Cooking Chapbook

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

Tag: Germany

Idea file: fruit crisp cake

Cherry crisp cake

Berry crisp cake. Fruity. Crunchy. Creamy. Again, please!

A little note to self. Don’t mind me. I’m filing away a dessert I devoured this week with a friend. Oh, wait – maybe you can help!

It was a slice from Hüftengold, a lovely cafe in Stuttgart that feels like a secret passage to New York City. Chandelier, funky wallpaper, enormous circular cakes, loud and happy chatter.

This cake was worth remembering – and trying to make – because it was not only a cake. It was a fruit crisp hidden under a silky layer of cream and chocolate shavings. I couldn’t believe it. I love fruit crisps! Above the crust sat baked berry (cherry, I think?) blanketed in thin nuts and crunch, slathered in richness. Instead of stopping at the fruit and crisp, this concoction kept going and going and going.

Must try this! How? Any ideas?

A repeat trip for research purposes may be required!

German springerle cookies

This may be a little late, but I’m taking solace in the handy fact that the Christmas season truly lasts until January 6, the Epiphany. 

At the Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market, I first spotted these intricate molds, arrayed on a stall’s walls, from stamp-sized rectangles to frisbee circles. Amazingly detailed nativity scenes.  Saints. Musical instruments. Animals. Hearts. I was immediately taken.

But what were they for? I couldn’t tell at first. Were they for wax creations? Paper prints?

Or cookies!

Springerle cookie mold

Springerle cookie mold

In a deliberation mode of locals, we bought a 2€ cookie to try. It was beautiful and elegant, but was it edible? Springerles, as these cookies are called, are hard and dry, completely unappealing solo. But dunked – rather, soaked for a good 4+ seconds – in a cup of hot tea or coffee, they give way to soft, delectable sweetness laced with anise.

So you can guess how this adventure turns out. My only hesitation was that I wanted to substitute the anise  for some other flavor. Maybe lemon or almond?

Pressing springerle cookie mold

Pressing springerle cookie mold

I went back to the market a few days later and bought a collection of springerle molds: little Biblical scenes, a hairy camel, a violin (or is it a cello?), a pretzel, a heart, and an enormous Saint Nicholas. In Germany, St. Nick is still a bishop with a croiser, rather than an elderly bearded man with a bulging sac of toys.

The prices were all over the place. A small mold might be 2€. A larger one made up of many little molds could run north of 50€. 

Springerle cookie

Springerle cookie with Mary, Joseph, Jesus and a donkey

We tried the Joy of Cooking instructions and ended up adding heaps of extra flour. As written, it was too sticky for me. The dough kept climbing into the molds’ crevices and refusing to leave. Only after two of us wrangled the dough into a floury submission did the imprints start to emerge. But goodness. They are so much more gorgeous than American cookie-cutter creations.

Assorted springerle cookies

Assorted springerle cookies, including a camel, a pretzel, and a violin

I did substitute almond extract for the anise, which blended into the recipe nicely. But the rest of the recipe was a mystery to me. Eggs, but no butter? Flour, but no oil? Also: You must rest the dough, once molded into cookies, for at least 10 to 12 hours. Not in the refrigerator – out on the counter.

Tray of springerle cookies

Tray of springerle cookies

I’ll post a recipe when we find one that works without so much haggling. After all, with heart-shaped molds, I imagine these could be pretty Valentine’s Day cookies, too …

Book Review: “My Berlin Kitchen”

“My Berlin Kitchen”

This “love story with recipes” is the newest-comer to my limited kitchen counter collection. I got a whiff somewhere that food-blogger-turned-writer Luisa Weiss (of The Wednesday Chef blog) lived in Berlin; I ordered her book ahead of my first visit.

I wasn’t expecting much. Maybe a peek at the Brandenburg gate and a few lines about currywurst.

But Luisa (and if you feel like calling the writer by her first name, she did something right) has this lovely knack of enfolding you into her life along with scrumptious and fascinating food references. You are never far from a fretful identity crisis or a sublime dish. Or the two blended together. Each chapter ends with one recipe or several.

"My Berlin Kitchen" coverI sped through it. I may have possibly even needed a tissue by the end, something that has never happened before while indulging in a cookbook, except perhaps the “Joy of Cooking” onion section.

I especially savored the tidbits about life in Germany. Her insights into the cooking challenges here made me feel like I had found a sister upstate. (So that’s why my chocolate-chip cookies, the comfort food we desperately craved when we first arrived, flopped? European butter is fattier than American butter? What? Luisa! You must be kidding me!)

Still, all the charming anecdotes of a 30-something’s life in Berlin/NYC/Italy in the world wouldn’t permit me to put a memoir on my kitchen counter. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I shouldn’t. I need the precious counter space for standard-issue cookbook classics and food reference tomes and stained recipes in newsprint.

Except, then I tried her recipes.

I don’t think SP (my sweet husband) has looked so alarmingly happy at dinner in a long time. And he looks pretty cheerful generally. The look on his face said: Oh my god. What is this? And can I please have more? Immediately?

I made her Brussel Sprouts from Heaven (she calls them something more pedestrian and less accurate), which was a break-through recipe for me and those stubborn sprouts. That alone would have been worth the book price. (Assuming, I should caveat, you are the type who likes fish sauce, chili flakes and lemon zest. Which is not everyone, I realize sadly.)

The same evening, I made one of her two pizza recipes. Dough from scratch. Just yeast, water, olive oil, a pinch of sugar and salt. And it actually behaved. I loaded the crust, shaped to my dismay like one of Dali’s clocks, with anchovies, fresh mozzarella, crushed tomatoes and a sprinkling of dried oregano. (The Surrealist influence was all mine.)

The pizza was fantastic.

"My Berlin Kitchen" recipes

My humble but lick-your-fingers delicious creations via “My Berlin Kitchen. (Enormous sprouts are not to scale.)

“My Berlin Kitchen” now lives on our counter. May the next 20 recipes be just as good.