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30 posts from January 2007

Chocolate by brand: Sugar High Friday #27


When I came to Berlin, I spoke no German, and my first weeks of learning were laborious. In the grocery shop with Alison in 2000, I had just enough words to guess at the label on the chocolate bar: 'Black men's chocolate?' I pieced out, a bit disbelieving. Fluent Alison explained that Schwarze Herren Schokolade better translated to 'gentlemen's dark chocolate', which I found no less amusing.

Gender designations notwithstanding, Schwarze Herren Schokolade became my sweet of choice for some months. I was amazed at how cheap it was and how good, with one Euro buying 100 grams of chocolate made from 60% cocoa with arriba cocoa beans; having lived in America and - briefly - in England up till then, I had come to expect less from the grocery store.

Thanks to in't veldt, Kakao, and, for that matter, St Nikolaus, my tastes have grown more rarefied, and I now look askance at some of the ingredients on the label (vanillin is not particularly stylish), but when David Lebovitz announced this month's Sugar High Friday theme, I had to dismiss the Zotters and the Summerbirds of the chocolate world to go for a hometown favourite. After all, Schwarze Herren Schokolade is made in Berlin.

Since making cheesecake for our Christmas dinner, I had been dreaming about a variation with a dark chocolate glaze replacing the sour cream topping. A bit of googling, a bit of idle flipping through cookbooks, and this is what I came up with.


Chocolate-glazed cheesecake

200 g (7 oz) Schwarze Herren Schokolade or other dark chocolate
200 ml (7 oz) whipping cream
14 g (1 tsp) butter
1 tsp vanilla

Make the cheesecake as directed in my cheesecake recipe (note that you won't need the final three ingredients as you're skipping the sour cream topping). Begin making the chocolate topping when you've taken the cheesecake out of the oven. While you're making the topping, leave the cheesecake on a counter and don't remove it from the springform pan.

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small heatproof bowl; add the vanilla. Heat the cream and butter until the mixture begins to bubble at the edges, then pour over the chocolate and stir with a fork until the chocolate and cream are smoothly amalgamated. The mixture should be liquid but thick. Let cool briefly until comfortable to touch, then pour over the cheesecake. I did this in two separate steps, pouring the chocolate from the center of the cake until it had oozed out to the edges, letting it cool briefly (a few minutes in the fridge), then pouring the rest on, as I wanted the contrast between crust and chocolate (see a photo here). Alternatively you could, of course, cover the top completely, or remove the cheesecake from the springform pan and glaze the sides with chocolate as well.

Whatever you do, once the chocolate's on put the cheesecake in the refrigerator and let cool for a few hours (or, if you'd prefer a softer chocolate) for a half-hour or so, then serve.

I was very pleased with how things turned out, but for next time I think I'd try it with half the recipe of chocolate ganache, as I felt I'd like that layer to be a bit more incidental to the cheesecake it covers. I'll let you know how it turns out.



MaGo Keramik


I've been coveting Manja Goetze's ceramic pieces for a while, having been utterly taken by the gorgeous way her glazes pool at the bottom of her vessels in vivid rich blues; the matte contrast of the brown exterior and bone rim has also always pleased me. This Saturday I walked past the market on a mission, went in, dithered briefly between cups and mugs, then laid down my money: easily the best 15 EUR I've spent for an age, and this morning's tea felt correspondingly ennobled.

Manja shows her work at the Galerie Jeanne Koepp; Koepp's work is also worth checking out.

MaGo Keramik at the Galerie Jeanne Koepp, Kollwitzstr. 53 (map)
Tel. + 49 30 4419591, manja.goetze-schmidt@gmx.net
Open Mon-Fri 1 pm to 7 pm, Sat noon to 4 pm


Lemon curd for a January afternoon


'A man cannot live on cookies alone,' said James a few days ago, not quite approving of the turn away from the savory that my recent recipes had taken, and I would love to have discovered a brilliant new way to do leeks, but on this Sunday afternoon, with the sky a luminous gray and the temperature slanting towards the wintery, I settled again for sweetness and sunshine in the form of lemon curd, put away in jars to be spread onto toast and scones in the weeks to come.

My passion for winter's vegetables, the celeriac and the beet, the pumpkin and the carrot, has dwindled in the last month, and replacing that enthusiasm has been an impatience to be on to early spring and its tender peas, its rhubarb and asparagus. What I find in the shops seems increasingly tough-skinned, and looking at the bulbs I imagine an impossible tower of celeriac in cool storage, being carted out crate by crate, and somehow cannot bear it - though I know it is nonsense and I would be better off with another fragrant bowl of celeriac soup. In this limbo between warm and cold no produce seems right. (You've heard about this odd winter?)

Nevertheless. Sunday afternoon, an after-lunch lull, a bag of Italian lemons in the fridge, some organic eggs on the counter (yes, I've adopted that scandalous German habit), and a hankering for brightness combined to make lemon curd my small project for the day.

Lemon curd

  • 2 organic eggs
  • 2 organic egg yolks
  • 3/4 C (150 g) sugar
  • Juice and zest of 2 large organic lemons
  • 7 T (98 g) unsalted butter, cut into smallish cubes

In a small saucepan, beat the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar until well-incorporated. I felt extraordinarily lazy this afternoon and used a handheld mixer. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and butter and heat on medium-low, stirring constantly. Use the mixer at its very lowest setting if you too are feeling languorous, but if you do this then pause every now and then, rest the mixer someplace where the yellow gunk won't drip onto the counter, lift the pan from the heat, and stir the bottom and sides firmly with a spoon, to avoid sticking and burning.

I have read enough cookbooks to know there is the threat, when making curd, of curdling (!) and other such catastrophes, but mine obediently thickened at about the five-minute mark, and I poured it into three old jam jars and felt pleased, contemplating my hoard, which seemed to signify Bounty. It is mysterious that curdling is to be avoided when making curd, and I wonder if one of those words once had another meaning; perhaps lexicographers could enlighten me. I did not strain mine this time, because the strainer was a size inconvenient to the jar's mouth, but might the next, and you might too, if you don't like smoothness interrupted by zest.

Eating a bit just now, on crisp toast which I could not bring myself to butter, knowing as I do now how much butter the curd itself contains, it did impart a certain sunniness to the late afternoon, though it did not have that bracing, waking quality of sunshine itself, and its unctuousness had something of a langour about it. They say it might dip below freezing sometime this week.

Lass uns Freunde bleiben


When Hazelwood grew too loud, we retreated to Lass uns Freunde bleiben ("Let's stay friends") across the street. The cafe/bar was perfect before it became overrun with what Max tipped to be a Swabian youth group and we had to retreat again.

What I liked? Its battered western wall, its prices, its barkeep, its cryptic name, its URL (with an automatic redirect to Ruf mich nie wieder an ("Never call me again")), and I liked sitting slumped in one of the red upholstered chairs, watching the people, drinking Tempranillo, talking to Max.

Lass uns Freunde bleiben, Chorinerstr. 12 (map)
Open Mon-Thu 8 am to midnight, Fri 8 am on, Sat 10 am on



Hazelwood is night to Duckwitz's day, its gleaming furniture black, its white walls offset by red vinyl banquettes; the banquettes make a nod to the German idea of America, but this is not a Berlin 'American Diner' with its neon pulsing and stools twirling, resplendent in 50s kitsch.

The food follows modern American trends, with the burgers served on what are described as ciabatta but taste more like lovely sourdough rolls, buttery-crisp on the outside and yieldingly soft within. Our grilled cheese (we opted for cheddar) was also served on this bread, and with the crunchy contrast of red onions I was in sandwich heaven. This, after all, is what I miss, not the slices of processed cheese on plastic bread you find aping Americana elsewhere.

Hazelwood, Chorinerstr. 72 (map)
Tel. 4432 4635
Open Tue-Fri 6 pm to 11 pm (or later), Sat and Sun 10 am to midnight (or later)

Moshi Moshi


I've been admiring Claudia Rannow's photos at the Kollwitzplatz market for some months now, thinking about how her witty pictures of Berlin would make the perfect present for someone who's leaving the city or who misses it. She seems to notice all the things I do, and catches moments and shards of Berlin in an appealing way, noticing the nonce messages the city throws up: her diptychs too can be terribly evocative. Have a click through her site and buy if you can; a small photo, very nicely mounted on a frame, is only 10 EUR, and the diptychs 23 EUR. (The photo above is from her shopfront, which she shares with Katja Morkel of Morkel. Update 2008: Moshi's prices have risen to reflect the times. At the moment, a single photo is 14 EUR, and a diptych 30 EUR. Note also new contact details below.

Moshi Moshi, Choriner Str. 37 (map) Bergstr. 73 (map) & at the Saturday Kollwitzplatz Market
Tel. 440 445 60, claudia.rannow@ginko.de Tel. 0170-907 5083, claudia.rannow@web.de
Open Wed-Fri noon to 7 pm, Sat 11 to 6 pm Wed & Fri 5-8pm or by appointment

Buckwheat blini with mushrooms


There is something springy to the word blini, and saying it feels festive. Loyal readers will recall they featured in David's and my Christmas Eve feast. With the buckwheat flour lying around the cupboard bearing my handwritten note of "Expires Sept 07" I thought they'd try them out for Sunday lunch; it's only my second ground-to-order flour and it seemed a shame to risk wasting it. (For those living in Berlin, the BioCompany in Schönhauser Allee grinds grains in their tabletop mill at the back -- note that freshly ground rice flour is something special as well.)

I have vague tribal memories of eating fluffy blini at some point in my past - and while typing those words I had a flash, recalling a visit to a friend in Southampton in the summer of 1997, a friend of his parents' was also visiting and had just been to Russia - the image in my mind is blini laid out with caviar she's brought back from Russia, along with miniscule minced onions, sour cream, and chopped hard-boiled eggs. I may be hallucinating that last, even the blini themselves, as it's not impossible we had golden buttered toast with the crusts cut off instead - but no, I think it was blini.

Perhaps that's why they were ingrained as festive. In any case, Nigella's blini recipe jumped out at me while flipping through the cookbooks, brainstorming a menu, and a dense rich flavourful mushroom sauce would, I wagered, be the perfect complement, and was.

(When I first made the blini I diverted from the recipe to use fresh yeast, not dry, and loved the flavour it imparted. This Sunday I tried dried as instructed, and found the flavour fainter, a little lacking. So I counsel fresh, but know that dried is also possible.)

Buckwheat blini (after Nigella Lawson's recipe in How to Eat)

  • 2/3 C / 80 g buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 C / 60 g all-purpose flour (I used German 550 organic flour)
  • 1/2 a fresh yeast cube (approx 21 g or .75 ounces) OR 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 C (120 g) milk
  • 2 T crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 egg, separated
  • Very small amounts of butter and oil for frying

Mix the flours, salt, sugar and dried yeast (if using) in a large mixing bowl. If using fresh yeast, crumble in the cake and stir gently into the flour mixture. To a measuring jar with at least a cup's capacity add the milk and the crème fraîche, then add water until the liquid reaches 1 cup. Mix everything up with a fork, add the tablespoon butter, and heat in a small pan until the mixture is hot and the butter is melted (let cool slightly if necessary). Beat in the egg yolk.

Stir the liquid mixture into the flour one, cover loosely with a towel or plastic wrap, and leave to bubble away near a radiator or somewhere else warm for a couple of hours or in the fridge for 8 or so.

When the surface has become speckled with bubbles, whip an egg white until stiff and fold into the batter. Take a large dinner plate and prepare a covering flap with several layers of aluminum foil - you want something you can open quickly to slip in another blini, then close up tightly to keep them warm. Heat a small frying pan (or blini pan, if you've got one) with a little butter and oil, swirling it around with a silicon brush or the back of a spoon. Then add a ladleful of batter (about 1/3 C), adjusting if you want smaller blini. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Peek to check if the bottom is nicely browned before flipping, letting the second side cook for about a minute or, again, until nice and brown. Transfer to the plate and continue.