Baking with Oma: Takes the Cake

I know everyone always says their grandmother is the best baker, but mine really is. Really. I think I might actually have a case here because my Oma’s baking isn’t even similar to anybody else’s. Her recipes all come from some undetermined german-hungarian-romanian-austrian place. They’re never too sweet and they always contain a twist ingredient that makes the other ones come alive. The only problem was that up until recently she had a monopoly on her recipes because silly Oma is from the “old country” and Europeans have magical skills and don’t need recipes. But we’ve realized recently that she’s no longer 35 (or 75) and while she shows zero signs of going senile… you never know, and this is not a risk worth taking. So yesterday we had her over for our first Baking with Oma session, where she wrote down the steps as best as she could and we translated them into recipes we (and you) could actually follow.

 

Oma's Incredible Bittersweet Chocolate Yeast Cake – transcribed from memory, like nothing you've ever had | The Road Home

 

We started with two recipes, or Oma cautioned that we would be up until 3am. Mom made an apple tart which went… um… I’ll let her tell you the story. But I made Oma’s So Superbly Perfect We Can Only Have It Twice A Year Because Otherwise We’d Eat It Three Meals A Day And Get Superbly Fat Bittersweet Chocolate Yeast Cake. Which is superbly perfect, no lie. We only get it on Christmas and Easter and it’s more or less the highlight of both holidays. It’s fluffy yet dense, and not at all too sweet – which is why we can get away with eating it for breakfast even though it’s totally cake. It peels apart in flaky, chocolatey layers and shimmers with subtle underlying notes of anise. And mine came out! I think I just got lucky but I’m still bragging like I got skills because I’m really excited and I’m super proud. I urge you to make it for yourself – it’s an amazing flavor, and not one you’ve ever had before. The only thing about it is it’s neither quick nor particularly easy – I would recommend having some experience with yeast before you try this one out (I think they  made it challenging so we wouldn’t make it too often). But I promise it will be worth all your time and effort – there’s no doubt it will rock your world.

 

Oma's Incredible Bittersweet Chocolate Yeast Cake – transcribed from memory, like nothing you've ever had | The Road Home

 

Do you have any special recipes handed down through the generations in your family? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Oma's Incredible Bittersweet Chocolate Yeast Cake – transcribed from memory, like nothing you've ever had | The Road Home

German Chocolate Chip Yeast Cake

From: Oma (Edith Lang), recorded by Gabrielle Siegel

Ingredients:

  • 4 – 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar (you can add 2-3 tbsp more if you like it a little sweeter)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 packet yeast (I think active dry, but I actually need to get back to you on that)
  • 1/2 tsp anise seed
  • 1 package of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips (or same amount of whatever kind you want)
  • Stand Mixer
  • Bundt Pan

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together 2 1/2 cups of the flour with all of the sugar, yeast and salt.
  2. Place the butter and milk together in a small saucepan and heat until the butter is just melted. The temperature should be about 130° F, or lukewarm to the touch, but if it’s not, heat or cool accordingly.
  3. Add this to the bowl with the flour, and mix on low with the paddle attachment until just blended.
  4. Add the eggs, yolks, vanilla and anise to the mixing bowl, and blend with a paddle attachment on speed 4 for about 10 minutes, and then on speed 6 for about 30 seconds – 1 minute, until a soft dough has formed.
  5. Take off the paddle attachment and replace with a dough hook, and add 1 1/2 cups more flour. Blend on speed 2, until flour is incorporated, and a stiff dough has formed, about 5 minutes. Feel dough – it should be moist, but not too sticky, workable, but not too dry. If you need to, add up to 1/2 a cup more flour, a little at a time, until desired consistency is reached. 
  6. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface, and kneed vigorously for 2-3 minutes, to make sure the texture is correct.
  7. Place the dough in a large oiled or buttered bowl, and place in a warm, moist area to rise, until doubled in size. Be patient – this could take anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 hours. For best results, cover the bowl in a moist tea towel.
  8. When the dough has risen, punch it down, and turn it out onto a floured surface.
  9. Using a piece of string, measure about how big around your bundt pan is. Roll out the dough to about that width, and as long as it takes to make it about 1/3-inch thick.
  10. Evenly distribute the chocolate chips over the dough, and tightly roll up the dough.
  11. Butter the bundt pan, and place the dough inside, and set it to rise in the same warm place, covered with a moist towel, until doubled in size. Heat the oven to 350° F while you’re doing this.
  12. If desired, brush the top of the dough with an egg-wash made of a beaten egg with about a tablespoon of water (does not need to be precise at all) and bake in the oven for about 50 minutes to an hour, until cake is a deep brown, and not too squishy when you poke it (not scientific I know, but it’s the best litmus test Oma could give me).
  13. Cool for about 15 minutes in the pan and turn out onto a cooling rack until completely cool. Eat immediately, or cover very tightly until you’re ready. Try to eat it within 1-2 days, though if you cover it tightly it will keep a little longer. It’s a really good excuse to have people for tea.
  14. Enjoy the heck out of this cake – eat it for breakfast, etc. You worked hard for this, so make it worth it!

Damage Control

I’ve realized that every time I make a transfer from home to school, I seem to try my absolute hardest to make you guys extra jealous of the food I get to eat at home. When I’m home I wax poetic about foods like boeuf bourguignon, Persian jeweled rice, and plum crumble with vanilla bean. When I’m away, I whine about how much I miss them. I suppose that’s my way of handling my joy/sorrow. To be truthful I’m pretty sure mom just makes all that stuff to keep me around. But I am a very defiant girl, and I will not let her win, which is why I try to make as much of her food as I can at school. It has nothing to do with the fact that I miss home. Nothing at all. So of course, you would imagine my distress when I came home this week to discover that she was taking the recipes I had tried so hard to steal and *dramatic pause* innovating on them. The woman will stop at nothing. All my defiance was for naught because, what’s worse, it was all for the better… almost.

 

something is, indeed, amiss

 

One of the recipes I had stolen was this awesome leek and goat cheese quiche. It’s so popular at school that one of my friends once ate half of it in one sitting. Mom teaches it all the time in her 20 Minute Dinners class, and every time I eat it, it reminds me of home. Because it’s supposed to be quick and easy, and because homemade pie crust is almost never worth the effort, we use good pre-made crust. But last night, mom was teaching 20 Minute Dinners, and she thought it might be a good idea to replace the pie crust with puff pastry pressed into a tart shell. Now granted, it did sound like a pretty good idea, but it sounded like a *bit* more effort than I was going to go into on your typical Wednesday night, and I just knew I was going to end up missing home again and we just can’t have that. But mom insisted, and so she took the puff pastry out of the freezer and let it defrost… forgetting, as we chatted over smoothies, that you have to unfold puff pastry as quickly as possible before defrosting. Lo and behold, we tried to unfold it and ended up with the sticky monster you see above.

 

Preview of things to come

 

I, of course, was thrilled. Not only were there very literal holes in this silly plan, but I had just acquired a whole sheet of puff pastry to play with. I made some cinnamon sugar, got out some Hershey Special Dark Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips, and got to immediate work. I wrapped pastry around chocolate, around bunches of peanut butter chips, and sometimes around combinations of the two. Sometimes I dipped these in cinnamon sugar, sometimes not. And then sometimes I just tied pastry in a knot or twisted it up and dipped that in cinnamon sugar – like the cinnamon twists you’re currently overpaying for. It was a lot of fun. I really love puff pastry.

 

Doesn't this look like it was left by the druids or something?

 

I baked them at 375 until they were browned and sugar was caramelized. I removed them from the oven and redipped all of the cinnamon sugar ones, so that they had a layer of caramelized sugar and a layer of fresh (do that while they’re hot so that it sticks). They were heavenly, especially the chocolate-filled cinnamon-dipped ones, which tasted kind of like rugalach. It was quite a success, especially considering this was all happening at 10 am.

 

Would you ever know these took about 30 seconds to make?

 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, mom was still trying to make innovation worthwhile. She took out a new sheet of pastry and pressed it into a tart pan. But somehow, much as we tried to keep it in shape, the sides refused to stay up and we ended up with a beautifully puffy gallette. Having finished my pastry bits, I came to the rescue again, filling it with dried cranberries, apricots and almonds…

well half of it at least, we have to leave something for francesca ;)

 

And topping it with dark chocolate.

 

Disaster makes the best dessert

 

Seriously, how does my family even function without me? Granted this part was kind of her idea… but I did it, and my point makes more sense if I take credit. I then baked it until it was sort of toasty and the chocolate was melted (which doesn’t take long, next time I’m going to bake the puff pastry longer first). I spread it around and topped Francesca and Isabella’s half with some sugar because that makes it taste like a chocolate croissant (did you know that’s why they taste the way they do?). Seriously, I could sell a prettier version of this for so much money at a pastry shop.

 

That piece was never even there. Don't ask.

 

In German tradition there’s a time, around 3 or 4 o’clock, where everyone sits down for Kaffee und Kuchen, or coffee and cake. But since I don’t think my family comes from the fancy part of Germany, we call it yowza (yause?) (does anyone know anything about this?). So yesterday afternoon, once I’d picked up my sisters from school, we sat down to a lovely yowza of mini pastries and chocolate tart. It was ever so classy, and the puff pastry was all saved from a monstrous end. And of course, my mom was forced to concede that quiche should just be left to the pre-made crust. I guess she’ll just have to find better ways of getting me to come home.

 

The real question is how do these people even function without me?

 

There are several morals to this story, all of equal importance. Moral number one: daughters may need their mothers, but mothers need their daughters just as much. Moral number 2: there is no disaster so big that it can’t be made into pastry. Moral number three: you can try all you want, but you just can’t improve on pre-made pie crust.

Before you make a chipwich…

… remember to freeze the cookies. And the ice cream. Otherwise you may end up with ice cream-soaked cookies…

… and you may have to feed them to your six-year-old sister…

… and she may just get a sugar high and start running around the house and tumbling over the couches singing “James and the Giant Peach? James and the Giant Peach!”

Although for the record, the song was pretty cute. And the cookies tasted really good. But still. Consider yourself warned.

The Chipwich goes to Finishing School

 

The other day, over dinner, mom innocently asked Bella and me what our favorite Trashy Junk Food was. On so many levels, that ought to be an easy question for me to spurn: The Omnivores Dilemma is my favorite book, I love the locavore movement, I’m a part-time moral vegetarian, my mom’s a gourmet cooking teacher, and for Heaven’s sake, I write a food blog. On all accounts, I should really be above all that.

 

 

But, you may find it refreshing to know, food bloggers (most of us) are people too. From Pringles to Flavor Blasted Goldfish, Green Sour Patch Kids to Snickers Bars, memories and flavors came rushing back to me. I remembered the time at summer camp when Nora and I each ate 3 bowls of Cocoa Pebbles for breakfast, or the many Halloweens when I would trade Ellie for all her Reese’s Pieces (after we’d eaten Nathans Hot Dogs wrapped in Pillsbury Crescent Rolls for dinner…). Then, of course, some of these foods  just taste much better than any of us want to admit. Cappuccino Jelly Bellies are almost as good as Tiramisù, and McDonalds French Fries could hold their own at any bistro. We find the Ruffles rrrrrrrrridges completely irresistable, and though many of you may have heard me profess that goat cheese is my favorite food in the whole wide world, I’m sorry to say that is a vicious lie.  I’m just too ashamed to admit how much I love Frosted Flakes.

 

 

 

Your list may not be as bad as the one Isabella and I started (57 favorites, and counting) but I *know* you have foods like this too. The problem is, as I’ve already addressed, we are all so (theoretically) above these foods that it’s kind of embarrassing to buy them. Our twinkies are supposed to come from local bakeries, and at the very least we have to pretend that Paul Newman makes milk’s favorite cookie (although to be fair, Trader Joe Joes actually are way better than Oreos). But that brings me to the other issue. A lot of times, when you go back to your favorite junk foods, they don’t taste quite the way you remember. Duncan Hines brownies have yet to disappoint me, but I swear Funfetti is way sweeter than it used to be. So I decided to begin an intermittent series in which we’ll take our favorite junk foods, and we’ll make them ourselves so they’ll taste as good as we remember (maybe better!), and so we can sort of pretend they’re healthier (they’re not). And because the Good Humor Truck has been tempting me at the playground all summer, I thought we’d start with the Chipwich, my all-time Ice Cream Truck favorite.

 

 

 

I didn’t want to change it too much – no Rosewater Ice Cream or Dulce de Leche layers or Almond coatings. Those would be delicious, but superfluous. I trust you (and encourage you) to add them on your own if you want, but my goal was to get the satisfaction of the original, while making up for the few things it lacks. For our version, we adapted the New York Times version of the Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookie, which is is the best cookie we’ve ever made or eaten, and to preserve our sanity we filled them with Haagen Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream. I’ll spare you my rant on Haagen Dazs Five, but the little known secret is that Haagen Dazs Vanilla only lists five ingredients anyway, so it’s pretty much like homemade (only way better) but it spares you the stress of the ice cream freezer. And Haagen Dazs is a level of perfection you can’t improve on anyway.

 

 

Bake the cookies, freeze them, fill them, freeze them, roll them in chocolate chips, freeze them… or at any step along the way just eat them. These taste just like the original, but with a creamier filling, a more buttery cookie, more chocolatey chocolate, and top notes of bourbon from the ice cream. And they strike just the right balance of sweet-but-not-too-sweet, because there’s no HFCS! They’re perfect any time you’re yearning for a summer refreshment with an indulgent, nostalgic spirit. Our recipe is not intended as a replacement – the original will always have a place in our hearts. This is simply the chipwich refined, finally reaching its ultimate potential, grown up to be the best it can possibly be.