Sunday, 15 December 2013

Baumkuchen and the stories of the trees' rings

Countless rings, enclosing or seeming to move into each other or seperated by a dark line. That's what you see when you cut through a tree trunk. Each and everyone telling it's own story, good and bad, happy and sad - all different and unique, standing for all the years the tree lived to see.

Since being old enough to understand the meaning of these tree rings I was always attracted to what the trees could tell us (if they could only speak...) - all the things that happen in those centuries a tree might go through, standing still and massive - strong roots deeply reaching into the ground with nearly nothing that can disturb them and leaves that hear every whisper.

We most definitely won't live as long as our loved green friends, but instead we have the opportunity to tell stories to following generations. Reporting what great minds went past us (to stick with the tree metaphora), what they've told or shown us or what we've experienced on our own.

One of those great minds was Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon and in my mind one of the, if not THE most inspiring person that's been around in our 21st century, fighting against racism and standing for a united world - showing us that there is a possibility for freedom and an end of social inequalities for everyone.

As you'll all know, Mandela passed away past ´Thursday at the age of 95. I don't want to repeat all the reports that are currently spread around the worlds with quoted speeches etc. at this point. I just have to agree with Obama, who called Mandela in one breath with Ghandi, another of these great inspiring minds (makes me want to be a tree once again, to experience the change they bring and brought to the world first hand) and with Jacob Zuma who detected the loss of the nation's "greatest son".

But let's face the things that stay with us: the inspiring stories of an unbroken will to fight for a united world and against all those tremendous obstacles that stood in the way and sadly still do so today BUT they are smaller.

I'll certainly hope to have the ability to not only tell all those inspiring stories to my children and grandchildren but to also live by them. Mandela once said: "It always seems impossible until it's done.". A quote you can use in all parts of your living: the step towards a united world with freedom and equal rights for everyone or your individual goals: jobs, family or character. And that's something I'm lucky enough to have idols for right around me. Whether it's my grandma who got her children the possibility of education, relatives who worked their way up to high positions in their job without every matching basic requirements and family members who turned their passion into their life.

Sadly we aren't a tree with age rings for every year we've been through, to illustrate all those stories, buuut we can bake one! Yes, you've got that right:
A cake with layers, each one about 1mm thick, covered in the type of chocolate of your liking. It's a popular German Christmas Cake but you can as well have it all year round and add the matching flavour to a dough made of flour, butter, sugar and eggs. The traditional spicing is a little hint of vanilla and the dough gets drizzled over a rotating rod right over an open flame. Every layer is done within seconds, gets topped with the next one right away and the finished cake gets the typical dark chocolate ganache.

As most of us won't have the opportunity to use such special equipement at home there's an easier version for you: Baumkuchenspitzen/Tree cake points. The dough is baked under the grill of the oven in a regular baking pan, creating horizontal layers instead of vertical ones and it gets sliced in triangles, diamonds or individual shapes and of course coated with the occasional chocolate.

Even if the procedure might occur time consuming you won't regret it once you sit down, bite into one piece or nibble layer for layer, while telling a story for each of them.

Baumkuchen/Tree Cake
- makes about 40 individual pieces
- 250g butter, at room temperature
- 250g sugar
- 7 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract/scraped vanilla beans
- 125g all-purpose flour
- 125g cornstarch
- 1 pinch salt
- 250g dark chocolate

1. Seperate the egg whites and yolks. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
2. Add in the yolks, one after one, beating well after each addition. Then mix in the vanilla.
3. Sift together flour and starch, then gradually add it to the butter mixture.
4. Beat the eggwhites until stiff peaks form, then fold them into the dough, together with the salt.
5. Turn your oven on, on grilling function. Put a small pan with water on the bottom. Line the bottom of a baking pan (I used a 28cm circular pan) with parchment paper.
6. Scoop 3-4 Tablespoons of dough into your pan and spread it well, you want to have an even nearly transparent layer. Put the pan into your oven, on the middle rack. Watch closely as it can burn quickly!!! It should take a maximum of 2 minutes to be done. Take the pan out and spread the next layer on top (3-4 Tbsp), just as thin. Put the cake back into the oven and continue to bake each layer like that until all the dough is used.
7. Take the pan out and let cool on the countertop for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and allow to cool completely. (You can even leave it rest for a couple of days until you have the time to coat it. The cake gets better if it got some good rest!)
8. Once cooled completely slice it into individual pieces (each about 2-3cm in diameter) of your liking, you can even cut out special forms with cookie cutters. Melt your chocolate and dip the pieces into it, coating them completely. Let rest for chocolate to set. The Baumkuchenspitzen/Tree cake points can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks. Enjoy!

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