Friday, December 21, 2012

No trip to Germany but the Glühwein still flowed...

It has become one of our lab holiday traditions to have a German inspired cake hour.  The Germans are particularly adept at Christmas and after all they did come up with the Christmas tree.  If you haven't had the opportunity, a trip to Germany in early December is a good thing. That is when all the Christmas markets start up and you can really get into the spirit.  The special Christmas cookies called Plätzchen suddenly appear and are ubiquitous, the Stollens are also everywhere and all the fine hand crafted ornaments can be found in the dozens of booths at any given market.  At any given Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas market should you suddenly encounter a crowd you can pretty easily guess what it is all about.  You've come to one of the Glühwein stands.  They attract a lot of attention.  This is the hot, mulled, sweetened wine that is served to warm up the body and the soul.

The Christmas Market in Dresden is one of the oldest!
Many years ago one of our German colleagues had a Glühwein cake hour.  Although he has moved on yours truly made frequent pre-Christmas trips to Germany and usually brought back some Glühwein to continue the practice. Thus has it become one of our traditions.  This year, however, the airlines were not cooperating with the idea of a pre-Christmas trip to the land of Christmas.  Early December is considered the off-season and even a few years back you could go round trip for about $400-$500.  This year the fare never dropped below $950.00!!  As the amount of time to make the trip was limited, it became clear that it was a bit too much to pay for a five day trip.  Thanks, Lufthansa for almost killing our Christmas cake hour.  Not to fret, however, over the years I've become adept at making my Glühwein and did so to ensure our cake hour tradition endured.

Glühwein spread 2012!

You gotta have Stollen so get one at Marshall's!

If you can't make it to Germany, make it at home!

And of course some small Plätzchen like cookies! 

Christmas shapes thanks to the new cookie press!
Time to get started!

Preparing the cups!

Teaching the proper presentation!
Now you try!
Orange slice adds the final touch!

Taihen oishii....kampai!

I'll give it a try!
This is pretty damn good!
It actually is not that difficult to make.  It's basically a decent - not expensive but not rotgut  - red wine heated with cinnamon and cloves with some orange slices or orange juice.  Heat it up but don't let it boil and then turn it off and let it steep. At the end you add some rum and/or amaretto and serve hot.  You can let it cool down and rebottle it to bring it into cake hour and that is what I did.  By getting wine with a screw cap you make the travel with the Glühwein a lot easier. 
Toasting another year!
A newcomer to Glühwein! 

I left my clinical work to make sure I got here in time!
We like it to even though he looks like he has attitude!

To round off the refreshments we had someone pick up a Stollen from Marshall's of all places (you do what you gotta do) and I prepared some homemade vanilla sugar cookies; the small kind made with a cookie press as they are the most similar to what you get back in the old country.  Heat it up, serve it in a glass or cup rimmed with sugar and an orange slice and your holiday seasons is off to a great start!  We had a few neophytes join this year and they all had a grand time. How could they not. As the Germans say "Frohe Weihnacht und ein gutes neues Jahr.!"

Make your Christmas merry with a little  Glühwein!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The gradual demise of an Opera Torte

Every year at the annual Liver Research Center/Division of Gastroenterology holiday party we finish if off with very large chocolate cake called an Opera Torte at least according to the bill we received for the party.  We always thought this was just a fancy name but turns out it is something more. According to Wikipedia an Opera Torte is a type of French cake made with layers of almond sponge cake (known as Joconde in French) soaked in coffee syrup, layered with ganache and coffee buttercream, and covered in a chocolate glaze. According to Larousse Gastronomique "Opéra gateau is an elaborate almond sponge cake with a coffee and chocolate filling and icing." The cake was popularized by the French pâtisserie house Dalloyau.  In addition it is said to have made its grand debut in the early 1900s in Paris at the Exposition Culinaire. It was introduced by Louis Clichy, which is why the cake may be referred to as Gâteau Clichy. It wasn't until many years later, when Parisian pâtisserie Dalloyau reintroduced the cake as "L'Opera," (after the Paris Grand Opera), that it became immortal. And really, as the Balduccis description says, "The name makes sense, as the cake is comprised of several layers, similar to 'acts' in an operatic presentation."
One version of an Opera Cake

This is our version!  Bigger than the 9 inch chocolate cake at the Cheesecake Factory!
In its festive party setting!
At the end of the night it's wishing Happy Liver!
Viewing the many layers! Almost nine inches tall!
Who knew? And all these years we just thought it was a big chocolate cake.  The one we have had has always been multi-layered so in that respect it fits the bill.  It also has the requisite chocolate cake, coffee buttercream and ganache so I guess, yeah, we have been dealing with an Opera Torte all this time.  Anyway the tradition is that it is served as dessert for our holiday party with some peach champagne. Since it is invariably to big to finish by the end of the evening it has become the entry for cake hour on the next day.  This year was no exception.
And it makes it to cake hour!

The first cake hour slice!
Getting down to business!

One last look at the Happy Liver message!

Loves us some Opera Torte!

A typical piece!
This is a very good cake and although it is served at the restaurant CAV where we have the party we are pretty sure it is made somewhere else.  This year we followed for we followed the gradual disappearance and demise of the cake over the several days after the party.  In the end it wasn't pretty but all along it was pretty tasty!
At the end of several got ugly!
Farewell Opera Torte till next year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Snickerdoodles were a hit

Today we had a classic recipe suggested by a spouse who happens to like his mother's recipe for a cookie called Snickerdoodles. Apparently this cookie is pretty well known but we had not had it at cake hour.  The plan was to make some typical German Plätzchen or Christmas cookies which are very good and somewhat intricate to make.  As most of the recipes called for something that you don't usually keep in the house - almond paste, vanilla bean marrow, hazelnuts - the plan to use a German recipe got shelved.  Instead today's contributor decided to go with a more American treat and it was suggested to bring in the Snickerdoodles.  As the name may have been a corruption of a German name, by having Snickerdoodles two birds may have been killed with one stone.  Snickerdoodles are common enough to have a Wikipedia page:

Classic Snickerdoodles!

Golden brown thanks to cinnamon sugar!

Today's bakers!
Macaroons all in a row!

These are made from a basic vanilla cookie dough that can include either shortening or butter.  Since the acquired recipe called for shortening we stuck with that. After the dough is chilled, it is rolled into walnut sized balls. These are subsequently dunked into and coated with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.  For today we also added some colored sugar for holiday cheer. They are then backed and in the process they flatten out causing the cinnamon sugar coating to crack giving them their distinctive look.  During the baking two of the cookies grew together and had the look of cells dividing. As scientists we appreciated that.

Sinckerdoodle undergoing mitosis!
Having had lots of cookies from all over the world it was uncertain as to what kind of a reception this American stalwart would get.  Happily they were very well received. Indeed some felt that they were the best entry into Christmas cookie week thus far.  The suggestion of the spouse was surely validated and his mother's recipe was passed onto those who wanted to give it a try. One of our colleagues did try the recipe and quickly found out that if you roll the dough too large you run into trouble - the cookies take longer and the outside gets a little too crispy. Maybe the second chance will work out better.
The judges give a favorable response - even took some home!
Our second entry today was a batch of macaroons made by our favorite student baker. They were supposed to be cookies but we won't complain. Our macaroon chef is quite accomplished and have had many variants courtesy of her creativity.  Today we had green tea macaroons with a white chocolate filling.  Good to taste and good for you - I mean the green tea...right?

Our latest macaroon treat!
Christmas cheer - green (tea) macaroons with red (sort of) snickerdoodle!
Discussing the merits of each....not really!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How about a few holiday classics..but the baklava is too much

Cookie week continues into day three  Today our baker did some studying to come up with her selections. Cookies are not part of the holiday tradition in Istanbul so perhaps a little research was in order. She came up with two kinds that were apropos for the holiday season.
I only do this for Cookie Week

Classic Holiday Cookies very well presented

Great looking pinwheels

Almond cookies with orange

The first were almond cookies with some orange rind.  These are good buttery cookies with ground up almonds that are dipped and rolled in powdered sugar after baking. The ground nuts in addition to the flour makes them lighter though they can be a bit on the dry side.  This makes them go very well with coffee or tea.  You have to be careful eating them so as not to breathe in the powdered sugar leaving you coughing uncontrollably as happened with one of our cookie consumers.  There should almost be a disclaimer for everything covered with powdered sugar - or powdered cocoa for that matter - about breathing in the powdery stuff. Hell, they warn us about everything else.

The daily selection!
The second selection was vanilla chocolate pinwheel cookies. These are made by making two cookie doughs - vanilla and chocolate obviously - and the cutting them into matching size rectangles. You then place the chocolate on top of the vanilla so that the edges are aligned and then roll the whole thing up into a cylinder. As you cut the cylinder from the ends you get the pinwheel effect. Bake and you are done!  They came out looking very professional and our baker stated that was because she was very precise about lining up the two rectangles. These are not very sweet,  once again not a moist cookie and bigger than a lot tend to be. "Substantial" as one person described them. They were certainly good, however, and also went very well with coffee or tea.  And of course someone had to find some way to have fun with the pinwheels....
Fun with the pinwheels
Someone was also nice enough to bring in a selection of baklava. Unfortunately it did not fit the homemade theme of cookie week so we put off serving it until today.   Since everyone was focusing on the cookies we didn't eat any of it. We were concerned about how long it would keep and were assured it could be kept around. Nonetheless we decided it would be best served up with morning coffee the next day on a first come first serve basis. It disappeared quickly!
More than we could handle
Great selection of baklava treats
This will be great for coffee tomorrow!