Entries from November 24th, 2006

Sugar High Friday #25: Chocolate Truffles

November 24th, 2006 · 19 Comments · Chocolate, Recipes


Johanna of thepassionatecook came up with a decadently delightful theme for Sugar High Friday #25 : chocolate truffles. A nice follow-up to last month’s SHF, since it’s getting to be that time of year when having a tray of candies out for party guests or a tin of chocolates to give as a gift would be lovely. Last year around this time I had just procured my copy of Michael Recchiuti’s Chocolate Obsession, all the impetus I needed to spend the next month in a frenzy of tempered chocolate and infused ganaches. I haven’t decided if I’m brave enough to go that route again, but I did find Recchiuti’s techniques for making gorgeous, silky-smooth ganaches invaluable – anyone’s who tried some of his chocolates can attest to the quality of his creations.

While at its simplest ganache is simply a mixture of chocolate and cream, there is a world’s worth of difference between simply pouring hot cream over chocolate, and in a careful calibration and combination of the components. Recchiuti stresses three points in his methodology:

1)Temperature. Having the chocolate and cream both at the right temperature (115 degrees for the cream and for most dark chocolates) will encourage a proper and perfectly smooth emulsification of the two ingredients. Having the ingredients too hot or cold could result in your ganache breaking (the fat from the cocoa butter separating) or turning out grainy.

2) Invert sugar. Recchiuti’s book is the first one I’ve seen that suggests home confectioners use invert sugar. Invert sugar is simply a form of sugar where the sucrose has been separated into the simple sugars glucose and fructose. The sugar crystals in this liquid form are smaller than in regular sugar, which will make your ganache that much more smoother. Invert sugar also does not crystallize easily – so if you’ve ever boiled sugar and water to make caramel and add some lemon juice or cream of tartar to prevent crystals from forming, you’re actually inverting the sugar! Invert sugar is relatively inexpensive – I get mine at KitchenKrafts.

3)Mixing method. Recchiuti recommends that the home confectioner use a handheld immersion blender to emulsify the ganache – who would have thought that old stick blender I had regulated to the bottom of the closet would come in handy again? Recchiuti prefers this to a food processor, although I feel that might be getting a little specific. I think the main point is that having a little mechanical help will get you a smoother ganache than simply whisking by hand.

All of Recchiuti’s recipes I’ve tried have come out beautifully – from his signature burnt caramel truffle to the jasmine tea-infused truffle to the lavender vanilla truffle. I was tempted to try some of the ones I haven’t made yet, but instead I opted to use his techniques and come up with truffles of my own.

I was inspired by another chocolatier extraordinaire, Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, one of the trailblazers in the "exotic chocolate" category. Starting with a line of truffles infused with culinary exotica such as curry, paprika, and star anise, she has been unveiling ever more daring collections every year – this holiday’s is a particularly charming tribute to African-American music where every truffle corresponds to a musical era and contains appropriate ingredients. Jazz, for example, has Café du Monde chicory coffee blended with dark chocolate, while Rock and Roll has tobacco smoked milk chocolate with clove powder. If you’re ever pondering what new flavor you could put in your chocolate, I suggest her site for some inspiration!


I wanted to make a truffle similar to Markoff’s Black Pearl, a dark chocolate flavored with wasabi and ginger. It came out surprisingly well on the first attempt – spicy, piquant, titillating. The black sesame seeds on top add delicate crunch. This is definitely a combination that I would have never thought of for a truffle, yet when I taste it everything works in an unexpected way.


To pair with the wasabi-ginger, another taste inspired by Japan: a simple matcha truffle. If you’ve seen the Matcha Opera Cake, you already know I found green tea and chocolate an irresistible combination. Here is the idea condensed into a handful of delicate and subtle joy.

Because I was making relatively small batches of ganache, I chose to get lazy and not go through the process of tempering chocolate for dipping the truffles into. However, the beauty of truffles is that you can just roll them in a bit of cocoa powder and look equally dressed up and ready for presentation. If someone chooses to get me one of these for Christmas, though, I might change my mind about tempering on a moment’s notice…

Wasabi Ginger Truffles with Black Sesame

makes about 25 truffles

1/2 cup cream

1/3 cup (3 1/2 ounces by weight) invert sugar

3/4 teaspoon wasabi powder (you may adjust to taste)

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (you may adjust to taste)

5 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

2 1/2 tablespoons butter, very soft (75 degrees)

black sesame seeds for decoration

Combine the cream and invert sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat on the stove.

Remove from heat, add the wasabi and ginger, cover the top of saucepan with plastic wrap and let stand for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the chocolate in a bowl and set over a pot of simmering water. Do not let the bowl touch the surface of the water. Melt the chocolate until it reaches 115 degrees. The chocolate will most likely not be fully melted yet and you will have to stir it – watch carefully or your chocolate will overheat and you will have to wait for it to cool down!

Check to make sure the cream is also at 115 degrees. Strain if there appear to be lumps and you can’t break them up.

Pour the cream and chocolate into a tall, clear container. Use an immersion blender to blend the mixture until the ganache thickens and becomes pudding like. Add the butter and combine with the immersion blender. Alternatively, you can do all this in a food processor.

Pour the ganache into a container that will allow it to spread out to a thickness of about an inch (not a very large container). This will make it easier to scoop truffles.

Allow the ganache to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until firm, preferably overnight.

When you are ready to make truffles, use a small cookie dough scoop to scoop balls from the ganache. Place them on a tray so you can pop it in the refrigerator to chill if necessary.

Roll the truffles in dark cocoa powder and decorate with the sesame seeds.

Store the truffles in the refrigerator, and remove about half and hour before serving.

Matcha Truffles

makes about 25 truffles

1/3 cup cream

1/4 cup (2 3/4 ounces by weight) invert sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons matcha (you may adjust to taste)

6 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

2 tablespoons butter, very soft (75 degrees)

Combine the cream and invert sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat on the stove.

Remove from heat, add the matcha, stirring to dissolve. Cover the top of saucepan with plastic wrap and let stand for about 10 minutes. Check it occasionally and stir to dissolve and remaining bits.

Meanwhile, place the chocolate in a bowl and set over a pot of simmering water. Do not let the bowl touch the surface of the water. Melt the chocolate until it reaches 115 degrees. The chocolate will most likely not be fully melted yet and you will have to stir it – watch carefully or your chocolate will overheat and you will have to wait for it to cool down!

Check to make sure the cream is also at 115 degrees and strain out any undissolved matcha.

Pour the cream and chocolate into a tall, clear container. Use an immersion blender to blend the mixture until the ganache thickens and becomes pudding like. Add the butter and combine with the immersion blender. Alternatively, you can do all this in a food processor.

Pour the ganache into a container that will allow it to spread out to a thickness of about an inch (not a very large container). This will make it easier to scoop truffles.

Allow the ganache to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until firm, preferably overnight.

When you are ready to make truffles, use a small cookie dough scoop to scoop balls from the ganache. Place them on a tray so you can pop it in the refrigerator to chill if necessary.

Roll the truffles in dark cocoa powder and decorate with a bit of matcha on top.

Store the truffles in the refrigerator, and remove about half and hour before serving.

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Meeting Dorie

November 21st, 2006 · 15 Comments · Cookbooks, Personal


Where was I last Saturday night? Not out eating or clubbing or partying, but something much more exciting – meeting Dorie Greenspan at Sur La Table! Dorie was on the last stop of her cross-country tour to promote her Baking book; once she let me know she would be in town, I could hardly wait to meet someone who’s been so inspirational to my baking.

In person, Dorie is as charming and warm as you would expect her to be. Upon learning who I was, she gave me a huge hug and exclaimed how thrilled she was that I showed up. Mind you, there were dozens of eager fans waiting to get their cookbooks signed, and many members of the professional pastry community, doubtless good friends of Dorie, also in attendance. That she would remember someone with whom she’d exchanged just a few e-mails is a testament to her wonderful personality.

I told Dorie that her new book was a huge hit in the blogosphere and that new posts about her recipes were showing up every day. She replied that she was thrilled so many people were making and enjoying her recipes. So for all of you bloggers who have been writing about Dorie and her book, she is completely delighted by your enthusiasm! I found it very heartwarming that this author who has written so many cookbooks and received so many awards, can still be so happy to know that "regular people" out there are baking from her books!

After signing her books, Dorie also answered some questions from the audience, and told some charming stories about working with Julia Child and Pierre Hermé. Did you know that Dorie initially turned down the offer to write Baking with Julia, but (fortunately for us) changed her mind? Dorie recounted the time Julia called her up and told her that they should both get their hands on those new-fangled bread machines and test them out; Dorie recalled this as just one example of Julia’s insatiable curiosity and passion for life. As for monsieur Hermé, Dorie remembers her work with him as an incredible learning experience. I was amused to learn that most of the work for their first collaboration, Desserts by Pierre Herme, was done on a windswept beach in Portugal. Pierre invited Dorie and her husband on a sort of working vacation, and told them they would all be staying in a fisherman’s shack by the sea. Dorie assumed he was being modest about the shack bit, but it turned out he was not. Hmm…hanging out on a beach with Pierre, getting to go through all of his recipes and have him explain his inspirations to you? I guess I wouldn’t mind the accommodations if I got to do that!

So now that I’ve finally met Dorie, I’ve come away only more excited to bake from her books, knowing the great person behind them. If you haven’t got your hands on a copy of her new one, I would strongly recommend it – it’s a wonderful compendium of recipes for every baking mood that strikes you, from cookies to puddings to tarts to cakes. There’s also a great selection of holiday pies, if you’re bringing dessert to Thanksgiving!

I’ll end with an early wish of a Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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Pear and Almond Frangipane Tart

November 14th, 2006 · 48 Comments · Fruit, Recipes, Tarts


One of my very favorite things about autumn, when it’s grey and blustery outside, fallen leaves skirling about rain-dampened streets: being safe and cozy indoors, with something baking in the oven, filling the place with warmth and the scent of spices and the promise of comfort food to provide a balm against the chill. It was just such a dismal rainy day yesterday, with the prospect of wet feet enough to keep me indoors, providing the perfect opportunity to make this tart I’ve had my eye on since I picked up some luscious-looking Anjous at the market.


This is a classic French tart: marvelously simple to make despite its deceptively complicated appearance, and a perfect showcase of its ingredients: pears, almonds, butter, sugar. The pears are poached in a sugar syrup laced with cinnamon sticks, lemon zest, and vanilla bean – the resulting fragrance is intoxicating and leaves you with some succulent pears to place in a frangipane-lined tart shell of pâte sablée.

Frangipane is nothing more than an almond cream that is baked, unlike pastry cream, but that description barely captures the marvelousness of this filling. In the oven, it turns into a glorious, puffy, golden cloud enveloping the fruit. Think of it as the cold-weather version of those summer fruit tarts with fresh berries on top of a layer of vanilla pastry cream. Here, the fruit is cushioned inside a rich, custardy, nutty filling – warm, sweet, and utterly satisfying. I first made frangipane in pastry school – we did a version with plums, and if the sight of 13 golden brown, fragrant tarts lined on a table does not make your mouth water, I don’t know what would! Frangipane is classically made with almonds, although you could make it with any nut – hazelnut and pistachio versions are popular – and of course, a multitude of fruits will find a happy home in this filling.

Img_1407a Img_1409a_1

I should also mention that I have had a fondness for the word "frangipane" ever since I read about an imaginary Cafe Frangipane in wordsmith sui generis Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s Paris Out of Hand, a wildly imaginative and surrealistic romp through a Paris cobbled from her memories and imagination. If you are a fan of the absurdist dadaism of Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp, or if you are a lover of clever wordplay (a entry for an imaginary Hôtel de Echecs is described as a haven for chess players and losers, the word "echecs" in French meaning both "chess" and "failure"), or if you just want to be able to say "I am one thirsty angel" (Je suis un ange vachement assoiffé) you should take a look at this unusual, intoxicating book.


My version of this pear tart is taken from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours, which seems to be to have been enthusiastically received by numerous bloggers, myself included. What I like about her recipe is that her pâte sablée can be made in a flash and requires no rolling out – you can simply press into the tart tin and freeze for half an hour before baking. That means it is quite possible to make this tart in one day  – almost on a whim! Although her poaching syrup is made of sugar and water with a bit of lemon, you can easily embellish this, as I did, with vanilla, cinnamon sticks, cloves, even peppercorns, to give your pears more of a kick. Plus, the leftover syrup can be used again – poached pears on their own make a lovely dessert – or perhaps as a base for some fancy cocktail?

I also used this opportunity to make the pâte sablée in my brand-spanking new Cuisinart 7-cup food processor – picked up on sale thanks to a great friend. My previous food processor being of the meager two-cup variety, which was capable of grinding a handful of nuts but not good for much else, I find myself delighted to report that making dough in a food processor is a breeze. Especially for dough recipes that require cutting in cold butter, I find the food processor much more efficient than a stand mixer. It’s also much prettier than my old processor – even though we’re desperately short of counter space at this point, I like seeing it all shiny and sparkly, standing at attention in its spot of honor.


A slice of this pear and almond frangipane tart makes for a cozy bite as darkness falls outside and you can watch the lights go on in windows all around. If I look across the bay, I can see the last rays of the setting sun reflecting off the homes in the Oakland hills, fiery jewels scattered across the green sweep of hillside, mirroring the stars just emerging in the sky above.


Pear and Almond Frangipane Tart

adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

makes one 9-inch tart

Pâte Sablée

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

9 tablespoon butter, very cold, cut into small pieces

1 egg yolk

Poached Pears

3 ripe medium pears (I used Anjou) – you only need 2 pears but I suggest having an extra one just in case you mess up a pear

3 cups water

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt


6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup ground blanched almonds

2 teaspoons flour

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 large egg plus 1 egg white

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons almond extract

For the pears: Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan large enough to hold all the pears and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, cut the pears in half, remove the seed core and fibrous cores at either end, then peel the pears.

Add the pear halves to the simmering syrup and reduce heat to low. Cover, and let pears poach for about 10 minutes, turning them halfway. The pears will become slightly translucent, very tender, and easily pierced with a knife or skewer.

Let the pears cool in the liquid until room temperature before using. Or, you can store them in their liquid in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

For the tart shell: Put the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the pieces of cold butter and pulse until the butter is cut into pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolk and combine in several pulses until the dough starts to turn from dry to clumpy. Do not let the dough form one giant ball or it will be be overworked – just keep checking after every pulse and when the dough pieces looks like they will stick when you press them together, stop.

Butter a 9-in tart tin with removable bottom. Turn the dough out into the tin and press into the bottom and up the sides with your fingers. You probably will not need all the dough – save the extra for patching the shell after you bake it. Do not press the dough too hard or it will become tough – just enough for it to form to the tin.

Freeze the tart shell for at least 30 minutes. When you are ready to bake it, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To partially bake the tart shell, take a piece of foil and butter the shiny side, then press the buttered side tightly to the shell. You do not need pie weights. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until the shell is dry and lightly colored. If any places have cracked, repair with the extra dough. Let cool on a rack until room temperature.

For the frangipane: Combine the butter and sugar in the food processor and combine until smooth. Add the ground almonds and blend together. Add the flour and cornstarch, and then the egg and egg white. Process the mixture until it is very smooth. Add in the vanilla and almond extracts just to blend. The frangipane can be used immediately or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. If it becomes too firm in the fridge, let it sit at room temperature for a while to soften before using.

To finish the tart: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the frangipane evenly into the cooled tart shell (It should be liquid enough to smooth out on its own so you don’t need to work to much on it).

Take the poached pears out of their liquid and drain them on paper towels. You don’t want too much excess liquid or they will make the frangipane soggy. Cut each pear half crosswise into 3/8 in thick slices. Do not separate the pear half yet.

Slide a spatula or other flat utensil underneath the pear so you can transfer the entire half onto the tart. Press on the pear to fan the slices toward the top narrow end of the pear.

Slide the pear half onto the frangipane carefully – you can move the pear after you place it, but not much.

Repeat with three other pear halves until there are four halves on the tart, evenly spaced.

Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 45-50 minutes, until the frangipane is puffed, golden brown, and firm to the touch. Cool the tart on a wire rack.

Before serving, you can brush the pears with some warmed apple jelly to glaze, or dust confectioner’s sugar over the tart.

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Food and Wine Photo Contest Winners

November 9th, 2006 · 12 Comments · Photography


Food & Wine has selected the winners of their food photography contest, and they are gorgeous! I’m humbled to note that my entry was selected as one of 25 honorable mentions, and is part of the photo gallery on Food and Wine’s site. For someone with basically zero training in photography and who is pretty much learning on the (blogging) job, this is certainly a thrill!

Be sure to check out all the photos – they are all lovely and very inspiring – I’m off to keep improving my photography!

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{SF} Best Halloween Ever

November 7th, 2006 · 11 Comments · Chocolate, San Francisco, Sweet Spots


It’s been many years since I was young enough to run around the neighborhood on Halloween, butterfly wings or witch’s cape fluttering on my back, and ring doorbells, my candy bucket clenched tightly in little fists. Nowadays, it just doesn’t compare to buy a bag of Hershey’s Miniatures and eat them on the couch, with a pile of wrappers and a queasy stomach to complete the sugar hangover (I had a much higher tolerance for cheap chocolate when I was younger – I blame the beautiful ignorance of youth).

But just when another candyless Halloween was about to pass me by, I found this in my trick-or-treat bag:


Imagine getting that from your neighbors! Or, in this case, from the kind folk at CocoaBella Chocolates. I was invited to the unveiling of CocoaBella’s 2006 "World’s Greatest Box of Chocolates", their selection of their favorite artisan chocolates from around the world. Did I mention that the invite said we would be able to sample all those chosen chocolates?

I’d already been to CocoaBella before and swooned at the dazzling choices before me; needless to say the prospect of more chocolate had me anxiously waiting all day.


Michael Freeman, purveyor of the store, who is infectiously enthusiastic about artisan chocolates, welcomed us into his shop with the captivating sight of tray upon tray of chocolates lined up for us to taste. Thank you, Mr. Freeman, for making my dream of being set loose in a candy shop actually come true. On my list of "died and gone to heaven" food experiences, this would have to come pretty close to the top.

After a ceremonial unveiling of CocoaBella’s "World’s Greatest Box of Chocolates" (more on that later), Freeman stepped aside for the evening’s special guests. First, Jacques Dahan, president of Michel Cluizel’s USA outpost, conducted a tasting comparing chocolates made from cacao beans from such different parts of the world as Madagascar, Santo Domingo, and Java. It was an illuminating illustration of the state of chocolate production today: no longer is just quoting cocoa percentages enough, as knowing where your chocolate comes from will help bring you greater insight and appreciation of its unique flavor. Certainly, it was much more than simply saying "The 85% is more bitter than the 67%". In fact, that wasn’t even my first reaction – it was that the 85% hit a completely different set of notes in my mouth, all intense coffee and cocoa, as opposed to the more fruity, nutty, 67%. The increasing sophistication of chocolate bars will make educating the choco-palate and finding a favorite an enjoyably complex challenge.


Next, an amazing treat: two fabulous chocolatiers, Charles Siegel of Charles Chocolates and Christopher Elbow of Christopher Elbow Chocolates made fresh chocolates for all the guests! This was really the highlight of the evening for me, to see two very talented professionals doing what they love most. They were wonderfully charming and funny as well; I loved when they revealed that their creations were dreamed up out of a trip to Berkeley Bowl supermarket that morning – they simply grabbed what caught their eye and made a chocolate out of it. How Iron Chef-cool is that?

These "spur-of-the-moment" creations – my awe of their talent doubled after tasting the tidbits – could easily be sold alongside all of the other chocolates in the store. There was a gorgeous Mission fig filled with white chocolate cream and dipped in dark chocolate; a delectable mango-ginger chutney topping dark chocolate ganache in a crisp oval shell; and an adorable square of peanut praline that crackled and snapped in the mouth: it turned out there were unflavored Pop Rocks in the filling! A perfect trip down memory lane…


If you can imagine, after all this chocolate we were invited to keep sampling all the chocolates in the store! I saw many a guest looking woefully at the displays, a look of "if only I could squeeze in one more," etched over his face. I myself fell far short of trying all the chocolates I wanted; I was too engrossed in talking to Siegel about how he got the inspiration for many of his chocolates and Elbow about the challenges of making and delivering chocolate in blistering Kansas summer heat.

However, my tasting regrets vanished at the door when we were given the sweetest of goody bags: a box of their "World’s Best" collection, to be enjoyed leisurely at home. Skipping down the street, I felt like the luckiest Halloween trick-or-treater.


So days past, and the box is mostly empty candy cups now. CocoaBella has put together a delicious, fascinating collection of chocolates from around the world, and I’m quite grateful (although perhaps my waistline is not!) to have been introduced to them. Some of my favorites:


From top, clockwise:

Michel Cluizel’s charming Champignon Caramel – how could you resist a mushroom with an almond praline cap and a stem full of crunchy caramel?

Marquise de Sevigne’s Creme Brulee – a marvelously smooth, creamy center of caramelized butter ganache, covered in milk chocolate. Yes, it’s sweet, but a really well-crafted sweet.

Christopher Elbow’s Strawberry Balsamic – a revelation. Strawberry puree swirled with caramel and balsamic vinegar. This is a chocolate that shows the magic of pushing boundaries.


From top right, clockwise:

Cary’s Toffee – I’ve had a lot of toffee and this is a stellar example: sweet, buttery toffee enrobed in smooth chocolate. I wish that piece had been twice as big.

Knipschildt’s Hannah – This is one of my absolute favorites; you must try if are at all a fan of caramel and sea salt. The thin chocolate shell holds a center of liquid caramel; as you bite into it, the crunch of Hawaiian pink sea salt mixes in to give your tastebuds a sensory jolt. I love it.

Christopher Elbow’s Rosemary Caramel – Caramel infused with rosemary, in a shell that looks like a work of art. Gorgeous-looking and even better tasting.

Many thanks to Michael Freeman and all his wonderful, accommodating staff at CocoaBella for generously hosting such a lovely event. While it a thrill to indulge in so much chocolate, it was a much greater pleasure to be in the company of so ma ny chocophiles and learn about all these beautiful gems being created around the world. If you live at all near San Francisco, I recommend you make a stop there. With the opening of their new shop in the Bloomingdale’s mall in Union Square, it makes it that much easier to me to get my chocolate fix!

CocoaBella Chocolates

2102 Union Street

San Francisco, CA 94123


or in the Westfield Shopping Center

865 Market Street

San Francisco, CA 94103

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Longing for Vienna: Linzertorte

November 2nd, 2006 · 18 Comments · Cookbooks, Recipes, Tarts


I recently saw The Illusionist, a lovely jewel of a movie about magic, princesses, and love. Sound too saccharine and hokey? Consider that the film is set in fin de siècle Vienna, and manages to capture all the somber, old-world elegance of that city, infusing the film with the timeless quality of a fairy tale.

It makes you want to believe in magic, that the fantastical and impossible can come true, that a young magician can make an orange tree sprout from a seed in the space of a breath, that sweethearts cruelly separated as children can find one another again years later, that the dead can return and speak to the living.

I knew the movie had me under its spell because I was not troubled by the skeptical, jaded gaze of the modern eye: I did not think of whether the magic tricks had been aided by computer effects, or whether some of the actors’ accents were a bit dodgy. I was captivated instead by the gorgeous settings, all gaslights, cobblestones, silk dresses, old marble and patina’d wood; the muted, sepia tones of the picture- it’s like this film was already old when it was made, the corners of the screen darkly flickering, colors all rich browns and tarnished golds; the exciting uncertainty of the turn of the century, when people were still balanced between the logic of science and the lure of the supernatural. When you see a pair of butterflies fluttering through the air, bearing a lace handkerchief between them, you want to believe that it’s real magic, even as you know inside that it’s not.


For me, one scene that shows how perfectly this film captures the time of the Hapsburgs: near the beginning, police Chief Inspector Uhl (played wonderfully by Paul Giamatti), meets a guest in a charming, elegant old kaffeehaus, and asks him congenially (and much to my delight), "Will you have some strudel?"

Several beautiful kaffeehäuser make their appearance in the movie, a fitting tribute to this bastion of Austro-Hungarian culture. In Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, these coffeehouses served as quasi-residences for intellectuals to discuss, argue, and create, much like the cafes of Paris, and provided a haven for anyone else who wished to read his newspaper with a cup of coffee over a long leisurely afternoon.  Your coffee would always arrive on a tray with a glass of water beside it, an old Turkish custom indicating that the guest was welcome to stay as long as he wished – and indeed, no one would ever think to hasten you out the door. The kaffeehaus was meant for lingering.

Of course, these coffeehouses also offered dessert, from strudels to cakes to yeast breads to dumplings. I highly recommend you pick up Rick Rodgers’ Kaffeehaus, which provides a comprehensive and accessible history of both the kaffeehaus and Viennese pastry, a glorious world of its own from French patisserie. The apple strudel, with parchment-thin sheets of dough wrapped around ripe fruit, is Austro-Hungarian. The famous Sachertorte, with its layers of chocolate and apricot jam covered in chocolate glaze, was created in Vienna for a visiting prince. Gugelhupf, that sweet, donut-shaped cake, is also an Austrian favorite. Rodgers has documented dozens of traditional recipes in his book, oftentimes with stories of their history, and the pages are filled as well with pictures of coffeehouses in Vienna, Prague, and Budapest, many still in their glorious turn of the century condition, with their wide walls of windows, the marble topped tables, the Thonet chairs, the newspapers piled in the corner.


Spurred on by the movie, I wanted to make something from this vanished time, some dessert enjoyed by a denizen of Vienna as he read his newspaper and sipped his coffee, perhaps before going to a night of magic at the theater. I chose the Linzertorte, perhaps more well known today in its other incarnation as the Linzer cookie. I have made Linzer cookies before, and even Pierre Hermé’s rendition of the Linzertorte, but the original is quite a treat in its own right.

I used a combination of recipes from Kaffeehaus and from Baking Illustrated: There is a shortcrust version of Linzertorte, where you cut butter into dry ingredients much like a pie dough, and a creamed version, where you cream the butter in a mixer before adding in the other ingredients. I went for the creamed method, and the result is a rich, dense base upon which you spread a layer of the traditional red currant preserves, followed by a lattice of the same dough. The cinnamon and cloves give a distinctive, spicy flavor – I loved how it smelled as it was baking – and combined with the red currant filling, makes a very decadent cake. One slice is more than enough to fill you up! I also had a good time making the top – the dough is quite workable and forgiving, so long as you keep it chilled, which made the strips quite easy to cut and place.

So imagine, if you will, a cup of coffee and glass of water on a silver tray besides a slice of this cake, and that you are relaxing in a coffeehouse in old Vienna, where beauty and magic are the order of the day.



adapted from RIck Rodgers’ Kaffehaus

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/4 cups almonds, blanched and toasted

1 cup sugar

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

2 large egg yolks

1 cup red currant or seedless raspberry preserves

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 egg yolk for egg wash

3 tablespoons sliced almonds for garnish

Process toasted almonds in a food processor until very fine but before it turns oily and into butter. Combine ground almonds, flour, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, salt in a bowl.

Put butter and sugar in mixer bowl and beat for several minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down sides as necessary. Add egg yolks and mix to combine. Add in flour mixture and mix until combined.

Take dough and divide in half, flattening each into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic and chill in refrigerator until firm, at least half an hour and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take a 9" springform pan and butter the bottom and sides well.

Take one of the dough disks out of the refrigerator (if it’s been in there overnight, you may have to let it sit for a few minutes to soften up). Press into the bottom and up the sides of the springform pan, aiming for a thickness of a little less than 1/4" everywhere. Use a knife to trim the dough around the sides so it is even.

Fill bottom with pie weights. Bake dough in oven for about 15 to 20 minutes until the crust is set and the center is still slightly moist. Remove pie weights and bake in oven for about 5 more minutes until the center is dry is well. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature.

When the shell is cool, take the second disk of dough out and roll to thickness of 1/4". If the dough gets too soft, you may need to return to the fridge to let it firm up.

Whisk red currant preserves and lemon juice together in a bowl until smooth. Spread evenly into the shell.

Trim the second disk of dough into a square and cut into 10 strips, each 3/4" wide. Use the strips to make a lattice pattern over the preserves, five in each direction. (to get a basket weave effect, place three strips in one direction – one down the center, two at the ends, then rotate 90 degrees and place three more in the same fashion. Rotate 90 degrees and place two more strips between the first three strips, then rotate 90 degrees and place the last two strips in the same fashion). Trim the strips off at the shell edge and press into the shell to secure. Again, if the strips start getting soft and tearing, put back in the fridge for a while.

Beat the egg yolk with a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash and brush over the lattice. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the top.

Bake in the oven until the preserves are bubbling, about 45 minutes. Cool on wire rack for about 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the torte and loosen the ring. Let the torte finish cooling on the rack.

Serves about 8-12 people

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