This post has been in the making for a few months. There have been many ideas of how to wrap the topic up: relate it to Oscar Wilde’s concept of aestheticism? Nah, too fancy. Delve into theories of art versus craftsmanship as portrayed in Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers? Nah, too abstract (and the one or the other alleged artist might have taken offence). Hop on the “Let’s bash / support Amy Chua’s take on parenting”-bandwagon? Nah, too mainstream (besides, there’s been so much qualified, substantial criticism voiced already that all I could have added to the discussion would have been nothing more than a facet from my professional and personal [as in "private"] perspective). Jewify any hot topic in the desperate hope of getting clicks via search terms? Nah, too cheap (and also, that’s like being lured into a place that sells canned celery through an ad that suggests they sell nice shoes there while the only link is that eaters of celery also usually wear shoes).
Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple, not to contextualise at constructivist gunpoint. Afterall, I’m not trying to sell you any canned celery.
There’s that non-denominational cemetery not far from here. When I was in kindergarten and primary school, walking across that cemetery meant a shortcut that would save us valuable time – about four minutes, which is a lot at an age at which half an hour easily feels like an eternity. On that cemetery, there’s an older tombstone which has two cherubs with a plate each sitting on it. I used to pity the cherubs cause pretty much every time I went there, their plates were empty, so of course, when I left, their plates were filled. Now, what do stone cherubs eat? Stones, of course, and I took the recurringly empty plates as evidence that the stone cherubs at night gobbled up the pebbles I’d put on their plates. Of course, my habit wasn’t all that self-explanatory to many a pious person who must have been the ones removing the pebbles. Still, even after I realised in first grade that the stone cherubs didn’t actually eat the stones I served them, I kept filling their plates because in my great-grandmother’s and grandparent’s home, hospitality was key and not offering someone food was a severe insult – even if they were made of stone.
On a hot day last summer, I went to water flowers on that cemetery for an older neighbour, and I was delighted to see that the stone cherubs’ plates were filled with pebbles. But not only were the plates filled with pebbles but also had each cherub a “snack pack” pebble packed between its wings. I snapped a few pics, which I later showed to my mother who commented that they’d also fill those plates with pebbles when they were small, and someone would always remove them. Methinks we’re in the making of two different schools of tradition here.
Apropos traditions, Shavuot’s coming up and with it the right occasion for dairy pastries.
Ack, I wasn’t going to contextualise today…
So anyhow, the reason I’ve posted a lot less over the past year is that I was busy caring for my grandmother, who eventually passed away last autumn.
To cut things short, my grandmother had placed items dear to her in specific spots where she could be certain only I would find them. Among those items was a collection of handwritten recipes that had been started by my great-great-grandmother, continued by my great-grandmother and then my grandmother when she was young. How the collection had survived all those years is beyond me, but since I’m the only one in my family in my generation that can actually read and write Kurrent, the old German handwriting that was banned in 1941, I’m now translating the recipes into Latin letters and will have them printed and bound for the rest of the family and will likely translate and publish a few of them on here.
Most of what I know about baking has been taught to me by my grandmother from early age on (I got my first springform tin before I got into kindergarten, to give you an idea). Every cake and cookie that I’ve baked on my own since then has come with the vague feeling of a tribute that had to live up to what I’d been taught.
Naturally, I haven’t felt much like baking since my grandmother’s death, and when I first got around to it, a friend of a friend demanded I share my recipes as she wanted to make some extra income baking from her kitchen. I strongly feel that if you want to produce something for sale, you should be qualified to do it or highly experienced at doing it, and if you’ve got to ask for recipes to jump start a baking business, odds are you are neither qualified nor experienced nor do you understand anything about baking and the joy a baker takes in creating something that delights others. The recipes I share on here are intended for your personal use, not to rip off gullible and / or guilted friends and relatives.
So, after that preface, here are a few recipes you might enjoy if you need to bake ahead of an occasion as not only will they taste great the following day as well (some even better), but they’re extremely easy, versatile and taste good cold as well as warm.
I recommend getting a tart tin with a base you can punch out so you can remove the tart to cool rather easily and the crust will remain more crispy. Aluminium foil pie pans or springform tins will also work well, especially if you don’t bake so often and don’t want / need so many kitchen items.
For an 11″ tart tin you’ll need
200 grammes of flour (For a savoury one, I use half whole grain for more flavour; all whole-grain would give you crumbs though.)
100 grammes of butter or margarine
1 pinch of salt
For a sweet tart, add:
50 grammes of sugar
vanilla to taste
(for the lemon tart also: lemon zest of 1 untreated lemon)
Pre-heat your oven at 180 degrees Centigrade.
Knead the ingredients with your hands or dough hooks. It’ll quickly turn into a “homogeneous” dough. Grease the tart tin and spread the dough by hand or by rolling out. Pierce the base evenly with a fork. If the tart’s meant for the following day, I strongly recommend pre-baking the crust for ten minutes and let it cool a little before filling. However, if you’re in a hurry and the tart’ll be eaten shortly after baking anyway, you can fill and bake it right away.
For the raspberry marzipan tart, you’ll need:
500 grammes of raspberries (if frozen, thaw them after mixing them with a little sugar to restore the sweetness, strain and save the juice; if fresh, what a waste, but you’ll need additional raspberry juice)
500 millilitres of milk (use half whipping cream, half milk if you want the tart to be richer)
60 grammes of rice flour
50 grammes of sugar
200 grammes of marzipan (should contain at least 50% almonds; if you cannot obtain marzipan where you’re at, improvise with ground, blanched almonds, confectioner’s sugar, and a few drops of bitter almond flavour)
1 pinch of salt
1 large egg
for decorating: red glaze, sliced or chopped, blanched almonds
Take a few spoons full of milk and mix with the rice flour, salt, vanilla and sugar. Bring the remaining milk to the boil, remove from heat and whisk in the rice flour / sugar mix. Return to heat, bring back to the boil while stirring. The mass should thicken. Basically, you’re cooking a pudding to give you an idea. Dice the marzipan and stir it into the hot mass (the marzipan will dissolve quickly). At this point, dig out a teaspoon and try if you like the sweetness of the filling as you might enjoy this sweeter than I do. Stir in the egg, and fill the crust with your pudding. (Without the egg, you’ve already got a marzipan dessert that makes six servings. Rinse a bowl or small bowls with water, fill in the mass and let it cool.) Spread the prepared raspberries on the pudding and bake the tart for about half an hour. You can tell it’s done when the surface is “dry”, i.e. not soggy anymore, and doesn’t give in to a light touch or stick to your finger.
Remove the tart from the oven. Let it cool a little. In the meantime, prepare the glaze with the juice. If you cannot get glaze and you still want a shiny finish, you could cook some raspberry jam with the juice and pectin or, a little less shiny, bring the juice to the boil with some starch. Spread or sprinkle on top of the tart, decorate with almonds to taste.
For the lemon tart, you’ll need:
juice of three large lemons
150 – 200 grammes of sugar
a pinch of salt
60 grammes of starch
For the lemon slices (only do this if you go crazy about lemons):
3 large untreated lemons
200 millilitres of water
6 tablespoons of sugar
Fill the juice into a measuring mug and add half milk, half whipping cream so the total will add up to 500 millilitres. Don’t panic if the mix looks as if it was curdling; it just looks that way and will be fine again once you whisk it. Pour about 400 milliltres of the mix into a pot and bring to the boil. In the meantime, whisk the sugar, salt, lemon cest, starch, and vanilla into the remaining liquid and prepare a pudding as described above. Check the sweetness before you add the egg. Fill the pudding into the crust and bake for about half an hour as described above.
The tart is fine now as it is and tastes great chilled, but my mother loves those lemon slices on top. If you want to try that, here’s how you do it:
Thoroughly wash the untreated lemons and cut them into slices of about 5 millimetres. Remove seeds if need be. Bring the water and the sugar to the boil. Add the lemon slices, put the lid on the pot and let the whole thing simmer for a few minutes. Pick how many and whatever size lemon slices you like and arrange them on top of the freshly baked tarte. Return to the oven for another five to ten minutes. Remove the tart from the oven and brush the lemon slices with the lemon syrup you got from boiling.
Fill the remaining lemon slices into a pretty, heat-proof jar with a twist off-lid, clean the opening, close and let cool. The lid should get “sucked in” at the centre while cooling, that way you can store the lemon slices as a dessert addition for months on end. Or you could just let them cool in a pretty jar and present them to someone as a “homemade gift from the kitchen”.
onion cheese tart
6 large onions
a little fat for frying
200 grammes of cheese that tastes like cheese, finely cut or grated works best
Cut the onions into rings or dice them, then fry them just so that they turn translucent. Season to taste, stir in the cheese, then the egg. Fill the mass into the tart crust and bake for 30 to 40 minutes depending on how dark you like the onions.
salmon asparagus tart
500 grammes of green asparagus, prepared and cut into bite-size chunks
100 grammes of smoked salmon, ripped or cut into nicely sized pieces (think 4 stamps)
3/4 cup of whipping cream, 1/4 cup of water
juice of 1 lime
chives or spring onions, chopped / cut into rings
coarsely ground black pepper
Mix the ingredients, season to taste. Fill the mass into the tart crust, distribute asparagus and salmon more evenly with a fork or a spoon if need be and bake as described above for about 40 minutes.
mixed vegetable tart
This one is pretty similar to the salmon asparagus tart in preparation, minus the lime juice and curcuma but with parsley, paprika, caraway (ground in the filling, seeds in the crust). For vegetables, I chose red onions, peas, baby carrots, and mushrooms. Pretty much anything will work, some stuff might need a little pre-boiling so the vegetables turn out well evenly, or you can mix fresh and canned vegetables. Add an extra egg to this one.
Another variety I made that I couldn’t take a picture of cause it was consumed before I got new batteries had cocktail tomatoes, courgette, bell peppers, basil, oregano, and lots of cheese in it.
You get the idea; versatile, easy to prepare, and the savoury versions store heat well and still taste good lukewarm, so you can prepare them, get ready and set the table without stressing yourself out.
If I couldn’t warm you to tarts, let me know if you want an easy cheesecake recipe.
*KÃ¤se, the German word for cheese, also connotes nonsense.