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. 

October 23, 2014

alpine escape

I'm sitting in an Italian style espresso bar, by myself (!!!!) enjoying a latte machiatto with a dense foam top dusted with an entire packet of sugar. It only looks like a dusting because half of the packet slipped down a little well in the middle of the foam and settled to the bottom of the glass. That will be a nice last sip, like melted coffee ice cream. 

I should be drinking iced tea - not that they have any here - because that is what I'm going to tell you about in this post, how iced tea helps reinvigorate me when I'm alone, but after panicking over a wallet that was lost and then found (with the cards, but none of the cash), caffeine was on call this afternoon. And, ooo eee, it tastes good. 

A L O N E. Not a state I find myself in very often. Yes, I have some time to myself when Alice is sleeping or Zach is home on the weekends, but that isn't really alone time, when she's just around the corner snoozing and threatening to wake up just as I'm in the middle of something really productive. Up until recently we didn't have a babysitter and it was me and Alice, mano y mano, everyday, all day. I love her to pieces and I miss her when she naps, but man it's tough some days to be on and ready to sing and dance and weather playgrounds in the cold. Now, thankfully, we have a wonderful babysitter who steps in on Thursday afternoons to entertain our babe and give me a break. Thank heaven for little girls, and thank heaven for babysitters. 

Now, let's' chat about iced tea. In one of those sacred alone moments discussed above, in August, when we were in Zermatt with my parents and Alice was napping, Zach and I hiked up from town to Pension Edelweiss, which is perched, awfully precariously, over town. (Somehow even though I was with Zach, the absence of Alice, made me feel very much alone) The hike is straight up. We huffed and puffed the entire way up and leaned a little too heavily on our hiking poles, but we made it and the little peach hut with red umbrellas was a welcome site. We grabbed a table right on the edge and ordered what can only be considered a reward for our efforts. Zach got a fried egg with ham on toast and a cappuccino, and I ordered an apricot tart and an iced tea. Homemade, the iced tea was amber in color and chilled, and amazingly refreshing. It wasn't cloyingly sweet, but it was definitely sweet, sweetened with what tasted like a bit of orange juice and sugar. I don't sweeten hot tea. The temperature captures the senses enough to negate the need for sugar. But the coldness of iced tea on the other hand can make the tea taste strong and bitter. If you're going to sweeten it, which I think you should, it's best to add the sugar while the water is boiling and the tea bags are seeping, that way it fully dissolves and you aren't left sipping sugar granules. 

I wish I could tell you about the apricot tart, which is supposedly what the Pension Edelweiss is known for, but it was attacked by bees within seconds of landing on our table and we had to set it on another table far, far away. 

After our hike in Zermatt the next time I found myself alone, this time truly alone, was a couple of weeks ago. Alice was with the babysitter and I set out to rediscover the Zürich I knew and loved before Alice was born, which really just meant heading to one of my favorite cafes for some quiet time with a book. The weather was amazing, as all Indian summer days are, and there was a free bench so I sat down with my face in the sun and took in the scene, which is when I spotted a woman drinking an iced tea and I knew I had to have one. Actually, I ended up having two. Once again, the tea was sweetened, perfectly, and I was refreshed, mostly mentally, but also physically. Eager to recreate this feeling at home I asked the waitress how they made their tea and she willing told me that they use the Bio Alpkräutertee (organic alpine herb tee) from Coop (one of the two main grocery stores here) and let it simmer with mint, orange and lemon and a bit of sugar. I found the tea, I bought the mint, lemon and orange, and I think I managed a damn good replication at home. 

* As I mentioned the tea I used is the Bio Alpkräutertee from Coop, which is great if you live in Switzerland, but if you don't try and look for an herbal tea. This one has mint, lemon balm, verbena, Lady's Mantle, chamomile, sage, thyme, and nettle.  

* This recipe is for one large mason jar, about 1 liter

- 4 tea bags
- one orange, cut in half, one half juiced and the other sliced
- 3 tablespoons of sugar
- one lemon, sliced
- a few springs of mint 

Place the tea bags and sugar in a large mason jar (or pitcher of equivalent size) and pour in the boiling water and orange juice and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Add a slice of orange, a slice of lemon, and two sprigs of mint. Let the tea sit for about ten 8 minutes and then remove the tea bags. Let the tea come to room temperature and then place it in the fridge until chilled. Enjoy with a new batch of orange and lemon slices and mint. 

August 16, 2014

Alice is one : strawberry cream cake

Alice turned one on August 1st, her golden birthday. We celebrated the weekend before with cake and friends and many many rounds of Happy Birthday. 

A year! My baby! 

I can't say her first birthday blindsided me, because I'd been watching it's steady approach since Alice turned nine months. Nine months was a month of milestones for Alice - she started crawling, stopped breast feeding, lost her spiky hair, and most notably to me, had been on the outside as long as she had been on the inside. I was in awe of my little apple seed that was crawling around the aparment. I knew one year would be the next big release of awe and amazement, and I knew it would come quickly, and it did.

And so here we are, one year and two weeks, and I'm constantly marveling at our baby, who now is mostly certainly more little girl than baby. It's hard to admit that, that she's not a baby anymore, but when she walked into the kitchen yesterday, where I was prepping dinner, with a blankie in one hand and a spoon in the other, it was clear to me that those sweet sleepy baby days, the ones with the tiny clenched fists, and puckered little lips, are behind us. I loved and cherished those early days and a nice big piece of me is sad that they are over. Thankfully she has grown into a delightful little girl, which softens the transition a bit.

To honor our summer baby I made strawberry cream cake. Alice loves strawberries so I knew those alone would make her happy, and I figured the layers of sponge cake and whipped cream frosting would make the rest of our guests happy. It took a little while to settle on what recipe to use. I'll admit that I felt a lot of pressure around the cake, I wanted to the perfect cake for our first birthday celebration as a family. I leafed through cookbooks and trolled the internet, before remembering that one of my blogging friends, Amy, had made a Cooks Illustrated Strawberry Cream Cake a couple of years ago. I saw her photos and skimmed the recipe, and I knew it was fitting of Alice's first birthday. 

And it was, it was perfect. Each component alone was delicious, but together they were awesome. The cake was light and moist and held it's own under the weight of whipped cream and strawberries. The whipped cream frosting, with added cream cheese for support, was airy and smooth and just the slightest bit sweet, which to me, not being a buttercream fan, are the traits of the perfect icing. And the macerated strawberry filling, amped up with the reduced strawberry juice, brought all of the layers together. It is a cake worth making a tradition out of.

Strawberry Cream Cake

My cake baking skills were not on par leading up to the celebration, which resulted in a bit of a mish-mash cake assembly. I had planned on making a three layer cake by slicing one 9" cake into three layers, but my first cake didn't rise well do to a bad batch of baking powder. I put that cake to the side, and baked a second cake. I cut the first cake down and then cut the second one in two layers. This is just to say that my cake might be a bit taller than yours if you cut one 9" cake into three layers. You can also opt to do what Amy did, which is to bake the cake in two separate pans for a two layer cake. It's really up to you. 

For the smash cake I used about 3/4 of a batch of cake batter and poured the rest into mini cupcake molds. 

If you don't have access to cake flour, which I don't, you can make your own. Simply measure out the flour, remove 2 tablespoons of flour and replace with 2 tablespoons of corn starch. Sift back and forth, between two bowls, at least 5 times. It's annoying, yes, but doable. See further instructions here

1 1/4 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs, 2 whole, 3 separated, room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 pounds of fresh strawberries, washed, dried, and stemmed
4-6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsh (optional. use if your strawberries aren't in season/sweet. I didn't use it)
pinch of salt

8 oz cream cheese, slightly softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream

For the cake....
preheat the oven to 325ºF and place the rack in the lower-middle position. Butter and flour a 9" spring form pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit. 

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and 1 cup + 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in the 2 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks (reserving the whites), the melted butter, water, and vanilla. Continue whisking until the batter is smooth and thick

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment beat the 3 egg whites on medium-low speed for about two minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and slowly add the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form, about two more minutes. Fold in one third of the egg whites into the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites, until there are no white streaks left. Pour the batter in the pan and bake until a tooth pick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for ten minutes and then release the spring side and let it cool completely (a must!), about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. 

For the strawberries....
While the cake is cooling make the strawberry filling. Halve 24 of the best looking strawberries (8 for each layer) and set aside along with a few whole ones incase that isn't enough. Quarter the remaining berries and mix them in a bowl with 4-6 tablespoons of sugar. Let this sit for one hour, stirring occasionally. 

Strain the juice from the macerated berries and heat over medium high heat in a small saucepan with the Kirsh (if using), until reduced to a syrup, about 3-5 minutes. Put the quartered berries in a food processor for five, one second pulses, or chop with a knife. Pour the syrup over the berries and mix in the salt. 

For the whipped cream frosting
When the cake has cooled and you are ready to assemble it make the whipped cream frosting. Place the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides a couple times. Reduce the speed to low and add the heavy cream in a slow, steady stream. When it's just about all the way combined increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, another 1 to 2 minutes. 

To assemble the cake start by cutting the cake into three even layers. Start with one layer on your cake plate and array the halved strawberries around the edge. Pour half of the macerated berries into the center of the cake and spread towards the edges. Next, spread out a layer of whipped cream frosting over the macerated berries and towards the edges of the halved berries, but not fully to the edge of the cake (it will extend once you add the layers on top). Top with the second layer and repeat the process. Add the final and top layer and spread out a layer of frosting and trim with the berries and you're done!

I wanted Alice to have free reign of her cake, so I decided at the last minute to make a small "smash" cake just for her, which was really a ridiculous idea considering Alice had never had sugar before let alone cake, but it was her birthday, and so I did it anyway. She was much more into poking and dissecting than eating. I think she maybe had one or two bites and then continued with her smashing.