Archive for ‘Chocolate’

April 9, 2008

Libraries and Chocolate

The other day I was exploring the Cambridge neighborhoods I work in, mainly trying to find Formaggio Kitchen and a fish shop next to it. David, who isn’t a big fan of fish, wasn’t going to be home and I wanted to prepare a tilapia for dinner. On my way back to the T stop, I stumbled upon some buildings that looked similar in architecture to some dorms at Smith College, my alma mater. I knew I was close to Harvard, and when I inspected one of the signs more closely I smiled (I may have even uttered an “Oh!” out loud, but only the birds can tell you if I did or not). On a white background in clear lettering stood “Radcliffe” and underneath it “Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.”

I’d heard about the Schlesinger Library, the only of Harvard’s many libraries that is open to the public. It houses many documents on women, and is famous for its cookbook collections. They archive all of Julia Child’s personal papers, as well as her own library of cookbooks. They also have Marilyn Monroe’s cookbooks (I’ve heard it’s quite a small collection), among many other collections of both famous and pedestrian women.

February 18, 2008

The Egg Cream Conundrum

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This post came out of a reading assignment for my food writing class. The topic was memoirs, and one article we had to read told the story of a boy’s experience making egg creams on Wall Street one summer. Many things about the article made me want to throw it across the room, but one aspect in particular disturbed me: he never explained what an egg cream was.

In class during the discussion, I critiqued, “He never says where the eggs or cream come into this recipe.” Many students looked at me surprised and several all at once said “It doesn’t have eggs or cream.”

Needless to say, my Pacific-Northwest/European upbringing had successfully flown over the Northeast, specifically New York, and landed gracefully in ignorant egg-cream-free country.

December 17, 2007

Truffles for the Holidays


When I was little, I didn’t like chocolate. The dark was too bitter, the milk tasted soapy. The only chocolate I could stand was white chocolate, or a thin layer of milk chocolate filled with sweetened yogurt (so all things Kinder were mine). After a while I got sick of white and yogurt chocolate and started eyeing the “real” stuff. Today I can’t get enough of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate. I’m not a fanatic about spending a lot for high-percentage chocolate (why not just eat cocoa or baking chocolate?), but I won’t touch yogurt chocolate anymore. I love the complex slightly bitter, slightly sweet, tongue-coating “real” chocolate melting in my mouth.

Everything about truffles falls into this last category:

July 1, 2007

Chocolate Chip Cookies

As Michael of The Office says, Wikipedia is great: anyone can write what they think on it, so it must be true! I personally like Wikipedia a lot, but I know that it’s not always true. The funny thing is, they almost always have what you’re looking for… In this case they have a very informative article on chocolate chip cookies, whereas I struck out at Encyclopedia Britannica. All they could tell me was that a cookie is

primarily in the United States, any of various small sweet cakes, either flat or slightly raised, cut from rolled dough, dropped from a spoon, cut into pieces after baking, or curled with a special iron. In Scotland the term cookie denotes a small, plain bun.”

Curled with an iron? What kind of cookie is that??? They don’t explain further. Wikipedia on the other hand is full of information. Not only does it talk about what kind of cookie it is (it apparently belongs in the “drop cookie” category because you drop the cookies onto the sheet in little balls) but it also hints at the somewhat debated history of the cookie (which must be true since it matches up with the history given with the recipe I ended up using…that is, unless she got the information from Wikipedia herself!).

To go into this history, first I have to say that I never understood that Nestlé Toll House actually meant something in terms of the cookie’s history. There’s the famous Friends episode where Monica and Phoebe try to recreate Phoebe’s deceased grandmother’s “perfect” recipe that was called “Toulouse” only to find out it was the Toll House recipe after all. But I never thought that Toll House itself had any meaning, I thought it was just part of the Nestlé name for the chocolate chips. But apparently not. Toll House Inn was the inn that started it all: the birthplace of chocolate chip cookies. And where was said inn located? None other than Massachusetts. Even though it still takes me six tries to spell the state, I knew I was moving there for a reason!

The history itself is hotly debated: did the owner Ruth Wakefield herself, known for her fantastic sugar cookies, accidentally make the cookies one day while trying to make chocolate cookies, or did her cook George Boucher convince her to save a batch of cookies she thought she’d ruined? We probably won’t ever know, but whatever happened I’m glad it did!

People have searched high and low for the perfect recipe. But what entails perfect? The Amateur Gourmet claims that they must be crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. Meg agrees, saying that they shouldn’t be cakey or too thin (and in the end she decided to average a bunch of recipes together to create the best one). However, I didn’t look at either of these sites until I, as a present to my teachers at school for my last day there, decided to bake for them. Instead, I used trusty Google and found this recipe. I think Stephanie Jaworski of Joy of Baking will become my new favorite resource for baking. This recipe was hands down the best recipe I have ever made for chocolate chip cookies. And let me tell you my friend, I’ve made many a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

These cookies were excellent right out of the oven, as almost every chocolate chip cookie is. However, the true test of a chocolate chip cookie is time. Most cookies, as they cool, lose their moistness and become crunchy. That’s where milk comes in and you can dip your cookie to soften them. Not this cookie. This cookie has no need for milk, other than to accompany it with the flavor. Even after three days these cookies were just as moist and soft as they were when they came out of my mini oven. And let me tell you: everyone loved them!

Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Joy of Baking)

1 cup (6oz/180g) coarsely-chopped Semi-Sweet Chocolate*
½ cup (50g) toasted Pecans or Walnuts (optional)
1 cup (226g) unsalted Butter, room temperature
1 cup (216g) Brown Sugar**
¼ cup (50g) granulated White Sugar
1 large Egg
2 tsp Vanilla Extract***
2 cups (280g) Flour
¼ tsp Salt
1 tsp Baking Soda

Mix together flour, soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside. Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy (about 2-3min). Add the egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Slowly add the flour mix and beat until combined. Don’t over mix. Stir in chocolate and nuts.

At this point the dough is really soft. Put it in your fridge for an hour, or leave it overnight if you wish. Then preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 190 degrees Celsius. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper and roll 1 ½ to 2 Tbsp of the dough into a ball and place on the sheet. Repeat until the sheet is covered, leaving a couple inches between each cookie. Bake about 8-10 min, or until golden brown.


Notes:

* I used one bar of Ritter Sport Halbbitter chocolate and one bar of Ritter Sport Dunkle Vollnuss. These were a semi-sweet chocolate and a chocolate with whole hazelnuts. The hazelnut chocolate replaced our use of nuts in the recipe. I personally like making my own chunks better than using chips, which are difficult to find in Germany.

**Brown sugar is the most important ingredient to real chocolate chip cookies. This is what makes the cookie moist. You need moist brown sugar, so if you’re making this in Germany listen closely. Do not make this recipe with German granulated brown sugar. It won’t work. The worse news is that it can be almost impossible to find American-style brown sugar in Germany. If you can sneak into an American army base somewhere it’s worth it to buy the brown sugar (and you can get a chunk of cheddar cheese while you’re at it). Some Asian food markets carry it as well. Or your best option is to have someone from the States send you a package.

***Vanilla extract is equally difficult to find in Germany, but much less important. I left it out completely. I don’t like using vanilla sugar packets, which are sold in baking sections, because I think it makes the cookies cakey. We don’t want cakey.

March 29, 2007

The Black and White Cookie Meets the Amerikaner

This is a post I’ve been musing over for a very long time. It probably started when I was a child when I first discovered that in Germany there is a cookie called an Amerikaner (transl. “an American”). You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that this cookie looked like the ones depicted on the left.

Now, I understand that Germans do not have the same racial history we do in the States, and therefore aren’t as sensitive to this issue. Nevertheless, this seemed a downright racist way to describe Americans to me. I could go off on this rant, but there are other things to talk about so I will leave it at that.

Two events set off my recent, once-and-for-all (albeit Wikipedia) research on the details of this cookie.

Event number one happened while I was in Oregon visiting David. Another high school friend, Will, came over and we watched some Seinfeld episodes on DVD. One of the chosen episodes was The Dinner Party, most famous because of the bit about the chocolate Babka. However, while Elaine and Seinfeld are standing in the bakery waiting their turn, Seinfeld starts a monologue about the Black and White Cookie (the American name for the identical confection) while he eats one in line. Here’s his bit:

“Oh look Elaine, the black and white cookie. I love the black and white. Two races of flavor living side by side. It’s a wonderful thing isn’t it? The thing about eating the Black and White cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate. And yet somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie all our problems would be solved.”

Unfortunately, later in the episode, Seinfeld claims he has David Duke and Louis Farrakhan fighting in his stomach and gets sick. Nevertheless, this provided an excellent platform for my own thoughts: I hadn’t been the only one who made this connection!

Event number two happened, coincidentally, only two weeks later when I was back in Radeberg. The German name for the cookie had kept me from actually trying one until a teacher offered me one on a class trip. However, her cookie was all white. Now that added even more complexity to the name! I tried the cookie – it’s actually less a cookie and more a vanilla cake – and it tasted disappointingly bland, except for the white sugar glaze which made it taste overly sweet.

So my quest was official: I had to figure out more about this cookie. Where did it come from? And why is it glazed differently in southern Germany than in eastern Germany?

The second question was easily answered: my parents, who are living in southern Germany, were coming to visit me. I requested two things: their vacuum cleaner (I hadn’t vacuumed since I moved in six months ago) and some Amerikaner. I snapped the above photo before we delved into them – actually, I wasn’t fast enough with the camera, and so I had to “hide” the broken one on the left. Nevertheless, these were dryer (I assume due to the trip), which created negative consequences for the chocolate portion: the dry, semi-sweet chocolate glaze and the dry cake did not mesh well together. However, the moist sugar glaze was just right in terms of moistness and sweetness, but lacked the complexity of the chocolate flavor. Seinfeld was right: you have to get the perfect blend of black and white. That, or assume that the east Germans solved the problem of dryness by sacrificing a bit of flavor. Besides, in the end the cookie is all about sweetness, and not quality confection, isn’t it?

That more or less answered my second question. Wikipedia had to step in for me to answer the first question. However, in finding the answer, I actually found the answer to the sub-question I’d always been asking myself: why is it really called the Amerikaner?

Apparently it’s disputed, but Germans living in post-war American occupation zones in Germany were introduced to several American delicacies in the 40’s and 50’s (including peanut butter and apparently the Black and White cookie). Thus it was called American, because American GIs would bake them with the ingredients on hand, which weren’t many, perfect for a post-war kitchen. However, another more interesting explanation for the name comes from its longer name, called Ammoniumhydrogencarbonatikaner or also Ammoniakaner. These refer to a form of baking powder (also known as Hirschornsalz) used as a leavening agent in the baking process. Of course those are both mouthfuls, and so the name was shortened to Amerikaner. I suppose both of those explanations write off any racist social interpretations that I may have created in my head.

Who knows what really happened. I suppose I could do some more investigation, but for now the case is closed: the cookies have a murky history, I can only speculate as to why the glazing varies throughout Germany, and the most disappointing thing is that they don’t have much flavor. However, I did learn that I haven’t been missing out on abstaining from them, and will happily eat my Marzipankuchen at the café instead – sweet and flavorful!

And for those of you still interestd in Seinfeld, and Superman, here are two funny little clips to help you procrastinate your work just a wee bit longer:

A Uniform Used to Mean Something

Hindsight is 20/20


This post is dedicated to Kait, the Seinfeld fan in my life.

Sources:

“Amerikaner (Gebäck).” URL: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amerikaner_(Geb%C3%A4ck) [accessed March 28, 2007].

“Black and white cookie.” URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_and_white_cookie [accessed March 28, 2007].

“Seinfeld. The Dinner Party.” URL: http://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheDinnerParty.html [accessed March 28, 2007].