Dee: After watching the Grand Budapest Hotel film a couple of weeks ago, I was inspired to create a themed menu around it.
The film is set in a fictional country called Zubrowka, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Austro-Hungarian Empire around the turn of the last century, so this, and of course the film’s title, pointed towards a menu based on Hungarian fine dining. One of the three courses was chosen for me (more on that later) but I quickly settled on the rest of the menu.
I wanted to pair the main course with a Hungarian red wine but couldn’t get hold of any, so we went instead for a Malbec which was recommended to us at our favourite wine shop. In addition, 18th April is World Malbec Day so it wasn’t too out of place at the table.
Preparing the whole meal turned out to be quite an undertaking, but nothing was overly complex, so it was certainly worth it.
Starter: Cold Cherry Soup
Recipe from the Time Life Book ‘The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire’
I’ve been curious about this dish for a while, as it always seems so incongruous sitting in the savoury section on menus. I have always been too afraid to order it in restaurants so took the opportunity to try it out as part of this menu. It’s certainly an attractive looking soup, pink in colour with the tops of the red cherries dotting the surface, and I also found some rather fetching glass bowls in a local charity shop so bought them to serve it in. I see the soup as something to enjoy at a formal meal, which was another reason for choosing it.
The soup was fairly easy to prepare: First I made a sugar syrup with cinnamon, then added cornflour, water and the cherries and chilled it in the fridge until it was ready to serve. Red wine and cream were then stirred in just before serving to complete it.
We both really enjoyed the soup and found it tasty and refreshing, although Jay struggled with the idea of it as a starter. It was light in texture, despite the cream, but the wine gave it just the right amount of sharpness. One thing I should mention though is that we used normal cherries instead of the sour variety as specified in the recipe. The reason for this was the usual one about availability, but we liked the soup enough to make it again so if we see sour cherries anywhere in the future, we will certainly buy some and give the soup another go.
Main: Steaks Esterhazy
Recipe from the Time Life Book ‘The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire’
These delicious steaks are first browned in the pan, then slow cooked in the sauce that they are served with. They also have a colourful garnish of julienned carrot, parsnip and gherkin.
The steaks took about an hour to cook, during which time they became more tender and took on some of the stronger flavours present in the sauce such as vinegar, bay and allspice.
After serving up the steaks, there was still plenty of sauce and vegetables left over. We kept the vegetables in the pan rather than discarding them as stated in the recipe, though we didn’t serve them with the steak and sauce. We’re planning to use them for a tasty soup at a later date.
I wanted to serve the steaks with Tarhonya, which is made from tiny balls of dough cooked with onions and paprika but I hadn’t given myself enough time to get them ready so I opted instead for two different types of cubed potato; one firm and one floury, which I fried up with the onions, paprika and a small amount of butter. These provided an ideal accompaniment to the steak as not only were they tasty in their own right, but they also took on the flavour of some of the steak sauce.
The main course was finished off with some tenderstem broccoli which we just blanched briefly and squeezed a small amount of lemon juice over. I then salted mine, though Jay didn’t.
Dessert: Courtesans Au Chocolat
Mendl’s secret recipe
Anyone who has seen the film will know all about this dessert: The legendary iced chocolate-filled pastry made and sold by Mendl’s patissiers. Even though I don’t make classical patisserie very often, I had to include this one in the menu. The recipe gives quantities for twelve courtesans, so I just followed it and made the whole batch, which took me seven, yes seven, hours from start to finish, though that does include time spent waiting for various elements to cook, return to room temperature and chill. Even so, I think I must have exceeded the time limits of both Masterchef and Great British Bake Off challenges several times over.
The recipe was sound and broken down into sections, which I simply followed stage by stage. First I made the choux pastry, then the chocolate crème patissiere, and finally the icing.
With the pastry, I made templates, to ensure that each bun was the same size and therefore baked evenly. I kept a close eye on them while they were in the oven, but thankfully there were no disasters. When they came out of the oven they had the nice light texture and crispy finish that I was looking for.
The chocolate crème-pat was fairly straightforward and again the recipe didn’t need any tweaking. I could maybe have used more of it when I piped it into the choux buns but as it was my first attempt, I was being extra cautious.
Finally, the icing was made with icing sugar, milk and food colouring. No quantities were given so I had to make it up as I went along. I went for a thick icing, which I felt would be easier to work with, though I ended up spreading it onto the buns rather than dipping them in it as stated in the recipe. I managed to get hold of some great food colouring, which I was pleased about, and Jay did some great work with the final white icing decorations.
Getting each bun to balance on top of one another was always going to be a challenge, but I think we managed fairly well, and from the many photos on line of other peoples’ attempts, I don’t think we ended up too far adrift.
The taste was far more subtle and delicate than I was expecting. For the final garnish I used a coffee bean rather than the specified cocoa bean and this proved a more than suitable substitute. The initial crunch and intense bite of coffee served as a palate cleanser ahead of the chocolate, icing and pastry. After that it was the sugar and icing that was the predominant flavour, and then it was gone. Seven hours of work finished in seven minutes, although that is seven minutes for each batch. We didn’t eat the whole lot in one sitting.
The courtesans were great fun to make and I was very pleased with how they turned out. As to whether I would make them again? Yes, but only for a special occasion.
Wine: Gran Mascota Malbec
I think this Malbec would have been too strong to accompany the cherry soup, so we saved it for the main course. There were some quite strong flavours going on with the food, including gherkins, paprika and lemon juice, so any wine chosen to accompany it needed to be able to stand up to them, and this Malbec was well up for it.
Tasting Notes said: “There are some small yet great things in life that are well worth waiting for. Nurtured by patience and perseverance, this Malbec was aged in French oak barrels for 18 months. Gran Mascota carries aromas evoking plums, red fruits and vanilla”.
Dee said: “The dark colour of this wine gave an indication of the intense aroma and tastes within. Blackberries and Blackcurrants were the most noticeable flavours, and yet there was a pleasingly smooth finish to it”.
Music: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Original Soundtrack)Although the musical accompaniment to the film was provided by various artists, it remains a score rather than a soundtrack. This meant that some of the songs were very short and ended before we could fully appreciate them. The thing to remember though, is that for the most part, it’s music specifically composed to be heard alongside scenes in a film rather than to be listened to during a meal, but we still enjoyed it. My personal favourite tracks were the album’s opener ‘s’Rothe-Zauerli’ by Ose Schuppel, ‘Concerto for Lute and Plucked Strings I. Moderato’ by Siefried Behrend & DZO Chamber Orchestra, and Alexandre Desplat’s ‘Night Train to Nebelsbad’.