vendredi 27 novembre 2009

La chanson de la pluie and stacked cannoli for the Daring Bakers

This morning I awoke to the sound of the wind howling outside and the pattering of raindrops on the window-pane. Like Proust's narrator, I often spend some minutes looking at the thin crack of daylight above the curtains to imagine the kind of day it will be. It felt good under the warmth and heaviness of my winter quilt but that made it harder to leave my bed and face the world. In the evenings, I look from my balcony to a street that runs parallel to mine and particularly to a large skylight on the top floor which glows with warmth. Since I returned from Italy, I haven't stopped thinking about about the light and colours there. Every rain filled day makes me miss it a bit more. Berlin in late autumn and winter is very grey and you're grateful for every break in the clouds. I long for cold, dry winter's days with snow sparkling in the brilliant sunshine and dream about spending Christmas in Canada making snowmen. Yet I try to take comfort the the little things; at dusk, the streets are filled with Christmas lights and the brilliant illuminations of shop window decorations. Soon, I'll visit the markets for Glühwein, Lebkuchen and waffles. I make tisane and learn Italian on the sofa or read Proust and a fabulous book on Boris Vian which another wonderful blogger sent me. I watch New Wave films, especially those with the lovely and charming Anna Karina who inspired me to get a new hairstyle and I even found the missing Truffaut film in my collection after years of searching which I hope to watch later.

A few weeks ago, I also tried to remind myself to enjoy the last of the autumn leaves but somehow didn't notice the moment when they all disappeared completely until last Sunday when I saw the naked branches of the trees stretching up to the sky. I had finally made it to Köpenick, somewhere I had never travelled, in East Berlin. It's just 20 minutes from Alexanderplatz but it feels really different and it's much easier there to imagine how things were before reunification, unlike in Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain which have become the coolest places. The streets were fairly empty, except for small groups emerging from church and stopping outside to chat. The sky was colourless and overcast but by the waterfront, faint rays of sunlight flickered on the water for a few moments.

I strolled over to the charming castle with a small park behind it. Fallen leaves lay scattered on the ground, families were playing outside because it was so mild or walking around together, taking pictures. A sign for the Schloss café advertised a delicious sounding soup with pumpkin, ginger and salmon and also apple strudel with ice cream but inside the little room was packed with people savouring brunch and it was impossible to get served. By that time,I was feeling in serious need of refreshment and I wandered through the streets looking for another place to eat.

The Altstadtcafé is one of the most delightful places I've been to. Pushing the door open, I stepped into another world; there was a cosy room smelling of candle wax with wood panelling and German music from the 40s and 50s playing. The walls were covered in floral paper and the waitresses wore traditional long, white costumes. Around were shelves of books about coffee or Marlene Dietrich, cake stands, silver samovars and coffee grinders. Flicking through the menu, you find an neverending range of teas, coffees, chocolates and pastries to choose from, accompanied by charming sentences like "Ein Mann mag kein Herz haben aber er hat bestimmt einen Magen" (A man may not have a heart but he certainly has a stomach) or "Besser eine klare Brühe als ein reines Gewissen" (better to have a clear brew than a clean conscience). I ordered a hot chocolate with cream which was not as thick as Angelina's but was intense and rich and then quark strudel with cinnamon and vanilla sauce. It was perhaps not as good as in Austria but combined with such a wonderful ambiance, I had the impression that I was tasting something really special. People came in to order whole cakes which they took away in large boxes, the sound of the coffee machine mingled with the delicate clinking of china cups and Sunday morning conversations.

On the way back to the station, the sky had turned dark and I felt a few raindrops on my face but the tops of the buildings were golden with the most intense light. I wished that I could capture all of these beautiful moments but no pictures or words seem enough so I just felt good being there to observe them. It was the perfect Sunday.

Of course, one the best things about November is also the fact that baking in the kitchen is a real comfort and makes you forget the cold and darkness outside. Today is also the reveal date for my Daring Bakers' challenge. I missed last month because it was macaroons; my first attempt was a disaster and I wished that I could have had lessons with the
best macaroon maker in the world, then I was ill and didn't manage a second attempt. This month I was very excited to learn that we had to make cannoli; I had been dying to try them ever since I saw Patoumi's holiday post. At first I wanted to make them with cannoli tubes so they could be filled in the middle but no matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find any. Finally, I decided to stack them and fill them with mascarpone and cream, topped with red currants. Thanks to Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives for choosing such a great challenge:


Ingredients for the "Shells":
2 Cups (250g/16 ounces) All-purpose flour
2 Tbs (28 grams/1 ounce) Castor sugar
1 Tsp (5g/0.06 ounces) Unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 Tsp (1.15g/0.04 ounces) Ground cinnamon
1/2 Tsp (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) Salt
3 Tbs (42g/1.5 ounces) Vegetable or olive oil
1 Tsp (5g/0.18 ounces) White wine vinegar
~1/2 cup (approx. 59g/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125ml) Sweet Marsala, red Porto or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 Large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 Cups/approx. 2 litres)
Confectioners' sugar

If you want a chocolate cannoli dough, substitute a few tablespoons of the flour (about 25%) with a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process) and a little more wine until you have a workable dough (Thanks to Audax).

Directions for the "Shells":
1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.
2. Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough coveredwhile you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.
3. Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.
4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.
5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.
6. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.
7. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

Directions for "Stacked Cannoli":
1. Heat 2-inches of oil in a saucepan or deep sauté pan, to 350-375°F (176 - 190 °C).
2. Cut out desired shapes with cutters or a sharp knife. Deep fry until golden brown and blistered on each side, about 1 – 2 minutes. Remove from oil with wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, then place on paper towels or bags until dry and grease free. If they balloon up in the hot oil, dock them lightly prior to frying. Place on cooling rack until ready to stack with filling.


100g mascarpone
100g double cream
1 tablespoon sugar
Some redcurrants to decorate
Icing sugar to dust

1. To make the filling, beat the mascarpone with the double cream and sugar until you have the consistency you want - it should be thick but not too stiff. Apply a layer of the cream to each round cannoli and top with red currants. Sandwich the different layers together and dust the top and sides with icing sugar. Delicious!

vendredi 20 novembre 2009

Ceci n'est pas une quiche, Barcomi's and an award

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in the cantine, working my way through a bowl of overcooked pasta with olives and tomatoes, trying to read L'écume des jours (I always feel terribly alone in such a huge room among other people and reading makes me feel less self-conscious) while the woman next to me was telling her male colleague that the water in Berlin is full of hormones and other stuff that boosts your circulation which explains why children today are reaching puberty earlier and earlier and have hair everywhere you don't want to see it. She explained that in her family they only buy bottled water from Aldi - not Volvic or Evian because you never know what the French put in their water. Her daughter is 6 months older than her niece but still looks like a child because of what she drinks; her niece has now switched to Aldi water too but of course, it's too late for her!. I abandoned the huge bowl of pasta and decided that Thursdays in the cantine are simply too depressing for words and that it would be better to return to Marc Ann's, even if the service is unfriendly, for a panini with goats' cheese and herbes de provence, a latte and a slice of tarte aux mirabelles. I always take my usual seat at the window and watch the passer-bys on the street. The décor inside makes me feel like summer has returned and there's a wonderful calmness as I eat and flick through photography magazines.

This week, I even made it to Barcomi's with another D. and a fellow cheesecake fan. Chrissi had told me about Cynthia Barcomi's cafés a while ago and tempted me with her amazing baking book but somehow I've been in Berlin for two and half years without once setting foot in one. We decided to try the place in Mitte, tucked away in the most charming little side street near Hackescher Markt, lined on both sides with the most tempting little boutiques. To get to Barcomi's, you go through a courtyard which was still glowing with the last rays of the sun when I arrived. Inside, you find many little tables pressed close together as well as comfortable black leather barquettes. At the back is a take out deli and glass counter containing huge, beautiful cakes - carrot cake, chocolate New York Cheesecake, brownies, scones - you get the picture! D. and I both ordered a large caffe latte and a piece of New York Cheesecake (sadly not Berlin cheesecake but I guess I have to invent that!) which was rich, creamy and oh so good! Every mouthful seemed to taste better and better. Our time there went too quickly of course like all afternoons full of chatting and cake.

If you're wondering, no both pieces weren't for me!

Cool neon lights leaving Barcomi's

After the coffee and pie, I returned to work with a heavy heart only to find that another wonderful blogger had chosen to present me with an award and asked me to tell you seven things about me which give me great pleasure but which you don't yet know about - oh la la!

1. Merci Sarah! C'est trop gentil!
2. Please check out Sarah's lovely blog Juste pour le plaisir
3. The prize logo

Seven things I love but which you don't yet know about:

1. Having a shower in the evening (never in the morning), putting on my pyjamas and slippers because afterwards it's cosy and comfortable to watch a Woody Allen film or read.
2. When I'm alone in the apartment, I love to get all of my evening dresses out of the wardrobe, put them on the bed and try them on with heels. It brings back all the nice memories of when I wore them and makes me feel special.
3. Going to the cinema in the afternoon during the week always gives me the impression of missing school. I love being in the empty screening room when everyone else has to work (sorry!).
4. Finding beautiful papeteries like this one at Hackescher Markt makes me daydream for hours. I love looking at the wonderfully coloured paper, feeling the texture of the envelopes and long to buy another gorgeous fountain pen to add to my collection or take up calligraphy again. Ahhh!

5. Re-reading Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans for its humour, wonderful descriptions of school, creative use of English and for the hilarious pictures by Ronald Searle (see below).

6. Eating Grießbrei (semolina pudding) with plum jam and cinnamon after reading a post from one of my favourite blogs.
7. Making savoury tarts. Ju made me an addict when she made the most wonderful salmon tart for my birthday party two years ago. Everyone told how delicious her quiche was and she explained "Ceci n'est pas une quiche mais une tarte salée. Une quiche est seulement avec des oeufs, de la crème, des lardons, du fromage." (It's not a quiche; a quiche is only with eggs, cream, bacon, cheese). Since then, I can never call something a quiche (in English and German, basically every savoury tart can be called a quiche) without a bad conscience and explain to sceptical Germans that what I'm making is, in fact, a tart. The one below has been a favourite of mine for ages and I hope you enjoy making it too- just don't call it a quiche, OK?

Leek and goats' cheese tart

For the pastry

125g cold butter
200g plain flour
iced water

1. In a large bowl or a mixer, rub the butter with the flour until you have breadcrumbs.
2. Add in the iced water and mix or stir with a spatula until the dough form a ball. Cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for 1 hour.

For the tart

1 pack of goats' cheese
2 leeks (only the round parts, not the hard green ends)
!/2 pot crème fraîche
3 eggs
salt and pepper to season

1. Fry the leeks in a pan with some oil until they are lightly golden.
2. In a bowl, mash the goats' cheese with a fork and mix with the eggs and crème fraîche. Stir in the browned leeks and season with salt and pepper.
3. Roll out the pastry of a work surface covered with lots of flour so that it fits your pie dish or tin. Cut off the excess around the edges with a sharp knife.
4. Pour in the goats' cheese mixture so it fills the tart evenly. Bake in the oven at 170° for about 40 minutes. When it's ready, remove from the oven and leave to set for a few minutes for serving.

Apparently, I now have to offer the prize (and ask them us their pleasures) to seven other bloggers I appreciate. I choose:
Outside the night is mild and clear with the thinnest moon on the horizon. I don't much feel like going to work tomorrow but hopefully the rest of weekend has other nice things to offer. Take care!

samedi 14 novembre 2009

The return of the chocolate habit and the Mauerfall

When I was a teenager, my brother sent me a a Christmas present from Geneva where he was working then. Inside the big box which I ripped open excitedly was a beautiful cauldron (chaudron or Kessel) made of the finest Swiss chocolate. This is apparently a symbol of Geneva because the people there defeated the attacking Savoyards by pouring hot soup over them which must have hurt. It looked so amazing; I often used to put it on the table in front of me and gaze at it longingly but could never bring myself to eat it because it was just too beautiful. The months passed and my mother asked me when I was going to finally destroy this amazing work of art but it just seemed too cruel until the day when the chocolate started to turn a bit white and it was no longer at its best so had to be thrown away. I didn't tell my brother!

Looking back, perhaps this reveals some things about myself; firstly that I couldn't have been as much of a chocoholic as today when I wouldn't hesitate for a second about breaking it into pieces and eating it and secondly, that I already had a passion for beautifully presented food. You might wonder about the title of this post; why the return of the chocolate habit when I obviously never stopped liking the stuff? Actually, before I started this blog in March, I rarely made anything else apart from chocolate cakes but since then, I've become completely crazy about lemons, raspberries and cakes with fruit.

Some chocolate moments from the last few months

I started thinking back though to defining chocolate moments, I remember my first visit to Angélina's in Paris, famous for hot chocolate and also for the Mont Blanc dessert. Standing in line, waiting to be seated, I saw what looked like a young student in a velvet jacket savouring a cup of chocolate which he was holding in his long, elegant fingers with an expression of contemplation on his face, like I imagine Proust would have looked when he tasted the madeleine. We were eventually given a table next to a young gay couple dressed in tight T-shirts which showed off their muscles. I can still clearly remember my look of disbelief when they placed their order which went something like this; "Alors deux chocolats chauds, deux rhum babas, deux opéras, six macarons, deux monts blancs etc." We changed tables because it was too noisy there but later on I heard the sound of ambulance sirens close by and wondered whether the enormous afternoon tea had been too much for the two guys! When the chocolate finally arrived (I decided that even I didn't have room for a mont blanc as well), it was sweet, rich and thick like custard so you could eat it with a spoon. I don't think I ate anything else for the rest of the day! Since then, I have never stopped searching for that kind of indulgent hot chocolate and there have been a few amazing ones; in Calvados in Spain, at the café Savoy in Prague, at Anna Blume's here in Berlin and most recently in Venice. In fact, since my return from Italy, I haven't stopped craving chocolate and of course, any kind of resistance would be ridiculous.

I couldn't leave you either without a few words about in events in Berlin this past week. As you know, on Monday, it was the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and I felt a sense of pride in knowing that all eyes were on my city that day. In the evening straight after work, I went to Potsdamer Platz to see some of the celebrations. Coming out of the subway, I heard the final movement of Beethoven's Seventh playing in the streets and gathered with many others in the rain in front of the giant TV screen just a few hundred metres from the Brandenburg gate but where you couldn't see anything else for the large crowds of people who must have been standing there for hours. We huddled together with the rain dripping off our umbrellas and started to sing Berliner Luft with Placido Domingo. It's hard to imagine the euphoria and optimism of twenty years ago, especially with the economic climate of today and of course, the celebrations couldn't capture that. Many Berliners also stayed at home to remember a painful moment of history since 9th November was also Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) when the Nazis attacked Jews and destroyed their property - thanks to Alexa for reminding me of this with her wonderful post.

If you look closely, you can see the line of bricks on the road where the wall once stood.

Often in Berlin, I look around for parts of the divided city that are still visible and of the history I never knew - they are there but you have to sometimes look carefully. Going home later that night, I felt so happy to be here in this ever changing place full of energy and inspiration. Funnily, I rarely walk around the tourist attractions close to the Brandenburg gate but on Friday took my camera to capture the light and colours of late autumn and enjoy the freedom of crossing from East to West which others before me were not so lucky to have. I found myself smiling at the thought that I have finally found my city at last.

The glorious colours in Tiergarten

By the Russian war memorial on Straße des 17. Juni.

The Siegessäule (column of victory) in Tiergarten, made famous by Wim Wenders' Himmel Über Berlin).

And the recipes? When I returned home on Monday, I ate the rest of the amazing Italian chocolate pudding I had rediscovered from Nigella Express. Tasting it, I wondered why it had taken me so long to get around to making it. You can eat it warm with a spoon as luxurious hot chocolate but I prefer it cold for its seriously intense chocolate flavour and velvety texture. I had mine with the last of my funnily shaped biscuits from Venice which reminded me of the golden sunshine of Italy. To accompany that, there was also a dense chocolate loaf; when I cut and photographed the slices, I noticed that they looked like a B for Berlin which seemed appropriate!

Budino de cioccolato from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express

250ml full-fat milk
125ml double cream
60g caster sugar
1 x 15ml tablespoon cornflour
35g cocoa powder
2 x 15ml tablespoons boiling water
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), finely chopped

1. Begin by boiling the water in the kettle. Warm the cream and milk together in a saucepan or in a heatproof bowl in the microwave.
2. Mix the sugar, cornflour and sifted cocoa powder in another bowl and add the boiling water to them to make a paste.
3. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time, followed by the warmed milk and cream and finally the vanilla extract.
4. Put the pan over a fairly low heat and stir constantly until you have a thick chocolate mixture.
5. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped dark chocolate. Pour into four little cups or glasses.
6. Cover them with cligfilm to stop skin forming and when they are cool, leave to chill in the fridge. They taste even better the next day but I couldn't wait that long!

Dark chocolate loaf

125g butter
125g sugar
3 eggs, separated
50g ground almonds (optional)
200g plain flour
1 sachet baking powder
40g best quality cocoa (in Germany, you can find this at Kaisers or Kaufland at a resonable price)
100g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), melted
100ml boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1. Put the kettle on to boil and in a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
2. Add the egg yolks, vanilla extract and ground almonds, followed by melted chocolate.
3. In a perfectly clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff then carefully fold them into the cake mix.
4. Alternate pouring a little of the boiling water with the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder until the cake mix is smooth and thick.
5. Pour into a greased and lined cake loaf tin and bake in the oven at 170° until it looks crunchy on the outside. The middle should still be damp and squidgy so don't let it cook too long. Best enjoyed on a lazy Sunday afternoon!

samedi 7 novembre 2009

Photos of Italy part 2

Lisa asked me for more photos of Italy after the first post. I hadn't intended to show more but as I can never refuse her anything, here are some others. Hope they brighten up your November evening. Next time though, we'll talk about chocolate.

In Riva del Gardo

Lake Garda
Verona where true love conquers all

Some Venitian specialities

Wandering through the streets of Venice

One last glimpse before I said goodbye