samedi 27 juin 2009

East is East, plus my first Daring Bakers challenge: Bakewell Tart

We were only able to go there once, even though we tried again several times. It looked such a normal and unassuming place and we only really chose it because there was so little time and as usual I was hungry. Inside though, it was somehow charmingly old fashioned with mouth watering cakes and tall, frothy Latte Macchiato. The walls were deep, Mediterranean orange and the clientele consisted of regulars lost deep in their newspapers, late on a Saturday afternoon. We had been out along the edge of the Spree through Treptower Park on a blustery day when the water was choppy. The next time we went there, light flakes of snow lined the streets, muffling our steps as we made our way to the Russian memorial whose deep shadows and large blocks seemed to overwhelm us. I remember on the way changing trains at Ostkreuz, one of those places which fill you with Ostalgie. I love the fact it’s a little scruffy and run down and that it’s so confusing finding your way between the different levels, especially as it will soon disappear to make way for an anonymous modern station. So sad. That day though, the windows of the café remained dark and lifeless. We wandered a little further close to Pushkin Allee to a small Backshop whose tables are bizarrely in part of a Multiplex Cinema, but despite the unconventional set-up, the cakes were homemade and really excellent. For some reason, I’ve never been back there either. Perhaps it seems to remind me too much that I’m now alone in Berlin and I prefer to remember it just the way it was.

Sometimes I think I’m becoming too sentimental and simply unable to accept change. This isn’t easy in a place like Berlin which is an everlasting building site which may never be finished, as Döblin once said, and where the group of people who are part of your life changes pretty frequently too. Expat friends move on and the fact that Berlin isn’t the richest city means people have to look elsewhere for jobs. Today I was so shocked when I walked past the wonderful Karl Marx Buchhandlung in the former Stalin Allee intending to buy a book. I’d always been fascinated by it since I saw at the end of the Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) and I instantly fell in love with its solid wooden bookshelves and large glass aquarium windows. Yet now it has closed down and is used as an office for architects. Soon the sign will disappear and just become a memory of Berlin’s cultural past as we walk along the ever emptier streets of Karl Marx Allee.

Luckily though, it isn’t all bad news. Remember how I talked about my fear of the unknown where baking is concerned? Well, I can’t say I’m cured but hopefully I’m already making a little progress. The most revolutionary thing so far (for me) was to join the Daring Bakers, a group which picks a different recipe each month which you’re allowed to adapt slightly. Funnily, my first challenge turned put to be a Bakewell Tart, a speciality of Derbyshire, the region where I grew up. Making it brought back so many fond memories of warm jam, combined with frangipane with a large serving of fresh, creamy custard. For this challenge, I chose to use orange curd which is an absolute cinch to make and whose texture is a perfect replacement for the custard. The results were heavenly; the lightest pastry, smooth frangipane and the citrusy curd blended amazingly. As you can imagine, one piece was never going to be enough…

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding (thanks Jasmine and Annemarie)
Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spread ability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)

Sweet shortcrust pastry
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Plus some flaked almonds to decorate (they'd run out of these at my local store so that's why they're absent from my pictures!)

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough. Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes
Jasmine’s notes:
-If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract

Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is light yellow in color and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams:Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow color.

Orange curd

2 large oranges

150g sugar

200g unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon cornflour.

3 sterilised jars – I usually wash mine first in hot soapy water then place them in an oven at about 130° until the curd is ready so they stay warm and clean.

  1. Take a medium sized saucepan and beat the eggs with a balloon whisk until light and foamy. Then add all the other ingredients and place the pan over a medium heat. Keep beating continuously until the mixture thickens. It should take about 7-8 minutes.
  2. Pour the curd into the warm, sterilised jars and cover the top with a piece of greaseproof paper and seal. When the curd has cooled, keep in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks.

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatized for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of curd onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish. When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

jeudi 18 juin 2009

The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts...

Working mornings for me are nearly always the same; I’m cruelly woken up by the piercing ring of my alarm clock which eventually drags me out of bed. Then I draw back the curtains and go out onto my balcony to get the first glimpse of the day; everything looks so lovely and fresh in the yard behind my room and I so long to be able to just stop and enjoy that stillness. Once I even saw a small fox sliding under the garden fence. Next I tiptoe out to the kitchen to make my all important first cup of tea (black with milk – very British). If I’m lucky I have it to myself and can perhaps read a bit of Cahiers du Cinéma between sips of hot tea. More often though, I go in to find it’s already occupied by P., my flatmate’s über chatty boyfriend or P and my flatmate together. I’m not one of those people who can’t stand any form of conversation before midday but nor do I want to hear about Brazilian saints or your business plan involving blackberries and GPS before 7am. Five minutes ago I was having a wonderful dream so please don’t spoil it so soon! In that case, I hastily put together a tea tray with a few breakfast things (yoghurt, half a grapefruit, a small slice of bread with Nutella), even if I really can’t eat much so early, and go back to my room to listen to music which inevitably makes me mess up my time schedule because I find it awful to leave in the middle of a song so end up dashing out of the door to make my train.

Recently though, something strange happened: I’m sleeping less and wake up very early bursting with energy and ideas. This sounds great I know and it is but somehow I feel a terrible need deep inside to use it constructively and so far I haven’t come up with anything concrete. For the past few days however, I’ve been journeying back into the wonderful world of Alice. In some ways, I’d forgotten how much this book meant to me as a girl and wondered how all those days, months and years that separate me from her could have slipped through my fingers. It also made me long for the jam tarts my mother makes on Christmas Eve when outside everything is white and stiff with frost and the icy wind burns your cheeks. Inside the kitchen, there are piles and piles of strawberry, apricot and lemon curd tarts being assembled, taken out of the oven or cooling on wire racks. How difficult it is to wait until they are no longer too hot and taste the warm, crisp pastry and sticky jam in your mouth.

Yesterday I could no longer bear to wait until Christmas and decided to make my own jam tart, a Linzer Torte to be exact. Initially, it seemed like one big disaster; the stickiest pastry you could imagine, plus the strips I so carefully cut to decorate it disintegrated in my fingers. In the oven though, all was well. The nuttiness of the pastry made it crispy but not too hard and a raspberry jam filling which melts on your tongue. Let’s face it, any blemishes can be covered up with icing sugar and if something tastes so good, it doesn’t have to look perfect, although the Double Chocolate Torte from Smitten Kichen that I remade last weekend for a friend's birthday manages be be just that. If you haven’t tried it, I can assure you it’s pure culinary heaven and reminds me of eating slightly melted chocolate ices but in a cake form.

Tomorrow I’m taking the train to Munich to finally see J. again. I’ve been so long without him, it’s almost unbearable. Virginia Woolf’s Diaries (recommended by Patoumi , kindly brought me back from Paris by Ju) will accompany me with her beautiful, sad words, abrasiveness and wit.

Linzer Torte

For the pastry

200g flour

200g icing sugar

150g ground almonds

150g ground hazelnuts

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

150g cold unsalted butter, grated

Some chilled water to bind

1 egg yolk

For the filling

250g raspberry jam

1. To make the pastry, sift the flour and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl, followed by the ground cinnamon, almonds and hazelnuts. . Grate in the butter. Mix with your finger tips, adding some water or more flour if needed, until you have a not too sticky dough. Shape it into a ball and wrap in clingfilm. Chill in the oven for at least 1 hour.

2. When the time’s up, remove it from the fridge and pre-heat the oven to 175°. Grease a 28 cm Springform tin and begin rolling out three quarters of the dough on a floured work surface. Don’t worry if it’s too sticky; just mould it into the tin by hand and smooth the surface. Press the top of the dough around the sides down a little to create a thicker crust.

3. Spoon in the jam and spread evenly across the pastry.

4. Roll out the remaining dough and cut some thin strips for decorating. If they fall apart, repair with water and press them down into the jam at the sides until you have a criss cross effect. Brush the strips with the egg yolk and bake the torte in the oven for 30 – 40 mins or until golden and crisp. Leave to cool completely and for best results, eat the next day when the flavours will have become more intense.

jeudi 11 juin 2009

What to do when life gives you lemons

On rainy afternoons or nights when I can’t sleep, I often think about the people that I used to teach but that have somehow drifted out of my life. Some were good friends I saw in my free time while with others I was only part of their lives for a couple of hours a week. Yet with all of them I went into their offices or homes and talked about their lives and interests in a language which was not their own. It sometimes seems a little surreal to me. Of course, there were some that I’d rather forget and that I was pleased to get rid of but the majority were friendly and interesting. Perhaps the best thing that strikes me is that I encountered people I’d never have met otherwise.

There was Monsieur M., a psychotherapist with a salt and pepper moustache. We used to meet at his practice and often I would first go into the empty waiting room until he had finished with a patient. In the summer, the windows were open and the white net curtains swayed in the gentle breeze. The floor was marbled and cream and in the corners stood little tables stacked with magazines. Everything there made me feel so calm and as the tension faded away, I could imagine myself opening up and telling him everything but of course I wasn’t there to do that. On the walls of his consulting room were paintings by Miro and photos of an art foundation in the South of France where he spent his holidays. Once a year I still write him an email to wish him happy birthday; apparently he found me irreplaceable and has never wanted a new teacher.

Then there was S. a guitar teacher also in Lyon. I’ve never forgotten one particular visit when I knocked at the door as usual on Friday morning; “Oh merde, c’est toi, j’avais complètement oublié le cours d’anglais. Bon, tu peux entrer mais c’est un super bordel!” He used to make me a diabolo menthe, tell me stories about communism and introduced me to the books of Thomas Bernhard. Sometimes we would read Alice Through the Looking Glass together which made us laugh out loud. I often ran into him in the Part Dieu library where I used to spend the afternoons but since I left, we’ve lost touch. There are so many images that flood my mind when I think of all those I’ve met in just a few years; books they were reading, their kitchens and all the wonderful stories they told me like another S. who had worked at Gallimard and told me how difficult Claude Lanzmann is. I often wonder what became of them; did their projects work out? Do they still learn English? Do they ever think about the little time we spent together? Sometimes I think about writing to them all but somehow feel afraid; it’s all in the past, perhaps there's simply too much distance between us and perhaps there’s nothing more to say.

As I’m writing this, it’s the start of another cold, rainy day in Berlin. I can stay inside my room with my books for most of it but know how much I won’t want to leave it later on. I thought about recipes to help for these times or on days when nothing goes your way. What I came up with involves a lot of lemons; firstly because I bought too many and when you have ten lemons in your fridge you can use them, give or throw them away (not an option) or do what Susan Sarandon did with them in Atlantic City, but I wouldn't advise it; secondly and most importantly because I have a lemon obsession. Some readers like Julie and also friends have already noticed this and now I have added to my reputation of being the girl who always wears black to also being a lemon fanatic, but I don’t care. Both recipes are comforting and incredibly easy to make.

Lemon and lime curd (adapted from from Delia Smith). Makes three jars.

Grated zest and juice of 3 large lemons and 2 limes

250g sugar

200g unsalted soft butter in small pieces

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon cornflour.

3 sterilised jars – I usually wash mine first in hot soapy water then place them in an oven at about 130° until the curd is ready so they stay warm and clean.

  1. Take a medium sized saucepan and beat the eggs with a balloon whisk until light and foamy. Then add all the other ingredients and place the pan over a medium heat. Keep beating continuously until the mixture thickens. It should take about 7-8 minutes.
  2. Pour the curd into the warm, sterilised jars and cover the top with a piece of greaseproof paper and seal. When the curd has cooled, keep in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks

Lemon volcano cake


For the cake

Grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons

125g sugar

3 large eggs

125g butter, grated

200g flour

1 sachet of baking powder

1 small pot of crème fraîche

Pre-heat the oven to 180°

For the icing

Juice of 2 large lemons

Approx. 150g icing sugar, sifted, plus more if needed

  1. Begin by creaming the grated butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Then using an electric hand mixer (or by hand if you want to improve your arm muscles), add all ingredients except the crème fraîche and blend until smooth. Then pour in the crème fraîche and mix well.
  2. Pour into a greased baking tin and place in the oven for 30-40 mins. Inside, it should still be a little damp. Leave aside to cool.
  3. When the cake is cool, you can make the icing. To do this, take the lemon juice and stir in the sifted icing sugar until you have the consistency you want. I like my icing a bit thicker but it’s up to you. Pour oven the cake, letting it run down the sides to create a lava effect.

lundi 8 juin 2009

More mountains

I promise you some more recipes before the end of the week but for now, some pictures I meant to put on the blog but somehow never got around to.

In the Karwendel...

A chough (I think) enjoying the snow.

The best place to see the flowers

Last but not least, a friendly cat we met on our travels.

mardi 2 juin 2009

How the other half lives

You now know how I spent the weekend but here's what J. did. I didn't go with him because I thought it seemed bit far for such a short time and then the weather forecast wasn't so promising - looks pretty good to me though.

lundi 1 juin 2009

Kitchen Stories

The minutes slipped by as I stood at the window drinking tisane and mesmerised by the large lines of drops falling and listening to the gently pattering sound of them falling on the fresh green leaves. It was long bank holiday weekend again and the days were full of rain. The streets were deserted and all my friends had other plans, but who can blame them when I’m hardly ever there and neglect them? How did I spend my time? In the kitchen of course.

A year has passed since I wrote that in my notebook but my Pentecost weekend was virtually unchanged. Deep in my heart though, I like those long rainy afternoons because there’s no need to feel guilty about shutting yourself away in the warmth of the kitchen, listening to 2raumwohnung as you bake. In these three days at home, I spent most of my time thinking about food, flicking through cookbooks and food blogs, persuading myself that all the admin work can wait until later. And when I wasn’t baking or eating, I was watching films. A lot of them.

I also wondered how to rid myself of this “kitchen complex” that I’ve had for a few years about only really being good with sponge cakes which surely anyone can do, right? I long to be able to take stunning pictures or make mouth-watering macaroons or puff pastry like some other bloggers. I’ve never made a decent potato gratin yet and the thought of homemade pasta or even using a wok terrifies me because I’ve never tried, ridiculous as it sounds. I envy my friends Ju’s salmon tarte and Y’s stir fried noodles which they can rustle up effortlessly. Quite likely my anxiety comes in part from the reputation as a kitchen disaster at school. It all happened the day I decided to make scones. For some reason, the dough was incredibly sticky, probably because I’d used too much butter or water, and each time I tried to lift it up, 90% stayed on the worktop. That day, only my friend C. was able to save me with a ton of flour but then she forgot to add sugar to her fairy cakes and her mother never forgave me.

Perhaps the thing I most wanted to cook was rice. My mother told me it was difficult and every time I tried, it somehow turned out dry or sticky and tasteless. I wondered why I didn’t just go to the Indian restaurant down the road again. Then a couple of weeks ago, I broke my “no more books till June” rule and bought one on basic cooking; inside was a recipe for risotto and so I set myself the challenge to make it. As a consolation though, there would also be a tarte au chocolat in case the rice was a disaster. So it was that on Saturday morning, I set off with a long shopping list and an empty basket. Even if I blew the budget with mango juice and marshmallows, I at least managed to gather everything and exchanged cooking tips with the white haired cashier at Karstadt who shares my passion for shortbread and Mohnkuchen. What happened next? The tarte was even better than expected and the risotto was tasty and a piece of cake to put together. I’d never have imagined it was that simple after all. What had I been worrying about all this time? The thunderstorm arrived and I settled down to watch the wonderful Fantômas, feeling a little less bad about my cooking and looking forward to the next rainy day.

Tarte au chocolat

This is my kind of tarte with a big thick block of chocolate on crispy pastry.

For the pastry

200g flour

80g icing sugar

60g ground almonds

150g soft butter

2 eggs

1 pinch of salt

For the filling

150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

150g dessert chocolate

150g crème fraîche

200ml milk

1 egg

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

  1. Cream the butter with a wooden spoon until smooth and fluffy (it shouldn’t stick to the sides of the mixing bowl).
  2. Add the icing sugar and ground almonds and mix gently. The mixture may become a little dry but you’ll be adding more moisture soon so don’t worry.
  3. Mix in the eggs one by one until the dough is homogenous and free of lumps.
  4. Finally add the flour and salt and mix by hand, or with a mixer if you’re lucky enough to have one, until the dough is fairly smooth and not too sticky. It’s doesn’t have to look perfect though.
  5. Flatten it out and wrap in clingfilm. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour and remove 15 mins before you want to start rolling out.
  6. When the time’s up, begin rolling on a well floured work surface until your pastry measures about 5cm more than your pie dish. I tend to bake by instinct or au pif so please don’t ask me for the exact thickness. It shouldn’t be doorstep thick or so thin that it falls apart though and you’ll probably have more than you need.
  7. Place gently into a greased pie dish and prick all over with a fork to stop the pastry developing air pockets in the oven. Place a sheet of baking paper over it filled with dried lentils or rice and bake blind at 180° for about 15 mins. Then remove the paper and put the pastry case back in the oven for a further 5 mins or until it looks golden, especially around the edges. Set aside to cool.
  8. To make the filling, bring the milk and crème fraîche to the boil in a small saucepan then add the chocolate. Stir until melted then remove the pan from the heat and add the egg.
  9. Pour the chocolate mixture onto the pastry and bake in the oven for between 10-15 mins. The top should begin to look a bit firmer but the tarte should still be wobbly. Leave to cool then serve with a pot of tea or coffee and relax.

Tomato risotto (adapted from Delia Smith)

8 Roma tomatoes

200g risotto rice

1 onion, finely sliced

3 cloves garlic

200ml red wine

2 tablespoons tomato concentrate

300ml vegetable stock

25g butter

60g grated Parmesan

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C

  1. Pour boiling water on the tomatoes and remove their skins with a sharp knife. Then cut them in half and place in a baking dish. Cover with olive oil and roast for 30-40 mins or until their look a little black around the edges. Remove from the oven and mash them with a fork.
  2. For the rice, melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Stir them for about 7 mins so they look golden brown then add the rice. You may need a bit more butter to stop it burning as it will soak up the liquid. Pour in the red wine and bring the rice to the boil. Then add the tomato concentrate, the mashed tomatoes and the stock and once again heat until everything is just starting to simmer.
  3. Transfer the rice to a greased baking dish and put in the oven at 200° for 30 mins.
  4. Stir in the grated parmesan and bake for another 5-10 mins until the rice is no longer hard but still a little al dente.

Apologies for the poor photo of the risotto but there wasn't much light and I was hungry.