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
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!