17 June 2011

Hello, Oven

I know it's been a while old friend, but I promise you my time away will only bring us closer. I've been tasting and photographing and taking extensive notes on construction and flavor that I hope will push me to raise my baking game.

Oven, you're going to be busy for the foreseeable future!!

But what inspiration...

So many beautiful shapes and flavors.  So many old, old recipes that I want to try.


Walking into a pastry shop in Europe I get the same feeling as when I go into a bookstore--happily overwhelmed.

All this has to get channeled somewhere, right?

I'm starting with the Fresh from the Oven menu.  I had a breakfast order today so I decided to unveil my Viennese Lemon Buns.

Soft, lemony, creamy, a little sweet, a little savory and wholly satisfying.

There are lots of variations of sweet buns from Vienna to Prague.  They're called buchty, kolachy or buchteln.  They can be open-faced or stuffed with anything from jam and nut paste to cheese.

Rick Rodgers covers Buchty in Kaffeehaus too.  His recipe is similar to mine with only a couple of exceptions--raisins in the filling, baking the buns tight together like cinnamon rolls.

I like them baked separately like cookies.  They are easier to transport and to serve.  The golden crust also keeps them moist inside for much longer.

What Happened:
This is probably one of the easiest yeast doughs you'll find.  It's quick to put together and the rise time is relatively short.  You're not going to spend your whole day babysitting these.  Shaping is easy because the dough is really forgiving it just keeps rising and rising.  You can either refrigerate the shaped rolls for a next morning bake or freeze them for sometime down the road.

It takes about 3 minutes to throw together the filling, so it's best to do that just before you put them in the oven.

Things I would change:
  • More zest in the dough.  I really like the lemon essence to be throughout the bun and not just in the filling.
  • Bake until barely golden.  This goes against the standard rule of thumb "the more golden, the fuller the flavor."  In this case it can toughen the bun slightly.  Get color, but just a little.
  • Try other citrus flavors too--orange, lime, grapefruit 
The Result:
It's no secret that I ADORE these.  I lean toward the blander breakfast items--toast, plain croissant, cornflakes.  I'm not big on the syrupy bear claw or oozing chocolate croissant in the morning.  My tongue can't take sweet first thing.  But I'm all over the Viennese Lemon Bun.  It's doughy and creamy (I never turn down creamy) with a hint of tart lemon.  Sweet doesn't even enter my thoughts although I know they are.  For me this is the perfect breakfast pastry.

The buns usually are best the day you make them, but you can put them in the microwave for just a brief blast the next day to restore their chewy-goodness.

06 June 2011

Prague's Grand Cafés - Grand Café Orient

This is it, the last stop on our Prague coffee house tour, Grand Café Orient.

I was hungry, thirsty and ready to rest my tootsies after walking circles around Prague all morning.

Much is made of the Orient's Cubist design underscored by the fact that it's on the first floor of the House at the Black Madonna, home to a Cubist museum.

Side note--until this area fell under Hapsburg rule there were no house numbers.  Locations were referrenced by unique paintings or sculptures on the individual buildings.  These "house signs" like the Black Madonna still remain on buildings throughout the oldest areas of Prague.

Cubist, huh? I didn't find it to be noticeably different than other places I'd visited that were all built around 1912, but then I looked closer.

Where were my beloved Art Nouveau curves?

What about the vines and leaves and goddess-y ladies?

Here the lines were straight.

Here the curves were angles.

Instead of flowers, branches and leaves, triangles found their way into everything from the hooks holding the newspapers to the chandeliers.

It reminded me a bit of a New Orleans café.  Balcony, bay windows--so clean, open and airy.

Maybe it was the sound of the jazz band playing on the street below that put the New Orleans picture in my head?

Yeah, yeah all this talk of design and ambiance is...well...fine, but let's get on to the dessert, right?

After a salad with smoked salmon and toast points for lunch, I was ready to splurge.  I looked in the pastry case where a swirly chocolate cylinder topped with a chocolate cigarette caught my eye.  I pointed and told my waiter, "I'll take that!"  He said it was the house specialty, the Grand Café Orient, and they were fresh out.  Ugh.

I looked again.  I didn't want the Sachertorte or the Cheesecake or the Honeycake or the Carrot Cake or the Creme Brulee.  Nothing really spoke to me.

I settled on a little cake in the back with apples or something.  I was nervous because I really don't like cooked apples or cooked fruit of any kind.  Fruit should not be mushy!  I was stuck.

It's called, Dort s jablky a jemným krémem--WHAA?  Or, Cake with Apples and Soft Cream.

Clunky name, but what flavor.  Such a surprise!

The best part--the apples weren't cooked!!  Shredded apples tossed in a little cinnamon were suspended in soft gelatin and cradled by spongy vanilla cake with fluffy cream between every layer.  Very light.

Confession--I didn't just taste, I ate everything except the mint.  Couldn't help myself.

Gotta dig up a recipe for this one.

01 June 2011

Prague's Grand Cafés - Kavárna Obecní dům

INDULGENCE WARNING: This post will be full, too full, of things that excite me and me alone, so please forgive me, but I don't think I can help myself!

Art Nouveau moves me.

I like curves.

I like vines and movement.

I like a bit of fussiness, but only in art.

In college I started collecting things featuring this style.  Eventually I realized that I had a lot of stuff by an artist named, Alphonse Mucha.

Turns out he's considered the father of Art Nouveau.  

While I was planning my first trip to Prague I found out they had a Mucha museum.  Apparently Mucha's from Czech Republic?!  Crazy!

I was thrilled!

So what does all this have to do with Prague's Grand Cafés?

Mucha designed Kavárna Obecní dům!  In fact, he designed the entire Municipal Building (Obecní dům), just steps from  Old Town Square.

What were the chances? I think it was a gift just for me!
Walking in, I stopped in my tracks.

Floral, viny, feminine lines, warm woods and splashes of gold--the attention to detail made me smile. 

Curves everywhere.

Mucha designed it all--light fixtures to coffee cups.


Oh yeah, there's pastries...

                              ...and coffee.
My choice?

The waiter called this a Nougat Torte.  Sounded good--chocolate, nuts, honey. 

It was completely forgettable. 

I couldn't believe it. 

Just not much flavor.  Even the texture was one-note--soft.
On the upside, I love the look of the black and white layers and the confetti of both white and dark chocolate on the top and side.  The chocolate covered almond garnish was nice too.  It looked tasty.

Couldn't taste the nuts in anything although I'm pretty sure the sponge cake was meant to be almond.  The chocolate wasn't sweet or rich.  No hint of honey. It just didn't taste like anything.

I still love this café and know that if I made a different sweet choice I'd have had better luck.  Guess I'll have to go back, bask in the Art Nouveau glow and see what the dessert cart brings!