Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Tag: Germany

Bear’s Garlic Soup

Bärlauch soup

Bärlauch soup

This weekend was glorious, the first truly adequate batch of weekend weather we’ve had in 2013. Germany’s cold slate ceiling opened to reveal the blue of ocean skies, a hundred miles inland. My eyes swam in the sky, a deep, nearly periwinkle blue, and soaked in the sunrays. The spring breeze whispered over everything, and the city of Stuttgart felt content, alive, healthy again.

On Saturday, after a run through the farmer’s market, teeming with tulips and tomatoes and strawberries, we ended up at a bustling cafe called Cafe Grand Planie. I’m not sure how we hadn’t gone there before. The cafe borders the square that hosts Saturday’s flea market, where we poke around for gems among the rugs, toy cars, antique kitchen items, knickknacks. (We did find a shiny 1870s sideboard there on Saturday, chipped a bit but charming.)

Cafe Grand Planie opens with a glass display case of dazzling cakes and tarts, surprises you on the wall with a  reproduction of Otto Dix’s neon “Großstadt” triptych (the real one is nearby at the Kunstmuseum), and stretches way past a bar, a huge sprawling room of cafe tables, booths, chandeliers, and towering vases of flowers. It feels cosmopolitan European, full of lively conversation and clinking mugs and saucers.

Menu at Cafe Grande Planie

Menu at Cafe Grande Planie

Even in warm weather, I can’t resist house-made soup. And today’s special turned out to be Bärlauchsüppchen. My first guess was barley soup, but I was wrong – the real soup was even better: “Bear’s Garlic Soup”!

Bear’s Garlic is apparently wild garlic, a European relative of the North American ramps. I had seen these long, beautiful leaves at the market that morning, like basil crossed with baby palm fronds, but I hadn’t know what they were. I realize now they were Bärlauch, perhaps (as the menu description says) the first of the season!

The soup was delicious, warm and savory and thickly garlic and buttery, with a tender shrimp dangling overhead. With a big hunk of crusty bread to mop it up, my first  Bärlauchsüppchen was a sweet welcome to an overdue German spring.

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Schneeball in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a medieval town built “above the Tauber” River.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber features a walkable medieval wall, St. Jakobskirche’s phenomenal carved wooden altar, a surprisingly interesting medieval torture museum, Germany’s largest teddy bear store (according to our highly credible shopping bag), castle gardens, and more than we could get to in a single day.

And something called the Schneeball.

Rothenburg gate

One of the many enthralling Rothenburg gates, which give the town an almost Disney-like feel.

Here’s what Rick Steves has to say about Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s famous sweet creation:

“Unworthy of the heavy promotion they receive, Schneeballen are bland pie crusts crumpled into a ball and dusted with powered sugar or frosted with sticky-sweet glop.” (Rick Steves’ Germany 2011)

I remained intrigued.

Rothenburg cafe

A Rothenburg cafe, modern and cozy inside, with delectable treats under glass.

Schneeballen are in the windows of bakeries all around town, some coated in chocolate, others plain. I liked the snowy look of the ones powdered with sugar.

We found an elegant cafe by the Market Square and settled in to try one for ourselves.

Schneeball

A Schneeball, dusted with powered sugar.

And, well. If you are a pie-crust fanatic, you will be in the land of bliss.

But otherwise: Rick is right. It’s rather crisp and dry, not very tantalizing. I wouldn’t order one again.

Maybe the chocolate variety. Just to be sure.

The best use I found for the pastry bits, once broken apart, was to dunk them in tea like a springerle cookie. Most every hard and purportedly sweet German treat is better softened in tea, warmed up and dreamy.

Croissant and springerle cookie

A cheese-ham croissant and a springerle cookie, imprinted with an elegant bird.

But even then, the schneeball is not truly ideal. This cafe also sold its own springerle cookies, which were beautifully imprinted with detailed animals. And even better dunked in hot tea.

Rothenburg clock man

Rothenburg clock man, at right, just downed his mug of beer to save the day.

Outside the cafe, in the Market Square, the Meistertrunk story is re-enacted regularly by the figure on the square’s clock tower. Legend – apparently unfounded, but a nice tale fit for tourists – has it that in 1631, the mayor saved the town from invaders by meeting an army general’s dare and drinking an entire three-liter mug of beer in one gulp.

And so, on the hour most hours starting at 11 a.m., the mayoral figure lifts his beer mug to the delight of the watching crowd.

About as exciting as a ball of pie pastry.

Rothenburg in the snow

Rothenburg in the snow, a fairytale town.

Still, I wouldn’t skip these little tourism routines. Each town has its own scripts and props, an adorable formality of hospitality on the travel circuit. The oddity brings a light thrill of its own.

And altogether, Rothernburg ob der Tauber was enthralling, a fortress in snow white high above the rushing river. Visiting out of season means watching the museum/church times closely and missing the night watchman’s tour. But what you get in return is a mystical stillness, like walking through a storybook setting, where the only snowballs are edible.

Printen cookies from Aachen, Germany

 

Like beer, cookies in Germany are regional. Each state has its own specialty, a delicious discovery on the end of a long autobahn drive.

Generally, in Germany, what we would call cookies are denser, richer, and less sweet than the fluffy chocolate-chip concoctions in America. For those with a hefty sweet tooth (teeth?), they can take a little getting to use to.

Earlier this chilly month, we visited Aachen, where German kings were once coronated.  Aachen specializes in a specific type of cookie, which can only be made in its region: Printen.

Printen are dense gingerbread-type cookies, sometimes dotted with nuts or fruits or what reminded me of crystallized ginger. They are often cloaked in rich white chocolate or dark chocolate, or a lighter icing, or decorated with nuts. And they are divine.

Printen cookies from Aachen

Printen cookies from the Moss bakery in Aachen’s old city.

Shops with “Printen” printed in the window are all throughout the old city, where most tourists end up visiting the Dom. The Dom – cathedral – is spectacular, especially the sparkling mosaics on the ceiling.

Printen cookies from Aachen

Printen cookies from Aachen, covered in almonds and white chocolate.

Each bakery supposedly has its own secret recipe. Printens are sold in big rectangles, the size of a large greeting card, or in chunks, like you see here.

Bag of Nobis Printen from Aachen

Bag of Nobis Printen from Aachen, about 5€

They reportedly can last a long while (not that they have lasted long with us), and like many German cookies, grow hard over time. Sticking a piece of bread in the cookie tin adds moisture and softens them up in a day.

I read, only later, unfortunately, that Printen is also an ingredient in a local beef dish, Sauerbraten! The gravy is supposedly concocted out of raisins, Printen and sugar beet syrup. I am so intrigued.

Cappuccino and Printen at Nobis cafe in Aachen, Germany

Cappuccino and Printen at Nobis cafe in Aachen, Germany

We tried a few kinds of Printen from two different bakeries: glazed with nuts, chocolate covered, iced, and the white chocolate, which were my favorite. (Side tip: Great article on white chocolate from Saveur magazine.) The creamy white chocolate matches up so well with the thick gingerbread. I’m tempted to try this recipe

American breakfast, Deutsch Frühstück

My favorite part of the morning is the cozy warmth under the covers, the haze of thought, the sleepy deliciousness of the body awakening, every synapse cloaked in soft woolen knit. I know some people spring from the bed alert as a crowing rooster, but I’ve never belonged to that kingdom.

Once I’m up, my second favorite part is breakfast.

American breakfast plate

Bacon, eggs, toast – as American as can be.

We live in Germany right now, and the breakfasts here – called Frühstück – are lovely in their own way. Freshly baked rolls, flaky croissants, jams and rich butters, gentle folds of salty ham, dense sheets of cheese. European breakfasts feel more like a picnic than a decadent celebration of a day anew. It’s rare to find French toast, pancakes or eggs any way but soft boiled on the menu.

Typical German breakfast

Typical German Frühstück, this one at a cafe in Heidelberg. I love the jam in the edible cup, like the base of a little ice cream cone.

In the States, we’ll have brunch routinely, but here in Germany, it took me awhile to realize that if I wanted an American breakfast, I needed to make it myself. Not that it’s hard, and it’s so much cheaper than eating breakfast out.

Jam and bread

Jam and bread

A hunk of baguette with a crackling skin, gooey marmalade with strips of citrus peel …

German eggs

German eggs

… and the eggs. Don’t get me started on the eggs. We’ll be here all day. Even the ones from the Rewe, the standard grocery store, are bright with flavor …

Toast in the oven

Warm and toasty in the oven.

… I toast the slices of baguette under the broiled, because we have no toaster right now. They are done in a jiffy …

bacon

Bacon.

… and bacon. Another thing you must do at home, because in Germany, the varieties of cured pork are all exquisite and nearly all sliced and cold. Brittle bacon must be an American invention.

milk

Coffee, please!

And then there’s the coffee, heaped with milk (the MinusL brand is lactose-free) and sugar.

Breakfast spead

One happy skillet of eggs for two.

Nothing complicated, but this breakfast tastes of home, an ocean away.