Baking With My Mom
Brussels Sprouts Soufflé
My mother is an amazing woman. A retired gynecologist at 93, she is still going strong, grocery shopping with her bike, climbing up the stairs to her third floor apartment, staying on top of the news, and struggling to keep up with the pile of medical magazines on her table (I inherited those qualms to throw out unread newspapers - you never know what you might miss!)
Three years ago she even learned to use a computer in order to join Facebook. She didn't want to be the only family member not able to see my daughter's photos from Bhutan, my sister's from her garden on Mallorca, or pictures of my Maine kitchen ventures.
When I visited my mother last fall in Hamburg I wanted to bake something with her, something light, healthy and, of course, delicious. No bread, alas - much as she likes it, she suffers from heartburn if she eats fresh bread.
Kitchens resemble owners - Mutti's kitchen is a spacious, cheerful place, a cooking/dining/living room with a no nonsense, no frills, and waste-not-want-not attitude.
My Mom's no-frills kitchen
The tall cabinet - painted in neon pink, yellow and blue by my 14-year old sister (50 years ago, when my mother was not looking!) - holds an abundance of supplies, kitchen gadgets, odds and ends.
Many of those were left behind whenever my sister and I were moving ("You never know when somebody might need them," Mutti insists,) but the strangest item is an enameled strainer - made from a recycled WWII helmet, with holes for the strap!
Baking there is a bit of a challenge, because the oven also serves as storage space for pots and pans, that have to find another place in a kitchen full of mother flower pots, their numerous offspring, newspaper clippings, and other things my mother likes to have around.
But I am a baker, and where there is a will, there is a way. So one morning we went shopping and purchased Brussels sprouts, limes, graham cookies and sweetened condensed milk (not an easy thing to find in German supermarkets).
Brussels sprouts are the base for a wonderful soufflé that will turn even Brussels sprouts haters into fans. But it can be also made with broccoli or cauliflower.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS SOUFFLÉ (3-4 servings)
(adapted from Johanna Handschmann: "Aufläufe aus der Vollwertküche")
300 g Brussels sprouts (or broccoli or cauliflower)
40 g butter
40 g whole wheat flour
250 ml heavy cream or milk
1/2 cube vegetable broth or tsp. granules
pepper, freshly grated, to taste
nutmeg, freshly grated, to taste
herbal salt, to taste
50 g Emmental cheese, coarsely grated
3 - 4 eggs, separated
butter, for gratin form
Cut large Brussels sprouts in halves, broccoli or cauliflower in florets. Cook in steamer for ca. 5 - 7 minutes until almost done. (Or cook in a pan with tightly fitting lid, with a cup of water and 1 tsp. of lemon juice.) Drain and set aside.
For the Béchamel sauce, cook butter in a large sauce pan until foaming. Add flour and cook over medium heat for 1 - 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until slightly browned. Remove from heat, and whisk in cream or milk in a slow stream. Add herbal salt and spices, then bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400º F/200º C. Adjust rack to middle rung. Place high rimmed gratin form in oven for 5 minutes, to warm up.
Using a food processor, immersion blender or chef's knife, finely chop Brussels sprouts (or broccoli or cauliflower).
Stir purée into butter/cream mixture. Add cheese and egg yolks and mix until well blended. Season with herbal salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Remove hot gratin form from oven, and melt a piece of butter, tilting pan to grease bottom.
Whisk egg whites with pinch of salt until stiff. Fold into vegetable mixture. Pour into gratin form, smooth top with rubber spatula, and immediately place into oven.
Bake gratin for 20 - 25 minutes (don't open the oven door during the first 10 minutes, or the soufflé will deflate), or until top is well browned. The middle can be soft, but shouldn't be totally runny. Let cool for 5 minutes in switched-off oven with door slightly ajar, then serve immediately.
My mother loves desserts - she often says with conviction: "The dessert is always the best part of a meal!" We both prefer tart fruits, and don't like it overly sweet. Therefore I chose a citrus-y dessert that is as delicious as it is simple:
KEY LIME BARS (16 servings) (adapted from "Cook's Illustrated ")
142 g/5 oz animal crackers or other dry cookies
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 pinch salt
57 g/4 tbsp butter, melted
57 g/2 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp. lime zest (1 lime)
1 pinch salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk (399 g/14 oz)
1 egg yolk
½ cup lime juice ( 1-1/2 limes)
lime zest , for garnish
Preheat oven to 325ºF/160ºC. Line an 8 x 8" (20 x 20 cm) square pan crosswise with aluminum foil strips, allowing extra foil to hang over edges of pan. Mist with oil spray.
For the crust, process crackers in food processor until finely ground (or place cookies in ZipLock bag and crush them with roller pin), add brown sugar and salt, and pulse to combine.
Drizzle with melted butter, and pulse until all crumbs are moistened. Press crumbs evenly into bottom of pan.
Bake crust until deep golden brown, 18 - 20 minutes. Let cool on wire rack (don't turn off the oven!)
For the filling, combine cream cheese, lime zest and salt in mixing bowl. Add sweetened condensed milk, and mix until well blended. Whisk in egg yolk. Add lime juice, and mix gently until incorporated.
Pour filling in cooled crust, and smooth top with spatula. Bake until set, and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides (15 - 20 minutes.)
Transfer pan to wire rack, and let cake cool to room temperature. Decorate with lime zest. Cover pan with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.
Remove cake from pan by lifting foil extensions. Cut into 16 squares.
Key Lime Bars
I could never find fresh Key limes, when I baked these, but you can as well use regular (Persian) limes. But don't substitute with bottled lime juice - the bars will not taste the same!
Since the sweetened condensed milk supplies plenty of sugar, I cut down on the sugar when making the crust (from 3 tablespoons to 1 tablespoon.)
"Cook's Illustrated" suggests toasted shredded coconut as garnish for those who don't like it too tart. Mutti and I, of course, love citrus flavor and used lime zest curls as decoration.
The Key Lime Bars keep fresh for several days if stored in the refrigerator - if they last that long!
My mother Gisela, my older sister Ingrid and me - in the Fifties.