November 16, 2014

cream cheese (crack) cookies

I ate my first cream cheese cookie in the company of a two day old baby named Etta. A flock of us had descended on the new mom and her sweet new baby girl while they were in the hospital, recuperating and getting acquainted, and as it goes with welcoming parties, there were cookies. I brought whole wheat chocolate chip cookies with walnuts and my friend Katie brought these cream cheese cookies, baked on a whim after spotting them online. The whole wheat cookies were good, as they always are, but the cream cheese cookies were noteworthy with a familiar flavor and comforting gooey center wrapped by a crisp outer edge. It was, we agreed, a freaking awesome cookie. We named them crack cookies (as it turns out many of the commenters of Food52 did too) and set in to eat the rest of the parchment-protected layers of cookies while we listened intently to the story of Etta's arrival. 

It was a moment I think of often. The colors that accompany the memory are white and blue, white for the snow outside and the crisp sheets inside, and blue for the bean filled breast feeding pillow that was tucked between new mom and new baby. There were seven of us crammed in little room. Those were my people, my expat family, enjoying the arrival of a new member. And another three of us were pregnant. We were growing a community from scratch, right here in Zürich. A community with killer good cookies. 

The thing with expat communities is that they unravel, it's their nature. People arrive with no real idea of how long they'll stay, but they know it's not forever, and that one day they'll leave. Shortly after that hospital room snow-globe-moment the leaving started. First it was April and Bryan and little Etta, then it was Katie, then Jenna and Felix, then Lindsay and James, then Laura and Paul, and then Allie and Dan, and with all of them a little piece of my commitment to Zürich and life as an expat. I feel like a Jenga piece at the top of the tower after too many pieces have been pulled out beneath. It's wobbly up here as I lean towards loving Zürich and then quickly towards wanting to leave. 

It's hard being left behind. At least that's how it feels, that as our friends move on to a new adventure, a new life, that we are left in their wake. I'm still struggling to make my way in this city without them. Those of us that remain have made new friends and I'm grateful for that, but there's something special about "the originals," as I think of them. We all arrived at the same time so there was no need to try and integrate into an already existing group, we inaugurated the group. Our friendships were natural and they happened quickly because we were desperate to grab onto anyone who understood our new identity as an expat. The friendships I make now take more effort, mostly because Alice makes it hard to get out to meet new friends, but that said, there are friends who have easily slipped into my life and I made one of them these cookies last week. I wrapped them in parchment and took them to her and her new baby, tucked into a room just down the hall from where we welcomed Etta and ate cookies.

I guess this is all just to say that life goes on, the community changes, and it's hard, but the cookies are good and they stay put. Oh, and that I have no idea how much longer we'll be here and it's beginning to grate on me. 

These cookies are good. They taste, how can I say it, familiar? It swear I've had a cookie that tastes just like it, but I can't come up with it. Zach says they taste like cotton candy. One friend says they taste a bit like coconut, and another said they taste like a mix between Nilla Wafers and ginger snaps. What I can tell you is that they don't taste like cream cheese, not at all. The cream cheese manages to bring the best out of the flour, sugar and butter. And I believe it has everything to do with the delicious texture change from crisp edge to soft middle.

According to the pictures on Food 52 they are supposed to be a bit more lofty in the middle. I read through the comments and it seems like it's important to use Philadelphia Cream Cheese to ensure that they keep a hump in the middle, which I did, but perhaps the cream cheese is different in Switzerland. This is just to say that your cookie might not be as flat, but they will be good.

Cream Cheese Cookies 
from Food52

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC.  In an stand mixer cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Mix in the flour and salt until just incorporated.

Use a tablespoon to measure out the dough onto the parchment paper lined baking sheets, leaving room between cookies because they spread. Bake for about 12-14 minutes or until the edges are brown and crispy. Be sure not to over bake, otherwise the middles won't be chewy. Let the cookies cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer them with a spatula to a wire cooling rack.

November 08, 2014


In our house Birchermüesli is part breakfast and part sanity savior. That is to say, it's a sure thing. And sure things when it comes to feeding a toddler are worthy of a pedestal and entire shelf in the refrigerator. I know, it sounds like I'm at risk of feeding her peanut butter and jelly until she goes to college, but don't worry, I won't let it come to that. I offer her new food and lots of vegetables everyday, but it's just that on any given day I don't know what she'll eat and what she'll spit out. Peas can go either way, so can broccoli, and oatmeal, and even toast. There's no logic to it and it's maddening. I try to check my hope and frustration at the kitchen sink with the dirty dishes, but it's tough when you're feeding a child who recently developed a stubborn streak. And besides, feeding her is a big part of being her mom, and it has been from the beginning. Back in those itsy bitsy days it felt like it was all I did, but I did it well, we made a good team. Now, not so much. And what am I supposed to do? Stop trying? No, obviously not, and that's where the Birchermüesli comes in, because on any given day, whether she eats everything or spits everything out, I know that at least she'll have a good breakfast and that's a place to start. 

I've been meaning to tell you about Birchermüesli for awhile now. Really ever since we discovered it four years ago. At one point there was a grand plan in place sample all the muesli in town to find the best one, but that never transpired and I'm certainly not about to schlep a wiggly toddler all around town anytime soon. And besides we've settled on a favorite and it happens to be from the bakery a few blocks away from our apartment. It is so easy to pick it up on our walk to or from home that I rarely make it and I don't actually know if many Swiss do make it at home because it's so readily available out, perhaps a bit like the baguette in France - why bake it when you can buy it better? However, recently the price has been getting to me as has the fact that it has cream mixed in, which seems like a bit of a luxury for everyday consumption, especially since I have no idea how much, so I started making it at home. And it's good. We all agree. Or at least Zach and I agree, and Alice eats it. 
Before we get under way I think it's important to note the differences between Birchermüesli and it's close relative müsli; Birchermüesli is a mixture of oats, yogurt, and fruit soaked overnight to create a creamy and dense yogurt oatmeal of sorts and müsli is a dry mix of cereal grains, seeds, and dried fruits that is eaten with milk or sprinkled on yogurt. You can use a müsli mix to make Birchermüesli, although I don't. Birchermüesli can take on a lot of different variations, and there are more than a handful of different ways to prepare it, but I'm partial to the way the bakery down the street makes it so that is the route I've taken at home. 

So what it is about the neighborhood bakery's Birchermüesli that we like? Well it's thick and hefty and packed with fruit. It's also relatively simple, with a base of plain yogurt, rolled oats and grated apple. From there fruit is added, whole blueberries and raspberries, and sliced pear and banana. A sprinkle of seeds and nuts is added with a delicate hand and then a dash of milk, or in their case cream (maybe even whipped cream because it's so lofty and airy) it is all mixed and then left to mingle together while the oats absorb the liquid from the yogurt and fruit. It's a complete breakfast, healthy and fortifying, and delicious. 

There's a bit of history around Birchermüesli, which is that it was developed by a Swiss physician, Max Bircher-Benner around 1900, in an effort to get his patients to move away from the overly heavy meat and potatoes diet of the day and towards one based on raw fruit. During that time Switzerland was well known for it's sanatoriums and wellness retreats that offered fresh alpine air, sun, and healthy food. From what I can tell Benner-Bircher's original muesli was made with water instead of yogurt, but based on all the Birchermüesli we've sampled at hotels and cafes while living here, it seems as though yogurt is a more common base these days. 

Birchermüesli is adaptable to your preferences. You can adjust the amount of fruit or oats, or add nuts and seeds. (I don't add nuts because Alice isn't a fan, but hazelnuts and sunflower seeds are common additions.) The yogurt could also be replaced with milk or almond milk for a soupier variety. It's up to you, but I think the recipe that follows is a good place to start and then you can change it up. 


2 cups plain yogurt 
3/4 cup quick cooking oats
2 apples
1 pear
1 banana
3/4 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen, if frozen defrost)
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon maple syrup. 

Dice the pear, slice the banana, and grate the apple with the skin on and put them in a big bowl. Mix in the yogurt, oats, raspberries, milk, and maple syrup and stir until combined. Pour the mixture into a container and place it in the fridge to sit overnight, or at least six hours. Enjoy within a few days.