World Nutella day found me unprepared this year. I’m in a period when my relationship with food is changing. I feel a need to become lighter and less cluttered in general, and part of it is reflecting in the way I eat. I have started again some physical activity, and although I am quite limited by my ongoing knee problems, I have recovered all of my addiction to moving. I finally feel my body becoming more compact, more flexible, the way I am used to feeling it. In this picture I just don’t crave unhealthy food that much. But everything in moderation, including moderation. It is World Nutella Day after all, and such occasion should not go unnoticed.
I hope you’ll bear with me. I have no camera, or rather, I brought my point and shoot, but of course, since I neglected it so badly after the arrival of my wonderful DSLR, the point and shoot is stubbornly refusing to work now. The picture of the cake I took with my phone is nothing short of awful, however this cake is so good it makes up for an ugly picture; in real life, it was also very pretty, almost professional looking.
I don’t want to forget about this cake. The primary purpose of this blog is for my own reference. I like to have all my favourite recipes here, tried and tested, and go back to it when I need them. Besides, not only is this cake fantastic as is, it contains no less than four distinct elements that turned out perfect, useful building blocks for future dessert projects.
It gives me great pleasure to have all the special things I cook gathered here, a sort of diary: I do now and again remember that awesome something I did on that occasion before I started with this blog, and of course I don’t recall the recipe details. Being with my parents when they turned sixty is definitely a moment I want here. I also want to celebrate the exciting news about one of my closest friends being pregnant – I can’t be with her chatting and spoiling her with cake, but she’s in my mind so much these days.
The recipe itself comes from an idea of Laduree’s book, a chestnut and chocolate delight called duchesse. I changed the recipe completely, using it as a starting point, because of two reasons: I did not have the equipment to try the original meringues (and the guts! meringues have always been my biggest kitchen failures), and the recipe called for four different chestnut based components without explaining what they were supposed to be, and what ratio chestnut to sugar they were supposed to have. That was so annoying, I decided to ditch chestnuts in favour of another autumn treat, pears; I replaced the meringues with chopped praline on the sides of the cake. The result was a beautiful layered mousse cake that was rich and festive without being overwhelming, a rewarding project easy to adapt to a busy schedule, since it is made of several steps, but none of them takes very long. A make-ahead dream.
One of our closest friends here is a couple from the US. They introduced us to Thanksgiving, and tomorrow we are going to celebrate together Cinco de Mayo. Originally a Mexican historical event, it is felt strongly by the Latino community in the US and as such adopted by all the people, especially my friend, who comes from California. We have been chasing ‘the best Mexican food of Nordrhein-Westfalen’ together for quite a while now: my friends love Mexican food and they miss it considerably. So far we have had no luck. Even the best Mexican food here seems to be pretty mediocre. So, tomorrow we are going to have a real fiesta at their place. I volunteered to bring dessert and decided it had to be a chocolate one.
I actually use my blog quite a lot: after all, I am collecting here my favourite recipes with my own notes, which is definitely useful, at least for me. I was quite shocked then when I realized I had not talked to you about the best cocoa brownies yet – a recipe by Alice Mendrich I’ve been making for quite a while, and I’ve also been sharing with all the people who have tasted them. There is something about these brownies that the others don’t have. I normally prefer chocolate to cocoa in cakes; however, although chocolate brownies are good, to me they miss some essential brownie quality. I can’t really explain it better than that, but I always had the feeling that chocolate brownies were a mere fattier and sweeter version of molleux au chocolat. These cocoa ones are totally satisfying on their own, on the other hand. Maybe, like Deb says, it is that they taste as if they may come out of a box, in a good way, and I associate that mouthfeel with brownies. Anyway, I’ve found myself baking this recipe in many occasions: it is totally fuss free, very good, and it does not require me to have chocolate bars at home when I want to whip up a batch. Chocolate bars are not a cupboard ingredient to me. They tend to disappear too quickly to qualify.
The first time I went to Paris, I got off the train at Gare de Lyon. I walked out and was welcomed by a spectacular array of oysters. And a spectacular array of palaces. It was love at first sight.
Other visits have followed. Also this time, I was bewitched.
Paris is tiring. Among my memories of it, endless walks, cycles and metro stairways play a considerable role, without counting the miles you can walk inside museums. I’ve always known this, but somehow left it in the back of my mind: I was always fit and well, apart from that night spent with food poisoning after eating the aforementioned oysters. I’ll spare you the details, but I had a really rough time. As you may remember, I spent quite a while without walking lately. I’m not back to my usual shape yet, but in Paris for the first time I tested myself and had the impression I could make it.
I’m back to Germany, and it is starting to kick in. These days the trees outside have been incredibly beautiful. The world is wrapped in a blanket of fog, which freezes and makes each little branch of the tree sparkle, covered in ice crystals. Blissfully, there is no snow, making it possible to lead an almost normal life.
However I am not in the mood for appreciating this place. I won’t blame it, I know it is me, mainly. I just feel out-of-place, and I feel as if my efforts to fit in have been useless so far. I find it more and more difficult to make plans, to find something fun to do. And when I feel this way, so purposeless, I know there is only one thing that can help me: cooking. I never feel out-of-place in the kitchen. I do feel more than a bit cheesy, like Nigella happily declaring: “whenever I am in the kitchen, I am happy”, but there is some truth in it.
I am posting these ‘nutella’ inspired cookies hoping that you will be inspired as well. Saturday is World Nutella day – fun, isn’t it? Last year I tried making my own Nutella version, because actually, of all things, I’m not really a Nutella person, though I definitely am a chocolate-and-hazelnut person. Tthat his year, you’ll see it on Saturday, but let me say that I am quite pleased with the results I am currently munching, together with these cookies.
I know it is baking season. You already have a year-long list of ‘to do’. But these cookies have very serious arguments to jump a few places ahead and just be the next thing you bake.
Since when Molly published them, I was keen to give them a try. When reviews about ‘Good to the grain’ started to appear everywhere, I was seriously curious. And when I discovered that this book even surpassed my darling ‘Plenty’ in this competition, well, that means the book must be just too good to ignore, I guess. I still don’t own the book – shame! I kind of wait for Santa to bring it to me (wink wink). But after these cookies I am sure I need to have it.
There are so many wonderful blogs out there. I read most of them because I like to have a chance to confront with people whom I share a passion with – food. After a while you get the feeling you know them, even if all the direct contact you have had is maybe an email exchange.
Many blogs are also a constant source of inspiration for cooking, of course: this is why I started reading food blogs in the first place. Maybe the author has a different background than mine, and is familiar with ingredients or techniques I am not. There is so much I have learned this way, new ingredients I have explored, new combinations, new cookbooks. In many cases, the author is also an inspiring chef.
For other blogs, the main reason for reading them is just the constant aesthetical bliss. They are beautiful. The author is a really talented designer, photographer or writer, and more often than not, all these things together. I tend to fall into Stendhal syndrome mode then, and just gorge on the pictures and read the writing as if it were the latest chapter of my favourite book. I am so totally captivated, I just forget sometimes we are talking about food, in the end. I know, how is it ever possible!? forgetting about food?
However this did happen, with one of my favourite blogs. What did I miss! Luckily, I recently remembered there are recipes on it as well. I am sure you are all already familiar with La Tartine Gourmande by Bea, and I do hope you did not make my mistake.
My Japanese friends offered to organise a sushi party, that turned out to be as fun as it sounds. Also from the food point of view, I am won over by Japanese cooking. In Italy sushi was extremely hip a couple of years ago, and is still quite popular because, well, if you are that cool, what else can you eat without getting fat? As it often happens, there is much more to Japanese cooking than sushi (of course I advise you to have a look at these beautiful sites, if you don’t know them; and for some great pictures and entertaining reads, if you read Italian, go here). And also in the world of sushi, there is much more than raw fish.
I have been looking for quite a while for a perfect chocolate muffin. I think this one goes quite close (would you expect anything else from Dan Lepard?).