Friday, April 22, 2011

Frohe Ostern!

Well, well, well, if Berlin didn't suddenly decide it's Spring! This week's weather has been superb – stockings and coat banished, summer dresses and sandals donned; I don't even feel insecure about my casper tan, because everyone's in the same boat! Well, apart from those Germans that feel the need to be tan all year round – yes old buff dude at my gym who looks a lot like Gianni Versace, I'm lookin' at you! 

Anyway, Easter seems to be quite the celebrated affair over here in Germany. Supermarkets and department stores have cleared way for all manners of Easter paraphernalia, from the usual Lindt bunnies, to the more obscure fake grass in which to line Easter baskets. Oh yes, you don't just get one measly little Easter egg over here in Germany, land of the carb, you get a whole BASKET: “The Easter Basket ritual has its origins in the German folklore of the Easter Hare. According to a German legend, a white hare would leave Easter baskets filled with candies, brightly coloured eggs and other goodies for kids to gorge on Easter morning.”

Like Christmas, Germans like to get all 'O Tannenbaum' at Easter too, and decorate trees with brightly coloured eggs, hanging from equally colourful ribbons. The effect is festive, and the eggs come in all manner of decoration – Faberge, decoupage and dyed. 

I mentioned earlier that people gift baskets of eggs. Well, these aren't any old Cadbury mini eggs. At our nearest department store, an entire wall of the first floor has been cleared to make way for chocolate. Lindt's presence in Germany is large; at Christmas and Easter – and particularly the latter – it is huge. Lindt bunnies in several sizes and types of chocolate are frozen, huddling on shelves, watched by the Grand Master Lindt bunny, poised above them all, with a bell the size of my head.

Pralines, truffles, marzipan and more marzipan, Lindt chocolates in all Easter-related shapes and sizes, packaged in tins and bags and squeaky plastic cellophane. Would you like strawberry-centered Niederegger mini eggs or a white chocolate Ladybug (a sign of spring)? For a chocolate lover, the sight was slightly overwhelming. I grabbed my over-sized Kinder Surprises (known as the same name in German – Kinder Uberraschung) paid, and bolted for the door, before I could trigger the addict in me who was dying to tear at emerald green and rose pink foil. 

Not quite THIS big, but still pretty big!

With such festivity surrounding my favourite holiday (do I have to explain this? The one holiday I can legitimately eat chocolate for four days straight) I couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing. If I'm honest with you, the feeling had been around since late February, and usually happened around breakfast time.

Then the one-a-penny, two-a-penny dropped. Hot Cross Buns.

Subliminally, I had been missing them, but my conscious mind failed to catch up until a week or so ago. Good thing for my waist line! With an abundance of time on my hands, I set about researching a recipe that didn't look too scary. The rest is history – very delicious history!

Recipe from with additions by me

Makes 16 buns

1 1/2 cups (375ml) warm milk
2 tsp (1 sachet/7g) dried yeast
1/4 cup (55g) caster sugar
60g butter, melted
1 egg, lightly whisked
4 cups (600g) plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbs mixed spice

1/4 cup (40g) plain flour, extra 
2 tbs water
2 tbs caster sugar 
2 tbs water

Combine the milk, yeast and 1 tbs of the sugar in a jug. Set aside in a warm place for 5 minutes or until frothy (I turn the oven on and leave the jug on the stove top).

Add the butter and egg to the mixture and whisk to combine. Place the flour, sugar, salt and mixed spice in a large bowl and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre. Pour the milk mixture into the well and use wooden spoon to stir until just combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a damp tea towel and place in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour or until dough doubles in size. 

Preheat oven to 200°C. Grease a 23cm square cake pan. Punch the dough down with your fist. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Divide dough into 16 even portions and shape each portion into a ball. Arrange dough portions, side by side, in the prepared pan. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 30 minutes or until dough has risen 2cm. 

Combine the water and extra flour in a small bowl until a smooth paste forms. Place in a small plastic bag and snip off the end. Pipe a continuous line down the centre of each row of buns, lengthways and crossways, to form crosses. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 180°C and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through (buns are ready when they sound hollow when tapped on the top).

Turn onto a wire rack. Place the sugar in a small saucepan over high heat with two tablespoons water. Cook, stirring, for several minutes until the mixture becomes a syrupy consistency. Using a pastry brush, paint cooled buns with mixture to create glossy buns. 


Xo Fifi von Strudel

P.S. You wouldn't believe how hard it was to find Mixed Spice in this country!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ducks don't need satellites..

Phew, can someone put the brakes on this week? It's already Thursday and I feel like I'm stuck back at Tuesday. Of course this makes quite a nice change.

This has been a week filled with music.

Monday saw Mr von S and I hot-footing it to a part of town we haven't spent much time in (which is everywhere except Kreuzberg, Neukoelln and Mitte) to see an old school friend playing in an orchestra. Now, don't get visions of Brahms or Schubert. Instead, imagine yourself in a scene from 1972's Cabaret (because we ARE in Germany after all) and replace Liza Minnelli with once-was-a-concert-pianist Montmorensy. Just as infectious as infectious as Liza's trilling, Montmorensy's tracks have been doing laps in my mind the past few days. In particular, as the title suggests, the tune Ducks Don't Need Satellites

Perhaps it's the funny title, the easy repetition in the song or the almost melancholic feel the song carries, but the lines "Give a 'quack', get a 'quack quack' back" should be enticing enough for you to have a listen to a couple of his songs.

I was rather impressed with Montmorensy. Firstly, his compositions are telling of his classic, orchestral background; the music was beautiful. The arrangement of strings in some pieces really got my skin all plucked-goose-like. Secondly, the man can perform. In a room of 200-odd people, his voice was clear and strong, his piano-playing faultless (to my untrained ears, anyway) and his use of Denglish (German and English, like Spanglish) got the crowd on-side and giggling with every Australian-accented 'Danke schoen'. The mix of songs - serious, not so serious, orchestral, ballad-like, poppy, also made sure that a variety of tastes were catered to. 

Montmorensy playing at Bar jeder Vernuft (if you look very carefully!)

The performance - held as part of his first album release - was great fun. We sat next to two German woman who looked like they also loved every minute. I'm not sure how much they had had to drink before we got there, but there was lots of clapping and cheering from both them and us (sober). 

Backing it up on Tuesday night, we encountered a very different musical performance. 

I had missed seeing Lykke Li in Melbourne in 2009 due to my inability to buy tickets in a timely manner. However, friends had been more organised said her performance was great. I kicked myself; it was something that I regretted on numerous occasions, such as when talking to people who had been at the concert.

Well, it's not something I regret quite so much anymore, because - you guessed it - I got to see Lykke in Berlin! Hooray. 

Following up her first album, Youth Novels, her sophomore album Wounded Rhymes is a bit of a different Lykke. Where Youth Novels was naive and fun, Wounded Rhymes is darker; it makes me fear that poor old Lykke may have been thinking of self-harm while writing it. The back-story to the album is that LL was involved in a bit of a love triangle, and from the contents of the album, she didn't get the man. 

The pain was obviously good for her, creatively. In performing, Lykke actually came off a little bit nuts. Like the psycho ex-girlfriend. Dressed head-to-(camel)toe in black lycra, she swathed herself in what looked like a black bathrobe, and at one stage covered her head and the microphone with the excess fabric. Flailing around stage in song-breakdowns like Kate Bush in Wuthering Heights, wrapping herself in the stage curtains, her brunette hair a frazzled birds-nest, Mr von S and I both remarked that she didn't look so healthy. A recent interview she gave with local English-mag EXBERLINER was a great example of the kind of nuts I'm talking about.

Lykke looking particularly pained

Anyway, the music. Look, she played us Dance, Dance, Dance, and her collaboration with Kleerup, Until We Bleed. I was pretty happy about that, as was the rest of the crowd. But her mic was heavily filtered with lots of reverb, her backing singer gave her most of her power, and sans ear-piece during the encore (which the crowd struggled to even get, more on that below) she was sharp, sharp, sharp.

I think I've mentioned before on the blog that the Deutsche Volk can sometimes be rather reserved and law-abiding - like only crossing the street at designated crossings, on the green man, and shunning anyone who doesn't. I haven't really seen this behaviour at other musical performances I've been to in Berlin, granted those have mostly been in nightclubs, but it was clear to see the Lykke was wanting the crowd to go wild for her. Instead, she got a couple of 'woos' and polite - but not out of control - applause. She told the crowd they were 'the worst ever'. Ouch, Lykke. Just 'cos you got dumped doesn't mean you can go around giving everyone 'tude. But that's what's she's doing. And so sadly, the naive, sweet Lykke of Youth Novels is gone and the grumpy, adolescent Lykke is here. For now. Perhaps her next album will be about mortgages and job security?

PS - Sarah Blasko was the support act and she was gorgeous. She's like a little doll! Go the Aussies!

Hai Sarah!
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