dimanche 21 mars 2010

Chocolate moments and a tart for the dormouse in the teapot

Growing up, one of my favourite books was about a girl called Flossie Teacake (I sometimes think of changing my name to that) whose life was transformed every time she put on a magic fur coat. The plain girl with glasses became a glamourous eighteen year old who could go out and do anything she wanted. Although it doesn't have quite the same magic powers, my thick winter coat with the fake fur collar around the neck and the blue suede boots everyone seems to love give me even more of the impression that I'm doing someting special when I put them on for my outings in Berlin. Soon though, they will no longer be needed because the days are getting warmer at last. From the open window, sounds of the springtime enter into my room; the chirping of the birds, a moped in the street, voices in the garden below. Normally, I'm not one of those people who feels the cold too much (which explains my trip to Wannsee on one of the iciest days of winter) but last week, I felt an optimism and inspiration which have been missing these past few weeks. I had forgotten the pleasures of going out on mild evenings without a scarf and gloves, of seeing the shadows of the branches on the sunlit walls in the mornings when I leave home and of shopping for summer dresses.

Somehow the dirt and grime are as fascinating to me as the beautiful buildings

Although the buds on the trees remain tightly shut for the moment, I have the feeling they won't be able to resist the spring much longer and can't wait for those colours to come bursting out all of a sudden and take me by surprise as they do every year. I was hoping to give you some brighter images but instead, big, fat raindrops are falling from the sky even as I write which meant I wasn't so keen to go for a long walk today. I stuck to the little streets close to home and walked along Ku'damm where groups of French tourists rushed to shelter in the entrance of the theatre and elegant, old ladies were accompanied by their dogs. I strolled under my umbrella with my camera in my pocket, determined to at least capture something of the warmer days and found most of the springtime contained in the large shop windows packed with daisies, tulips, gerberas and daffodils.

No watering cans needed today

The windows of Habitare on Savignyplatz

The deserted tables of Café Grolman

The window of Bücherbogen, of my favourite bookshops

I also thought back to times when, like Flossie Teacake, I was sent to bed early. Sometimes, I would try to delay this as long as possible by drinking my tea incredibly slowly until my parents finally lost patience. Seeing the daylight above the curtains in my bedroom made me feel I was missing out on life. Downstairs, I could hear my brother playing snooker (we have a small table) and sometimes, my parents would take their dinner into the living room to watch a film. When I was a litle older, I used to secretly watch American TV series in my room late at night with the volume on low, ready to reach for the remote control just in case anybody came upstairs. I never got caught. Ironically, after all that effort, I haven't watched TV for years and love nothing more than going to bed early with a book, knowing that life is not just outsde but also in the words I'm reading which let me travel. I guess things are often less interesting when they're no longer forbidden.

On Ku'damm

The incessant tapping of the rain left me feeling in need of comfort. There are certain places which make you feel at home the moment you walk through the door. The Choko café in Charlottenburg is one of these. I had walked past it many times and thought it looked like a place for me. Early afternoon, shortly after it had opened for the day, I took my place in the little domed alcove looking out onto the street, meeting the glances of many passers-by. Inside, chandeliers hung from the ceiling, there were benches and little stools with plush red cushions, little tables with floral cloths and a large counter full of bars of chocolate, easter eggs and pralines. The board outside advertised hot chocolate with cream which I couldn't resist. I'd read good reviews of the Kalter Hund but today there were just two other cakes on offer, the most delicious of which was the Torte della Nonna with lemons and almonds. The hot chocolate cake came in a large mug with a nice, thick layer of real cream (I don't care how good the chocolate is, for me the effect is always spoiled if it's topped with artificial cream from a squirty can), under which was dark and luxurious sweetness - a drink for grown ups. The torte was also amazingly good, delicate and creamy without being too heavy. Tucked away in the corner, it felt like pure indulgence. I sat there reading Paris by Julian Green, a strange but wonderful book about the city he loved which gives me the feeling of discovering it afresh again.

Inside the Choko café on Bleibtreustraße

Yes, I know that's an indecent amount of cream for one person. Isn't this what Sundays are all about?

The delicious Torte della Nonna - how have I lived without this for so long? I have to make my own soon.

My place at the window - so gemütlich!

Last week, I also finally made it to see Alice in Wonderland. Although the true Alice fan inside me still regrets to see most of the original story disappear and some irritating changes (why is the Dormouse Scottish and female?), it was fun seeing it in 3D and with friends, one of whom always brings chocolate and wonderful homemade peanut butter cookies - a kindred spirit. My favourite part of the book is the Mad Hatter's Tea party and the dormouse's story about the three little girls, Elsie, Lacie and Tillie who live in the bottom of a treacle well. This inspired me to make a long lost favourite pudding of mine, treacle tart which is amazingly simple to make. Served warm with some crème fraîche or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it's the perfect comfort food.

Treacle tart

For the pastry

1 Sweet tart dough / pâte sucrée pastry case, baked blind, from Dorie Greenspan as used on Smitten Kitchen

For the filling

400g golden syrup (golden syrup is a lighter version of dark treacle, in Berlin you can find it at Karstadt or at the Brot und Butter bakery at Ernst Reuter Platz)
50g treacle/ Zuckerrübensirup (from a Bio shop)
85g fresh breadcrumbs*
zest plus 1tbsp juice of a lemon

* To make fresh breadcrumbs, you need some slice of dry, white bread (not stale!). You can dry it out if needed by putting it in the oven for a few minutes. The easiest way is then the put the slices onto a food processor and blend until you have fine crumbs but otherwise a cheese grater will work just as well.

1. When the pastry is ready, leave the tart tin to one side and prepare the filling. To do this, just mix the syrup, treacle, breadcrumbs, zest and lemon juice together in a large bowl and pour onto the pastry. Bake in the oven at 190°C for 20-30 minutes but not too long, otherwise it will be too hard. Leave to cool some minutes before serving.

22 commentaires:

  1. Your shots are lovely! I really love that second one!

    I'd love to eat a slice of your luscious Treacle Tart! Yummy!



  2. Je suis comme toi, frileuse guettant le soleil :) Et c'est étrange chez nous aussi il pleut le premier jour du printemps... frustrant.
    Ta tarte a l'air fabuleuse!

  3. This post was really outstanding. I too enjoy the look and feel of older buildings because they give you a better sense of a city's character and history.

  4. The picture of the yellow building reminds me so much of a picture F took of me before a yellow door in Hull on my birthday years ago - the number was also really prominent and somehow made the shot, if I can find it I'll email it to you. The yellow makes me feel happy, it was a hard time in my life but I look happy.
    Once again, a beautiful and touching post; you have the gift of making everyday things special and touching and I love seeing a little slice of Berlin every week through your eyes. Thank you x
    ps: totally agree about the cream - no dairy product ought to be sullied by the evil that is fakeness - I can't stand Rediwhip or whatever it's called, nor do I approve of marge.

  5. I'm in Denver reading your post, and it's good to have news from Europe.. especially when they come with yummy pictures! I was getting ready for dinner, but I now feel an urge to get some pie!

  6. When I was a little girl I would listen to Alice in Wonderland on a little red and white record player I had (the kind that needs a penny in order to keep the needle from skipping). The record was a Disney recording. I was so tiny, laying there on the floor on my side with my head close to the record player. All of the sounds from the recording would jump out at me and I would find myself always falling asleep listening to side A. I would wake, flip the record and resume my trance. Torte della Nonna...I hope to see a recipe for that someday soon. :)

  7. Sortie de l'hiver italien, je découvre qu'il fait un assez joli printemps en Normandie. Et c'est fou comme le récit de Lewis Caroll est plein de notations gourmandes ! il faut que j'essaie cette "tarte à la mélasse", dont le nom m'avait déjà fait rêver...

  8. @Rosa - Wow, you're always the first to leave a comment and I love that. Hopefully, we'll share a cake and some tea one day on the shores of Lake Geneva.
    @Marion - Ah oui, j'avais si hâte de retrouver le soleil hier et il a plu si longtemps. Tant pis. Aujourd'hui il faisait un temps magnifique et j'ai mis une robe d'été avec un manteau léger mais j'avais un peu froid.
    @Des - Thanks so much! Berlin is an interesting mix of new and old. Often it seems like a vast building site but when you look closer, you find so many hidden treasures and I love that.
    @Sasa - I'd be really interested in seeing that photo if you find it. Never knew you were in Hull and would be interested in learning more about your time there but maybe I'll have to search through the archives a little.
    Thanks so much for the lovely comments each time, they really make my day. For me, I try to savour the little things and learned that you don't need to travel the world constantly and meet the most exciting people to have a great life. In Berlin, there's still so much to discover and savour so I try to make the most of that. So glad that you're a kindred spirit with the fake cream and I totally share your low opinion of marg - ugh!
    @Pia - Can't wait for the posts on your trip to the Statesand hope everything's going well. I'm happy to know that my post brings you comfort and makes you long for pie, though I'm sure you must have had some great food there already.
    @Tracy - That's such a beautiful story and can only imagine how magical it must have been hearing all those sounds. I too had a favourite record of a book called the snowman and used to play it over and over until it inevitably got scratched. I've already done some reasearch on the torte della nonna and technically, it doesn't look too difficult. The recipes seem to disagree on how long you need to chill the pastry and lemon cream for though so I guess I should play it safe.
    @Rose - J'ai hâte d'en savoir plus sur ce voyage d'Italie mais j'ai déjà compris que tu y as bien mangé - c'est très important ;-) Le printemps me donne aussi très envie de la mer et de la Normandie, ce serait super de refaire notre promenade au cimetière. Cette tarte est super facile et très réconfortant; apparemment, c'est un dessert préféré aussi dans l'école de Harry Potter, bien que je préfère Alice.

  9. What a lovely tour through the city. I feel like I just shared a coffee and pie with you. Everything looks heavenly. Thanks for the trip...

  10. what a great post..so many beautiful shots..love the tart..delish


  11. Comme toi j'attends le printemps...
    Cette tarte !!!

  12. @Valerie - Thanks so much, I'm so glad to hear that. Hopefully my enthusiasm for eating and exploring come over ;-)
    @Sweetlife - Thanks for stopping by and for the lovely comment.
    @Le citron - Il fait si beau aujourd'hui et demain on aura 18°C! Mais ils annoncent de la pluie pour le week-end - tant pis. J'en profite pour faire des promenades après le travail et en tout cas, c'est agréable de porter des robes d'été sous un manteau d'hiver.

  13. More lovely photos, Vanessa. The flowers in the window was charming and very hopeful for spring.

    The tart at first glance looked like it had nuts in it! Was surprised it was bread crumbs. Looks delicious too!
    And how about Torte della Nonna? Expecting that recipe soon!

    I watch TV at night...it puts me to sleep!

  14. Vanessa, the books sounds like a great book to read. Would love to purchase one for my little brother.

    And of course, the Cafe looks soooooo chic! Love the feel that the chandelier gives.

    Btw, I wanted one of those shelves! It would be great for cake stands.

  15. Did my other comment about the typo go through? If not, I was saying that I meant book instead of books. I have such a thing about correcting my typos, hehehe. Call it OCD... or maybe something slight, hehe.

  16. I am so excited to have just discovered your blog. Berlin, cake, books, cake, brilliant writing, I won't get anything done anymore!

  17. @Barbara - I love the window display of that place with the gerberas too, even if it's a little less inspiring when you learn it's a beauty centre specialising in botox! Funnily, I haven't watched TV for years but whenever I visit my parents I somehow lapse into the old habit again, like indulging myself. I have a large DVD collection so often watch a movie before going to sleep.
    @Ry - I can understand your hatred of typos, especially as I'm the queen of them. Somehow I'm always in a hurry and read so many blogs but when I see my mistakes, I just wanna scream which I find perfectly normal ;-) Paris by Julian Green is a really lovely book - quirky and charming and what's nice about this edition is that it's bilingual French and English with the author's own photos. You can find the link on the currently reading list on the right side column. The café already has a special place in my heart and I'm dying to return there soon.
    @cj - Wow, your comment really made my day and I felt so touched. Whenever readers tell you things like that, it's so inspiring and I realise why I love blogging.

  18. Lovely photos and lovely memories and musings on life in general. Glad I found your blog.

  19. Vanessa: Did you see: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2010/03/berlin_germany_travel_food.html#more

  20. les couleurs sur tes photos ont pris une nouvelle luminosite, le printemps est la, ca se sent dans la lumiere.
    Et cette creme sur le chocolat, on a envie d'y plonger.
    Tres joli, et j'aime bien la nouvelle largeur du blog.
    Passe une bonen fin de semaine Vanessa.

  21. Non, non, Vanessa, ca n'est plus possible... Voila, je suis le nez sur mon ordinateur et dans mes livres de cours depuis des jours, c'est sans fin, je n'ai plus le temps de rien et je vois ici un gateau qui a l'air "indecemment delicieux"... Tentatrice diabolique... :) j'ai l'impression de presque pouvoir sentir les aromes sur la photo.

  22. @Barbara - Thanks so much for the link! Actually, I'd already spotted the new post and was so excited. David's post is so great, for me he really captured the spirit of life in Berlin and the photographs are amazing. He even found somewhere great to eat in the street really close to where I live with the shopping centre which I have to try soon.
    @Gracienne - Oh oui, j'avais besoin de couleurs et c'est réjouissant de les revoir, même si on attend toujours des feuilles vertes et des fleurs partout. Je suis contente que le format du blog te plaise car je trouve aussi que c'est plus agréable à lire et cela me permet d'avoir des photos plus grandes. Quant à ce café, j'ai envie d'y retourner très bientôt, rien que pour le chocolat chaud! Passe une très bonne semaine Gracienne.
    @Julie - Voilà le désavantage de ne pas vivre dans la même ville! Comme cela, je pourrais t'apporter des gâteaux pour te soutenir pendant tes études. Je croise les doigts que tout se passe bien ma pauvre Julie et que tu auras un peu de temps bientôt pour lire un roman et un peu de gourmandise. Depuis que j'écris ce blog, je passe beaucoup de temps à penser à la nourriture et à la qualité des ingrédients, c'est devenue une vraie obsession!