Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An abundance of cranberries

A worker at an organic food store once commented, when asked if they had any dried cranberries, that they did not carry them because it is impossible to find them unsweetened and they didn't want them corrupted with sugar.  His sour response might be due to the fact that he is probably the only person who would prefer unsweetened cranberries. One must admit, a gigantic industry has been created out of cultivating and processing a sour. sour type of fruit. As such it has become an American standard associated with Thanksgiving and the holiday seasons when the little balls of tartness ripen and appear in stores. Pass the cranberry sauce please.

That's a load of cranberries

A touch of green perhaps

Loaded on top of a coffee cake batter instead of mixed daring!

But today's offering somewhat belies the reality that cranberries are mainly used sparingly if they are not going to be massively sweetened.  We had a cranberry orange coffee cake that was unusual in that instead of the cranberries mixed in like a muffin, a dense layer of fresh berries was instead atop a plain coffee cake. They were topped with a clear sweetened glaze, of course, lest the taste be unbearably sour but the whole thing worked.  It included some sweetened orange rind as a garnish which complemented the cranberries nicely.  You still got the tangy taste from the fresh berries but in all it was a bold move to feature them in such a cake format. And it was perfect for the holiday season. All that was needed was a swatch of green for the Christmas color scheme.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Traditional Colombian Christmas Goop....Natilla, anyone?

Today we celebrated the holiday season Colombian style.  We got a special treat from New Jersey as one of our cake hour celebrants, whose family comes from Colombia, brought us Natilla. If you wonder why it looks the way that it does it is because it took the shape of the bowl that it was in. Although we were teasingly referring to it as Colombian Christmas Goop in fact it is a traditional Colombian custard dish.  Like most custards, then, it is predominantly eggs and milk with added sweeteners and flavorings. It is similar to Dulce de Leche, but is thickened with cornstarch and has panela which is a dark molasses like product which is a byproduct of sugarcane processing. Who knew?  As you can tell from the protrusions in the slices it also has coconut and cloves that latter of which you cannot eat.

Bowl shaped Natilla

Aerial View

A thick custard with coconut and clove!

Another Colombian researcher enjoys a native treat!

This was good and it was nice to try something different yet appropriate for the season. The person who brought it also told us that it is usually served with something called deep fried cheese fritters called buñuelos which we would have liked to try.  However it appears that her brother in New Jersey ate them all so all we got was the Natilla.  I guess we will have to wait for a later date to get the full experience. We greatly appreciate the fact that this was made for us and thanks to the chef!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Farewell to our Princess!

The day has come at last when even a Princess must move on. No, not to take over somewhere as queen but to continue the education that will one day lead to Dr. Princess. So the research career finishes and off she must go to Aruba, no, Barbuda, no, Montenegro, -that's not it - Martinique - wrong again - Montserrat - nope. Where the hell did she go?  ANTIGUA!! Yes, rather than fight the snow she has headed off to warmer climes and is now a student at some medical school in Antigua where everything is more expensive than Providence.
A "Princess at the LRC"..there will never be another one like her!

The gang that matters most!

Final hug!
Before she left however we prepared a little pictorial story for her bedtime called "A Princess at the LRC"!  We said goodbye with a celebratory bottle and fortunately had some cake to spare.  Since it was so close to Christmas a lot of our colleagues had cleared out for the holiday but to those whom it mattered most we were there to say Mah krow and Nantew yiye and Yεbεhyi!   

Monday, December 20, 2010


So last night was the party for our Division. As usual it was held at the CAV restaurant and was quite a show!  Very good food and lots of people. It all culminates with singing Christmas songs around the piano.  So that no one feels left out, we make sure that the finale is "Silent Night" and everyone gets to sing it in their own language. This year we had quite a collection and for the first time had singer(s) in Russian, Persian and Gaelic.  Along with the old standbys of German, English, Japanese, Chinese and Hebrew - yes Hebrew - it was quite a Cosmopolitan finale!
All festively decorated for the big event!

This is the Opera Torte for about 200 people
And this is what was leftover or cake time today

Five layers of some pretty good stuff!
 The dessert that is served is a gigantic Opera torte. It's four layers of cake with butter cream and chocolate frosting in between.  It is quite impressive to see but even a party with 135+ people has trouble finishing it off so we end up getting leftovers for cake time the next day.  It must be said, however, that more of the cake got finished off this year than at previous events.  We also lucked out this year and got leftovers of a bunch of other things including arancini, tenderloin keban appetizers, spicy Asian noodles, smoked turkey breast etc.  So it was quite a feast leading into cake time with the leftover Opera torte. Nobody left hungry and if they did it was their own fault!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Plätzchen made did the Lebkuchen, Mozart Balls and the Glühwein!

The homemade Plätzchen or Christmas Cookies made by cousin Julia were hand carried back from Munich for cake hour.  Assorted other goodies were also included day trips to Salzburg and Nürnberg - both places known for the quality of their Christmas festivals.  In Salzburg the small Christmas Market at the fortress had the best Glühwein of the trip.  One of the specialties of Salzburg are Mozart Kugeln. When you translate it into English they become Mozart Balls which no longer sound particularly exotic. They are everywhere to be seen in Salzburg and are easily attainable in most stores in Germany.
Christmas Market in Salzburg

The famous Christkindlesmarkt in Nürnberg
The Christkindlesmarkt in Nürnberg is one of the most famous in all of Germany. It is known for Lebkuchen, Bratwurst and also for Glühwein.  I brought back some specialties from both places and with the Plätzchen combined everything in to a Christmas in Germany cake hour.  In order to get a sense of the real event we even opened a window to chill the room a bit.  As you can see from the pictures the Glühwein and the Plätzchen got the biggest response and by the end of cake hour both of them were gone, gone, gone!  Everyone was impressed and can't wait to check out the markets in person.

The full set of treats for Christmas from Germany
Julia's Homemade Plätzchen - mm, mm, good!

The ubiquitous Mozart Balls from Salzburg

Nürnberger Lebkuchen

Teegebäck from Salzburg

The good stuff Glühwein from Nürnberg

Image of old Nürnberg come with the Lebkuchen

The full spread ready to be devoured!

Enjoying their first Glühwein

Wow, this stuff is good!

In France we call it vin chaud!

Enjoying what he brought - especially the Plätzchen

Japanese colleagues join in!
As does our colleague from China.

Getting down to the end!
As expected the Plätzchen were the first to go!      

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hasbro Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Graduate students are notoriously for being poor and cheap, and most post-docs have rather stressful lives as well having to support their families on a minimum wage. Cakehour is the one time of the day that we can all sit down to relax and to refuel. Today, William has decided to bring us a power bar in cake form - the Hasbro Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake from Gregg's.

As you can see, this is a very dense, though very delicious, cake. The magical flavor combination can satisfy even the most intense sugar craving. It is a chocolate lovers' dream come true, but even those who prefer something less extreme would agree that this is a very tasty cake. It is also nice to know that Gregg's would donate a portion of the earnings from this cake to the Hasbro Children Hospital.

This weekend is the annual LRC Christmas Party, a day that we all have been looking forward to all year long. There is much discussion about the party and everyone's holiday plan.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's Our Lucky Day!

December 14, 2010 is a day to be remembered forever in the history of Cakehour. Today, we get to enjoy not one, but two absolutely exquisite cakes. First is a luscious Red Velvet Cake from LaSalle Bakery courtesy of Mashiko. The gorgeous ruby colored layer cake is rich, moist and buttery, with a hint of cocoa, perfectly contrasting the creamy and tangy fresh cream cheese frosting. It is a cake that is appealing to both the eyes and the taste buds.

The second cake really comes as a surprises to all of us. It's one of our favorite cakes. Ever since we first tasted it a long time ago, we were hooked. We talk about this cake all the time, some even dream about it, but we never expect to be able to enjoy it again so soon. This second cake of the day is of course, drumroll please, Lisa's legendary Tiramisu!

Monday, December 13, 2010

While you were eating cannoli cake (cannoli cake?).....

...just take a look at what I got to enjoy. In a previous posting we talked about the Schwarzwälderkirschtorte, aka the Black Forest Cake.  What we usually get in the U.S. is not what it is supposed to be but the one that we had  - from the Vienna Bakery in Riverside, RI - wasn't bad. However, Cake hour has returned to its roots in Germany and whereas the imposters in the U.S. might be good, can anything ever beat a homemade Schwarzwälderkirschtorte in Germany?  The answer to that is no!  This one was made by my relative Julia in Munich, Germany and I've had it many, many times. In fact, I am extremely grateful that she makes this special treat for me each time I visit. One cannot dispute the fact that Julia makes an excellent Schwarzwälderkirschtorte and is in fact one of the best home bakers there is. The torte should not be too sweet, should be made with sour cherries, and have of course our most beloved whipped cream for the frosting.  Julie, true to tradition, has all of the above and I had to eat two pieces during our own deutsche Kuchenstunde.  I even took two pieces home and finished them off tonight.
The real thing... Schwarzwälderkirschtorte in Deutschland!


The baker and her fabulous creation!

Layers of goodness!

When you consider that three people ate what is missing...

Packing something to travel... Abteilung!
It's too bad the rest of the cake hour aficionados could not enjoy the treat but you will notice in one of the pictures that Julia is packing something to go.  What she is packing are her legendary Plätzchen or Christmas cookies. These are traditional for the time leading up to Christmas and there are many shapes and sizes. They can be found everywhere but the best ever are those that are made at home and Julie is famous for putting weeks of effort into making the best that can be. The Schwarzwälderkirschtorte may not travel well but I will be carrying back a box of Plätzchen gold for an upcoming cake hour. So hopefully your mouths are starting to water because the Plätzchen are on their way. Vielen Dank, Jülchen, für Deine Plätzchen die, wie Deine Schwarzwälder,  bald in den USA und der Welt berühmt werden!

Jeff's Coffee Cake

Jeff has always been a loyal supporter of Cakehour as well as a skilled baker. Today, Jeff has decided to take us for a walk down memory lane by recreating one of his finest creation - the homemade blueberry coffee cake. Although the weather outside is much less forgiving today compared to that fine Monday afternoon in April, the cake is every bit as delicious as we remember it. Only this time, the blueberries seem even fresher and sweeter, and the cake is devoured by the horde even faster. The only person allowed to have a second piece is Sarah, since this cake also doubled as her birthday cake. Happy Birthday Sarah.

By the way, congratulations to Jeff for getting into medical school. If you ever need to find a part time job to help with tuition, you can always consider baking.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Last Day of the Competition

It's the last day of the LRC Graduate Student Cakehour Competition. Today's contestant is Teresa. Although she was too busy with experiments to step out in the middle of the day, she was nice enough to delegate the task of cake selection to Donna. And Donna certainly made an excellent choice to go to the LaSalle Bakery. Fresh whipped cream made from real heavy cream rested gently on a piece of soft and fluffy sponge cake filled with just the right amount of sweet strawberry filling. It is easily one of the best cake we have all week and the crowd enjoyed it very much.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vicky's Apple Pie

It's the forth day of the LRC Graduate Student Cakehour Competition. So far, we had a cake, a tart, and a dozen cupcake, it's time for us to try a pie. Our lovely and always jolly Victoria has answered our call with a very delicious and very special apple pie.