Sunday Snapshots: Popping

Franconia, 2016

There are few things that I love more than this time of year, with every field, garden, and even highway rest stops, full of bright red spots of poppies.

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And Suddenly, It Was May

May 1st, Labor Day here in Germany. For perhaps the first time since I moved here, I actually feel like I’ve earned the day off this year. I do however, feel guilty about the lack of work I’ve been doing in this space.

To say that the first four months of this year flew by would be a gross understatement. Even having a reduced workload for the last two weeks due to Easter school holidays didn’t offer me much time to spend on the internet. Or at least, not this kind of internetting. But here we are, the third short week in a row and I have a minute to check in.

It also occurred to me that for the past two Mays, I have tried to do some sort of writing challenge. I very briefly entertained the thought of doing that again this month, but there’s just no way I can muster up that kind of energy.

So what’s keeping me so busy? My new gig, aka the first full-time job I’ve had in ten years. Turns out working 40 hours a week plus commuting time doesn’t leave tons of extra time for… anything, really. We’ve been trying to plan meals out a bit better, and BV has taken over more of the weeknight cooking responsibilities. But yoga has been tricky to fit in, baking and more ambitious cooking has to wait for the weekends… you know, all those things that normal adults manage to fit around full-time jobs. I’m still trying to figure all of it out. It’s a good thing, I think, thus far.

I’m still technically freelance because German bureaucracy moves slower than a snail. I thought we’d be able to transition my work permit back in March, but when we went to my appointment, my Beamter was on vacation. Slight miscommunication there. We then spent three weeks trying to get him on the phone (as instructed, by the gal who WAS there that day), before giving up and emailing him yet again. We now have an appointment in two weeks, conveniently right before we leave on vacation. It would be nice if that week off was covered by my shiny-new vacation days, but I don’t know if it’ll work out that easily.

On the plus side, we’ll be in France. So even if it’s not paid, it’ll still be France. I cannot wait.

While everyone else in Germany seemed to be protesting, in a Biergarten, or perhaps both of those things, we had a pretty low-key day. We did some stuff around the house that needed doing, and I went out for a long walk.

Now BV is back in the spare room tinkering with more odds and ends, and I’m about to do some yoga and head to bed early. Thursdays I leave the house at 6am and no matter how disciplined I try to be, making myself go to sleep at a reasonable hour on Wednesday never goes according to plan.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Light work on Labor Day is acceptable, right?

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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50 Recipe Challenge: Part 4/5

Post-dating because I’m dumb at scheduling things sometimes…

~31. Spicy Peanut Stew with Ginger and Tomato

You can see a picture of this one in the ‘Brötchen’ post below. Stews are not the most photogenic things in the world, but it was fairly tasty. We would amp up the ginger on the next attempt,, but other than that the main flaw of this stew was that it made approximately one million dishes dirty. But lots of leftovers!

~32. Garlic Naan

Further comments on this one also in the Brötchen post…

~33. Brötchen (my recap post)

~34. Franzbrötchen (my recap post)

Nothing makes you feel more like a culinary genius than making something like this semi-successfully.

~35. “I Want Chocolate Cake” Cake

We didn’t have any buttermilk so I subbed in red wine per the suggestions in the recipe. I had a bit of trouble melting the chocolate so my frosting was a bit on the grainy side, but I was fairly okay with it. This was exactly the sort of ‘eat your feelings’ recipe that paired well with the news cycle of horrors back in September (don’t the Kavanaugh hearings seems like a thousand years ago?). If only.

~36. Linzertorte (my recap post)

Thought about making this one again for Christmas but as of now I think we’re sticking to Plätzchen and Glühwein for dessert with BV’s parents come here on the 24th. That’s enough… I hope.

~37. Oven Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms and Thyme

Oven polenta makes life so much easier, and this mushroom and herb combo is a piece of cake. I also tossed in some oregano and rosemary that we had in the fridge and that was a great choice.

~38. Coconut Butternut Squash Soup

Skipped the recommended topping and was also slightly short on squash so threw in a few carrots instead. Not the most exciting soup in the world but fast and easy on a weeknight.

~39. Bremer Kürbisbrot (my recap post)

~40. Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad

The problem with a tahini dressing is that it tan and gloopy and makes this look much less appetizing than it is. A tad more color would help, but I skipped the red onions that the recipe calls for because raw red onions (and raw green onions) are my nemeses and they ruin everything. The first time I made this I threw in some shallots for color, and that worked well, but sadly I was out this time.

 

Next week, the final ten!

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.

HOLY SHIT. NO. NO. NO.

SO MUCH BITTER ALMOND IN MY MOUTH OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE?

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!

 

*dumplings