A Tale of Two Strudels

Dessert and Other German Adventures

Posts tagged food adventures

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Two weeks ago, I got together with my friend Eli to bake in honor of our last day of German class.  I brought the Bambinim challah recipe, since it’s easy and we thought it would be nice to make bread, and she brought a cinnamon bun recipe that she found because, well, who doesn’t love cinnamon buns?  It was definitely more complicated than the challah - the dough was pretty sticky and had to be kneaded a few times in 10 minute intervals and then left alone to rise for an hour - but the result was so delicious and definitely worth the effort (well, she mostly made the effort, but it looked worth the effort!).  All I have to do is look at the picture and I remember how they taste - fluffy, sweet, buttery and full of cinnamon, with a tiny hint of lemon.  And our entire German class ate like kings the next day during our last 15 minute break!

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Painfully cold day in Berlin + Rafa and Vanessa visiting me = French Toast and Oatmeal Raisin Scones for Brunch and tomato and cheese tartlets for afternoon snack.

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Avgolemono Soup: my new obsession

Last year, I worked in an office where we would order in for lunch a lot, especially when the weather was bad.  We would often order from a Greek restaurant not so far away, and while all of their food was delicious, one dish in particular stands out in my memory - their Avgolemono soup.  This is essentially broth with a lot of lemon, some rice, and whisked eggs. Once a colleague offered me a sip and I was instantly in love. Imagine my distress when I found out moments later that it was made with chicken broth (I don’t eat meat) and that I would never be able to order this soup for myself!

It’s been pretty cold here lately, it being winter and all, and recently I thought about those lunch-ordering days of old and remembered the Avgolemono soup.  I thought of how delicious it was and had to try to make it, which I did with the help of a recipe from a Mark Bittman cookbook, adapted so as to suit my vegetarian tastes.  

To make a long story short, I cooked some rice in vegetable broth, added diced tomatoes (optional), and turned the heat down so that the soup barely simmered.  In a different bowl, I whisked together two eggs plus the juice from one lemon (I like my soup very lemony - I think I was only supposed to add a few tablespoons).  Then, after making sure that the soup was not hot enough to curdle the eggs (that is, not boiling), I slowly added one ladleful of soup to the egg and lemon mixture and then another, whisking all the while.  Then I added this mixture to the soup on the stove and stirred, being careful never to let it boil.  

A short while later, I was happily eating, no longer deprived of such an excellent experience through the use of chicken stock.  This turned out to be a surprisingly simple soup to prepare and which I am guessing I will find very appealing the next time I feel a cold coming on.

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What do you do with too many sesame seeds?  ”Make cookies” is the only logical answer, and it is also what I did when faced with the aforementioned situation. A few cups of semolina flour and a fair amount of honey later, I had enough cookies to share with my German class and then some.  They were not the most delicious cookies I have ever eaten in my life, but they were good in that kind of comforting homemade way.  It doesn’t hurt that they turned out so pretty either.

What do you do with too many sesame seeds?  ”Make cookies” is the only logical answer, and it is also what I did when faced with the aforementioned situation. A few cups of semolina flour and a fair amount of honey later, I had enough cookies to share with my German class and then some.  They were not the most delicious cookies I have ever eaten in my life, but they were good in that kind of comforting homemade way.  It doesn’t hurt that they turned out so pretty either.

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Last week for our weekly Playcafé, we painted Hanukkiot with the kids.  In the spirit of the holiday (although it hadn’t started yet), I called my grandma and asked her to tell me how she makes her Sufganiot.  Let me tell you, people, I was skeptical when everyone kept telling me it was hard work - how hard can it be to drop balls of dough into hot oil? - but it turns out that it is really a lot of work.  In the beginning, I kept burning them on the outside but not cooking them enough on the inside.  After playing a little with the temperature of the stove, I finally produced a Sufganiya that was actually evenly cooked!  It was very exciting (and also very unhealthy as I ate a lot of the burnt ones on the way to making the good ones).  I served them at Playcafé, and, while they were definitely not the best Sufganiot in the world, they were definitely edible, even good.  With a little practice, in a few years (because let’s face it, I’m not doing all that hard work if it isn’t Hanukkah) they should be great!

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Even though we are in Germany, and in different parts of Germany at that, Sarah and I decided to get together to celebrate Thanksgiving and to invite a few close friends to experience this American holiday with us.

We made chicken with celery mushroom walnut stuffing and with potatoes (and of course just stuffing alone for me and the other vegetarian), green beans with walnuts, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, garlic mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted chestnuts, and pumpkin pie with lactose-free whipped cream.  Our friends were kind enough to provide a Greek salad and a few bottles of wine.  This was a 24-hour cooking event, people - I started cooking the evening before and the next day when I went to work Sarah was at my place to continue the cooking.  Every second was worth it - by the end of the dinner, I was so full that I was in pain.

I also had a bit of arts and crafts fun with those hand-turkey-things they used to have us make in lower school and a few paper feathers and other such decorations.  I thought Martha Stewart would have been proud.  Nice decorations, good food, good company, a job I find interesting and a life in Berlin - no lack of things to be thankful for this year!

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On Thursday, we had our usual Playcafé at Bambinim, where we offered our space, an activity, and a warm environment as a sort of indoor playground for our families.  As usual, I was in charge of the baked goods.  But this Thursday was also a special occasion – Bambinim is going to be part of Limmud Day Berlin this year, as it has been for the past few years, offering programming for small children so that their parents can participate in Limmud Day themselves.  On Thursday, Flora invited a group of volunteers to help us brainstorm what sort of activities we would be offering next weekend.  It was a great group – some parents, some educators and people involved in Bambinim in various capacities, and some young Jews living in Berlin who Flora thought might like to be involved.  One was even a JSC Fellow from a few years back!  The brainstorming session was very productive – we used the time to think about how to transmit this year’s theme, volunteerism in Judaism, to different age groups.  We had some really great ideas and I’m excited to see them develop and become concrete over the next week and a half.

For the special occasion of this meeting, I was excited to try to bake something new, something that was a little challenging for me.  I decided to try to make Lemon Squares à la Williams Sonoma.  I wasn’t disheartened when I ruined the first batch (overcooked), but when the second came out with a terribly goopy consistency so as to be nearly inedible, I despaired.  However, I was also busy trying to help set up the room for our different events, so I left them there in the pan.

Luckily, one of the Bambinim moms who was coming to help brainstorm for Limmud Day was bringing a chocolate pear tart with her.  I had a slice and it was really delicious – she totally saved the day and the tart was all but gone by the evening’s end.

But lo and behold, when I got back to the kitchen to clean up the mess I had made of the lemon squares, I found that as they cooled their consistency also improved.  They were not merely edible but indeed quite good (if I do say so myself).  Turns out that all I needed was a little bit of patience.  Instead of feeling bad so soon about having failed at the same thing twice in a row, I ought to have trusted in time a little more, but I was so impatient to try my handiwork that I didn’t want to wait.  Now not only do I know how to make lemon squares, I’ve also learned that I should try to have a little patience in baking.  (It’s too cheesy if I say patience in life, too, right?)

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Before my mother left, she made me some pastry dough for savory tarts, lest I starve out here in the wilds of Berlin.  So on Tuesday night, I decided to use that dough to make her mozzarella and tomato tart.  This tart has been present at many of our Shabbat and Holiday dinners and my family and a certain group of 10 children (well, we’re mostly grown up now - hello, I miss you!) can attest to its deliciousness.

Tarta de tomate for dinner, partly prepared by my mother, and a little bit of Neil Young while I cooked – who could ask for anything more?

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Winter is Coming!

That is both a line from Game of Thrones and the truth.  Winter IS coming, people.  It was dark at like 5 pm today.  And Game of Thrones is an excellent book - I’m reading the second book in the series now, and I’m really enjoying.  I’m not very far in, so further update once I have something more to say about it.

Anyway, this morning was my first morning alone after my mother left - sitting in such a quiet apartment felt so strange!  I decided to be productive and make Earl Grey Scones - they came out delicious and now I have to give many scones to all of my friends so that I won’t eat them all by myself (and believe me, that’s a really easy accomplishment for me).

Afterwards, I met a friend for brunch and indulged in a “New York Bagel” with lox and “cream cheese.”  Afterwards, we met a couple of friends in Kreuzberg and then walked to the former Tempelhof Airport, which is now a park.  The airport has an interesting history - built in 1927, it was in use during WWII and was later used by the US military during the Berlin Airlift.  After the airport was shut down, the city turned the huge field into a park.  It was pretty full, even on a cold day like today.  When we first walked in, we stumbled upon “Mini Art Golf,” which was mini-golf on interesting structures, and then took a walk.  Even though there were people everywhere, it seemed like a haven of space inside a fairly condensed city.

When I got on the bus at around 4:30, it was already getting dark.  By the time I got home, I could have sworn it was 6 or 7 (it was maybe 5).  When I got off the bus, I saw that there was a Christmas Tree set up on a nearby street as well as a Glühwein stand and that the neighborhood stores were already starting to change their window displays for the holidays.  I can’t believe it’s almost that time of year already!

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When I was accepted for the JSC a few months ago, little did I suspect that baking would be among the many skills I would develop during my year in Germany.

Once a week at Bambinim, we invite our families to our space for free play and socializing - kind of like an indoor playground which provides arts & crafts, coffee, and (hence the development of my baking skills) homemade baked goods.  Today for Playcafé, I made an orange cake (thank you, Williams-Sonoma) and even had enough batter left over to make little cupcakes! Definitely delicious - I even took a few home in a jar to share with friends!

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