vendredi 14 mai 2010

Berlin stories and another chocolate cake

In Berlin, you sometimes feel as if you are walking in other people's footsteps and yet, it isn't always easy to find traces of the past. I've often taken the underground to Nollendorfplatz and walked down to the building where the writer Christopher Isherwood used to live. In the introduction to my copy of his Berlin stories, Armistead Maupin describes how he and the actor Ian McKellen made their own pilgrimage there. Across the street, a pink neon sign for a gay internet café flickered in the shadows; McKellen apparently smiled in satisfaction and muttered "perfect." Today, the internet café has disappeared but the "deep solid massive street" is still recognisable from Isherwood's time with their "top-heavy balconied facades." Peering in through the glass, I wonder whether those are the same stairs he climbed, if the building has changed much since then. My Berlin is, of course, not the same as his of the turbulent 30s but I like to think there's still that gritty yet inspiring atmosphere for artists he must have also experienced.

The plaque on Isherwood's old building.

This week saw me make a couple of courageous decisions (for me) ; I quit at one of the places I work to make myself find other better paid projects and more importantly, took the plunge and told my flatmate I'm moving out at the beginning of August. It feels exhilerating on the one hand but scary on the other to have nowhere new in sight. Yet I know it's a decision I have to make; biting my tongue to be sociable has only made me frustrated with the situation and ultimately, I realise how desperately I need my own four walls and to be able to close the door from time to time. Without personal space, I don't feel I can truly be myself. I resisted the idea of living alone, fearing it would intensify my taste for solitude but somehow, I don't think things will turn out that way.

There was plenty to think about then as I walked around Schöneberg in a city so sleepy and quiet for Ascension. Funnily, it's an area that's always appealed very much to me but which I've rarely explored. There were the strangely shaped buildings near Winterfeldplatz where you can find a wonderful (but crowded) market on Saturdays. The sky was colourless and the air damp and cold. It seems like a long time ago since I last saw the sun; the new flowers have started to fade before they've even begun. My longing for colours though was satisfied in the form of graffiti, tubs of flowers dotted around the streets with tulips, lilacs and rhodedendrons and amazing shop windows. I spotted a few where I simply must return on a workday; a shop offering cooking courses where you can buy baking tins and cutters in all kinds of shapes, a chocolate shop with old fashioned scales for weighing and its own café, a travel bookshop which could transport you through the pages of its many volumes and Café Sorgenfrei, a place I'd heard of before with its 1950s décor.

On Winterfeldplatz

The only kind of snake I don't mind.

For some reason, these bikes decorated with flowers leaning against one another seem very romantic to me.

Kitsch but cute lamps

In many ways, Ascension day was like a Sunday with the people crammed into charming little cafés to enjoy brunch. Somehow though, I was drawn to an Italian cheese shop and café with large gerberas suspended in the window. The only other customer was sitting in the corner reading. The cheesecake I spotted in the fridge was apparently no longer fresh and the apple cake she mentioned was apparently just out of the oven and therefore too hot. With the latte macchiato, I chose a pastry filled with vanilla and cherries which managed to be flaky and creamy in the best possible way. On the counter were large glass jars filled with sweets and little cakes so I walked out of there carrying a small white paper bag with two oval tartelettes filled with limoncello cream. Biting into them at home brought back the sunshine of an afternoon in Venice.

Today there is the steady rhythm of raindrops falling; I watch them bouncing off the frame of the balcony outside. It's a day for reflection and flat hunting but also for re-reading Isherwood.

Chocolate almond cake (from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries)


200g good quality dark chocolate (Lindt, Valrhona and Rausch are all good - minimum 70% cocoa)
a small, hot espresso
125g butter
200g plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons very good quality cocoa powder (don't even consider drinking chocolate!)
200g ground almonds
5 large eggs, separated
100g sugar

1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of barely simmering water. When it's melted, pour the espresso over, then chop the butter into pieces and let it melt in the coffee and chocolate mixture, resisting the desire to stir.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until thick and stiff then gently fold in the sugar with a large metal spoon.
4. Remove the chocolate from the heat and stir so that the melted butter is thoroughly blended in. Beat together the egg yolks and add quickly them to the chocolate mixture until they've just disappeared. Carefully fold in the egg whites and suagr, followed by the flour and cocoa and finally the ground almonds. Take your time here and be careful not to over blend or lose the air. Stop when the last bit of flour is mixed in and pour into a lined and greased springform tin. Bake at 160°C for about 25-30 mins or until a cake tester comes out clean.

28 commentaires:

  1. Wonderful post. You write beautifully and take amazing photos. So talented my friend.

    Good luck with your move. Sometimes we find true peace in solitude. My guess is that you will find higher paying could you not with all of your incredible skills.

    The chocolate cake looks fantastic.


  2. Dans la rue cette semaine, quelqu'un avait glissé un bouquet de muguet dans la poignée d'une portière de voiture et je me demandais qui avait eu cette attention, et pour qui... Bon courage pour l'appartement ! Tu cherches dans ton quartier ?

  3. Nice shots. I especially love the ones of the buildings. Gorgeous cake too!

    Cheers and have a nice weekend (despite the grey weather),


  4. Beautiful pictures and writing as usual: I love the smiley graffiti! Wish I was in Berlin today to sample your chocolate cake :-)

  5. Love your pics! I like the one with the reflection of the street on the window. But they're all great.

  6. Hello Vanessa
    I love your pics; they transport me to Berlin; I used to have a good friend from Berlin and always imagined the city as romantic and arty; I can see you fit in! anyway, the decisions you took I am sure are good ones, as they say, follow your instinct! You know deep down what you need out of life.
    That cake looks great and reminds me of a reine de saba, a classic French cake. I wish i could have been in that café too!

  7. Hurray for all the changes! you're going to do great. And you know what? I've had a huge sandwich by the sea and a delicious tiramisu icecream this afternoon, but the pictures of that cake still make me hungry :)

  8. @Lazaro - Your comment really makes me smile. Thanks for believing in me! I'm defintely someone who needs their own space so very likely, anything I find will be an improvement.
    @Rose - C'est charmante cette histoire avec la portière :-) Pour déménager, j'espère trouver quelque chose près du centre mais j'essaie de rester assez flexible avec le quartier pour avoir plus de possibilités. Mais j'ai une préférence pour Charlottenburg qui est devenu mon quartier ou sinon Schöneberg ou Kreuzberg. On verra..
    @Rosa - I'm hopeful the weather will improve. Yesterday I was disappointed because I wanted to test my new camera outside but it was just too wet.
    @Abbie - So it finally worked to leave a comment! I found that graffiti really lovely with the yellow flowers. Berlin today is defintely an improvement on yesterday where it poured with rain all day. Still, cake is always welcome.
    @Marly - Thanks for your visit. I'm glad you like my photos as at the moment, no sun makes it difficult to get interesting contrasts and shots.
    @Taste of Beirut - It's true that Berlin certainly is a place for artists. Compared to other capital cities, or even places in Germany, the rents are low and the possibilities endless. Sometimes that makes it difficult to choose. Your words reassure me; sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing but being cautious won't help me to achieve what I want to. Oh, I don't know the reine de saba and will have to look it up. The café was lovely and I'd like to make a trip back there soon.
    @Julie - I thought of you and your crazy ex-flatmate and that helped me to decide to move out. There comes a point where you can no longer close your eyes to things that drive you crazy. Knoing I need to find a new place soon helps to motivate me. The problem with food blogs is that you're always hungry - best not to look at them on Sunday evening when everything is closed!

  9. Il a l'air parfait ce gâteau au chocolat!
    Je ne connais pas du tout Berlin, surement à tord; tes billets donnent envie d'aller voir par soi-même...

  10. Merci Marion! si jamais tu viens à Berlin, dis-le-moi et je serais ravie de faire ta connaissance et te montrer les meilleurs cafés ;-)

  11. hola Vanessa! your photos stunning, and the cake delicious, best of luck! cheers from london

  12. great decision...having your won four walls will be great for you..good luck and the cake..well it's divine


  13. Congratulations on making such a big jump Vanessa! We're rooting for you. And I love Nigel Slater too.

  14. Alors j'espee que tu vas trouver ton petit paradis a toi. Quatre murs pour contenir tous tes livres, et une cuisine suffisamment grande pour y faire tous les gateaux au chocolat du monde.

  15. Lots of changes, Vanessa. I think you will be happier in your own place too and doubt very much you will become reclusive!
    And I am confident you will find more satisfying opportunities for your working life.
    Brilliant photos as usual, even in the grey light! And a mouth watering chocolate cake.

  16. I continue to be impressed with how much quality you put into your posts. And having your own space is an excellent plan.

  17. @Pity - Thanks so much for your wishes.
    @Bonnie - Yeah, I think so too, it's just a question of finding the right place.
    @Sasa - It feels pretty brave but I have to change certain things I realise. Thanks for giving me the courage to make that jump.
    @Gracienne - Ah mais j'en rêve déjà - ma propre cuisine dans la quelle je pourrais préparer quoi que ce soit quand je veux.
    @Barbara - I think people have the wrong impression that living alone is somehow really lonely. I'm someone who needs a balance of being alone and also with others. Thanks for the comments about the photos - the sun has reappeared at last and how I've missed it!
    @Des - Coming from you, I feel truly honoured
    :-) I keep thinking of Virginia Woolf and her famous quote that everyone should have a room of one's own.

  18. Big decisions. Sometimes change is what's required. So we change, or we change our environment. I'm sure you'll be better off, in your new job and in your new home. The bikes look romantic to me too. Your chocolate cake looks divine.

  19. Ah, deep breath. Lovely, Vanessa. Change is good and needed from time to time.

  20. @Denise - Thanks so much. I think my needs have changed a lot this past year and as much as I love time with others, the thought of having a place to call my own is wonderful.
    @Tracy - I keep taking them for sure! Sometimes I wonder how it'll go on but can't let myself ge caught up in those thought patterns. Whatever happens, I'll make it through.

  21. les photos ont magnifiques et ce gateau c'est une véritable apothéose

  22. rhaaaaa pour moi, tant qu'il y a du chocolat, c'est toujours un bon moment !!!

    tu as fais qq chose avec tes noix ????

    bon mercredi


  23. J'aime beaucoup tes cela donne l'envie du voyage et j'adore !

  24. @Colargol - Merci!
    @Virgine - Bon, j'ai utilisé les amandes cette fois et la dernière fois les noisettes, ce qui est assez rare pour moi car je ne les aime pas trop normalement. Bises.
    @Eléonora - Merci de ta visite. J'espère te voir à Berlin alors.

  25. What a delight to read your post and recipe as well as the fantastic pictures. I am glad I found your blog.

  26. Thanks so much for your lovely comment; it's always nice to have new readers and get a chance to gte to know them a little.

  27. Really enjoyed looking at your original tulips. The chocolate cake was less kidding! I love cakes like this.
    Thanks for sharing this nice recipe.
    Flavouful wishes, Claudia

  28. Thanks for stopping by Claudia! I'm so glad you liked the tulips and the cake as well ;-)