Archive for the ‘Sweet Stuff’ Category

My Mother and I Bake Christmas Cookies and Eat Them All: Springerle

Springerle (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

“Does the recipe say to knead that? Don’t need knead that,” says my mom as I stand at the kitchen counter, kneading. We are baking Christmas cookies.

“Oh, and spread flour on the bottom of that baking sheet or else the Springerle will stick. The recipe doesn’t mention that.” I wonder what we’re using the recipe for.

My mother is one of the best cooks I know, and every year at Christmas, she makes mounds of delicious cookies we nibble on for days. Each time we make a new batch, she opens up a butter and molasses spackled cook book, gritty with years of sugar, and though we look at the recipe, it seems to be more of a token, or a spirit guide, than rules we need to follow.

Springerle blocks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Basket of flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My favorite cookies are the chewy gingersnaps dunked in glasses full of cold milk, but there are also dark, spicy Lebkuchen, crumbly vanilla half-moons and anise-flavored Springerle.

Without a milk bath, Springerle are very hard cookies. When I was younger, I used to pretend it was hard tack and that I was a sailor or an early settler, trekking through snow to find winter berries and herbs for my sparse country kitchen. I didn’t actually like the taste of Springerle – less sugary than the other Christmas cookies and with a funny licorice taste. Springerle have a very grownup flavor profile, and as an adult, I’ve come to love the soft anise aroma and slight sweetness. » Continue reading this post…

Life’s a Little Brighter with Citrus: Grapefruit and Olive Oil Pound Cake

Grapefruit and olive oil pound cake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A dull, gray day. The kind where you pour a glass of wine at 5 in the afternoon and then decide to bake a cake. The kind where you want nothing to do with leaving your apartment, but know that walking home from the grocery store clutching a pot of basil to your nose is everything.

I don’t bake often, so when I feel the urge to turn on the oven, it’s a big deal. What it usually means is that there’s a funk coming on. I try to stave those off. No one likes a funk.

So I call my brother to come bake a cake with me and keep me company. I put on a pair of shoes and go to the grocery store. Please don’t ask what I was wearing. Just know that it involved things that should never be worn in public, much less worn in public together. I picked up some baking goods and a few things to make Thai curry, because there’s nothing that staves off a funk better than curry and cake. At home, I pour myself a glass of just-this-side-of-salad-dressing wine that’s been hanging out in the fridge for two weeks, throw some music on, and start to cook. I’m feeling better already.

Pound cake batter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Grapefruit glaze (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My brother says, “Is this going to be a blog post?”

“Yes,” I reply.

“Are you going to write down all the witty things I say?”

“Probably.”

“You’re going to write this conversation down aren’t you?”

“Verbatim.”

There’s not much else to say, really. This isn’t a story about witty quips. It’s a story about how the physical act of cooking, of chopping vegetables and beating eggs, measuring, smelling, tasting – is the best way I know to stave off panic.

Drizzled with grapefruit glaze (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Perhaps our stress is stored inside our hands and not our heads. » Continue reading this post…

The Spanish Christmas Candy That Wasn’t: Turrón

turron (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I had the feeling, as I was making it, that it wasn’t exactly what it was supposed to be. The pictures I’d seen had seemed somewhat more… nougat-y.

Nevertheless, I continued to melt sugar into a deep brown molten liquid on the stove. I had a bowl of blanched, peeled almonds beside me, and what I didn’t up snacking on as the sugar melted, I poured into the pot just as the sugar had entirely liquefied and started popping up dangerous bubbles of hot candy.

sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

melting sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

almonds in sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I poured the caramel and almonds onto a buttered piece of parchment paper and watched as it slowly oozed out from the center. Beautiful. But definitely not what I had been anticipating. Although I’m not sure what sort of magic I was expecting to occur – that just sugar and almonds would magically turn into something chewy and cream colored. Maybe I shouldn’t have settled for the easiest turrón recipe I could find on the internet. On the other hand, when I broke apart the brittle and bit into the cracking-crystal sugar, deep and smoky sweet, tempered with the gentle crunch of almond, I didn’t really care what it was, just that it was good.

turrón recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

turrón (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This is a short story. I took my brittle to a few parties. It was a hit. So the moral, I guess, is that sometimes the easiest recipe on the internet is best. This faux-turrón looks pretty, tastes delicious and is exceptionally easy to make. But don’t tell anyone that last bit.

turrón (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Turrón (or Almond Brittle)

1 cup sugar
1 cup whole almonds

If your almonds are unpeeled, blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds, then drain and quickly run cold water over them for 30 more. Allow them to cool for a bit, then slip the skins off until you have a whole bowl of beautiful, peeled almonds. » Continue reading this post…

Boo: Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin pie recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’ve never really cared about Halloween. Until I moved to Germany, that is. Here, I seem to love all those American things I didn’t really have much interest in before. Carving pumpkins, dressing in ridiculous costumes, making pumpkin pie.

To be fair, pumpkin pie is something that I’ve always loved. To play devil’s advocate for myself, my mother always made pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin. Which is, I don’t think, very American.

Pumpkin pie made with real pumpkin is not like typical pumpkin pie. It’s custardy, with an almost vegetal undertone and a sweet, earthy hit of cinnamon. None of this creamy, creepy rust-colored goo, real pumpkin pie is bright orange and textured with scraps of shaved pumpkin.

Naturally, the only course of action available to me was to organize a pumpkin carving soiree.

pumpkin party (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

carving pumpkins (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So last Friday, my roommates and I chilled some wine, pulled the extensions out on the table, and bought two big, beautiful pumpkins. (OK, they were from the bottom of the barrel… all the good ones were already gone – but we loved them nonetheless.)

Being the only veteran pumpkin carver, I oversaw the operation, but to tell the truth, I don’t think I actually scraped a single bit of pumpkin flesh from the shell or cut out a single eye. Not that it mattered – for me, it was enough to know that it was being done.

Jack-o-lantern carving (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I spent the evening making edible things from our pumpkins. Roasting seeds with olive oil and salt to an addicting crisp, turning scooped-out handfuls of pumpkin into spicy curried pumpkin-coconut soup – and making pie.

pumpkin seeds, roasted (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Can I tell you how lovely it is to sit around a table by candlelight, hands greased with pumpkin guts, sipping white wine from juice glasses and laughing with friends? What it is to eat together? » Continue reading this post…

Bobo Baking

chocolate chip caramel cookies (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s a rainy Saturday in Berlin. Ben and I are lounged on the couch. We’ve both got our laptops open. I’m reading articles online, he’s playing a computer game. Sometimes we talk, but for both of us, it seems that what we say hovers for a while, then dissipates, unanswered.

I spent a luxurious morning in bed, listening to the downpour through the open window. At first I hadn’t even heard the rain. It was just a hush, a solid sound that belonged to the space.

I haven’t made it far from bed. I’ve migrated from that horizontal to the horizontal of the couch, though there was an interim with huevos rancheros and coffee. Much good that did for getting the day started.

I don’t usually spend my days draped over a sofa, wearing a mumu and a baggy sweater, last night’s mascara still smashed under my eyes. Even when I’m not working, I’m out of bed by 8:30. I French press some coffee, make toast with butter and cheese, and some arugula if I’m feeling fancy. I do some yoga, I do some writing.

I’m justifying this slothing to myself. I know.

Ben is playing music from Swan Lake. Then he plays 50 Cent. I want to bake.

There’s only a handful of butter and the oven is kind of broken, but this is what I want to do. So I do it.

chocolate chip caramel cookies (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

chocolate chip caramel cookies (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Though I don’t really know how to bake, I know what cookie dough looks like. This is enough, I think. The last knob of butter, equal parts sugar (it’s the secret reserve sugar, probably left over from the DDR) and brown sugar (imported from America), the last bit of sour cream from the fridge, an egg, flour, some old chopped-up caramel chocolates. Dropped on a pan, stuck in the oven. » Continue reading this post…

Let It Rise: Fasnet’s Cakes

Fasnet's cakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s been a lot of yeast dough in my life lately. First there were Fasnet’s cakes, then I made donuts. Ok. So there were two instances of yeast dough in my life. But two yeast doughs within weeks of each other is more yeast dough than usually makes an appearance.

There’s something incredibly soothing about yeast dough. It takes time. And I think we spend far too little time taking time. What I mean is, I read this book called Momo, by Michael Ende (yes, yes, the very same Neverending Story mastermind) when I was living in New York, spending a lot of time regularly hyperventilating about how there wasn’t enough time.

Momo is a book about time and how humans construct it cleverly disguised as a children’s story. The sweeper tells Momo, “it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept. And then you start to hurry. You work faster and faster and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop – and still the street stretches away in front of you.”

I read that and I thought, Oh my God. Momo knows my life.

There’s this moment in the book where the grey men, bankers of time, visit each of the townspeople and convince them to put their spare time in a savings account. And when the people wonder how to save time, the grey men tell them, you know how to save time – spend 15 minutes less on each haircut you give or don’t drive all the way to the nursing home to eat with your mother –

I read that and I thought, My life is full of grey men. » Continue reading this post…

In Berlin, They Call Berliners Pancakes

frying Fasnet's cakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Well, it’s edible, says my grandfather, as he pops a hot beignet into his mouth and then quickly shakes the heat of it from his fingers. This means that it is actually very good. My grandfather is Schwabisch, where the phrase nichts g’sagt ist Lob g’nug, meaning nothing said is praise enough, is, in fact, nearly the highest form of praise. As far as I can tell, the most generous expression of delight is: Man kann’s essen, which means, you can eat it.

My brother and my grandfather and I are standing in the kitchen, deep-frying Fasnet’s cakes, the south-German name for beignets. We’ve developed an assembly-line of sorts – I’m rolling out dough and cutting it into diamonds, my grandfather is manning the deep-fryer, and my brother is dusting the cakes, blistering with hot oil, in powdered sugar. We’ve developed an unhurried camaraderie, mock-criticizing each others’ methods, telling old jokes, jostling against each other with batches of dough, making faces, taking pictures. The kitchen is warm and smells sweet.

beignets (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

opa (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This picture freezes in my mind. My grandfather grins at me in a half-laugh and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, Well, what do you think about that?

His eyes are wrinkled into crescents, his eyebrows lifted like a mischievous child’s as he swings a bottle of Oettinger Pils up to his mouth. And then his back is to me as he flips the Fasnet cakes in the deep-fryer. My brother catches the hot cakes on a plate of sugar and the powdered sugar he dusts onto them melts.

composition: cross, oettinger, donuts (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fasnet cakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fasnet (aka Fasnacht, aka Carnival) is mainly celebrated in the southern, Catholic parts of Germany. In Berlin, there were a handful of people who looked at me with confusion. They’d never heard of it.

In Burladingen, however, people belong to Fasnet clubs (called Vereins) which supposedly exist solely to march in the parades and plan parties during the two weeks or so that Fasnet is celebrated. » Continue reading this post…

In die Weihnachtsbäckerei: Gingersnaps

leaning tower of gingersnaps (Eat Me. Drink Me)

I don’t know if this is a thing – whether a whole nation inflicts this on their children, or just my family – but I’m reminded of it every now and then. Like the refrain to Feliz Navidad or the Wrigley’s doublemint gum commercial, the words appear in my head on repeat, and I feel an overwhelming desire to reach for the nearest person, grab their arm with both hands, pump it vigorously so the limb (preferable a fleshy part) rumples back and forth, while chanting, “Butter stampfen, Butter stampfen!” – which roughly translates to “churning butter, churning butter!”

Growing up, you never knew when a Butter stampfen attack was about to happen. Bare arms were extremely vulnerable. Maybe it sounds awful – but I suppose it’s one of those inexplicable childhood joys that involves shrieking and faux escaping, and joy at finally being caught. Butter stampfen, like the German version of steamroller.

That long lead-in story is mostly irrelevant (as most randomly remembered childhood moments are). But I thought of Butter stampfen the other day, while Elisabeth and Sophie and I were making Christmas Plätzchen – like cookies but smaller and cuter. Maybe because baking cookies is such an ingrained childhood Christmas memory. Then again, it could just have been because there was butter involved.

My other hypothesis is that it was because we were playing the god-awful Christmas song, In die Weihnachtsbäckerei (In the Christmas Bakery) and one good Ohrwurm inevitably leads to another. (Another irrelevant, yet interesting side note: the Germans have a great word for songs that get stuck in your head – Ohrwurm – which literally translates to “ear worm.”)

Plätzchen backen during Advent is a true German tradition, much like baking cookies at Christmastime in America. It seems that the world over, people love to be fatties for the holidays. » Continue reading this post…

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