lundi 31 août 2009

Fin d'août, début septembre

I'm not the first blogger to think about the last days of summer and the coming of autumn, nor will I be the last. Just the mention of the word rentrée (there's no nice word like this in English or German which expresses this change so wonderfully) makes me think of newly sharpened pencils, virgin notebooks and the smell of fresh leather school bags. The weekend after my birthday always seemed depressing when I was younger; many of my friends couldn't make it to my party because they were away on holiday and then it was already back to school. Those times are long gone of course and today, I appreciate the wonderful colours and cooler days that this season brings. Yet, it can also be a time of changes and deep reflection. After the carefree, lazy summer afternoons, sometimes we have to make decisions or things simply can't stay the way they were before. I always think of that beautiful scene in Hannah and Her Sisters where Barbara Hershey is walking along the pier, wondering how summer could have gone so fast when everything is so complicated. It was Ju's leaving party on Saturday. The weekend was cooler and as I took the train over to Warschauer Straße, the water was dark and choppy. A rainbow united the old East and West sides of Berlin against a sky filled with heavy grey clouds. We chatted deep into the night, eating and drinking as much as possible in her almost empty apartment. The last of her things were piled up in a corner and I felt sad at the thought that there would be no more Tuesday evenings in different restaurants or at Hackescher Höfe cinema. I know I'll always think of her though, and Abbie too when wandering around the cobbled streets of Friedrichshain.

The view down the Spree to Kreuzberg from close to Treptower Park with the molecule man

On Sunday, I took a trip out around different parts of Berlin. I like to go in the morning while the city is still snoozing and the only other people you meet on the way are joggers and like-minded photographers. One of my favourite walks is from Warschauer Straße to Treptower Park along the river Spree. Sadly parts of it are closed off due to ever increasing construction work but it feels good wandering alone in between dark buildings with large aquarium windows and deserted building sites.

Even on a building site, you still find nature bursting out, like this gorgeous sunflower.

The park was already bustling; people stood around drinking beer, waiting for the next boat trip to the Müggelsee. In a riverside café, an ageing crooner in a loud shirt was serenading passers by and market sellers added their musical cries to make you buy their strawberries. I noticed a charming little rose garden next to a fountain; people are often intrigued by what I'm photographing and I probably came across as the most eccentric person but it seemed a pity not to capture the the lovely flowers before they start to fade.

The lovely roses in Treptower Park.

After that, I travelled to probably the most beautiful U-Bahn station in Berlin which is surrounded by a leafy park next to Rathaus Schöneberg. Going there reminded me of the times when J. would ask me to call by the office to collect him after work. It was just around the corner from there and as I was always too early, I liked to walk a little through the trees as the evening was falling.

Last weekend, a wedding party was gathered close to the fountain. Guests carried single red roses and clinked glasses of champagne while alongside, Berliners soaked up the last rays of summer on the grass or read the morning papers. On the horse chestnut trees, the spiky green forms containing conkers are already visible as are red and yellow berries and the white of the snowball bushes. I'm already looking foward to the promise of autumn, even if things are a little different.

Statues on the bridge above Rathaus Schöneberg U-Bahn station which reminded me of the ones in Last Year In Marienbad.

On my return, I stopped off at the Kiss Kaffee where I normally go to get some pie and a damn fine cup of coffee as Agent Cooper would say. I like to sit in one of the large leather armchairs inside, observing the people strolling by and happily forgetting the time.

Finally a recipe to celebrate the end of summer. You can still find an abundance of red fruits so it only seems right to enjoy them while they last. My students kindly gave me a birthday present of dark chocolate and raspberries - two of my favourite things, how could they have known?

I decided to use the raspberries for a cake and remembered one in my BBC cakes and dessers book but decided to change the milk for yoghurt, something popular in France. It came out such a beautful yellow colour and it's truly a sunshine cake - so simple, yet so delicious.

Raspberry, almond and yoghurt cake (from BBC GoodFood 100 Cakes and Bakes)

200g fresh raspberries
120g flaked almonds
1 small pot of plain yoghurt
125g soft butter
100g sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
grated zest of 1 orange
200g flour
1 packet of baking powder

Pre-heat the oven to 160 °C

1. Begin by washing the raspberries and leaving them to one side to dry.
2. Cream the butter, vanilla extract and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one by one until the mixture is homogenous.
3. Leave just a few almonds to one side, crumble the rest into the mixture along with the orange zest. Add the sifted flour, baking powder, yoghurt and all but 10 of the raspberries. Mix gently.

4. Pour into a greased and lined Springform tin. Sprinkle the leftover raspberries and almonds over the top and bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes or less, depending on your oven (check from 30 minutes). The cake should be golden and springy on top.

Best enjoyed on a lazy Sunday afternoon with your favourite music or film.

jeudi 27 août 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Dobos torte

It's unusual for me to post so often but today is 27th and that means the unveiling date for the Daring Bakers.

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular DobosTorte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

The Dobos Torta is a five-layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel. (You may come across recipes which have anywhere between six and 12 layers of cake; there are numerous family variations!) It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, providing that every member of the chamber can use it freely.

When I saw the challenge for August was the Dobos Torte, I felt intimidated; all those layers, plus caramel. Not a typical cake for me. Despite my weakness for Viennese cakes, I'd never heard of this before and had my fingers crossed, it wouldn't all end in a mess. Unfortunately, the day when I chose to make it was hot, seriously hot and the last place I wanted to be was a sticky kitchen with the oven on. By the time I'd finished fighting with the caramel and the melting buttercream, I was too exhausted to care much about perfect photos of an imperfect cake so please forgive the fact they're not my best. Still, after I'd recovered for a few hours, it was lovely to sit down with a pot of tea and a good book and enjoy the result of all my hard work. I followed the original recipe but used coffee buttercream because surely anything to do with Vienna cries out for coffee. My taster Sarah told me she doesn't like coffee but liked the flavours in the torte. All in all, a lovely treat but save for cooler days!


2 baking sheets

9” (23cm) springform tin and 8” cake tin, for templates

mixing bowls (1 medium, 1 large)

a sieve

a double boiler (a large saucepan plus a large heat-proof mixing bowl which fits snugly over the top of the pan)

a small saucepan

a whisk (you could use a balloon whisk for the entire cake, but an electric hand whisk or stand mixer will make life much easier)

metal offset spatula

sharp knife

a 7 1/2” cardboard cake round, or just build cake on the base of a sprinfrom tin.

piping bag and tip, optional

Prep times

Sponge layers 20 mins prep, 40 mins cooking total if baking each layer individually.

Buttercream: 20 mins cooking. Cooling time for buttercream: about 1 hour plus 10 minutes after this to beat and divide.

Caramel layer: 10-15 minutes.

Assembly of whole cake: 20 minutes

Sponge cake layers

6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided

1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)

pinch of salt

Coffee Buttercream

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar

4 heaped teaspoons espresso powder

2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar

12 tablespoons (180 ml) water

8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice

1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Finishing touches

a 7” cardboard round

12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted

½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Directions for the sponge layers:

NB. The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

1.Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).

2.Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)

3.Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner's (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don't have a mixer.)

4.In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.

5.Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Directions for the coffee buttercream:

NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

1.Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2.Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3.Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the espresso powder and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4.Scrape the coffee mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5.When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety coffee buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Lorraine's note: If you're in Winter just now your butter might not soften enough at room temperature, which leads to lumps forming in the buttercream.

Directions for the caramel topping:

1.Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2.Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3.The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Imme
diately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Angela's note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.

Assembling the Dobos

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of coffee buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the coffee icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.


I (Angela) am quite happy to store this cake at room temperature under a glass dome, but your mileage may vary. If you do decide to chill it, then I would advise also using a glass dome if you have done. I should also note that the cake will cut more cleanly when chilled.

I know that I promised to write more in French but somehow this recipe is so long and complex - sorry!

dimanche 23 août 2009

Birthday picnic

Today was my birthday and the fourth one I've spent in Berlin. I find it hard to imagine spending it anywhere else actually. It was perhaps the most perfect day, with sunshine and laughter and a chance to catch up with newer and older friends. The hours passed by too quickly, glasses were filled and refilled and the great thing about picnics is that you can eat so many different things as often as you want. Ju is now famous for her savoury tartes and Chrissi is the undisputed cookie queen in Berlin. I wanted to stay there, soaking up the chatter and the pleasure of spending time with others who love food as much as I do. Somehow I have the feeling that summer is coming to an end and it made me feel a kind of nostalgia. The heat and noise can be oppressive at times but there's something so wonderful about the glow and vitality of Berlin and the long evenings that it's hard to imagine that soon the leaves will turn golden and fall.

Ju's superb tarte with goat's cheese, dried tomatoes and mushrooms.

La tarte superbe de Ju avec du chèvre, des tomates sèches et des champignons

My cake: Mingou's Sachertorte with genuine Sachertorte icing (that's a whole lot of sugar!)

Mon gâteau: la Sachertorte de Mingou et avec un vrai glaçage de Sachertorte (merci Mingou!)

Je vais essayer d'écrire un peu en français mais malheureusement, je fais de plus en plus de fautes et j'ai vraiment horreur de cela! On verra si ça marche... Hier j'ai fêté mon quatrième anniversaire à Berlin, bien que je n'habite ici depuis deux ans. En quelque sorte, j'ai du mal à imaginer un autre endroit plus préférable. Une journée ensoleillée qui me semblait parfaite, passée avec mes amis gourmands dans le Tiergarten au centre de Berlin. On a trouvé un endroit légèrement à l'ombre pour étaler notre couverture, il faisait beau mais pas trop chaud et autour on voyait les gens en train de faire du vélo ou se bronzer. Peu de temps après,les premières invitées sont arrivées et tout le monde a apporte quelque chose de délicieux. Ju est devenue célèbre pour ses tartes salées et Chrissi est la reine des cookies à Berlin. Les pique-niques nous permettent de grignoter pendant des heures en bavardant. Nos verres étaient remplis de vin et de champagne et on ne voyait pas le temps passer. J'ai l'impression que l'été touche à sa fin et ça me rend un peu nostalgique; je crains la chaleur mais c'est si merveilleux de sentir l'énergie de Berlin et de pouvoir sortir le soir au bord de la Spree. C'est difficile d'imaginer que tout va bientôt changer et que les arbres perdront leur feuilles.

Chrissi's peanut butter cookies - irresistable

Les cookies au beurre de cacahuète de Chrissi - trop bien!

Champagne just about everywhere!

Du champagne un peu partout!

As we walked back to Potsdamer Platz, I longed to be able to share that feeling with J. and walk through other parts of the city but we had so little time left before his train. As we travelled in the S-Bahn to Spandau through places I have never visited, I felt sad that this lovely day was almost over. When the train pulled in and we said our farewells, I thought how wonderful it would be to go with him through those silent landscapes into the depths of the night with all the warmth and light contained in the train where sleepy passengers were attempting to curl up in their seats. It's hard coming back alone, feeling his presence alongside and in my room. Before going to sleep last night, I watched Annie Hall again with its laughter and tears and thought about the many wonderful times we've spent together and the evening of my birthday one year ago when we strolled in the twilight in Schlosspark Charlottenburg breathing the sweetness of the air, walking deeper and deeper into the avenues of trees.

Quite a lot of cheese

Pas mal de fromage

En rentrant à Potsdamer Platz, je voulais me promener avec J. pour prolonger un peu cet après-midi si merveilleux mais il nous restait si peu de temps avant son train. Dans le S-Bahn à Spandau, avec plusieurs arrêts que je ne connaissais pas, j'ai mis ma tête sur son épaule et je voulais tant que ça continue. Quand nous nous sommes quittés, j'avais envie de monter dans son train pour voyager avec lui à travers des paysages noirs et silencieux. D'autres passagers fatigués essayaient de dormir et il me semblait que toute la chaleur et la lumière du monde se trouvaient dans ce wagon. C'est impossible ment triste de rentrer seule; les rues ont l'air si vides et je sentais sa présence partout. Il me manquait tant que j'ai regardé Annie Hall avant de m'endormir, un film drôle et émouvant qui me rappelaient des moments précieux ensemble et surtout mon anniversaire en 2008 quand nous nous sommes promenés au crépuscule dans les jardin du Schloss Charlottenburg. La vie me paraissait si simple et douce en marchant de plus en plus loin dans ces avenues d'arbres longues et profondes.

Kamonthip's nut cake

Le gâteau aux noisettes de Kamonthip

David Lebowitz's Lime Pie - sadly without meringue

La tarte aux citrons vert de David Lebowitz - malheureusement sans meringue

dimanche 16 août 2009

Histoires du Cinéma

It was such a small, inconspicuous building with a little wrought iron balcony on the first floor but if you pushed open the door gently, you found yourself next to a stand full of sweets where you could also buy tickets. This was probably my first cinema going experience in my local town; a place which showed the Adventures of Baren Munchausen, Charlotte's Web, Watership Down and The Neverending Story among others. The audience was mainly teenagers who threw sweets and got into fights. Sadly, my passion for films wasn't shared by the other locals and the place closed down long ago, transformed into just another cheesy disco where drunks hang around. Yet there was something about sitting in the darkness and being transported to a different world by the images up there on the screen that I couldn't get enough of.

My parents were keen to introduce me to Eurpean cinema (well, they did meet at a film club!) and took me along to see Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources when they first came out and I was so excited by the swashbuckling and poetry of Cyrano de Bergerac that I swallowed my chewing gum. The cinema there was upstairs in a university building. They tore you a ticket off a roll and the walls were decorated with film posters, including Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It and 37.2 le matin or Betty Blue, a film I was forbidden to see at the time but which shocked me and made me think at the time that all French girls were like Béatrice Dalle! The place too has disappeared and was moved into a modern culture complex in the centre of Derby which is impressive but not somewhere I feel I could ever be attached to. Only the Broadway cinema in Nottingham is left where I first went when I was 17 to see It's A Wonderful Life with James Stewert, something I've done every Christmas. I love climbing the stairs up to the big auditorium, sitting in the the most comfortable purple seats, some of which are dedicated to favourite films, stars or diretors and feeling that thrill of excitement when the lights go down. I often used to spend all of Sunday there, with breaks for tea and sandwiches and it felt strange coming out of the darkness back to the bright afternoon sunshine afterwards. Even today, there’s something wonderful about being able to lose yourself in a film for a couple of hours, especially when things aren’t going so well.

Below are some films and directors that I really love:

The depressing ones

The Seventh Seal + Persona + Wild Strawberries + The Shame + Scenes From a Marriage by Ingmar Bergman

At high school we had a Marxist teacher who one day showed us film clips, including The Seventh Seal. I don't know why but something about it really fascinated me; the dramatic music at the beginning when the sky opens, the sound of the waves breaking incessantly on the shore and Max Von Sydow. That began my Bergman obsession which still continues today; I love the sadness and warmth of the road journey in Wild Strawberries, the questions of identity of Persona (and Nykvist putting the faces of Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson together) ,the terrifying reality of The Shame and the painful insights of Scenes From a Marriage.

As a teenager, I was also obsessed with Louis Malle’s Le Feu Follet. It’s a dark but not depressing story about a suicidal alcoholic but I love its existential honesty, beautiful photography and am always touched by the world weariness of Maurice Ronet’s face. Perhaps it's still my favourite film, but then I have so many...

Film noir and gangster films

I’ve always had a serious weakness for films by Jean-Pierre Melville; for me he’s really a filmmaker’s filmmaker. Also, he was clearly a man after my own heart, comparing his film to a millefeuille; some would only focus on the cream, while more discerning viewers would also appreciate the pastry. I love the moodiness and tragedy of Le Doulos, the solitude of Le Samourai and the amazing tension and beauty of Le Cercle Rouge. That’s not forgetting my admiration for the films of John Huston either (Bogie’s one of my favourite actors too), especially The Asphalt Jungle and The Maltese Falcon.


Until recently, I didn’t have so many comedies in my film collection. That was until I came down with the flu at the beginning of the year and the idea of a Bergman marathon was too depressing even for me. That’s when I discovered the anarchy of the Marx Brothers, with a special preference for Duck Soup and the joy of screwball comedies with Katherine Hepburn.

As a kid, I watched the Purple Rose of Cairo and Hannah and Her Sisters obsessively so it won’t surprise you I’m a Woody Allen fan (you either like him or hate him). I adore Annie Hall – her driving, her singing, his childhood house under the rollercoaster and when his former classmates say where they are today – along with Manhattan (for Mariel Hemingway and the black and white shots), Bullets Over Broadway, Manhattan Murder Mystery and the two films mentioned above. I still haven’t gotten hold of Shadows and Fog, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy or Broadway Danny Rose yet though. P.S, I was always dragging people along to see le Chagrin et la Pitié so it made me laugh when I saw Woody Allen doing that in Annie Hall.

Wong Kar-Wai

2046 is not as perfect as In the Mood for Love but somehow it fascinates me, the way the memory of someone we’ve lost never leaves us and how we look for them in others. There’s the beautiful black and white scene in the car with Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi played against the theme of Barbara and Julien from Truffaut’s Vivement Dimanche, and the most heartwrenching farewell scene ever with Gong Li.

Chungking Express for Faye Wong, Tony Leung and the homage to Gloria.

After reading all of that, you’re probably hungry right? I feel bad not being able to offer you much but it’s still so damn hot to switch on the oven, plus I have my birthday picnic weekend coming up which will involve some serious baking. To make up for that, I’d like to tell you about my favourite restaurant in Berlin. It was my friend Ju who found it. Ever since I met her last year, Tuesdays have always been special for me because we try a different restaurant each week. It’s also wonderful to be with someone who loves chocolate as much as me and whose favourite part of the meal is the dessert. Friedrichshain is an area in the old East with cobbled streets and miles of bars and cafés. Datscha in on the corner of one of them; luckily the pizza place opposite is (underservedly) popular so getting a table isn’t normally a problem. Inside, there’s a Soviet style living room lined with pictures of Lenin and other communist memorabilia. We sat outside and enjoyed the fading sunshine. Berlin seems so full of energy and colour in the summer.

Every meal I’ve had there has been superb but I have a special weakness for the bortsch, the filled pasta with potatoes and sour cream and the Zupfkuchen (see photo below, and I also promise to give you a recipe for this soon). Last time, they were out of Zupfkuchen so we chose the warm blinis with blackberries and quark, something so delicious words fail me for once. Going against our habits, we return there week after week to savour every mouthful and chat in French. The summer is going by so quickly; soon the evenings will grow shorter and Ju will return to Paris for good. I’m not sure when I’ll return there without her but luckily there are still a few more Tuesdays left.

mercredi 5 août 2009

My blueberry days

Whenever I visit Munich, I always feel I’m being unfairly prejudiced by comparing it with Berlin. It’s so clean and prosperous and I seem to get stuck on the negatives like the fact that everything closes so early. Yet, it wasn’t always like that. Back in 2006, I stayed there for a week during Fasching (something I avoid now) and found it hard to imagine a better place to live. I distinctly remember walking through Odeonsplatz on a cold day which the golden sunshine seemed determined to break through and admiring the wide avenues and the yellow church. It was there that I first saw Das Leben der Anderen in that charmingly old fashioned cinema with the plush velvet seats like armchairs. I spent my days in the university library which was hopelessly overcrowded reading Aurélien by Aragon and looking up from time to time to gaze out at the bare branches of the Englischer Garten through the windows behind. It felt good being there, imagining I was a student again and only stopping for lunch which I stubbornly insisted on eating outside in the nearby Hofgarten, despite the low temperatures. Black and red squirrels dashed up and down trees around me. One afternoon, I took the tram from Hauptbahnhof to Schloss Nymphenburg and sat for hours in the garden reading Schnitzler’s Erzählungen, oblivious of the winter games and the noises around me. From the whole trip there though, one experience still sticks out the most. I was feeling a little sad and let my frustration get the better of me. As I sat waiting for the local train, I wandered over to the vending machine with the idea of getting a snack and then decided against it. I must have looked pretty unhappy because the minute I sat down again, my neighbour got up only to return with a KitKat and assured me that chocolate is the only thing to have when you’re feeling down (she was right of course!). We were both headed in the same direction and she introduced herself as Lara, originally from Trieste. She had lovely red hair, was reading Colette and studying to be a French teacher. Everything about her was special and she radiated a kind of warmth which I have rarely come across. She also had a real admiration for books and was shocked when I asked her to write her email address in the back of mine. I never got in touch with her though, probably because I prefer just to remember her kindness and the way that food connects us with others, even in difficult moments.

I tried to focus on these things when I spent five days in Munich last week. Somehow the centre always seems too crowded and perhaps the thing I love most about Berlin is that even in the poshest area, I never feel out of place or scruffy like I do there in certain parts of Paris or London. Yet having said that, I also discovered a side of the city which liked better, in sprawling parks with Biergartens or in the little winding streets round Lehel or Wiener Platz ,full of little galleries and boutiques. There were moments when I could imagine living here, but then I wished that I didn’t love Berlin so much and when the train finally arrived here on Monday evening, I felt like I was home again.

Some photos from our trip to the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich last Sunday

Time for tea?

Cups and jug by Josef Hoffmann

That just about says it all - do they really use this expression in French like in German?

A very cool neon exhibit

As you may have gathered from my last two posts, I haven’t been in the kitchen much lately. On holiday, I just wanted to go out and explore every day and watch films in the evening. If anything could get me back into the kitchen though, it probably had to be with some juicy fruits and so I set my heart on some sort of blueberry cake after spying them in the supermarket. In Berlin, summer is finally here and despite the heat, even I can appreciate how lovely the city looked last night in the twilight with a full moon, pale against the evening sky. In the neighbouring gardens, people sit outside and the nights are filled with lazy chatter and laughter. It feels good to be back.

Blueberry and crème fraîche cake (from BBC Food Cakes and Bakes)

300g blueberries

2 pots crème fraîche

150g soft butter

3 large eggs

120g sugar

225g flour

1 packet baking powder

Line and grease a Springform tin and pre-heat the oven to 180°

  1. Wash the blueberries and dry with some kitchen towel. Set aside.
  2. Put the flour, butter, eggs, sugar and baking powder into a bowl and mix until smooth. Stir in one pot of crème fraîche and half the blueberries.Pour the batter into the Springform tin and bake in the oven for about 50 mins or until the middle in firm and a cake tester comes out clean (try again if you get a blueberry!).

3. Leave until cool then pour other pot of crème fraîche over the top of the cake and decorate with the remaining blueberries. Best served with a cool drink in the garden if possible.