Monday, 8 July 2013

Baby you're a firework (or something like that)

Yes, it was our American expat friend's annual 4th July party at the weekend - and we all rocked up to help them celebrate casting off the shackles of British oppression all those years ago (or something like that!)
4th July Celebration Cake

So, happy to join in the fun, despite the colonials having unceremoniously kicked us Brits out,  we donned our red, white and blue (H in his subversive Union Jack pants!) and mucked in.

As ever, the dilemma of what to take arose - all we seem to do is eat and drink at every event we go to (but it's not all that bad!) and, as ever the tables were groaning under the offerings of all the guests. The main event, the barbecue was being taken care of by our hosts - and the lovely Global Attitude had provided a range of American treats, from home cooked beans, to chocolate chip cookies and brownies, to lemon pie and jello shots (laced with a slug of vodka for the grown ups) Kettwigefrau provided the British classic of sausage rolls - in a wonderfully ironic Union Jack tin (just to wind the Americans up of course!).  That left me then - so I thought I'd push the boat out a bit and aim for a surprise 4th July cake - a centrepiece for the table.

An afternoon browsing the web threw up a number of ideas - but in the end I plumped for a hidden flag cake.  The theory being that you make a red, white and blue sponge and layer/cut to resemble the US flag upon cutting the cake.  So, a rather large batch of sponge cake was prepared using the usual 2:2:2 per egg ratio - and then split and coloured - roughly 2/5 each of red and plain and 1/5 blue and baked in sandwich tins. I think I ended up with 7 individual cakes (3 red, 3 plain and one blue).

I then layered the first pair of red and white tiers (sandwiching with buttercream - that's a 2:1 sugar:butter recipe).  Then, having sought a suitable size cutter - in this case a cappuccino mug, I cut a circle out of my blue cake - and matching circles from the final red/white cakes - which were then placed inside the circle cut out of the blue cake to form the top layer.

So far so good, it was built and holding up!  The trouble being of course is that you can't check what the inside looks like until the big reveal so I was a little apprehensive as to whether I'd got the levels right.  A coating of plain white fondant icing on top and no-one would know  about the flag inside until it was cut(well no-one would have known if I hadn't got a bit tiddly at book group the night before and spilt the beans - ho hum!)

A plain white cake was however, a little dull - so over a few glasses of rose the night before the girls and I had decided to add bunting and sparklers (pretty much the only fireworks you can get away with without a permit here I think).  So, slightly overhung the next morning, I set about making some bunting from the fondant icing I had - but forgot to put the sparklers on...... oh well, you win some you lose some!

Anyway, by all accounts it went down well - the big reveal was a lovely surprise for our hostess and the cake seemed to be well received both visually and more importantly in terms of taste!!
The stripes could have been a bit more even, but as a first attempt at creating a 'surprise picture' inside a cake, I'm pretty pleased at how it turned out.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A taste of home...

If you're a regular reader, you'll know that my life here seems to be one social whirl of parties and associated baking!! With the odd bit of culture thrown in - oh and perhaps some wine (more of that later I'm sure!)

Not to disappoint, here's another post covered in chocolate, as I was when baking for a friend's recent housewarming party.

This friend - a fellow expat - hails originally from Scotland and so, to make her feel right at home in her new corner of the Fatherland, I decided to attempt a Scottish tea-time treat - the Tunnock's Tea Cake.  It is a thing of great beauty - crisp biscuit base, soft, gooey marshmallow centre, all lusciously draped in thick milk chocolate.

Now I had googled extensively (as one does) and came across the GBBO version - which was a bit ambitious for my liking and too perfectly round.  I'm not known for my attention to detail - nor my artistic abilities so steered well clear of that one!  Anyway, it turns out that a morning lost on Pinterest came up trumps and I found a few ideas of how to proceed.
Biscuit base

I came across a recipe on this blog, which seemed to work for me in terms of what was in the cake and how to make it - although I did need to put out an emergency call to the expat ladies as I'd run out of golden syrup.  Cue another big UK/US debate about what it is and what is not substitutable - anyway a UK friend kindly lent me some in return for being a taste guinea pig at Mahjong the next day.

Anyway - as usual I digress......  The biscuit recipe was straightforward enough - but I think next time I'd make one sheet of biscuit then use a cutter to make smaller, mouthful size bites.

Marshmallow mix over bain marie
The marshmallow mix was a bit of a leap of faith for me - I'm used to meringues and whisked egg whites hold no fear for me, but the marshmallow is only lightly cooked over a bain-marie and so knowing when it's done enough was a bit of a stab in the dark - but I think I got it right.  It held its shape on the biscuit and (as far as I know) I didn't poison anyone!!

So two of three components ready - and assembled - no problem!  Now, I just need to cover them in chocolate - well, I was covered - the kitchen too - and then the phone goes..... oh well in for a penny in for a pound, that too was lightly coated.  In fact so many other things than the tea cakes got a covering that I ran out of chocolate!

Pre Chocolate Coating
Anyway, they turned out OK in my opinion and were not as tricky as I'd expected - so would definitely do them again.  The proof is in the eating as they say, well I didn't have one (or even lick those chocolate covered hands) as I'm lo-carbing.  But they went fairly quickly at the party and I like to think they were a wee taste of Scotland for the Hostess - oh and of course the other present - a bottle of the 'Rusty Stuff' - Irn Bru - a Scottish soft drink. It was apparently good for clearing the hangover the next day!
Homemade Chocolate Teacakes!

We had a great afternoon (and evening once we'd sent the menfolk home with the children) and lots of Sekt was consumed...... Oops!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Smashing Time!

Last weekend saw us in a flurry of social engagements - so much so that I had to (very reluctantly) miss Bookgroup (sorry Ladies!) Mr EE had been in the States all week, flew back Friday and that evening we'd been invited by our next-door-but-one neighbours to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of their son at a Polterabend.

Before the Storm
These neighbours love to throw a party - we frequently have cars parked all along the street for their events - every Christmas they invite the whole street (and half the surrounding streets!) to a Weihnachtsmarkt they hold in their garden.  Anyway, I  digress a little, so the week before the Polterabend, we have a knock on the door and are informally invited to the shindig, are given a huge bar of chocolate for the Kindling and are asked if we mind if they close off half the street for the evening. No problem we say.....

Well, the day of the party dawns and as I'm doing the morning school run notice that they've hired in Dixi-Klo (Portaloos) which gets me thinking about just how big this party might be!  Then, when I come back after shopping, the beerwaggon is there - you know a full on pumps and all type job..... When we're back finally from the to-ing and fro-ing of school and husband collection, there are balloons showing the way from the edge of the village, the sawhorses are out and the road is blocked and a merry gathering is beginning to form.

At this point, we're still not quite sure what a Polterabend actually is - I was under the impression it was some sort of Stag-Do type affair - but it's not really that.

As we're getting ready to join in the fun, we start to hear the sound of smashing plates - followed by lots of whooping and clapping - okaaaay we say - what on earth  is going on.  So, it turns out that the main idea behind a Polterabend is the smashing of porcelain to bring the happy couple luck in their marriage.  Everyone is supposed to turn up with china to smash which after it has been broken the Bride and Groom must sweep up together to symbolise working as a team in the marriage.
Smashed Plates in front of padlocked skip

We noticed that the skip they were tidying into was padlocked shut when they weren't sweeping up - we assumed that this was something to do with the regulations about what was allowed to be put into it.....well it is  Germany!  But no, on asking it's because there is a tendency as the night goes on for the more jovial revellers to try to empty it out again - therefore making the wedding pair clean up again.... oh it's all good clean fun!

So, beer (and Aperol Spritz) flowing nicely, Bratwurst on the grill, Ice cream in a mini-freezer hired in from the local Eis CafĂ©, live music and lots of very friendly folk - we had a smashing time! 
L & I dancing to the band!

The weekend continued on Saturday (as weekends tend to do...) with a trip to the Variety theatre GOP with fellow Expat friends, Kettwigefrau and her husband.  We were taking advantage of some birthday and long-service pressies and had a fabulous night out which started off with a ride around Essen (oh the glamour!) in a stretched Limousine.... (definitely, but in a slightly trashy way, glamourous!)  The variety show was fantastic - contortionists, bicycle fun....culminating in bicycle trampolining (yes I kid you not!) all washed down with a bottle (or three) of bubbles.  A real treat of a weekend!
Mr EE and I heading out in the Limo!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Big Bad Wolf

.....otherwise titled "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down" - or knock it down with a wrecking ball and throw up some cubist monstrosity.  Well that's what the current state of the property market seems to be like around here to me.

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you may be aware that since early 2011 we've been looking for a house to buy (to buy or not to buy).  This search has been long and hard and not without it's curiosities and problems along the way.

  • I've been astounded at the number of swimming pools houses in my neck of the woods seem to have - lots of them outside and it's not as if the weather here is that spectacular that you need to cool off every now and then. 

  • I've been gobsmacked by Makler (estate agents) telling me that houses with four bedrooms all together just don't exist.... It seems that the trend is to have a separate 'Elternschlaftract' which is a parents suite - and this is often on a different floor to the other rooms.  Great when your kids are older and more self sufficient, but with three children under 10, it's not the best of set-ups.
  • I'm beginning to get my head round the kitchen sizes - or lack of...... An eat-in kitchen - or at least a kitchen big enough for a bit of social chatter whilst cooking was one of my top wants.
  • However, the main one I've really struggled with is the propensity there seems to be in this area to buy a house, knock it down and build again. Now, undoubtedly some of these houses are in need of significant renovations, conversion work, decorating and the like, but with some there is really nothing wrong - certainly in our eyes.

If you read my post Wobble Wobble you'll know we went to view a (very nice) house near the Boys' school.  There was nothing specifically wrong with the house - other than a noisy road at the back of the plot.  It gave me the wobbles (which fortunately I seem to have stilled for now) and we didn't buy.  Driving past it last week however, we were surprised to see it had been knocked down and a new modern house was being built.

Now apart from the noise (which rebuilding isn't going to address!) there was nothing wrong with the house.  It was a 1950s villa - with a fantastic staircase, beautiful original features such as some stained glass windows, solid oak front door, fabulous 50s bathroom suite - overall, in very good condition and a house which had obviously been cherished as someone's family home.  Now it wasn't right for us - but to completely demolish it and start again - with something which is not at all in keeping with the surrounding properties - it all seems a bit weird to me, and surely not in line with German eco-sensibilities.

Roll on 9 months and just before Easter we finally found the house for us - yes a 1950s villa, four bedrooms all on the same floor and gas in the (albeit small - but extendable) kitchen.  Now, we seem as far as we know to be the only people to actually want to buy the house - despite 20 odd viewings in the first week it was marketed - the only conclusion we can come to about this is, that the plot doesn't lend itself to demolishing and rebuilding (fortunately for us!). 

So it's taken us the best part of three years to find our new home - and naturally the course of property purchase never did run smooth - but we're hoping to have contracts signed in the next couple of weeks and then to move in the early Autumn.  So all fingers and toes are crossed here and we're 'druckening our Daumen' too.