Friday, December 28, 2012

Medovik Torte

Medovik Torte
European Foods, $7.49/lb

Although honey, sugar, and "sweetener" sit side-by-side on most coffee shop counters, each flavor represents such a different stage of human history that a book I'm reading distinguishes between the Ages of Honey, Sugar, and Science. 

The use of honey predates written history, and versions of honey cake are known from ancient Greece and Egypt.  In many parts of Europe, the baking of honey-rich breads and cakes was first associated with religious communities and then with regulated guilds.  In the middle ages in Slovenia, artisan bakers specialized in honey cake, and their daughters' dowries were barrels of cake dough with a 30-year shelf life.  

With the arrival of industrialization, sugar took a big slice out of honey's market share, but areas of eastern Europe have seen a recent revival of honey-infused foods.  The Czech or Slovakian medovnik is a decorated sweet bread, often heart-shaped and given as a sentimental gift.  The Polish miodownik or Russian medovik torte is sophisticated party fare; thin cakes of honey sponge spackled together with creamy caramel frosting and flocked with a fuzzy layer of its own crumbs.  

What these cakes have in common with each other and with those barrels of Slovenian dough is a remarkable longevity, thanks to honey's humectant and anti-bacterial properties.  Decorated medovnik bread harden into long-lasting decorations while mature medovik torte develops a richer flavor and more delicate texture--allowing Seattle's European Foods to import perfectly edible cake all the way from an East Coast bakery. 

European Foods
13520 Aurora Ave N
Seattle WA
206 / 361-2583

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vietnamese Almond cookies

Almond Cookies 
Huong Binh, $4/bag

Huong Binh's housemade almond tuiles are like fortune cookies let off the leash:  free-form pools of delicately flavored batter, topped with a pinch of sliced almonds, and griddled until perfectly golden and crisp. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Almond Horn

Almond Horn
P.S. Suisse, $2.85

Langley, Washington is not so much small as concentrated:  you could drive in one end and out the other in about 45 seconds, or you could pull over and spend all day exploring bookshops, cafes, spas, boutiques, the world's best-organized thrift store, and, at the far end of a tiny pedestrian mall, the P.S. Suisse bakery.  

Originally from Ligerz in western Switzerland, Peter Boden served a 3-year apprenticeship in Davos then worked as a confectioner and pastry chef in hotels and restaurants around Europe.  After moving to America, he first worked in Illinois, then Michigan, then relocated again to Colorado--as much for the skiing as for the kitchensSome of the framed memorabilia on the walls at P.S. Suisse comes from this period, including a feature story on the Vail Grand Marnier Chef's ski race, with a picture of Peter schussing down a slopes in apron and toque 

After several years as the co-owner of Vail's Alpenrose restaurant (est. 1975), Peter took some time off to concentrate on producing his sought-after chocolate sculptures and paintings...and somehow ended up in Langley, WA, in a tiny shop at the end of a small mall.  I would've liked to ask about that, but the lunch rush crowding the bakery's few tables put a damper on investigation.  

Peter's wife Sandra covers the front of the house, hustling plates and extracting pastries from the crowded cases.  The cookie choices include spitzbuben (or "rascals," two-layer sandwiches with jam filling peeking out through holes in the upper cookie), linzer (similar to spitzbuben but made with hazelnut dough), shortbread Orcas painted with milk or dark chocolate, and almond horns (above) wrought from mildly sweet marzipan dough, dark chocolate, and a glassy sugar-egg-almond glazeThere are also strudels, tarts, danishes, Napoleons, croissants, and a shelf full of breads.  

As the shop's sole baker and cook, Peter has plenty to do in back.  In addition to keeping the cases and bread rack full and whipping up lunch plates, there are the seasonal specials.  During my visit Peter was hard at work filling orders for Engadin nusstorte, a shortcrust pastry stuffed with walnuts, honey, and cream. A traditional holiday-time treat, the Engadin is named for the valley surrounding St. Moritz and is a soft-spoken reminder of the poverty endured by generations of Swiss villagers; the Engadin recipe probably spread as bakers went further and further afield in search of work.  
P.S. Suisse
221 2nd St #12A
Langley, WA