While most of us are used to seeing The Sound of Music on television around Easter or Christmas (maybe the nuns had something to do with it), we thought Octoberfest was the perfect time to revisit this classic and indulge in some hearty Austrian fare…and toast Julie Andrews’ 80th birthday! Besides, when am I ever going to get the chance to wear my Bavarian Beer Wench Apron?
It’s an epic 3 hour movie (complete with the requisite intermission/pee break) so we needed some good rib-sticking food to tie us over for the long haul, but not so much that we’d be too comatose to participate in the obligatory sing-a-long. My solution was to make everything bite-sized…well everything except the cocktail.
Like Julie Andrews, we can’t help but get that wistful look in our eyes when Christopher Plummer serenades us with the iconic “Edelweiss.” Yeah, it’s a little sappy…but a good sappy, kind of like a nice buzz. The namesake cocktail achieves just that. The elderflower liqueur and apricot schnapps (my bottle actually came from Austria) pairs nicely with the clean floral notes of the Hendricks, and the ginger ale/beer adds a little spice and effervescence. As the song goes, it’s “clean and bright” yet packs enough punch to take you to a happy place. After a few of these, you might just find yourself standing on a coffee table, belting out “The Hills Are Alive” with your arms outstretched, twirling like Julie Andrews on top of that mountain.
Yield: Serves 2
2 oz. Elderflower Liqueur (St. Germaine or Thatchers)
2 oz. Gin (preferably Hendricks)
1 oz. Apricot Schnapps or Brandy
1/2 oz. Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
4 oz. Ginger Ale or Ginger Beer, chilled
Pour the first four ingredients into a cocktail shaker with 2-3 ice cubes and shake to blend. Divide the liquor into two martini glasses and top off with the ginger ale/beer. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel (*make these before you juice the lemon).
Nothing says Octoberfest like some fat juicy bratwurst to go with that big stein of beer. The inspiration for The Baron’s Beer-Braised Bratwurst Bites (say that fast three times!) came oddly enough from a rather unpleasant beer experience I had on a trip with my cousin Jason a few years back through Bavaria. We were touring the town of Bamberg, where the drink of choice is this dark smokey porter called Rauchbier, which our tour guide dubbed “ham beer” because, well, it tasted like smoked pork or bacon. While I love the flavor of bacon in many things, beer is definitely not one of them. One sip was more than enough to convince me of that! However, I’ve always wanted to cook with it. Braising bratwurst in the smoked porter was a wonderfully delicious way to incorporate beer into the dish.
The recipe is very simple. I started off with a package of raw bratwurst sausage, one sliced medium yellow onion, one minced garlic clove, and about half a 16oz. bottle of smoked porter (don’t worry I’m saving the other half for beef stew). In a large heavy skillet on medium high flame, I heated up about 2 Tbsp. each of butter and olive oil, tossed in a couple sprigs of fresh sage to brown and perfume the oil, then sauteed the onion until golden, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Pushing the onions to the perimeter, I browned the sausages on both sides, seasoning with a little more salt and pepper, then poured in the smoked porter, reduced the heat to simmer, and covered the skillet. The bratwurst should cook for about 5-7 mins. (juices should run clear when pierced). Remove the bratwurst and continue reducing the liquid until there’s about only a couple of tablespoons left in the skillet. I cut the bratwurst into bite-size pieces and spooned a tiny bit of the onion onto each piece.
If you’re going to do a culinary tribute to The Sound of Music, you have to make Schnitzel with (Pan-Fried) Noodles. I mean, come on, it’s one of Maria’s “Favorite Things.” Schnitzel is commonly served with spatzle, which I would describe as a cross between noodles and tiny little dumplings, usually tossed in butter and maybe a sprinkling of parsley. But since I wanted my pork schnitzel to be more of a finger food, I opted to make little pan-fried noodle cakes to serve as the base for the schnitzel. You can pretty much make noodle cakes out of whatever thin long noodles you happen to have handy (I had spaghetti). Just take the cold cooked noodles, season it with salt and pepper, toss in some fresh chopped herbs or scallions, coat the noodles in some beaten eggs and cream (maybe some grated cheese if you like) and twirl 3-4 strands of noodles at a time with a fork to form a kind of “nest.” *You only need to moisten the noodles just enough so that the strands will stick together and hold the nest shape. Pan fry the noodle nests in some butter and oil until golden brown on both sides, flattening them a little after the first turn.
As for the schnitzel, I took thin slices of pork tenderloin, pounded them out between two pieces of plastic wrap until they were between 1/8″ and 1/4″ thick with a meat mallet, seasoned them with salt and pepper, then cut them into small bite-sized pieces. The set up for coating the pork is as follows: all-purpose flour seasoned with salt and pepper, a couple of beaten eggs, and bread crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper (everything in shallow dishes). Coat each piece of pork first in the flour (dust off any excess), then dip it in the egg, then coat it well in the bread crumbs. Allow the coated pork to sit out at room temperature for about 15 mins. to set the breading. For the 18 pieces of pork I prepared, I heated up just enough butter and olive oil to generously coat the bottom my trusty cast iron skillet, tossed in 2 sprigs of thyme to perfume the pan, then very quickly pan-fried the pork (in 2 batches) on medium high heat until golden brown on both sides, adding more butter and olive oil as needed in between batches. To serve, place a piece of schnitzel on top of each noodle cake, then top with a piece of sauteed mushroom.
For the third savory bite, I made The Lonely Goat(herd)’s Cheese Puffs, a classic pate a choux pastry baked with Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, then filled with what I will call “cheater’s goat cheese.” “What is that?” you may ask. Well, truth is I hate goat cheese. Although Laura likes it (she’s the one who brought up the goatherd after all), Rina isn’t particularly partial to it either. But we were playing upon the whole “Lonely Goatherd” puppet show scene from the movie, so I kinda faked it by combining some cream and Boursin cheeses, a little Greek yogurt, and fresh chopped scallions and red bell pepper.
The trick to making a light and crispy pate a choux pastry is to thoroughly cook the base (flour, water, butter) until it is very dry and a thin crust forms on bottom of the pot. This will ensure that the dough will absorb as much egg as possible. The other is to start off baking the cheese puffs or gougeres at a high temperature, for the first 12-15 mins., then drop the temperature to finish baking for another 15-20 mins., until the puffs are golden brown and mostly hollow in the center.
This is the basic recipe I used for the cheese puffs:
3/4 cup Water
4 Tbsp. Butter (or 2 Tbsp. Butter + 2 Tbsp. Rendered Bacon Fat)
1 tsp. Kosher or Sea Salt
1/2 tsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp. Baking Powder
1/8 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
pinch of Nutmeg
3 Eggs + 1 Egg White (reserve the yolk to make egg wash)
1/3 cup Grated Gruyere Cheese
2 tsp. Chopped Fresh Herbs (e.g. Parsley, Thyme, Tarragon, Chives )
Grated Parmesan (for sprinkling of top)
Combine the first 5 ingredients in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil. Whisk together the next 4 ingredients and stir into the hot liquid with a wooden spoon. Stirring constantly, cook the dough until a thin crusty coating develops on the bottom on the pot. Transfer the hot dough into a mixer and beat in the eggs one at a time on medium speed until fully incorporated. *You can do this by hand, just takes patience and a lot of elbow grease. Beat in the remaining ingredients. Using either two spoons or a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip, drop 1-1/2″ mounds of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (dab the corners with a little batter to glue down the parchment) spaced at least 1-1/2″ apart. Beat the reserved yolk with a little water to make an egg wash, brush the surface of the pate a choux with it, then sprinkle a little grated Parmesan on top. Bake in a preheated 425° oven for 12-15 mins. then lower the temperature to 350° and continue baking for another 15-20 mins. The puffs should be light and crispy on the outside and only slightly moist on the inside. Cool the puffs to room temperature, then cut in half and fill with whatever creamy cheese filling you fancy (including goat).
Well, it was pretty obvious right from the start what I had to make for dessert—Jam and Bread Pudding Bites! They practically sing “Jam and Bread” to death in the movie, especially near the end when the Family Von Trapp perform at the Salzburg Music Festival.
To create this version of Jam and Bread, I layered slices of firm white bread, buttered on the underside and coated on top with homemade strawberry jam (hey I got a little crazy at the Farmer’s Market this summer and bought way too many strawberries) into a greased baking dish, soaked the whole thing in a sweet vanilla bean-scented custard overnight and baked it until set. I glazed the surface with more strawberry jam and cut the pudding into 1-1/2″ squares.
“Crisp Apple Strudel” is not as easy to achieve as you might think. I went on a tour of the famous Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna once, where on an hourly basis visitors were shuttled through the kitchen for an apple strudel making demonstration, after which we were all presented with complimentary slices of the warm pastry. Sadly, the strudel did not live up to the hype. It was more soggy than crisp and definitely NOT one of my favorite things. Maria would have been disappointed.
So I set forth to make a crisp apple strudel worthy of the song. Instead of traditional strudel dough, I used fillo dough, which is readily available and way easier to handle. I mean come on, unless you have a whole lot of counter space or a ginormous kitchen table, making strudel dough isn’t something you’d want to tackle. In keeping with the “small bites” theme of our Sound of Music tribute, I made smaller logs of apple strudel instead of a one large strudel. I also used a cooked salted caramel apple filling and substituted chopped toasted pecans for the traditional walnut (I hate walnuts…though strangely enough not walnut liqueur, which is divine). The advantage of this method is that unlike a raw apple filling, the cooked apple filling won’t release that much more moisture so the fillo will stay crisp. I can bake the strudel at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time since the apples don’t need to cook anymore, resulting in a crisp golden brown pastry.
Crisp Apple Strudel
Yield: Four Logs (about 32 pieces)
4-5 Medium Crisp Tart Apples (Pink Lady or Granny Smith)
1/2 Stick Butter
2/3 cup Golden Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp. Kosher or Sea Salt
1/2 tsp. Lemon Zest
1/2 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped
1/2 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp. Apple Schnapps or Brandy
1 Tbsp. Water
1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
1/2 package Fillo Dough (thawed in the refrigerator)
1 stick Melted Butter
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar mixed with 1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1/2 cup Chopped Toasted Pecans
Peel, core, and cut the apples into 1/2″ pieces. In a large heavy skillet or saute pan on medium high heat, melt the butter until it is just slightly browned, then add the brown sugar. Cook the sugar until it is completely melted and bubbly, stirring constantly to incorporate it with the butter. Add the apples, salt, lemon zest, vanilla bean, and cinnamon. Cook the apples until just tender. Whisk together the lemon juice, apple schnapps, water, and cornstarch, then stir that into the hot apples. Cook the filling for another minute to thicken the mixture. Transfer the filling into a shallow bowl to cool to room temperature.
To assemble the strudels, first make sure that you’ve got all of the components laid out. You won’t need the entire package of fillo but it is easier to just wrap and unfurl the whole thing and keep it covered under a dishtowel to keep the fillo from drying out. Lay out a sheet of parchment paper to work on (keeps the fillo from sticking to the work surface). Carefully lay out one sheet of fillo (always keep the rest cover!) on the parchment and brush the entire surface lightly with melted butter, then sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar (I put mine in a little shaker). Lay another sheet of fillo on top of the first one and repeat the process. Cut the layered fillo in half, then carefully stack one half on top of the other, then rotate the entire stack 90°. Spoon a 1″ wide strip of apple filling about 1″ from the bottom edge of the fillo, then sprinkle some chopped pecans on top of the apple filling and tuck in the side edges of the fillo. Carefully roll the fillo away from you to form a log. Brush the log with melted butter and sprinkle on more cinnamon sugar, then transfer the log onto a lined baking sheet. You can fit two logs per baking sheets. *At this point if you want to freeze half of the logs you can simply roll them up in parchment paper, then in plastic wrap and stash them in the freezer.
Bake the logs in a preheated 375° oven for about 20 mins. or until nicely golden brown. Cool to room temperature, sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into 6-8 pieces.
And lastly, no Sound of Music tribute is complete without Jell-O Jigglers cut into the shapes of the Von Trapp children. Laura turned a couple of packages of lemon-flavored gelatin, apple juice and fruit leather into this masterpiece.
After gorging ourselves on this “petite” buffet, we parked our respective butts on Laura’s sectional (lord knows we couldn’t do much else) and took a musical tour of Salzburg.
Next stop…New England.