Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Life-saving birthday aka any-day yogurt cake

23 June 2015


The no-hassle, mindlessly easy, infinitely versatile, all-season, all-occasion cake that will also save a thousand birthdays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have the heart of a baker. I rarely follow recipes precisely, I am exasperated when a cake I’ve made a few times doesn’t work because the butter or the continent or the ambient humidity has changed. I like the idea of baking, however. I like cakes. And I like to think I can make a cake for my children’s birthdays, at the very least.

So I gravitate towards simple recipes such as this one or this one. And yogurt cake.

Yogurt cake is a classic in France; it is the cake most French children first learn to make. While French home cooks use scales, not volume measures such as cups, this cake is an exception: the unit of measurement is a pot of yogurt, the one whose contents are emptied precisely for the cake.

Because my family is not classically French, I discovered yogurt cake a bit later, in my twenties. It is brilliantly easy, and very clever, and can be easily spruced up for a special occasion.

Here first is the simple original recipe, though I hardly make it as is. The variations are just as easy.

Yogurt Cake, original French recipe
The measurement used is one empty pot of yogurt (empty once the yogurt has been used for the cake!). In Anglo-Saxon countries where yogurts are not as ubiquitously sold in the same standard-size pots I use a measure of 100ml.
1 ‘pot’ = 100ml see explanation above

1 pot of plain unsweetened yogurt

1 pot of oil or melted butter

2 pots sugar

3 pots flour

2 eggs

Baking powder

Lemon zest

Mix all the ingredients together and bake in a medium oven for 35 to 40 minutes.


Yogurt Cake, adapted recipe
I have doubled the quantities, reduced the amount of sugar, substituted part of the flour with ground almonds, and added raspberries which are conveniently in season for my boys’ birthdays.

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt

1 pot (100ml) melted butter

1 pot (100ml) olive oil

3 pots brown sugar

3 pots flour

3 pots almond flour

4 eggs

2 tsps baking powder

Zest from 2 lemons

Fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Mix all the ingredients together except the raspberries to obtain a smooth batter. Add the raspberries and incorporate gently in order not to squash the berries. Pour the batter into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and a handful of raspberries for decoration.

Additional variation (pictured above)

For a festive cake without nuts, use 6 pots of flour (and no almond flour).

Once the cake is baked and cooled, cut it in half carefully crosswise. Smear raspberry jam on the bottom half of the cake and place the top half back on top. NOTE: I don’t do the jam filling with the almond flour version as it renders the cake incredibly moist and crumbly, which would make it difficult to cut through.

Make a lemony mascarpone icing and decorate with fresh raspberries and a generous sprinkling of popping candy.

Two chocolate cakes

17 April 2015


I only just recently happened upon these two chocolate cakes, and already they are indispensable.

Until now I had little need for chocolate cake. I rarely make it, because I rarely crave it; when, about once a year, I do long for a chocolate dessert, I bake these really good brownies. For years my children didn’t care much for chocolate cake. Until Louise.

In this decidedly un-chocolatey family, Louise loves chocolate. Worse things happen. So for this little one’s birthday, I needed a chocolate cake recipe. I found two.

One is an intense though surprisingly light dessert; the faultless chocolate touch at the end of a lingering meal. The other is cakey and moist but not too crumbly; slices hold together well in clumsy little hands. It could be stacked into layers with cream or cherry jam. A flawless tea-time cake.


The flourless, almond olive-oil chocolate cake, which I discovered via the same friend who pointed me toward the revelatory date cookies (food-obsessed friends are the best kind), beat all expectations. It is light and predictably nutty, perfectly moist with a bare hint of olive. Also ridiculously easy to make. The recipe, by Nigella Lawson, also happens to be wheat and dairy free, which bears mentioning. The recipe is here, as I have not altered it one bit.

I found the second cake in a cookbook from which, until now, I had never actually cooked. Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. It is the perfect party cake. Pointedly described as ‘moist and versatile,’ and which ‘can be made in any format from cupcakes to a multitiered wedding cake.’ I had intended an extra chocolatey frosting, but time ran out so it was just a dusting of icing sugar and plenty of smarties.


Chocolate cake for a party by Alice Waters The Art of Simple Food

115 g (4 ounces) unsweetened (or very dark) chocolate

2 cups flour

2 tsps baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

6 Tbsps (unsweetened) cocoa powder

115 g (8 Tbsps) butter plus more to butter the pan

2 1/2 cups brown sugar

2 tsps vanilla extract

3 eggs

120 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk

300 ml (1 1/4 cup) boiling water

Preheat the oven to 170°C (350°F) and take the butter, eggs, and buttermilk out of the refrigerator to soften and bring to room temperature.

Line the bottom of the cake pan with parchment paper. Butter both the pan and the paper, and dust the paper with flour or cocoa powder, shaking out any excess.

Heat some water in a large frying pan/skillet. Roughly chop up the chocolate, place it in a heat proof bowl, and slowly melt it over the water bath (bain marie), stirring occasionally, until just melted and smooth. Remove from the heat.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl (or stand mixer), beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating until light and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time and stir until fully incorporated.

Stir in the melted chocolate. Add half of the dry ingredients and combine. Stir in the buttermilk. Then add the other half of the dry ingredients.

Finally, gradually pour in the boiling water, until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared bake tin, slide carefully into the preheated oven as the batter will be fairly liquid, and bake for about 45 min, until a knife of skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean with just a  crumb or two attached.

Allow the cake to cool completely before turning it out of the tin. (The cake keeps well. If not using immediately, leave in the tin and cover tightly with aluminum paper.)

Eggnog from another era

26 December 2014


Berlin, 1945. Somewhere on the streets of Dahlem, a dashing US officer accosts a long-legged 19-year-old, demurely asking for directions to a place he has traveled a dozens times before. They are swept off their feet. One out of an ill-fated, fading marriage, the other from the rubble of war and desolation. They moved to Maryland. So goes our family mythology.

My grandmother always told us the same handful of war stories. Stories for small children, about young children in the war. She told of the day the war broke out while she was at summer camp, how she spent all her pocket money to buy her favorite hazelnut-studded chocolate (it is something little German girls knew in 1939 — that in times of war, chocolate becomes scarce), only to discover, too late, that the nuts were full of worms. She told how her parents had once asked her to watch over the cooking of a duck, a unique feast bartered by my great-grand father against school lessons. How else to know when it was done, other than to try it, just a little piece? Starving, she ate the entire thing. She told of her encounter with the Russian soldier reeking of alcohol who tried to steal her bicycle — unexpectedly pelted by a spew of Russian swear words from the long-legged German girl, he lost countenance just long enough for my grandmother to speed away, back the way she had come. She told us how she met our grandfather on a street corner in Dahlem.

When she married my grandfather, my grandmother became fiercely American; though they soon moved back to Europe she fully embraced an American expat life. But she also remained proudly German, and nurtured German traditions, especially around Christmas. We laid out milk and cookies for St Nikolaus on December 6th, we baked, we opened presents on Christmas eve, we lit our tree with candles.

So today, amid the wreaths and advent calendars, among the candles and the singing, the oysters and the cookies, there are two traditions that I hold dearest. They connect me to my grandmother, and in one grand sweep I like to think they link me not only to our family story but to Europe’s history too. The two recipes that my grandmother sent me, once upon a time, handwritten, slipped inside the letters she wrote regularly: Stollen and eggnog.

Sweet Stollen, a long, patient, and tedious process, which ultimately brings the reward of nibbled bites that taste of the promise of sheltered German childhoods. Boozy eggnogg, the stuff of joyful parties, the mirth-filled evenings of a war-less era.

My grandmother was an elegant, modern, impeccable hostess. Though she was a very good cook, she much preferred to delegate kitchen duties and sit on the sidelines with a glass of champagne and a cigarette. She loved company, and she loved parties. Every 26th of December, my grandparents hosted an eggnog party, to celebrate their anniversary. This is their recipe. In loving memory.


Leonine eggnog recipe, verbatim, probably from the 1950s
(See further below for a slightly adapted recipe. I use a third of the bourbon and it is plenty. But feel free to add much more!)

12 eggs, from Mrs. Cluck

12 level Tbsps granulated sugar

3 pints bouquet bourbon or rye

1 quart milk

1 pint heavy cream


Crack eggs, separating yolks from whites. Setting latter aside for the nonce, go at yolks with an eggbeater, plying in furiously. Gradually add the sugar, beating it until entirely dissolved. Now enters the whiskey, poured slowly and stirred, its action on yolks being equivalent to a gentle cooking. Then milk, followed by cream (whipped cream if you prefer extra richness), likewise stirred in. Clean off eggbeater and tackle the whites till they stand without flinching. Fold them into the general mixture. Stir in one grated nutmeg. Will serve 12 people (or more). If it’s the whipped cream version, they’ll need spoons.

Merry Xmas!

Eggnog recipe adapted for 2014
Serves 12

12 eggs

12 Tbsps sugar

1 pint (500 ml) good bourbon or rye whiskey

1 quart (1 l) whole milk

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream


Separate the egg yolks from the whites, which are set aside for later. In a medium bowl, beat the yolks thoroughly, gradually adding the sugar while continuing to beat firmly. Then slowly pour in the whiskey, still stirring more gently but constantly. Now add the milk, then the cream.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until very firm (until the peaks hold without moving). Gently fold the whipped whites into the rest of the egg/whiskey/cream mixture.

Garnish generously with freshly grated nutmeg.


Merry Christmas Stollen

24 December 2014


It’s Christmas Eve and finally time to cut the Stollen!

Read my story on Food&_ about this favorite German Christmas tradition and the proper way of savoring it (then bookmark the recipe for next year!).

A very merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!

European Thanksgiving with a cranberry lime sauce

2 December 2014


Perhaps I am feeling sentimental. Certainly I am feeling sentimental — it happens once a year, on Thanksgiving.

Moved by bonds tightened over many years, touched by new ties strengthened over the course of a meal. Each one is a little different, and a little bit the same. The food varies only slightly; we are with old friends, and new friends. Some guests come from halfway across Europe, some cannot come at all. Some are cooking turkey with apple chestnut stuffing on the other side of the Atlantic. Thanksgiving is messy, and loud, and funny, and, basically, happy.

Thanksgiving is the time when we feel most strongly all the invisible strings.


Barely different cranberry lime sauce
This version uses lime rather than lemon (or orange). I think it’s the best.

680 g fresh cranberries

300 g (1 1/2 cups) sugar

2 cups water

1  lime

Wash the cranberries, check through them, and chuck any discolored or soft ones.

In a saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a lively simmer.

Add the cranberries and cook for about 15 minutes, until they’ve all popped. Stir in the zest and juice of one lime and cook for another minute or so.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a jar or bowl.


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