2018 in Review

Oh, the top nine insta posts. So succinct, and at least in my case, so pointy.

The highlights this year are decidedly less Scandinavian than last year, but I suppose staying closer to home is okay when it looks like this. For those interested in a slighter closer look at all the things I didn’t get to blogging about (pretty sure I say that every year), click on!

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Amateur Hour Baking: Plätzchen Bonanza

The pre-Christmas weeks were the usual blur of finishing up classes for the year, meeting with friends at various Christmas markets in the area, and of course, baking. I wound up making no less than five sort of Plätzchen from Classic German Baking over the holiday weeks. As such, this post gets long… click on!

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Amateur Hour Baking: Rosinenschnecken

I think my brain is going into hibernation mode. I’ve been trying to remember what the impetus was for this bake and I cannot for the life of me remember why I decided I had to make these. I don’t think it had anything to do with the Bake Off, it wasn’t for any particular occasion besides Sunday, I really don’t know. But somehow, Rosinenschecken, or Raisin-Frangipane Spiral Buns, happened.

Having learned from my late start on the Franzbrötchen bake day, I started “bright and early” at about 9:30. This was not a great idea though, because I hadn’t yet finished my coffee, misread the directions, and wound up having to proof my yeast twice.

Good start.

These have the same Danish dough as the Franzbrötchen though, which meant that when I did get my yeast successfully proofed, it came together quite smoothly and I put my kneaded dough away to proof.


When the proofing had finished and I had successfully retrieved a baguette from the bakery for dinner (I’m not crazy enough to try those yet), I got back to work. I got out my snazzy new French rolling pin, and taking a cue from of the bakers on GBBO, proceeded to beat the crap out of my butter.

Turns out, doing that plus not being afraid to use too much flour, works SO MUCH BETTER. Pretty quickly, I had a fairly neat square of pastry, a fairly neat square of butter, and much less butter all over my work surface.

Last time I also had a bit of exposed butter in the middle of my pastry package, which caused sticky mess later. Not this time! We’re learning! Back into the fridge with you…

In between proofing, I got my raisins soaking. Personally, I’m a fan of raisins, but I don’t think it would kill the recipe to leave them out if you aren’t. I also added a cheeky splash or two of rum to the mix, which gave them a nice subtle taste after baking. Can recommend.

Dough, raisins, and also frangipane prepared, it was time to assemble.

I go for “fairly neat,” not exact.

A bit of spreading, sprinkling and rolling later, my rolls were ready for one last rest before baking.



Check out those layers! But they look a little bare… perhaps a bit of apricot glaze will help…

Much better.

Now the recipe says to let these cool before serving, but let’s be real… who would do that? Not us, that’s for sure.

Typically when I’ve had these in a bakery, they’ve been filled with some sort of pudding rather than frangipane. I like those, but I liked these much better! If you’re not a marzipan person, you may disagree, but just whip up some pudding and use that instead. 🙂

They were still good the next day (cool, rather than reheated), but warm out of the oven was a great treat on a Sunday afternoon alongside a Caffè corretto. Clearly I’m dreaming of Italy again (but not via bus).


Feelings on Marzipan… ja oder nein?


Amateur Hour Baking: Bremer Kürbisbrot

With my confidence in yeast on an upswing, I’ve spent a lot of time lately thumbing through the Breads & Rolls section of Classic German Baking. Add that to the piles of assorted squash that are currently spilling off of tables at the supermarket and piled up in boxes at the roadside stands, and I had the perfect time to try out my first real loaf… a Bremer Kürbisbrot.

It’s a very basic bread dough, using canned squash for the flavoring. Since that’s naturally not a thing here, my first step was to roast up some chunks of butternut.

It’s been a butternut-heavy fall over here thus far. At the risk of BV actually turning into a pumpkin, I’ve also been freezing some Hokkaido puree to ration it out over the next few months.

The squash roasted, pureed, and cooled down, I got back to work.

Appetizing, no?

I quickly ran into a problem though.

I’ve now learned that instant yeast is basically useless without proofing it… what the package says be damned. But this recipe calls for nearly no liquid; only a bit of milk if your dough is too dry. Since I wouldn’t know whether or not that would be the case until I was a few minutes down the road, I opted to just warm a few splashes of milk and try to proof my yeast in that.

After a few minutes, it hadn’t appeared to do much of anything. In past attempts I’ve had bubbles, foam, some indication of activity. There was none of that, but I decided to forge ahead and see what happened. The rest of the dough came together quickly, and I got to kneading.

The oven was still a wee bit warm from roasting the squash, and made the perfect place to proof my dough. The first rest of two hours turned into three due to a long Skype appointment, after which I popped it out, punched it down, and put it back for another rest. Guess my worries about the inactive yeast were all for nothing!


Another hour later, a milk rinse, and she was ready for baking.

Bread baked, I tried my best to follow directions and let it mostly cool while we ate dinner. But our dinner wasn’t quite filling enough (though delicious), and we dove in afterwards. Luisa Weiss writes that it’s a decent alternative to cake, and BV would agree with her. I like my cakes a bit sweeter, but this was a very tasty bread.

The crust got a touch dark, but I’m very happy with how it turned out overall. The light sweetness paired really well with cheese, particularly fresh goat cheese with a dollop of BV’s pear compote on top.

Despite my best wrapping efforts, it got a bit dry after about three days, so next time we’ll have to try and eat it faster.  A bit more pear compote helped, but we can’t all be so lucky. 😉

I’ve been thinking about how to make this again, perhaps as some sort of crostini, for dinner on its own but am somewhat stumped for ideas. If you’ve got one for me, leave it in the comments!

Amateur Hour Baking: Linzertorte

Any idea what inspired this bake?

If you guessed Spice Week on The Great British Bake Off, you got it! After watching the episode, I flipped through Classic German Baking, sure that there had to be some sort of a ginger-heavy cake in there somewhere. I struck out, but I did come across a recipe for a Linzertorte, which is a spiced almond jam tart. I didn’t know anything else about it, but I thought it sounded like the perfect thing to make as summer fades into fall. I’ve also been thinking about possible options for this year’s Thanksgiving, and a wintry  spiced Linzertorte piqued my interest as a potential dessert option. I’ve never made a pie on Thanksgiving, but this sounded juuuust close enough. I suspect it was the latticework top that lured me in.

This was yet another long-game back. It started with hard-boiling eggs, as the recipe called for two hard-boiled yolks. I have never encountered this before, but a quick google tells me that it’s a trick to make everything more moist and crumbly. Sounds good, no?

I retrieved my butter from in front of the fire (winter problems… nothing comes to “room temperature” in our pantry from October-April), and mixed up the dry ingredients. Then it was time to sieve my egg yolks. A bit fussy, but cleaning the sieve afterwards was the worst part of this life hack.

Before long I had a very sticky mess of dough that desperately required chilling. Sadly the pantry isn’t *quite* cold enough for that, but I guess we could find room for it in the fridge.

While it was chilling, I threw together a new house favorite, Flammkuchen, and we popped open a bottle of Federweißer. It’s fall, after all!

Side note: if you’re looking for a tasty and easy recipe for Flammkuchen, this one courtesy of A Sausage Has Two’s Christie, is a winner. I’ve made it a LOT lately.

Here’s one from earlier this year.

Dinner eaten, I went back to the cake. I removed my dough from the fridge, and cut off a quarter of it that would be reserved for the latticework on top.

A note on the tin: this was a mistake. In the book, Weiss recommends using either 1) a cake pan lined with baking paper for easier removal or 2) a fluted tart pan. I went with the tart pan because pushing dough down into baking paper always makes me crazy. I also thought that it would be fairly easy to get out, given the removable bottom.

Spoiler alert: I was wrong.  But we’re not there yet.

The next step was the jam. Raspberry makes everything better.

With the bottom ready to go, I turned my attention to the top. Things got sticky.

The reserved dough was supposed to be rolled out, sliced into thin strips, and laid into the lattice pattern across the top. That… did not work. At all.

I probably should have stuck that reserved bit back into the fridge while I was working. The kitchen was already hot from the Flammkuchen, and at this point we’d had the fireplace going for a few hours. Rolling the dough out got very sticky and I decided pretty quickly that trying to get it all sliced, get those slices off the paper or the work surface and into a lattice was not going to happen.

Instead, I opted to roll out a bit, use a cookie cutter to cut out a piece or two as quickly as possible, work it back together, get it back into the fridge and repeat. In the end, I had a slightly awkward heart pattern.

The dough isn’t growing mold from how long this all took… that’s an egg white brush. No worries. My nerves shot, I shoved this baby into the oven, and returned to the couch and my Federweißer.

It wasn’t long before the house smelled decidedly Christmas-like.

We’d have to wait to find out if it tasted Christmas-like though. Per the recipe, the ideal resting time for this torte is three days.

You read that right. Three days.

I’ll assume Austrians* are not big fans of instant gratification. I really should have made some cookies along with it… but at least I had wine.

After cooling, BV had to help me pry it out of that tin. Next time, I’ll give the baking paper sling a shot because we could not get it off the bottom part of the tin without completely destroying the cake. So that went along as the cake was wrapped up in tinfoil and put out of sight until the weekend.

We finally wound up slicing into it with friends after a Saturday BBQ. It was far too dark for photos, but here’s one of the last, lonely slice.

Was it spicy? Yes. Was it moist? Yes. Was it crumbly in a highly positive way? Yes. I’m still undecided on whether this will be on the table after our Thanksgiving dinner, but I think I’ll give it at least one more bake before then to test out the other pan and try the lattice part again.

*This torte originates from Austria… hence the name.

Amateur Hour Baking: Franzbrötchen

Naan wasn’t the only thing inspired by bread week on GBBO. As someone with a deep and abiding love for waking up to the smell of Pillsbury rolls in the oven (even better if it’s the orange ones), I thought doing a Germanized version of the Chelsea bun might be a great idea. And it just so happened that Franzbrötchen had been one of the first things suggestions I got when I asked what recipes I should try out from Classic German Baking.

Luisa Weiss describes them as “a flaky, buttery cross between croissants and squashed cinnamon rolls.” Not exactly a Chelsea bun, but not completely far off… and exactly the sort of sweet snack that would travel perfectly. This was important, since we were leaving the following day to drive down to South Tyrol and I consider road snacks to be an integral part of the planning process. It was on.

The most important ingredient.

Side note: did anyone else grow up eating everything made with Crisco? Do you all get as much enjoyment as I do out of putting entire slabs of butter (slightly more than this block, in the case of Franzbrötchen) into their recipes?

Not only is yeast fairly new to me, I’m also a rookie when it comes to making pastry. I guess if you count Strudel dough as pastry, I’ve done that, but that is it. Frankly, pastry seems rather intimidating. And why would anyone bother to make it themselves when you can buy it frozen? In fact, when I googled “puff pastry” just now to find a description on Wikipedia, the first thing that comes up isn’t the Wiki page, but a page from Pepperidge Farm. What kind of weirdo makes their own pastry? Apparently today, this kind.

First up, the dough. I got my yeast going (still using fresh yeast today), and let it sit as required for half an hour.

The yeast well-rested and (hopefully, judging by the foam) activated, it was mixed in with the the buttery goodness in the large bowl. A mess of kneading later, I had a ball ready to rest for a few more hours.

A note on timing: pastry dough is not for the impatient. I started this business at about 11am and the first Franzbrötchen came out of the oven at about 5pm. It’s a commitment. Especially if you’re hungry.

Dough rested, it was time to roll. It’s not exactly a square but I was happy to have an awkward shape that was more or less the correct size. That was the easy part. Rolling out the butter proved much more difficult. I suspect I was still too conservative when it came to the liberal dusting of flour on the butter because I could not for the life of me keep it from sticking to my rolling pin, hence the torn mess. But I got it to again, more or less the correct size, and onto my dough.

A bit more dough origami, and my pastry package was ready for the fridge.

The goal of puff pastry is to create thin layers of dough, which meant several more rounds of rolling, folding, and chilling. At the end, I sliced into my final package, hoping and praying to the pastry Gods to see some sort of layers.

We have layers! Cue the trumpets!

Half of my roll went back to the fridge and I went back to rolling. Besides the butter squishing out of the cut end and making my mess even messier, that part went well. I had yet another awkward square that was more or less the correct size! Feel free to judge me for still defaulting to using the ‘inch’ size of the tape measure.

The dough was sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and rolled yet again.

The next step was a bit odd. It feels incredibly rude to squash this dough ruthlessly… but that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. I was far too gentle on my first few but in my defense, I’d been babying the hell out of this dough up to this point and generally it’s frowned upon to squish your baby. Luckily I got over it in the end.

The top right corner was where I started. I still think this looks weird, but the oven shall help!

By the time the oven timer went off, I was dying to stick one of these puppies directly into my mouth. BV on the other hand, had decided that it was finally time for him to get around to showering. That meant me dancing around the house in anticipation until he finally finished his toilette and joined me in the living room for a taste test.

Batch number one smelled like heaven. Batch number two was in, and it was finally time to eat. Thank goodness.

So warm, so flaky, so buttery. The sugar and cinnamon caramelize during the bake, making all those edges crispy and sweet and delicious. They were worth the wait for sure! I easily could’ve eaten at least two more that night, but we opted for restraint.

When the second batch came out, that decision got harder. I mean, look at these things!

Yes, I absolutely scooped up that cinnamon-sugary goodness that was left on the paper and ate it. We don’t leave sugar behind.

Germany on the other hand, we did. We had a date with South Tyrol… and our road snacks were a welcome addition. Here’s one of them admiring a rest stop parking area somewhere in Austria. Or Italy? I think Austria… don’t quote me.

After these yeast-related bakes, I’m happy to say that it doesn’t freak me out quite as much anymore. There’s no way it’s going to work every time, but I plan to try a lot more bakes with yeast. That’s what this whole thing is about, right?


Two Months on Tour

Considering that we didn’t take an official summer vacation this year, the last two months have been a whole lot of all over the place. BV and I did spend five days in Oberbayern with his parents in July, but that was more like another extended weekend than an actual vacation. I’m hoping we make up for it next year but that all remains to be seen.

So what did I get up to in August and September (besides baking?), click on to find out…

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Amateur Hour Baking: Brötchen + Bonus Naan!

Bread week on The Great British Bake Off gave me the push I’d been needing to venture into the breads and rolls section of Classic German Baking. Quite frankly, I’d been avoiding it. I’ve never really tried making bread and my previous attempts at working with yeast have gone decidedly sideways. Remember the Zwiebelkuchen?

But the time had come. Before I watched the episode, I decided to start as easily as possible, which meant baking the most basic thing in the world, Brötchen. Call it a bun, a dinner roll, a bread nugget, I called it hopefully easy. And then we watched the episode.

Me (while eating my dinner of an African-inspired veggie stew with rice): Hm. Naan looks pretty easy.

BV: You’re right, it doesn’t look too bad. You could do it in the oven, but I think you could also cook them in a pan.

Me: I bet that Naan would go really well with the rest of this stew tomorrow.

BV: Ohhhhh, yes it would.

My fate was sealed. The following day (thankfully Thursdays are free at the moment because who has time for yeast during the normal workweek?) I cleaned up the kitchen and proceeded to trash it again. Baking is about consistency people.

First up: the Brötchen.

I opted for fresh yeast this time, as I thought that gave me better results than the dried yeast had. These plain white rolls don’t require anything too fancy, just a few minutes of proofing time for the yeast, then mixing together with the flour, milk, and salt. A bit of kneading and it was ready to rest. I realize that photos of balls of dough are not the most thrilling thing in the world, but I CANNOT trust my eyeballs on this one. I always take before and after pictures because otherwise I will no idea if/how much things rise. Perhaps I should get a more photogenic bowl though?

An hour later I took it out of the cold oven where I had let it rise. The change in the weather this week has returned our house to its usual winter temperature of too-damn-cold and I thought it was at least safer from Killer German Draft in there. And did it rise?

This time I probably could have trusted my eyeballs. But I stand by my method.

Next it was onto the always-satisfying punching-down part. Then the dough was separated into eight pieces, and formed into hopeful future Brötchen.

I was really not sure about these guys. Would those wrinkles sort themselves out somehow? Or would my rolls end up looking like sweet little Shar Peis? I would have to find out in the morning, because these guys were destined for the fridge and more proofing overnight.

The next morning I popped them out of the fridge and found them… more or less the same. Slightly bigger? Slightly less wrinkled?

Okay, yes, they’re bigger.

While the oven preheated, I brushed them with a bit of milk and slashed them down the middle. My paring knife was probably not sharp enough for this job though, as it didn’t cut down as neatly as I would have liked it to.

25 anxious minutes later, breakfast was almost ready. They’re out!

They really should have spread open a bit more on top, but again, I don’t think I slashed them well enough. I was pleased with the color and that lovely hollow sound when I gave one a knock. How’d they look inside, you ask?

Not bad. I was expecting them to be a bit fluffier inside and they were slightly more on the dense side. Not heavy or wet at all, just more substantial than I expected. I wonder if that has something to do with not expanding enough where they were cut? If you know, let me know in the comments, bitte!

Now that we’ve covered the domestic bake, let’s turn to the foreign. I hadn’t forgotten about the naan, in fact, that was all happening at the same time.

Since the naan was part of my plan for dinner that night and needed a longer resting time, that actually got thrown together first. But again, it doesn’t start off in a very exciting fashion. Yeast, flour, a few other odds and ends, a bit of kneading and off to rest it went.

A few hours later I got back to work, dividing and rolling out the individual pieces. In the interest of saving space, I decided to stack them next to the pan where I’d be cooking them. This was a mistake. It looks all nice and neat but after the first two layers, I wound up having a mess of dough that required reforming and rerolling.

Needless to say, it got a bit frantic in the kitchen what with all the flinging of flour about and pivoting from the table (where I was reforming the pieces) back to the pan (trying not to burn said pieces), all the while brushing on butter and trying to press on the fresh garlic. Luckily our kitchen isn’t that big.

Though they had baked their naan in the oven on GBBO, after reading through various recipes, I though cooking them in the pan would be easier. Why? I don’t really remember. But it worked pretty well, minus me making the kitchen smoky af in the process.

The main problem as far as I was concerned was that fresh garlic. I love fresh garlic, BV REALLY loves fresh garlic, and we cook with a ton of it (apologies to colleagues). However, we really didn’t get that much of a taste of it. Either there wasn’t enough, or it got too burnt, as you can see on that slice up front. I think next time I’ll use a mixture of fresh garlic and powdered garlic, or garlic salt. I’m rather pleased with the color, and the consistency of the naan themselves. They were nice and light, with the occasional air bubble, and it really did pair perfectly with that stew.

Obviously this was NOT a recipe from Classic German Baking, oddly not a lot of naan in traditional German cuisine. For this bake, I opted to follow this recipe from Food & Wine. And if you’re curious about the stew as well, that’s here at NYTimes Cooking. I followed that fairly closely, but next time I’ll be adding more of the fresh ginger, and also fresh cilantro (store was out when we shopped, grumble) now that my cilantro-conversion of BV is complete. Happy cooking!


Amateur Hour Baking: Apfel-Marzipan-Kuchen

The weekend of the Knerken was actually a double-bake weekend. The day before I made those, BV and I were invited to his dad for lunch, and BV had oh-so-kindly volunteered me to make a cake. Plus, on the Great British Bake Off, they did cakes in the second week so tie-in… score!

We had piles of apples around and so an apple cake was an easy choice. BV loves marzipan, so that narrowed it down from the handful of apple cake recipes in Classic German Baking… Apfel-Marzipan-Kuchen, or apple almond cake, it would be.

On Friday I went running around to gather the last of the supplies. On my list were almond paste and almond extract. According to the internet, and as I’d learned with my Rüblitorte, almond paste and marzipan were not the same thing. Turns out I should maaaybe read the ingredient notes so kindly provided by Luisa Weiss at the beginning of the book? She uses the term almond paste throughout the book to mean Marzipanrohmasse… it’s different to marzipan, but yeah… we already had that in the house. So that’s one thing down despite my unsuccessful shopping trip to find almond paste that didn’t exist.

And the almond extract? Despite checking the Karstadt food section (my Old Faithful when looking for various “exotic” ingredients such as vanilla extract), I came up empty. They did have some bitter almond Aroma, which seems to be like an almond essence in the U.S., so I grabbed that figuring something almond was better than nothing. Put a pin in that one.

Saturday morning I sprang into action. By which I meant I underestimated how long it would take to put this cake together and ended up flinging myself around the kitchen in a panic when it soon became evident that we would be late to lunch. No worries, BV called his dad and let him know. On the plus side, the wild boar was ready when we got there so no small talk preamble! On the negative side (depending on your opinion, haha), I didn’t do much of an Instastory on this one because laaaaaate.

Back to the cake. Step one… apples. Lots of apples.

The diced ones went into the cake eventually, while the slices ones waited to go on top. We’d had some random supermarket apples in the pantry for a touch too long, so those went first, followed up by a few small, tart ones from our garden. Next time I do this cake I would much prefer to use either A) all our own apples, of course, or B) some better, more tart apples. BV tends to buy the bag of apples that are practically flavorless to take to work. I don’t get it, but next time I’m grabbing some better fruit.

Next up was that marzipan, which needed to be grated. The 200 gram chunk grated up surprisingly easily at first, but that changed when I got to the last little bit of it. The stuff pretty much turned into a slippery ball in my hand, it was taking far too long and was far too sticky to deal with at that point, and I ended up just cutting it into small pieces as best I could and chucking it all in the bowl. If anyone has a better strategy than that, please drop me a comment!

Note the chunky bits on the bottom right.

It all banged together much more quickly from this point. The batter came together pretty quickly, but remember that almond Aroma? When then recipe called for a teaspoon of extract I grabbed the Aroma, which comes in these comically small little tubes. I attempted to shake one out into a teaspoon to measure it but much more of it went into the bowl (luckily) than the spoon. At that point I decided that measuring it was an exercise in futility, and since one tube was nowhere near a teaspoon, I’d just thrown in two tubes worth. I managed that, and then noticed that a bit had splashed onto my finger. So I licked it, naturally.



But you know what? It was already in the cake and we were late. It is what it is.

Thus, more apples went on top and into the oven it went.

While it was in the oven, BV and I put ourselves together and anxiously awaited the timer. I really thought I took a picture of it when it came out, in between us fanning it off in an attempt to cool the cake a whopping minute or two faster, but seems I didn’t. Never mind. Instead, please enjoy this picture of the cake, still in its form, on a wooden cutting board inside our cake caddy. On my lap, in our car, because we couldn’t trust it on a seat or the floor in case it slid and melted the dome. FUN!

This was a harrowing 20-minute drive to BV’s dad.

“No sudden stops!”

“Agh, it’s sliding!”

“Oh God, that’s warm!”

That one was when the condensation dripped on me, because I thought it would be a better idea to lift the lid slightly on the straight, flat highway in order to ventilate the thing a little. Debatable.

Eventually we arrived without incident, and the cake was placed on the windowsill to cool off while we ate, with the bonus feature of drawing in all the wasps that passed by! More fun!

Boar and Klöße* ingested, it was time to cut into the cake. Please enjoy this photo of half of the cake, upon its return to our house.

Photo doesn’t quite convey the journey this baby went through.

Texture shot.

There were five of us at this particular lunch, most of whom had just consumed a pile of roasted boar, two or three dumplings, cabbage, and salad. The fact that they still had room to eat half this cake is amazing to me, and I have a strict one dumpling rule. BV’s dad was particularly enthusiastic (he and BV’s mom split the sixth piece) about it. BV loved it. And me?

I may still have been tasting that bitter almond Aroma from earlier, but it was STRONG. I liked this cake quite a bit, but that flavor was a bit too strong and I have no idea if it was because of that almond essence, or just the crazy amount of marzipan that went into it. This cake is DEFINITELY not for someone who isn’t into marzipan, but luckily that’s not us.

The cake was really moist and flavorful, and the apricot glaze on top gives it a nice shine. I probably could’ve taken it out of the oven a few minutes earlier as it got a bit dark on top, but it didn’t hurt the taste too much.

As I mentioned before, next time I make this I’m going to look for some tarter apples and see about finding some real almond extract. I know I can get it online, but if anyone has seen it in a brick-and-mortar store in Germany, please let me know!