A Belgian Journey: Part I – Brussels

Only three days away from Paris and it feel like I was completely displaced from reality. For my first trip out of France of the semester, I went off to Brussels for the weekend with some friends and somehow it seemed so much longer. It was an absolutely amazing trip that I wish never had to end, but in a way, it’s nice to be able to call Paris home now and walking into my apartment last night after three nights in foreign beds was quite the lovely (albeit cold) feeling.

We started off on Thursday night to Brussels. I found an apartment on airBnB, which was seriously amazing. Anyone who wants to travel should really look into it – it’s cheap, easy, and instead of hostel or hotel, you have a real apartment to go back to with amenities and such. Awesome find! Anyway…

Our first evening in Brussels was spent walking around looking for a bar, but after realizing Brussels in not quite the happening on Thursday night, we ventured back to our place with some beers and cookies in hand. The beer selection here is really out of control. Even in the tiny corner bodega, they had at least 45 varieties of beer and interesting ones too. I should preface this all by saying I have been on antibiotics this week fighting a bronchitis type infection, so unfortunately, my alcohol consumption was greatly impeded this weekend, although that doesn’t mean I could look at all the pretty bottles!

Friday morning we started the day by walking towards the Mannekin Piss and a place that I heard about which great waffles. (New thought in life – only in Belgium does one find true authentic waffles). Lets just say the walk was worth it for the waffles, but not the Mannekin Piss. Seriously, I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s a little boy, perhaps a little more than 2 feet tall, peeing. No great shakes, although there were certainly enough tourists around to make you think other wise. 

More exciting than Mannekin Piss himself are all the chocolate statues made out of him…

Now to say it was cold during our stay in Brussels was an understatement. It was freezing! And there was snow and ice on the ground, making walking treacherous at times. So after our early morning waffles, after which our fingers almost fell off trying to eat them, we went into a cute little cafe to grab some coffee and warm up. 

Perhaps one of the biggest tourist draws is the Grand Place, which unlike Mannekin Piss, is actually a beautiful grand piazza with old buildings gilded in gold. We spent a few minutes ogling the buildings and trying to get some good pictures, but once again, the cold forced us to move on somewhat quickly as standing anywhere for too long was not comfortable. 

Our next stop was the Magritte Museum, dedicated to the works of the surrealist artist Rene Magritte. I really had no knowledge about who or what he did before we got there, but I left feeling a whole lot smarter about surrealist art. I don’t mangle up what he believed in completely, so I highly recommend you take a look at his wiki page and ponder this thought…

This is not a pipe:

Now once again, the lovely thing about having a nice apartment to go back to and not a dingy hostel was that at 4 in the afternoon, feeling exhausted and cold, we decided to head back to the apartment and take some well deserved naps. Of course, we didn’t make it all the way back without a stop at a chocolate shop first though!

After some lovely naps in a gloriously heated apartment, we made our way to dinner at Fin de la Siecle, near Grand Place. Now, I don’t know who here has been to Brussels before, but somehow the streets do not make sense! We were walking down towards the middle of town and then I see on the map that the restaurant is off to the right a bit, so I say, “hey, why don’t we try a new direction and walk right?” 15 minutes later, after stopping to ask for directions, I discovered we had somehow gone in the complete wrong direction even though the map seemed to say otherwise. Being a big fan of maps and having a generally pretty good sense of direction, I was incredibly distressed. All was well though when we finally got to the restaurant and had a delicious and cheap meal. 

We rounded out at the evening at a tourist trap of a bar called Delirium Cafe. They are famous for having over 2000 types of beer. All I honestly took from the place was that it was loud and crowded. Apparently I was the only one who was unimpressed though, as it was  packed with hundreds of people! 

Even in our one day in Brussels, I felt like we accomplished a lot. Although we were in a foreign country from our host home of France, and especially from home home in New York, it was nice to still be able to speak the language. I’m realizing more and more that I have not really done a lot of traveling in countries where I don’t know the language at all. Through my travels in France and Swizerland, French has always gotten me by and in Israel, I can understand and speak enough Hebrew that I don’t feel like a total stranger. As I do more traveling in Europe I guess I’m going to quickly have to accept that it’s going to probably happen more often than not that I’ll stick out like a sore thumb not knowing the language or knowing my bearings. I guess this is just another excuse to learn more languages, although French, Hebrew and Arabic are hard enough as it is now!

In order to not make this the longest post in history and as I’m far to lazy to edit all my photos at once, I shall post about our two days in Bruges later this week.

I leave you with the quote and the realization that I must have been born on a farm because I loved Bruges!

“Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” -Colin Farrel in In Bruges

Glacial Paris

It snowed here yesterday. Now to say it “snowed” is a bit of an over statement. It appeared to flurry outside my window for about 20 minutes and then it was over. When I walked outside a few hours later (which was a big mistake given how cold it was) I saw barely any snow on the ground. 

Now, even if the snow didn’t stick, it is still FREEEEEZZINGGG here. I don’t think it has really gotten above 30 degrees since last Wednesday. I even heard on the radio this morning they were worried about power outages because of such a strain on the electrical grid. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that that doesn’t happen! It has reached point, where doing just about anything outside is unbearable and I have taken to rushing home after classes to sit next to my unfortunately placed heater. When I walked into the courtyard at school last week, they had heavily salted the ground in preparation for the ice. 

I know, I know, I really shouldn’t complain. Last year in New York was a perpetual winter wonderland, but something about the cold here, and the heating in apartments makes it seem much worse. I have this heater connected to the wall that gets very hot, but somehow doesn’t manage to heat up the whole apartment unless I keep it on for hours. I’ve taken to sleeping with a sweatshirt and a sweater, many pairs of socks, as my tile floor is the worst when it’s cold, and three blankets. It also doesn’t help to hear that it’s been a balmy 60 degrees in New York and North Carolina while I sit here looking at a -10 degree weather forecast (that’s celsius, which always makes it seem that much worse). 

On Friday, we took a school trip to L’Abbaye de Rouyamount, which was a lovely abbey, but given the cold, and general sickness I have been fighting these past few days, I was unable to thoroughly enjoy the tour. All I could think about the entire time was the fact that I could no longer feel my feet in the slightest. It felt liking walking on glass every time I took a step. I think I have some circulation problems in my toes, because that does not seem normal. *One little nifty tid-bit I did learn while I was there – Pink Floyd performed at the abbey in 1971! Probably a pretty epic concert! 

Even though the tour was not very fun, NYU certainly upped their game by way of the meal we were served. As we approached the tables, it was clear this was going to be a fancy meal – there were three different forks to choose from! As I said, I was still feeling pretty sick, so I wasn’t able to eat everything on my plate, a first for me, but it was still a very enjoyable meal! Obviously, the dessert was the only course I was able to eat in its entirety 😉 Whipped goat cheese with a beat mousse and salad: Fleur de sel veal with baby onion mashed potatoes: Sable cookie with a caramel butter tart topping and salted caramel ice cream: 

Long forgotten, but still remembered

I must apologize for my lack of updates in the recent months. I’ve had a few recent bumps in the road in terms of my health that have kept me from updating as often as I would have liked (take a look here for more information on that side of my life – http://abvdinnyc.wordpress.com/) I’ve been baking a bit here and there still, but with summer upon us, I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things baking-wise!

Instead of backtracking to find all the recipes I’ve used in the past month, I thought I’d just share some pictures that I have taken of my creations. We’ve had a few birthdays in the apartment, Passover, and the usual baking adventures. I also hosted a baking birthday party for some 6 and 7 year olds along with my roommate. It was loads of fun and if anyone is interested in having a baking party, let me know!  With school over in just a few days, my time will be opened up once again to try some new things this summer!

Coconut brownies made during a ski vacation in Vermont. 

Chocolate cake with caramel butter cream, chocolate ganache, and salted praline for my grandfathers birthday. 

Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for my grandfathers birthday. 

Adventures in juice making with our lovely new juicer. 

Carrot, pineapple, and apple juice made at home. 

Lemon cheesecake cupcakes with glazed blueberry topping for a roomies birthday party. 

The birthday spread. 

The start of the most amazing meal I had while on spring break in France. 

The most perfect steak. 

Leading a six and seven year old baking birthday party. 
A sugar cookie baking adventure at a birthday party. 

Salty Caramel Cake

It is currently 92 degrees at 8 o’clock in the evening! What has this world come to? The heat forecast for tomorrow is 98 with a heat index of 106. I think it’s about time that I make a trip to Iceland. I’m really hoping that I can get to the beach with my cousins this weekend, because when it’s so hot there is nothing better to do then lounge by the pool and walk down to the beach. The heat has also caused my poor herb plants to wilt horribly. I try and water them every evening, but even one night in this heat without h20 and they shrivel up. Oh well. My mint plant, that sits right on my window sill, somehow seems to beat the heat and grows so big that I’m worried about how I’m going to transport it when I move at the end of the summer.

Anyway, this past weekend, my dad and step-mom came up to New York for a bar-mitzvah in New Jersey. It also happened to be the day after my dad’s birthday, so Friday night we threw a little soiree. It was loads of fun! I’d say we had about 18 people over who all enjoyed little snacks and champagne while enjoying the coolness of the dining room that had been pumped with air conditioning all afternoon. My contribution to the evening was obviously a dessert, but specifically a birthday cake!

I don’t think I can go on much more about how much I loved the BAKED cookbook. It’s quite possibly my favorite thing ever. This cake came straight from those pages. I’d actually eaten this cake before when I went to the bakery itself in Brooklyn and wrote a review about it here, but now was my chance to tackle it myself. This cake is not that difficult in theory to make, but given my teeny kitchen and limited time I had, it obviously turned into a bit of a hassle. I made it in different parts, putting it all together Friday morning. If you have a nice long afternoon, putting it all together at once will probably save you some time and dishes.

It’s an incredibly rich cake that is offset wonderfully by the caramel that is soaked into the layers. I was worried that the caramel was not the right consistency since it look really white and milky and I don’t have a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature in a sauce pan, but the milkiness was just from the sour cream and it turned out fine. I baked the cakes just a bit too long, but I still blame this on the faulty gas ovens. Once it was put all together, it had the perfect chocolaty taste with a hint of caramel throughout the cake and ganache. Of course, the fleur de sel sprinkled on top added the perfect after taste. I think that it was a big hit at the party!

SWEET AND SALTY CAKE

Adapted from BAKED: New Frontiers in Baking

INGREDIENTS:

cake:

  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 2/3 cups cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla
  • caramel:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon fleur de sel
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • ganache:

    • 1 pound dark chocolate, chopped
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
    • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
    • 1 pound (4 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, softened but still cool

    DIRECTIONS:

    cake:

    1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a parchment paper round, butter parchment paper and flour; set aside.

    2) In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and sour cream; set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.

    3) In another large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

    4) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth and it appears to create strings inside the bowl, about 7 minutes. Add both sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and mix again for 30 seconds. Add flour mixture alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

    5) Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 18 to 24 minutes. Let cool completely.

    caramel:

    1) Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.

    2) Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, mix together cream and salt. Bring cream to a boil and cook until salt has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

    3) When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 minute. Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Whisk in sour cream. Cool, and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

    ganache:

    1) Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.

    2) In another small saucepan add cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.

    3) When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to rest for 1 minute. Add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Let cool 5 minutes. Place chocolate in the bowl of an electric mixer and pour caramel sauce over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute before stirring from the center until chocolate is melted.

    4) Attach bowl to electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Add butter and increase speed to medium-high until mixture is well combined, thickened, and slightly whipped, about 2 minutes.

    assembling cake:

    1) Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate.

    2) Using about 1/4 cup of the caramel, spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing some of the caramel to soak into the cake. Follow the caramel layer with a layer of about 1 cup of the ganache icing. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another layer of caramel followed by a layer of ganache icing. Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up.

    3) Spread entire cake with remaining ganache icing. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

    Sweet Revenge

    Now I like to think that I’ve tried my fair amount of cupcakes in my time here in New York City, and I’ve even had one from Sweet Revenge before, but something about the cupcake I had there on Friday night was just OUT OF THIS WORLD! My roommate and I had just been to this a small show down in the West Village and we decided upon Sweet Revenge since it was only a few blocks away. For those of you who have not been in New York City the past few days, let me just say that it has been very cold as of late, and Friday night was no exception. It was honestly one of the coldest nights I can recall in recent history. I’d say it was hovering around 5 degrees because of the wind chill. Anyway, enough about the weather. As we entered into Sweet Revenge after our mad dash from outside, we were struck with how sophisticated yet cute it was. With only a about 6 tables, an exposed metal bar, and a small selection of cupcakes, Sweet Revenge is definietly not your childhood bake shop.

    I started with a Fleur de Sel cupcake and my roommate had a Dirty – which was basically all ridiculously dark chocolate. Both of them had a dark chocolate cake which was so moist and delicious, they tasted like they’d just been baked even though it was 10 o’clock at night. I find that often times the cake of cupcakes itself can tend to be a little dry, but this cake was on a whole different level. It was an actual mini cake, instead of a cupcake trying to impersonate a cake. The frosting on mine was a mix of caramel, butter, and the slightest hint of the most delicious salt. As I got to the center, an oozing ball of caramel drizzled down from the inside of the chocolate cake. It was outstanding. The Dirty cupcake has the same cake component, but a dark, rich, and creamy icing that was out of this world. If you are a fan of dark chocolate, this is the one for you. Often times, chocolate icing can become overwhelmed with the taste of butter, but this was all chocolate. It was liking biting into a piece of fudge on top of the most amazing cake ever. On the menu, it even had wine and beer pairings to go with all the different cupcakes they had. I’d say this would be the perfect place to go on a first date 🙂

    All in all, I’d say it was a pretty successful trip to the West Village. We saw a very funny play and were treated to the most amazing cupcakes. As we exited the shop, I’d say it was once again about 5 degrees outside and we ended up taking a taxi back to the East Village because it was just SO cold. I’m sure that the next time I find myself on that side of town, I will also be finding myself at the bar of Sweet Revenge.

    Rocky Ledge Bars

    So I’m back to baking in my tiny little dorm room kitchen. I guess I can’t really complain given that most dorms don’t even have kitchens, but after the luxury of using my oven back home last weekend, I guess I still feel a little bit spoiled. That being said, I’m super happy to be back in NYC. I had a great time in Israel and North Carolina, but it was still so nice coming back and seeing my roommate and suite-mates. Classes are back in full swing and I’m already swamped with homework even in the first weekend.

    That being said, Friday night we still had to have a bit of fun 😉 We had a big game night – mostly involving cranium and a super intense game of charades. There were about 11 of us and we all had loads of fun. I decided to make rocky ledge bars for our little soiree. I was almost going to make cupcakes, but then realized that those were way too involved for the hour I had designated for baking on Friday afternoon. They were super easy to make – although the brown sugar we had was rock solid and I had to spend 15 minutes softening it up in the microwave – but otherwise it was basically just dumping a bunch of chips, caramels, and marshmallows and a bit of cookie dough and popping in the oven.

    I only got time to take a picture of the mixture, since they were all gobbled up during game night. As you can see, it’s just a jumble of amazing things. I kind of skimmed the recipe and decided to add more or less of whichever chocolate/caramel/marshmallow I liked. A+

    ROCKY LEDGE BARS

    (Adapted from Martha Stewart Cookie Book)

    INGREDIENTS:

    • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
    • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
    • 1 1/2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1 cup miniature marshmallows
    • 1 cup semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
    • 1 cup white chocolate, coarsely chopped
    • 1 cup butterscotch chips
    • 18 soft caramel-candy cubes, coarsely chopped (I used these nifty little caramel balls that I found instead and used 1 cup)

    DIRECTIONS:

    1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Line with parchment paper, allowing a 2-inch overhang on the longer sides. Brush parchment with butter (not overhang)

    2) Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

    3) Using an electric mixer (I used a wooden spoon, since I didn’t feel like taking out the mixer), mix butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; mix until well combined.

    4) Mix in flour mixture until combined. Fold in half of each of the marshmallows, chocolates, butterscotch chips, and caramels.

    5) Spread batter in prepared pan. Scatter remaining marshmallows, chocolates, butterscotch chips, and caramels on top.

    6) Bake until top is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.

    7) Let cool on a wire rack. Lift out of pan, and transfer to a baking sheet. Refrigerate until set, at least 30 minutes.

    8 ) Remove parchment, and cut into about 16 triangles. Bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.