Tuesday, August 27, 2013

No-bake chocolate cheesecake pie

Last weekend it was my intention to bake Julia Child's brioche. That is until I came upon this.

Not only does it contain one of my favourite ingredients, cheesecake, but you don't even have to use the oven! Simple, right? Well, mostly, but I will get to that.

Do you ever read the "estimated time to make" blurb at the beginning of every recipe? I used to because I thought it would help me plan better but I realized that this so-called "estimated time" is total bullshit. Not only does it usually grossly underestimate how much time it will take you to make the food (especially for a first-timer) but it sets the expectation that if you don't make it within that time than you're a total failure IN LIFE. Okay, I exaggerate a bit but seriously, this recipe says it only takes TEN MINUTES to make the whole thing. As my friend, Buddy the Elf says: "You sit on a throne of lies!"
Confession: It took me an hour to make this.

I have one more mini-rant to make about cookbooks and food blogs in general: The pictures are not reality. Get this in your head, people. Those red velvet cupcakes you want to make to impress your friends/significant other/parents/cat will not look like Martha Stewart took over your kitchen and made them herself. And speaking of Martha, she has amazing how-to videos like this one on cake-decorating which will change your life but it still won't change the fact that you never will be Martha fucking Stewart.

Maybe I'm still a bit upset that while the pie tasted delicious, when I cut a piece, it collapsed into a messy heap on the plate. A yummy heap, but a heap nonetheless. It certainly did not look like this.

But hey, it was my first time making it so maybe next time it will be better. These are the things I say to myself as I cry over my messy pie.

No-bake chocolate cheesecake pie (adapted from A Family Feast)


- 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 4 tbpsp granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 4 tbsp melted butter


- 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 11 ounces (about 2 packs) of cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 butter, softened
- 2 cups of refrigerated whipped topping (I used nutriwhip)

To prepare the crust:

1. Combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar and brown sugar in a bowl. Mix until completely combined.
2. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and spread, pressing down firmly, so that you have an even layer in the bottom of the plate and about ½ an inch up the sides. Freeze the crust while you are preparing the pie filling.

To prepare the pie filling:

4. Pour chocolate chips into a small stovetop saucepan and heat on medium until completely melt. Stir while melting. Set aside to cool.
5. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment and at medium speed, beat together the softened cream cheese, sugar and butter until light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and with the mixer at low speed, slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate. Mix until completely blended together.
6. Replace the paddle attachment of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, and at low speed, fold in the softened whipped topped until well blended. Spoon the mixture into the pie crust.
7. Refrigerate until firm – about 2 hours. When ready to serve, cut into slices and serve with additional whipped topping.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Julia Child's croissants

I hate to admit this, but I had never heard of Julia Child until the 2009 movie "Julie & Julia" starring Meryl Streep as the 6'2 former OSS employee-turned-baker extraordinaire. Because I love Meryl movies, I became obsessed with this film, particularly since it involves cooking and, more importantly, baking.

I started reading up on Julia Child and her famous cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" which was first published in 1961 (Vol. 2 was published in 1970) and, in all honesty, I was really intimidated by the complex, 10-page long, 12-hour minimum recipes.

If you know me well, you would know that I'm the kind of girl who eats yogurt and/or toast for dinner so the thought of spending all night slaving in my condo-sized kitchen, when there was a particularly yummy coffee yogurt sitting in my fridge, did not make me want to go and spend $30 for what would end up being a coffee table book to impress my friends.

But last October, I had the chance to go to Paris again (my third time) with my boyfriend Mike and I dragged him to the famed English bookstore "Shakespeare & Co." which appeared not only in "Julie & Julia" but in my other favourite Parisian movie, Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." God, if only I could live in that bookstore for the rest of my life.

After dragging Mike there on multiple trips (and asking him if it was an investment to buy a $1,500 first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby"), I settled on (the cheaper, modern-day copies of) Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night", Irene Nemirovsky's "The Misunderstanding" and lastly, Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 2."

Why did I pick Julia's Vol. 2 over the more popular Vol. 1? Simple. It had recipes for brioche and croissants, two of my favourite foods to eat, anywhere (besides coffee yogurt).

The recipe for croissants is eight pages long and takes, according to Julia's instructions, a minimum of 11 to 12 hours. Had I not frozen my croissants over night, it probably would have taken me about 13 or so hours. But because I really wanted to go to bed, I froze them before the last pre-bake rise, and finished them in the morning.

This was my first time baking croissants so they were by no means perfect and I know what I will do differently next time I make them.

For one, I will let them rise for their last one-hour pre-bake rise if I decide I want to freeze them before baking them, rather than trying to make them rise after being frozen. Tip: If you want to freeze them overnight to bake them in the morning, let them rise for one hour before you freeze them. If you don't, they won't really rise when you take them out of the freezer. If they don't rise, the croissants will end up being a little bit on the harder side, and won't be as fluffy and light.

I will also be more patient when it comes to forming their crescent shape. Some of them ended up looking like dragon tails.

Lastly, I will recognize that they don't have to be perfect, especially since I am a novice at baking croissants. It's okay to mess up. That's what learning is for.

Was it worth all the waiting and cursing? Yes. They were delicious. They could have been more soft, but they were mostly tender and great with jam. It's also fun to brag about.

On to the super-long instructions!

Croissants (adapted from Julia Child and Simone Beck's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 2)

Makes 12 croissants

Part 1.


-1 1/4 tsp dry-active yeast
- 3 tbsp warm water
- 1 tsp sugar

Mix the yeast in the warm water with the sugar and let liquefy completely.

Part 2.


- 1/2 lb. all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 pt milk warmed to tepid in a small saucepan
- 2 tbsp of canola oil

Measure the flour into mixing bowl. Dissolve the sugar and the salt in the tepid milk. When yeast has liquified, pour it along with the milk mixture and oil into the flour. Blend the elements into a dough by cutting and pressing with a rubber spatula, being sure all the bits of flour are gathered in. Turn dough out on to the kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. The short rest allows flour to absorb liquid; dough will be soft and sticky.

Start kneading by lifting near edge, using a scraper or spatula to help you, and flipping if over on to the other side. Rapidly repeat the movement from one side to the other and end over end eight to 10 times until dough feels smooth and begins to draw back into shape when pushed out. This is all the kneading it should have.

Part 3.

The dough is set to rise 3 1/2 times its original volume. Put it in a large mixing bowl. Cover with a plastic sheet and a bath towel and place at room temperature. In three or four hours the dough should have risen sufficiently and should be light and springy to touch.

After three or four hours, deflate the dough by loosening it from the edges of the bowl with a rubber spatula and turn it out on a lightly floured surface. With the lightly floured palms of your hands, pat and push the dough out into a rectangle about 8 x 12 inches. Fold in three as though folding a business letter. Return dough to bowl; cover again with plastic and bath towel.

Let rise a second time, about 1 1/2 hours, to double the original volume. Then loosen dough from edges of bowl and turn out on a lightly floured plate. Cover airtight and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

*At this point, if you don't have the time to finish, you can set the dough in a colder place to rise, or let it rise the second time overnight in the fridge.

Part 4.


- 1/4 lb (about 1/2 cup) of chilled unsalted butter
- Rolling pin
- Flour as needed

Butter must now be worked into a smooth but still cold paste that can be spread evenly on the dough and then rolled with it. Beat the butter with a rolling pin to soften it. Then smear it out with the heel of your hand or a scraper or spatula until it is of very easy spreading consistency but still cold; it must not become soft and oily- refrigerate if necessary.

Place chilled dough on a lightly floured pastry marble or board (I just used my counter cause I don't have marble and my board isn't big enough). With the lightly floured palms of your hands, push and pat it out into a rectangle about 14 x 8 inches. Spread butter as evenly as possible over the upper two thirds of the dough rectangle, leaving a 1/4-inch unbuttered border all around. Dough is now to be folded into three layers, just as though you were folding a business letter. Fold the bottom (unbuttered) third up to the middle. Fold the top (buttered) third down to cover it, making three even layers of dough separated by two layers of butter. This is called "turn number 1."

For "turn number 2," lightly flour the top of the dough and your rolling surface, turn the dough so the edge of the top flap is to your right, as though it were a book you were going to open. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 14 x 6 inches. Roll rapidly, starting an inch from the near end and going within an inch of the far end. Fold again in three. You now have seven layers of dough separated by six layers of butter.

Sprinkle dough lightly with flour, wrap in waxed paper or plastic, place in a plastic bag and put in fridge. Dough must now ret for 1 to 1 1/2 hours to deactivate the gluten so that you can make the two final rolls without difficulty.

Part 5.

After the rest in the fridge, unwrap the dough, sprinkle lightly with flour and deflate by tapping lightly several times with rolling pin. Cover and let rest for eight to 10 minutes, again to relax the gluten. Being sure that the top and bottom of the dough is always floured, start rolling dough into a rectangle of 14 x 6 inches. Fold the rectangle in three, roll again into a rectangle and fold in three to complete the final turn. Wrap and chill for two hours before forming dough into croissants, or leave overnight covered with a board and a five-pound weight.

Part 6.

After resting for two hours, the dough is now ready to be rolled out into crescent shapes. You can either use a rolling cutter or cut by knife. (I used a knife.) To make everything easier for yourself, refrigerate all the pieces of dough you are not currently working on.

Unwrap chilled dough, place on a lightly floured surface, and deflate by tapping several times gently with rolling pin. Cover with plastic and let rest 10 minutes to relax gluten.

Roll dough into a rectangle 20 x 5 inches; cut in half crosswise and chill the first half.

Roll your one half of the dough into a rectangle 15 x 5 inches; cut into three crosswise and chill two of the three pieces.

Roll the one piece of dough into a 5 1/2 inch square and cut into two triangles.

Holding one of the triangles of dough by its large end, roll it out towards the point to make the triangle about seven inches long. Then, to extend the large end slightly, stretch the two top angles of the triangle lightly between your thumbs and forefingers, enlarging the end about an inch in all. Start rolling up the croissant first by folding the large end forwards onto itself. Then, holding the point with the fingers of your left hand, finish the roll under the fingers and palm of your right hand. Bend the two ends down to form a crescent shape and place on a lightly buttered baking sheet, with the point resting inside curve and against the surface of the baking sheet.

Repeat for the rest of your dough that is in the fridge and remember to keep the pieces of dough that you are not working on in the fridge.

part 7.


- pastry brush
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water in small bowl

Cover the croissants loosely with a large sheet of plastic at room temperature for their final pre-baking rise for about an hour. Dough should almost double in size and feel light and springy when touched. If it doesn't rise, the baked croissants will be heavy.

*At this point, you can freeze the croissants over night if you wish to bake them the next day.

Preheat oven at 475 F.

Just before baking, paint the croissants with egg glaze then set in middle level of preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, until croissants are nicely puffed and brown. Cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Bon appétit!

Watch Julia baker croissants:

Part 1:

 Part 2:

Part 3:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

September 6, 1929


Sometimes I don't know what I'm doing with my life. Every morning I wake up and I don't want to get out of bed, I don't want to go to work. Hoffman promised me that I would soon be taking photographs but all I've been doing for the past couple months is stand behind the register, smile politely, nod and say thank you.

I swear sometimes these NSDAP guys want me to bow down to them after I hand them their receipt. They stand there with their perfectly combed, slicked back hair which has so much paste in it that they look as if their heads could be the perfect home for a spider, waiting for her prey to land.

Unfortunately they have to wait for their turn to have their picture taken out front near me, and I have to pretend to find them the most fascinating men since Oscar Wilde. As if some middle-aged fuddy duddy with mommy issues, a paunch that dangles over pants which belong on a 15-year-old boy, who doesn't even know his Duke Ellington from his Paul Whiteman would stand a chance next to Oscar.

All they want to know is whether I have a boyfriend, if I prefer to cook or bake (trick question: I'm supposed to be an artiste at both) and whether I'm a good German.

Sometimes I just wish I could tell them that Germany could go to Hell, what has this boring, uptight country ever done for me? But I see it in their eyes. They all have that same look: like a wild dog just itching to jump on some unsuspecting creature. I suspect they would take a lot of pleasure in watching their victim squirm and squeal.

Margot, how I envy you and your family in Paris. Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda, Josephine Baker! You have no idea how lucky you are and how much I wish I could come visit you.
All Munich has these days is Otto Gebühr and he's starting to look like those NSDAP louts.

I'm trying to keep my spirits up but it's hard. I wish I could just run away. Maybe I'll save my money to buy a train ticket and come see you. Would you like that?

I hope you're doing well. Oh, and please send me some of your Paris fashion magazines!

Yours always,


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Letters From Germany

I've been reading a lot lately, it being summer and all, mostly biographies and fiction about strong women ("Cleopatra: A Life" by Stacy Schiff is a must-read) but the two books that have stood out for me this year is Kate Atkinson's "Life After Life" and Anton Piatigorsky's "The Iron Bridge."

"Life After Life" is about a woman/girl who keeps dying and is born over and over again. Part of the story arc takes place in Berlin, where the protagonist befriends Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler's lover and, for 40 hours, his wife.

"The Iron Bridge" is composed of short stories which capture a moment in time of the childhoods of dictators, including Hitler's.

The theme of "good vs. evil"has been on my mind a lot lately. It may have to do with the fact that I'm re-watching "The Lord of the Rings" which presents "good" and "bad" people in a very limited black and white scope.

Can a person really be completely evil? History has portrayed people like Hitler, Paul Bernardo, Osama Bin Laden and Josef Stalin to be thus. And of course, one can't forget the fictional world where there are many red-eyed Sauron clones hiding in their towers and sending out their dirty, sneering minions to kill their white knight, the hobbits and elves and Aragorns of the world.

I'm more interested in the shades of grey of a person. I don't believe a person is wholly evil, whatever that term means. Even Hitler was a child who was unsullied by the world. So what happened to that person? How was he corrupted? Can we see more than the man who killed millions of Jews, homosexuals and gypsies in concentration camps? Can we also see him as the man who loved to paint, who cherished his dogs and who was loved by Eva Braun? How do you reconcile the very different sides to him? Should you?

There have been many books, historical and fictional, dedicated to Adolf Hitler. While I find them fascinating, I am more interested in the woman's point of view, in this case Eva Braun's.

I've decided to write short fiction stories as a series of letters written by Eva which will depict her relationship with Hitler through her eyes. While I am definitely not an expert in her or Hitler's life, or even in the politics that was going on before and during the Second World War, I will try my best to keep the stories historically accurate, although I'm sure I will get a lot of information and nuances wrong or I may just make stuff up. That's why it's fiction, not a history book.

First letter coming soon.