Wednesday, December 22, 2010

BBA Challenge #43: Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche

So. Here we are. Shredded Asiago.

I've really been dragging my feet towards the end of the challenge. Not just because I didn't want it to end, but mostly because I couldn't find Asiago in Berlin. True, I was only half-heartedly trying.

The thing is, finishing the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge meant finishing a significant part of my baking education. Before I started the challenge bread for me meant measuring in cups, and always forgetting if I already had five or six cups. It meant a tablespoon of yeast and a tablespoon of salt. It meant baking bread either as a boule or in loaf pans, with no other possibilities.

But even as early as Brioche or Ciabatta, bread became transcendental. It might have been baking the Casatiello, which remains my favorite bread of the book. I remember slicing the first piece off the mushroom shaped loaf and just thinking about how much crust this piece had. In fact, it might have been all crust. It might also have been when I made my own starter in anticipation of the sourdough section. Or when I began baking 2 kilo sourdough miches as "practice" for the Poilane-Style Miche.

This bread, as well as the last one are included in the Gracenote section of the book, and are cheese-laden celebrations of what bread can be. For this bread, I really wanted to make everything as in the recipe. No changes, no shortcuts.

The Asiago was not easy to find. I asked at several cheese counters and shops in the city, and in an act of desperation, I posed my question on Twitter. In hindsight, I could have asked at KaDeWe, but it's not usually a place where you can find anything easily unless you shop there regularly, which, really, should not turn into a habit. I really only go there when I'm desperate or can't find something anywhere else, and I guess I wasn't at that point yet.

Despite her initial suggestion to use Parmesan cheese, as she had done for her bread, AP269 was the first to suggest Centro Italia. Further recommendations followed from Peggy at and Küchenlatein. Poking around on Centro Italia's website, I discovered that they have two locations (Now they have three, one just opened in Prenzlauer Berg). There's one near the Schloss in Charlottenburg, and one in the middle of nowhere in Marienfelde. Luckily for me, the one in Marienfelde was about ten minutes closer, and only required a single train. So, I decided to go to that one the following weekend.

That weekend, I looked up the train schedule, double-checked Google Maps and noted the hours. I left for the Marienfelde location.

It was closed.

Somehow, in the rush that defines the weekend, I had only written down the hours of the Charlottenburg location, which is open two hours longer on the weekend. So, Marienfelde? Closed. When I got home, I checked the train schedules for when I would have to leave for Centro Italia on Monday morning with enough time to get to work. I was determined to get this cheese.

On Monday, I arrived at Centro Italia two minutes before nine. There were three guys smoking just outside the entrance, and I just assumed they were also waiting for the store to open. Of course, I thought it was normal that people would be waiting in front of a large Italian supermarket waiting for it to open in the early morning. After about a half-minute of talking amongst themselves, one of the guys told me that I could go in.

I should have gone directly to the cheese counter and fled. But, instead, I went down every aisle. Zucchini spread, Linguine (!), nine thousand different kinds of tomato sauce. It was amazing how much stuff they managed to pack into such a small space.

I walked out of there with two kinds of olive oil, as well as assorted Italian groceries. When I was at their very extensive cheese counter, I asked about the Asiago and the guy didn't even flinch when I told him I needed a half kilo.

When I finally got home that night, I went to work measuring flour, but when I read down to the rest of the ingredients, I quickly realized we had neither chives nor green onions. So much for starting the bread. I had to wait until that Thursday to pop over to the grocery store after work and nab the last two bunches of green onions. I was looking everywhere for fresh chives in the pot (many fresh herbs are sold in a little pot in Germany, in case you want to try to grow them). No dice. I settled for a small box of frozen chives.

And then. I was able to start the last bread in the Challenge.

I've actually been meaning to write an entire post about this device. It's a Mouli-Julienne from Moulinex. I first heard of it on David Lebovitz's wonderful post about Celeriac salad, he pretty much raved about it, and after a bit of quick googling, I found a picture of it, and then, finally, found one on ebay. Amy refers to it as the "Eiffel Tower" which was puzzling until one day I took it out of the cabinet and the long part was on top, which made it look just like the tower. Take a second to look at it closer, and tilt your neck if you have to.

Asiago is a strange cheese. Not sharp like cheddar or some of the drier Italian Cheeses, and not as mild as say, aged Mozzarella.

As I was peeling the wax and paper from the cheese, I discovered these traces of the name. They were probably there just to make sure I hadn't accidentally bought a different cheese. Then again, it could have been "Asiag" cheese, and not Asiago.

And in under a minute, with the help of the "Eiffel Tower" I was done.

I set up my mise en place for the challenge one last time. The thing about having all your ingredients at the ready is that it is so convenient. You're not searching for the salt, and then measuring it out, cursing the spoon scale for being in two pieces- the spoon part on the drying rack, and the scale part in your baking drawer.

As usual, I used my Electrolux DLX/N26/AKM4110W. Just Add Water. And then everything else. It's odd how I haven't really mixed dough by hand ever since I got it at the beginning of last year. And to think that I bought it because I wanted to make pizza. I've made more bread than all the pizzas I've eaten since then.

Of course, when you have an ingredient that is a bit rare, you tend to go overboard with hoarding it until you need to use it. This was a warning for Amy and I, just in case we decide to make grilled cheese with the precious Asiago.

And then, as quickly as the shredding, the dough was done. Normally, I just walk away and then check on the dough periodically, eyeballing it to see how done it is. This is actually easier when I'm doing periodical stretch-and-folds, since the more difficult the dough is to fold, the closer it is to the end of the first rise.

After the allotted three hours, it had risen to between one-and-a-half and double. Perfect.

Despite what the book said (to do it the night before), I roasted the onions as I was making the bread. Yes, that is a quarter sheet pan, only because a half-sheet pan doesn't fit in the oven if I want the door to close.

After the second rise, the bread is flipped over onto the peel and brushed with olive oil.

Then dimpled just like Foccacia.

And, like any good Foccacia, topped with the ingredients. Except that this time they were cheese and onions.

Normally, I just put flour on the peel and flop the bread onto it, score it and immediately load it into the oven using quick jerking motions to get the loaf from peel onto stone. The difficulty is compounded because the breads I love baking are actually the same diameter as the width of the stone. So I have to make sure that the bread is not falling off the back of the peel, and that I've approached the oven symmetrically, so that the sides fit on the peel. If I've done enough stretch-and-folds, the dough tends to just sit on the stone and not move. With doughs with considerably less structure and strength, the dough tends to melt to the edge before oven spring kicks in with its rising power.

With all that in mind, I decided on parchment paper for these loaves. I had a bad experience with a pizza sort of sticking to the peel and going onto the stone half-up and half-down, so I didn't want to chance it, especially with all these toppings and the very rare cheese!

I only remembered afterward that many in the Challenge had written about their onions burning in the oven, atop the bread. I also have the tendency to bake my loaves much darker than most others I know. Perhaps it's because I use darker flour, or because my electric oven has an exposed heating element at the top. Or maybe because I crank up the oven to the max and forget to turn it down. I'm not sure.

The crumb was absolutely lovely, with irregular holes, as well as tons of moisture. Perhaps because I kept to the recommended baking times and didn't overbake it to get it browner.

I was a bit disappointed that the onions burned, but they weren't so burnt that I had to pick them off.

When sliced, the bread took on a near-magical quality. All that cheese! It certainly added flavor to the bread, but you could barely recognize it in the crumb itself.

Though this was supposed to be a three-day bread, the bread sort of somehow started overproofing in the fridge during the last rise after only an hour, so I just took it out and baked it. This is the second loaf, just before going into the oven.

And the bottom of the second one the next morning. I froze half of the first loaf as soon as it came out. The other half we inhaled that evening with soup. I also froze half of the second loaf, and snuck slices from the non-frozen half. Note the smoothness of the bottom. Usually, I love the wrinkled flour dusted bottom of loaves, but for this one, I didn't mind.

It was perfect.

I have enjoyed baking with these other finishers of the BBA Challenge. I hope to be able to add your name soon!

Sally from Bewitching Kitchen
Phyl from Of Cabbages and King Cakes
Cindy from Salt and Serenity
Oggi from I can do that!
Sarah from My Runchey Life
Paul from Yumarama
txfarmer's blog (in chinese)
Abby from Stir it! Scrape it! Mix it! Bake it!
ap269 from Family and Food
Anne Marie from Rosemary and Garlic

If I've forgotten you, please send me an email or a comment with a link to your post and I'll include you in the blogroll.

Friday, November 5, 2010

BBA Challenge #42: Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedoes

Every Saturday morning, Amy and I make a survey of whatever vegetables we have left in the house, grab our Oma Porsche (shopping trolley), and roll on out of there into the midst of a huge Turkish Market at Crelleplatz near our house.

The market itself is nothing special. Half the stalls are clothing, trinkets, and other low-priced wares. The thing that disturbs me the most is a singing doll, very likely made in China who says "I love you!" before launching into the most horrible rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I've sworn on not less than one occasion that one day that very annoying doll will make me reach my breaking point.

The market is not divided in any way between wares and vegetables, and the stalls are pretty much hit or miss. We have the stall where we always buy carrots, if they have them, the one stall which always has bundles of fresh herbs for an Euro, the stall where we never buy anything because they seem to rip us off and have very bad fruit and vegetables, and then there's the stall where the guy screams with so much projection, that you can hear him halfway down the market shouting "Lecker! Lecker! Lecker!"

The bad thing is that most of the produce has recognizable supermarket stickers. That is, they come in bags or plastic baskets, and look exactly like the kind you would get in a supermarket. The weird thing is that some of it can go bad rather quickly, so you have to be quite selective, and get there early in the morning before the afternoon rush. The rush, of course, is amplified by the vendors dropping their prices and offering you flats of produce for an Euro or two. We once got a flat of avocados for an Euro right before closing.

None of this is that extraordinary for Berlin, though. What is rather extraordinary is the potato vendor at the very fringe of the market, in the least traveled section right by the 2€ slippers and the stall where I was once yelled at for picking up a basket of cherry tomatoes to take a closer look. You see, the potato vendor is not Turkish. He's German. So, it's especially puzzling to see him chilling (and sometimes his friends) and selling potatoes that haven't travelled that far. His four kinds of potatoes, and two kinds of onions come from the Lüneberger Heide, just outside of Hamburg. Also strange, especially for this market is his old balance scale, with weights on one side, and a basket for the potatoes on the other.

Usually, I tell him what I'm making, and he'll tell me which potatoes are best. This time, however, I was a bit afraid to tell him that I'd be putting the potatoes in bread.

The penultimate bread in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge is Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedoes. I'm this close from finishing the challenge, and in truth, it's probably taken me twice as long as it should have, partly because I was dragging my feet, and partly because Asiago is near impossible to find in Germany.

Germany has sometimes proven to be a bit of a challenge for me, especially with food. The German tastes in cheese range from Quark to Frischkäse to mild Goudas. I find it surprising that their pre-shredded Pizza Cheese is made of Gouda instead of aged mozzarella, of which there seems to be none. Fresh mozzarella in its brine, however, can be found in little plastic bags in every grocery store in the city.

So, whenever I see Cheddar, I usually snap it up. Cathedral City is the most common one here, and while their 16 month old cheese is tasty, you sort of long for the variety (cough, Cabot) you can get in the States, or in the UK. In an odd twist of the cheese knife, this cheese claims "Cheddar- England's-Nummer1". Um, right.

The bread was supposed to be sliced, but, with when aged, this is the way cheddar crumbles.

The mise en place with both sourdough and fresh yeast. Another weird thing about Germany is that you can get fresh yeast at every supermarket in the country for about 15 cents. I love it, but I usually forget that I have it, and it ends up going bad.

The dough is mixed and the potatoes are thrown in there to be mashed into the dough. 

I know that many people out there own Kitchen-Aid mixers, but for making bread, I love my Electrolux mixer. the bowl is wide and open so you can throw more ingredients in while it is running, and you can even scrape down the bowl quite easily (when it's not running, of course). Also, I regularly mix about 2 kilos of dough in the machine, and it doesn't even get warm. How's that for a recommendation?

I love and hate using fresh yeast- the dough rises quicker than expected, so sometimes something like this happens. While it's good to know that the bread has at least doubled, it's also a sign that the gluten has become overstretched, so the structure of the final bread won't be as great as it could have been. 

And speaking of as great as it could have been- I sort of skimmed that part of the recipe where you add the chives to the dough. By the time I got to that part, I was already shaping the bread.

So I just kind of threw it all into the layer, knowing that the chives would be concentrated with the cheese, instead of dispersing their flavory goodness into the dough itself.

In all the bread talk I hear and read, everyone mentions dough scrapers and bench knives and metal scrapers, but no one mentions brushes. I ordered this one from MORA in Paris, and I use it every time I make bread. Sometimes to brush flour off the counter, other times to brush it off loaves going in or coming out of the oven. The biggest use, though? Brushing flour off my camera whenever I take photos of the process.

I'm not going to say that the loaves came out pretty, because they didn't, despite all the support gave them in the final rise, and the careful sliding onto the baking stone.

Because the dough was so slack- probably from letting the dough overrise, I put the dough in an improvised couche made of parchment paper, knowing I would never get them out if I put them in a regular linen couche.

Of course, I was on a miche kick back when I made the bread for the Challenge, so I also made a miche at the same time. Because of the scoring, and the way the bread expanded, it looks like it has a third eye and is smiling about it.

One of the things that I always kick myself about is that I never take notes. I would love to be the person who takes notes of everything. Rather, I rely on memory, which eventually fails once I make the next bread. Still, it can't be all that bad if I'm pulling loaves like this out of the oven.

Here's a close up of the mouth.

And the crumb structure right out of the oven. I think I hit a perfect mix of flours, water and time, but I'll never know what it was. I should, however, note that I really should have scored the bread down the middle. Check out how the holes all tend to go toward the left, where the mouth, the weakest point, was. But chalk it up to creative scoring, and a thousand little variables, no?

But the bread of this post (remember that one?) came out relatively flat.

 Nevertheless, you can still see the cheddar peeking through the slashes in the bread.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a good spiral in the middle. It was sort of like it just decided to form random pockets of cheese and chives in the middle.

But that certainly didn't stop us from eating all of it in one go. It was fabulous, but next time, I'll be sure to add the chives in for all of their flavory goodness.

Just one more bread to go!

Other bakers who have torpedoed their way to this part of the Challenge are:

Sarah at My Runchey Life

Cindy at Salt and Serenity

Paul at Yumarama

Cathy at Bread Experience

Phyl at Of Cabbages and King Cakes

Sally at Bewitching Kitchen

Janice at Round The Table

Anne Marie at Rosemary and Garlic

ap269 at Family and Food

TXfarmer at her blog (in Chinese)

Natashya from Living In The Kitchen With Puppies

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Berlin Honey

Once Is Happenstance

Earlier this year, I had read a German article about beekeeping on the roof of the Paris Opera. The honey was then sold at the Opera gift shop. I thought this was rather clever, but wondered what the honey would taste like. Other than a trip back to Paris, which is continually in the pre-planning stages, it was unlikely that I would be able to taste honey that came from there, and only from there.
Twice Is Coincidence
About two months later, the tweeters I follow were all abuzz with a video of Tim Hayward making bread with Richard Bertinet. While the video was pretty awesome, another one caught my eye. Urban beekeeping in London. The thing that really got me was that the bees were being kept on the roof of Fortnum and Mason, where we had afternoon tea, after stumbling about London in a mad rush to see everyone we knew. We were trying to find a tea place across the street from an Audi dealership, and, in the end, I remembered the name Fortnum and Mason. As we entered the fourth floor, we were ushered into an empty room to leave our luggage, and then to a table at the back of the restaurant, right next to the kitchen. I didn't mind. After I saw the video, I thought about the London honey that I could have bought.
Three Times... You Pay Attention
I had come across the Berlin Honey website once before, and had contemplated buying some, but in the end, I didn't. I'm not sure why. It wasn't until Peggy of wrote an article about them that I realized I had to get some. Now, I didn't order any right away, though I really wanted to. Honey from Berlin, I wouldn't have thought that possible if I hadn't read about Paris and London. And why not? With one quarter of Berlin being lakes and forest, it is a perfect environment for bees. In any case, I liked the way it sounded: Paris Honey, London Honey, Berlin Honey.
My History With Honey
I had never really consciously thought about honey. I knew that it came from bees, and also knew that it was stored in honeycombs. A few times, during our trips to Mexico, my parents would buy some honey with a piece of honeycomb floating in it. Sometimes they would only buy a honeycomb filled with honey. We would pop the cells and empty out the honey, chewing the wax like gum. Other than that, we had the occasional honeybear full of clover honey. I never gave a second thought about why it was called clover honey except in the rare case that I bought orange blossom honey. Which tasted slightly of oranges. That I could understand. But clover?

My first conscious experience with honey as a food, as something that wasn't just plain clover honey, or, in Germany, Akazienhonig (as common here as clover honey is over there) was when I bought a very small, and very expensive jar of Tannenhonig (pine honey) at a Bioladen. It was dark and woodsy, aromatic and full of rich forest flavor. I would drizzle it on wonderfully tart fresh goat cheese, taking up a habit, just so I could have the two flavors together.

When we visited Paris last year, Amy discovered a listing in the in-flight magazine for the Maison du Miel. It took a while to find it, we were re-checking the address in the pocket notebook where we had made our notes. When I saw the address, I realized that the address wasn't Rue Vignon 9, but rather Rue Vignon in the 9th arrondissement.

After much consideration, and fully aware that I already had two heavy blue steel baking sheets in my luggage, I chose a small jar of the Rosemary honey, and one of the Bruyère Blanche (tree heath). For our friend, who was housesitting for us, we chose a small jar of coffee honey, produced by bees that hang around coffee plants, getting their pollen fix. I also noticed two bars of honey soap (I have a thing for natural soaps), and snapped them up to complete our purchase.

Then, last spring, on our hiking vacation, we stopped in a small German Deli in Prerow. They had tons of sausages, and best of all, cheese. When I asked which cheese was local, the woman behind the counter quickly answered- "We're in the wrong Bundesland for cheese. That's Schleswig-Holstein. We're in MeckPomm." Fair enough. "I'll take that semi-hard cheese, then".
I don't remember what cheese we ended up having that night, but I do remember coming across a small jar of Buckwheat honey. When I picked it up and put it in the basket, the saleswoman asked me if I had tasted it before, as many people buy it without tasting it, and try to return it. She motioned to a small table with tasting crackers, honey, and a some olive tapenade. I tried the honey.


Buckwheat honey tastes the way a barn smells. Musky and dark, and extraordinarily earthy. You get notes of bitter grass and hay, and it's particularly flavorful when paired with some really tangy goat cheese. But then again, which honey doesn't?

Berliner Honig

After coming back from a whirlwind four days in London, Amy and I were invited to a Berlin food blogger picnic by the very lovely Anette and Jemi of Berliner Honig. Oh, wait, say what? Me? A food blogger. I was invited to a food blogger picnic? But I'm not a food blogger. I sent an RSVP, and kept waiting for the follow-up email where they'd realize they had made a mistake. It never came, instead, the next email had more details about the event. So I slowly realized that, yes, I do blog, as infrequently as it seems to be nowadays, and that I do write about food, bread in particular.

The event was held on August 28 at Berliner Honig Headquarters in Friedrichshain. It was originally intended to be held outside in Volkspark Friedrichshain, but bad weather, combined with rain the night before, had pushed it indoors. The office was really white and had huge beautiful windows with blinds. We began with introductions, and a glass of Sekt as a greeting drink.

The night before, I had mixed together a dough using a technique I've named "Overnight Sourdough". Basically, I mix together a dough as close to midnight as I can, do stretch and folds until I go to sleep, then put the dough on the balcony for the bulk rise. This works great in summer, when it's warm enough to sleep with the balcony doors open, but cool enough that a batch of sourdough won't overrise and lose its structure. I usually wake up at six, shape the bread, turn on the oven with the stone in, and sleep for an additional two hours while the bread does a final rise atop the warm stove. I put the bread in at eight, and it's ready by nine. Unfortunately, I'm usually not, so the day of the picnic, the bread was ready before we were.

In attendance were our hosts, Anette and Jemi, Karin from Geniesser Zeit, Peggy from, Anne from Kekstester, and Suzan from Foodie In Berlin. I was also looking forward to meeting other Berlin Food Bloggers, but they shall remain nameless until I do actually get to meet them. There were some last-minute cancellations, all for very good reasons, I later found out. However, I did wish more of them had been able to attend, because there are a lot of great Berlin Blogs out there. Of course, nearly all of them in German.

Although I was starving, I held on, and snuck a slice of bread while Anette and Jemi talked about honey, bees and beekeeping. In Germany, as in the rest of the world, about 30% of bees die out every year due to Colony Collapse disorder. The thing is, this happens mostly in the countryside, where more crops are farmed. I know, you would think more crops would equal more pollen, but because our agricultural system has evolved into a monoculture system, bees that live around agriculture (and especially industrial agriculture) don't get as much a variety of food as they would have in the past when farms grew a bit of everything. Also to blame are pesticides, which can wreak havoc both on the bees' immune systems as well as their natural navigation systems.

On the other hand, cities have a huge variety of flora. Home gardeners don't just plant one variety, they plant tons, and cities usually plant many different types of trees for aesthetic purposes. Plus, you have a relatively low incidence of pesticides. And you have a rich environment in which bees can thrive. Think about it, if New York can have its own beekeepers association, then surely Berlin, one of the greenest cities in Europe, can be a playground for bees.

And, so, Berliner Honig is produced. The company is a sort of collective/distributor for the various beekeepers in Berlin. Although the average age of beekeepers in Germany is about 80 years, all the beekeepers from Berliner Honig are quite young. Beekeeping itself is not a hobby you can do every other month, as the bees do require weekly maintenance. So, it's usually something that retired people usually take up as a hobby.

Anette (with Jemi chiming in) gave us an explanation on how honey is produced, how the hive works- the social structure and all, and let us touch some of the hive related material she and Jemi had brought. Here's she's holding two frames, though I'm pretty sure they were the ones that hadn't been built upon. Note the brown hive on the left. In a country that has a whole system of standards (DIN), there isn't any real hive standardization. So, there's a wide variety of hive structures. After all our questions, she asked if we were ready to meet the bees, and opened up the hive.

When she and Jemi opened the hive, I gasped. When I was younger, a couple of bees had set themselves up in a hollow part of one of our walls, so I knew well enough to ignore them, and they would mind their own beeswax. Still, I hadn't been around multiple bees in quite a while. Luckily, the hive itself was under glass. In the above picture, the dark areas correspond to the brood- the places where new bees are born and raised, and the honeycombs that are covered are the reserve food, the honey, if you will.

Seeing the bees up close was pretty awesome. They were buzzing and crawling about like crazy. Though she's out of the depth of focus in the above shot, the queen bee was painted with a blue dot, so you could spot her easily. Well, if you looked closely, you could also find her by her size- she was at least two times as big as any of the worker bees.

Holding all the various bee-related things was my favorite part of the day. This is part of a frame, after it has been emptied of its delicious honey.

After all that, we were ready eat and sample the honey. I'm actually kicking myself because I didn't take more pictures of the food- Anette and Jemi had spread out a large table with figs, goat cheese, Gruyere and bread. They also had coffee, and hot water for tea. The funny thing is, Germans usually don't get the concept of a potluck party, but I guess that whenever I have people over, I don't really expect them to bring anything either. Still, there was tons of great stuff on offer. I did manage to snap some of the Eierkuchen and Honey ice cream.

The bread gods had actually blessed me on that day- Usually, I shape the bread in the morning, after a bulk rise in the refrigerator, but this time, I had shaped the bread, then put it in the fridge. So when I did take it out, it was already pretty huge. So, when I baked it, the bread was perfectly risen, with not much oven spring (since it was perfectly risen, haha), but with an awesome crumb.

Suzan from FoodieInBerlin, brought a plum tart, which you can see in the upper right background. Forgive the bread shot, but I usually take photos of my own bread for reference. The plums were all picture perfect, sliced and with no signs of the pits.

When I asked what she did with the middle parts of the plums (where the pits were) she sort of looked at me all puzzled and said, "I ate them." I guess I asked because I would have baked with all the parts of the plums, and wouldn't have even thought of making it aesthetically pleasing, or saving the leftovers for breakfast.

I loved the thinness of the plum tart- I even had a second piece. The plums were laid on a layer of marzipan, which in turn rested on the pastry crust. I was quite shocked when Suzan mentioned that she had used rye flour in the crust, since I didn't know you could to that. Well, you actually can, but she only did because she had run out of other flour. I really should not have been surprised. Since then I've kept an eye out, and noticed that many of the better Berlin bakeries are making their crusts out of spelt.

Also in attendance was Anne from Kekstester, one of my favorite German blogs. The name literally means "cookie tester" and she focuses on cookies and other desserts. While we were all expecting her to bring cookies, she brought Arabic Almond-Honey squares instead. I had two, or, at least two. I think I might have had two and a half. They weren't as honey sweet as most honey and dough desserts that you sometimes find. The cake was a great base for the almonds and honey, and was understated with the real treat being the almond-honey topping. You can find the recipe, as well as her account of the picnic, here (in German).

Peggy from brought a beet-peanut spread that was simply delicious. It was sweet beets, combined with peanuts and lots of garlic. I don't remember when I began eating beets, but once they crept into my salads, I knew there was no going back. The beet texture with the fat and flavor of the peanuts and the overwhelming yumminess of the peanuts. Even if you're not a beet fan, this pink mix was simple and simply delicious. You can find the recipe here, though, it's only in German.

Tasting Notes

I know that by now you are all dying to know how the honey tasted.

My first impressions were that the spring honey, the Berliner Frühling (on the left) just tasted like honey. Very subtle honey, but without that overt "HONEY" flavor that you sometimes get from clover honey. It was good. It tasted fresh and the way you expect a light honey to taste. I think the problem with the tasting, though was that we went back and forth between the honeys instead of concentrating on one, then on the other. Because the Haupstadtlinde (on the right) was so awesome during the tasting, it overshadowed the Berliner Frühling. Later, I opened the jar of the Berliner Frühling, and it was a revelation. The lightest taste of beeswax with the full roundness of it, and a delicate honey flavor without being cloyingly sweet.

The Haupstadtlinde (Capitol Linden) comes from bees that frequent Linden trees in Berlin. The flavor of this one is just spectacular. Maybe it's not a desired flavor, but you can taste the beeswax. You can taste the beeswax! It has a light citrus-floral flavor that gives way to a full mouth of just lovely beeswax. It's almost like biting into a hive. On sourdough bread, however, the wax flavor is overtaken but the flavor is- well, it's the flavor of simply delicious raw honey.

Wherever you might be, I urge you to find local honey. Either through Local Harvest or the National Honey Board's Honey Locator in the States. In the UK, you can search BeeData's Local Honey Database.

If you are lucky enough to live in Germany, you can order Berlin Honey from Berliner Honig's online shop, or you can buy it in person from selected places in Berlin.