Spring in Northern and Central Europe is not only recognized by the emergence of forsythia, daffodils and tulips but also by the heady smell of garlic floating through the wood in the early springtime. A walk through traditional wooded areas where the ground is moist and the leaves still lay thick from the Fall often causes immediate pangs or hunger or salivation as these deep green wild plants bud and bloom.
Bear’s Garlic (Herba Alii ursini) is also know by several other names such as ramsons or wild garlic but throughout the northern European countries – where it grows in abundance before even the first trees bud – most of its names are associated with bears. In the US it is know as ramps.
This ancient plant, which can be traced back to the Mesolithic settlements in Denmark around 10,000 BC, is believed to have earned its name by feeding the bears waking from hibernation in the spring who dug up the roots and bulbs of the plants that grow on the forest floor and ate them along with the garlic flavored leaves. Today bear’s garlic is also used as fodder and in Switzerland cows are fed with it to create natural slightly garlicky butter.
In Germany, bärlauch, which literally means bear’s leek, has become very popular again in recent years, and is now used in pesto, soups and creams, cut raw into salad, or mixed into the filling of fresh bratwurst.
Bear’s Garlic is also abundant in Central Europe with many traditional recipes and uses in such countries as Bulgaria and Russia.
In the USA, ramps (Allium tricoccum), a wild plant with more onion-like flavour, is used for similar purposes.
People who want to gather their own should be warned that bärlauch is easily confused with two other poisonous plants: lilly-of-the-valley and autumn crocus and therefore should be bought at the market or green grocers.
I discovered a recipe for Bear Garlic Potato Rolls from Essen&Trinken a well-known German food magazine from their April 2011 issue, that offered an entire collection of bärlauch recipes and decided to give this one a try.
I was pleased with the taste and consistency of the roll and particularly happy that although I do not often succeed with yeast dough (to say the least) this one doubled and rose easily to perfection. It is made with flour and mashed potatoes and it crunchy on the outside but stand up to the butter filling on the inside.
I served these lovely and tasty rolls with some of the leftover bärlauch butter, fresh radishes, a warm zucchini, potato, basil and lemon salad, and a medley of various flavored bratwurst from the grill and a crisp Burgundy rosé.
Dessert was warm caramelized rhubarb with cardamom over vanilla ice cream.
A perfect Spring meal!
The recipe below is translated from the one from Essen & Trinken with minor alterations (I added some fresh basil leaves and some lemon zest) and the most important thing to know is that depending on the starch in your potatoes you will need up to 100 grams of additional flour added little by little since the dough can become very sticky.
This recipe makes 12 rolls, which I baked in a muffin pan lined with silicone muffin cups, the let you easily remove the rolls once they are baked. I made another 6 smaller ones with the leftover dough and uneven ends of the filled dough roll in another mould. These taste great hot and cold and are perfect picnic food too.
Bear Garlic and Pine Nut Filled Potato Rolls
Adapted from Essen&Trinken – 04/2011
- 250 g / 8 ounces – (1 cup when mashed) – potatoes – I used salad-making potatoes – about 6 medium-small ones
- 300 g / 2.5 cups of flour and up to 100 g / ¾ cup extra
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp sugar
- 20 g/ 3 tsps of fresh yeast – or 7 g / 1.5 tsp dried yeast
- 100 ml / ½ buttermilk – I make my own lactose-free by adding white vinegar or lemon juice to lactose-free milk
- 50 g / 1.8 oz of pine nuts
- 100 g / 5 cups = 1 bunch of bear’s garlic
- 1 handful – 8 leaves of fresh basil
- 1 TBSP of organic lemon zest
- 80 g / 1 cup = 8 oz of soft butter – I used lactose-free
- ½ tsp salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 egg, beaten
Putting it all together:
Thoroughly wash the potatoes and cook them in their skins in boiling water until tender (about 15-20 minutes). When cool enough to handle, peel and place in a mixing bowl. Mash with your potato masher or squeeze them through a potato sieve.
While the potatoes are cooking mix the buttermilk, sugar and yeast.
Set up your mixing machine or your mixer, equipped with a dough hook and a mixing bowl and place the 300 grams of flour and the salt into it.
When the potatoes are mashed and still warm add them and the buttermilk and yeast mixture to the flour and salt.
Beat and mix with the dough hook until a smooth dough ball is made – add flour one tablespoon at a time if your dough is too sticky.
Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it well adding flour little by little if necessary, form a round ball, cover with plastic wrap and a towel and set aside to rise.
Remove the stems and wash the bear’s garlic leaves and basil, in cold water and dry the leaves in your salad spinner.
Heat the pine nuts in a non-stick pan until fragrant taking care not to burn them. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In your food processor equipped with the standard blade, add the leaves, the pine nuts, the soft butter, the second salt measuring, the ground pepper and the lemon zest. Pulse the mixture of low speed until it is chopped and combined but still chunky. This can also be done by hand in several steps.
Scrape the bear’s garlic pine nut butter from the food processor into a bowl. Set aside.
Your dough should now be about doubled in size and still slightly warm.
Knead it well and roll it out on floured baking paper or a silicone mat to the size of a baking sheet (rectangular). Use extra flour if you have to and if you have excess dough, cut it off and set aside for later use.
Use a spatula to evenly spread the bear’s garlic and pine nut butter over the dough, saving about a fifth for later use and leaving a 1 inch butter-free rim along all sides.
Now roll up the dough from the long side – using the baking paper and a dough scraper for help. Cut the roll in half and starting from the center of each roll, cut 6 slices each. You will have leftovers. Place the slices one at a time on their side in the silicone muffin cups or the buttered muffin tin. Cover with a towel and let rise again for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180° C
Wash the muffins with the beaten egg and bake for 18 minutes until golden brown on top.
Use the leftover dough for a second half a batch in a separate mould – use some of the leftover butter where needed.
Let rest in the cups for 5 minutes before removing. Serve warm or cold.
Further reference sources: Wikipedia and Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages
This post has been entered to Lavender and Lovage’s Herbs on Saturday Challenge for April 2013
and for the Simple and in Season April round-up hosted by Ren Behan
This post is also an entry for:
Spring is in the air – photography and styling challenge April