and E has found online tuners til he replaces the batteries - we are hanging in there - would love to hear if you buy different things in bookstores and online

    Thanks Astra - yes sylvia amuses me when she had a turn at kneading - as for the car, it had hardly any scratches - just enough to have to go and get it fixed - grrrr

    Thanks Lorraine - oh yes, when you just don't have any energy seems to be the time when something else will breakdown

  9. Have you ever made bagels? They're fun to make also. Next time dust the baking paper with flour or use freezer-go-between paper. And give them a little more time so that the surface dries out a bit more.
    I noticed you wrote 'baking powder' in the instructions which isn't the same as 'baking soda' or 'soda bicarbonate' which you've listed in the ingredients. Traditionally Sodium Hydroxide (or lye) is used, but it's caustic.
    Do a little research before your next attempt.

  10. thanks pene - will maybe try the flour - I actually wrote baking soda in the ingredients which likes skillet is an american term that confuses me which is why I translated it into baking powder in the method but have corrected this - if only I had lots of time for research - sometimes it is touch and go whether I can find time to even make the recipe but in an ideal world research is a wonderful thing

  11. At first I thought you were making buns that had crunched up pretzels in them! These sound intriguing, though. And I love that photo of Sylvia's hands in the dough--she is going to be quite the baker, one can tell already!

  12. Love, love love your blog... stumbled across it when I was looking for vegie gyoza recipes some time ago and keep coming back. If you are ever over in the west, please visit The Sun Bookshop (situated right next to The Sun Cinema) in Yarraville and across the road is The Younger Sun (children's bookshop)
    Thanks for such great recipes and letting us glimpse your life. Cheers Trish

  13. Thanks Ricki - crunched up pretzels, eh? I admire your imagination. I just hope if sylvia does end up the baker that she learns not to eat all the raw ingredients!

    Thanks Trish - your comment brought some much-needed cheer to my evening - we don't get over to yarraville too often these days but would love to drop in if we are over that way (and we always love a bookshop)

  14. If I read a recipe that said to cook something in a skillet I would've used a frying pan too so it sounds like they're using weird language! Too bad the pretzel buns didn't turn out quite as you'd hoped but it's still very exciting! I've made pretzels but never the bun version which always look so good. I'll be interested to see what else you make from that veggie burger book as it's one I've been looking at. And I love that Sylvia is helping you knead the bread!! :)

  15. Hi Johanna, its been a lot time since I have blogged! I have tried your bean burger recipe before and it came out so well. I am sure this wont disappoint me either. The pretzel buns look great.


Thanks for dropping by. I love hearing from you. Please share your thoughts and questions. Annoyingly the spammers are bombarding me so I have turned on the pesky captcha code (refresh to find an easy one if you don't like the first one)