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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Recipe

Welcome to my German Kitchen. Actually... welcome to my Grandfather's German Kitchen. I'm not sure where this recipe came from, not exactly, and I am not sure when it came from either. All I know is that my Grampa Armin had a bakerei in Hamburg and this was served there. His brother Emil migrated to Dearborn Michigan and began a bakery there. This was one of their offerings.
After the Gerbstadt Bakery was sold to the Kresges all I know of the recipe is that Grampa Alfred made it every year in the fall, let it mellow in the freezer and served it for the Winter Holidays. We had it every year along with the gingerbread men that he made from his own cookie cutter form and his plum cake. The last time Grampa made the recipe I was 14. He was too sick to make it when I was 15. While we had talked about him teaching me to bake these old family recipes, he was too tired from his illness to find the patience to teach a prancing horse to bake. When I was 16 he was gone and his recipes were gone.
It took a few years to settle things. I'd moved out on my own & started my own business. I did daycare and I wanted to do for them what my grandparents had done for me. When it got time to define our holiday traditions it was the recipe that I was drawn too again and again.
The recipe. THE recipe. On the Walton's it was for moonshine. For us, it was this. Holiday Loaf. Yeast cake. Whatever it is called for real no one knows. No one here anyway. The Baldwin sisters kept the recipe with the kind of guarded reverence that Catholics keep the Eucharist in the Tabernacle. As much as we all loved this, we took it and grampa for granted. We did not keep the recipe in reverence. It was buried in leaves of torn pages from magazines, from his cooking journal and other notes written in his own hand and... in German.
First step was to apply my high school German to translating. And then to struggle with the metric conversions. I still remember the day mom called me to tell me that she found a box of grampa's papers. I rushed out to get it. And then spent several days nose-to-table working it out. Then the shopping trip. Then the first trial.
The recipe is simple. The assembly is mostly simple. The feelings associated with it are complex.
My first attempts ballooned with yeast that rose too quickly, burst the thin pastry dough and oozed the sugary egg white onto the pans where it burned blacker than coal. The first was edible if somewhat over browned. It had the taste but not the look of Grampa's recipe. It took many tries. After a few attempts over the course of 3 or 4 years I set it aside. There was something that I did not understand about the mechanics of yeast, sugar, egg and flour in conjunction with humidity and room temperature. It would have to wait as life intervened.
When I lived in Marquette in a little apartment, over a store, around the corner from Angeli's Bakery I tried again. I practically lived next to a bakery. How could I not try again with the inspiration begat by the scent of an early Winter morning perfumed with warm yeast and cinnamon? This time it had the shape, the color, the texture that I remembered but it was too sweet. One of the steps consists of blending the nuts and sultanas in a mixture of cinnamon sugar. Too much sugar for the way that golden raisins are processed compared to the early parts of the 20th Century I guess. So I amended the next attempt. And it came out perfectly.
Coming back to Traverse City when my mom was ill brought me right back to the loss I felt when Gramma & Grampa were gone. I couldn't bake. Not for a long time anyway. Everything reminded me of them. They were my security when I was growing up a misplaced geek in a sea of athletes. And the recipe was my connection to those very special times of the year when we were all together. It is the time that Life has now decided will be my season of loss. Between the time that mom and dad died I might have made the recipe one more time. After dad died  I made it again.
Our Northern cousins invited us to Christmas, our first Christmas without dad. I made this to take because I knew that all of us, having lost our parents and the same special set of grandparents, treasured this rare treat as a connection to them. And I got it right. It was perfect. I still remember how Brian's face lit up when he saw the recipe sitting on the counter. "Is that Grampa's holiday cake?" Best compliment ever. Until someone else said it tastes just like Grampa made it.
Since dad has died, today was the first time that I have attempted the recipe. It was the first thing that I promised myself I would make once I had a real kitchen again. Obviously, if you read this post for any length of time you know I broke my own promise. It would seem when you are not yourself, you can not do what you love. So as it is with art it is with baking. It must be that way with anything that you love to do. You just can't do it when you aren't you.
Aldi got a shipment of sultanas in a few weeks ago at a price I have not seen in a long time. I snatched two boxes. They have been sitting here for a while reminding me with a cat's dead eye stare that something has to change. In the last few days I have found the energy to do normal "Me" things. Bed lamps unpacked for a good read, the pile of debris at the end of my bed finally is tamed and I sorted through some boxes in the basement. As you saw in the last post, holiday lights are up. So today, knowing that my housemate and I were having people over to play games, I made the recipe.
I think I am starting to get my groove back. I can even tell with the way that I am writing that things in my head and my heart are healing. It's only taken 5.5 years to get here.
If you want the recipe to make yourself it is here at my genealogy blog which I haven't done anything with in ages.
Erfreuen Sie!

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