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.
This is my kind of tarte with a big thick block of chocolate on crispy pastry.
For the pastry
80g icing sugar
60g ground almonds
150g soft butter
1 pinch of salt
For the filling
150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
150g dessert chocolate
150g crème fraîche
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C
- Cream the butter with a wooden spoon until smooth and fluffy (it shouldn’t stick to the sides of the mixing bowl).
- 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.
- Mix in the eggs one by one until the dough is homogenous and free of lumps.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
60g grated Parmesan
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C
- 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.
- 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.
- Transfer the rice to a greased baking dish and put in the oven at 200° for 30 mins.
- 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.