One day, when on my way home from work, I changed trams on Paradeplatz in Zurich, just like any other day. This particular day, however, was not an ordinary day at all, it happened to be a very particular day, it was the day Sprüngli had changed their windows for Easter. Now, when you’re a chocolate addict like me, you’re about to lose control over your itinerary, you stop paying attention to anything else, least of all your connecting tram, you can take the next one, or the one after that, but on this day, I lost control over time and space altogether, I was mesmerized by a chocolate Easter bunny, the biggest chocolate Easter bunny I had ever seen, ever!, it was huge, gigantic in fact, who could ever eat it up, I wondered. I think, this was my last self-controlled thought, then, this Easter bunny’s face started to mesmerize me, what expressive features, such character, I felt like I had entered Alice’s wonderland, as if that bunny was about to address me, saying something like If I lose my temper, you lose your head, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all, I took a deeper look in its eyes, one look too many, and da war’s um mich gescheh’n, it spoke to me, it sang to me, my fate became quite plain, half drawn by it, I glided in and was not seen again.
In the summer of 1999, I remember the date vividly, it was the year I was having the best lunchbreaks ever with my colleague and friend Andrea, our agency was wildly overstaffed, so from Monday to Friday, we had lavish, long extended luncheons all over town, our lunch budget was always overdrawn by Tuesday, but we didn’t care at all, anyway, it was also the summer, blueberry producers from all over the world published the result of some health research, claiming the blue colouring of blueberries was extremely healthy a stuff. Something in the chemical composition seemed to protect you from all sorts of diseases, conveying the impression blueberries made you live happily for hundreds of years. I was immediately sold. So, for the last twenty years I’ve been eating lots and lots of blueberries, muffins mostly, but also lots and lots of blueberry müeslis, and haven’t aged at all (so my doctor tells me). I added some raspberries for colour, though…
Sugar is the most opposed achievement in modern society, when you admit putting sugar in your coffee, you’re as politically suspect as if you opposed putting taxes on the rich. So, unless you’re already wearing a t-shirt that says Save the Rich, don’t ever quit sugar! You might lose what life’s all about, where there’s nothing sweet to experience, there’s only bitterness to endure, so believe you me, you don’t want to live without any contrasts, you need them just as much as the day needs the night, and the week its weekend, and whatever they tell you about the danger of sugar or carbohydrates altogether, slow or fast, think of what you’d have to give up once you’ve renounced sugar: the rigid bitterness of orange marmalade, mine is imported from a weekly market in Versailles and amère as hell, needs some sweetness to soothe your tastebuds, otherwise you end up with a twisted tongue. And if this necessity doesn’t convince you, just think of that: citrus fruit and sugar cane have the same origin, God—and you don’t want to contradict God, do you?
Since the beginning of time, we’ve met with many a famous couple: Adam and Eve, Caesar and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Harry and Sally, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Yves Saint Laurent and Victoire Doutreleau, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, James Bond and an endless row of girls, Miss Marple and Mr Stringer, Tintin and Captain Haddock, but the most successful couple to me is a strawberry and the cheesecake she’s just been introduced to. Admittedly, their love affair won’t last long, a fork will be their hangman, my stomach their grave, but neither did Romeo and Juliet’s, and so I will continue to help any strawberry meet the love of her life, my cheesecake. Short live the happy couple!
Austria is very blessed a country. They not only have Sissi, that wonderful iconic empress played so heartbreakingly sweet by Romy Schneider, more importantly, they are lucky to have the very best pastries in the world. You all know the Sachertorte from Sacher’s in Vienna, probably the most famous chocolate cake in the world, although it’s not the vast amounts of chocolate that are to blame for its fame, but the fine layer of apricot marmalade, then there’s Demel on Kohlmarkt near Hofburg Palace, purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court of Austria, the best pastry shop in the world (at least, as far as I’m concerned) with an absurdly delicious range of tarts and cakes (and a very yummy Beef Wellington, too) that make you forget all about the importance of beach bodies in general and very much of your own in particular, and finally there’s Kaiserschmarrn, a kind of elaborate pancake with lots of rum raisins—and some apricot marmalade to dip your pieces into for a slightly sour yet very fruity contrast. That one, at least, you can do all by yourself (don’t forget some grated lemon peel, it’s quite crucial), for anything from Sacher or Demel’s you need years and years of training… Years!
Some time ago, I had the worst of nightmares. I was in a tram in Zurich, trying to make it to Sprüngli’s to get some Himbeer-Rahm-Torte, their famous raspberry cream cake, my very favourite, it’s so very rich and heavy with raspberries, yet light and fresh like air, but that damn streetcar wouldn’t take me there, for some reason, it was taking the wrong turn, totally wrong direction, I wanted to get out, but it just wouldn’t stop, it just went on and on, still, I had to get out to make it in time before closing hour, missing it was not an option, I had to have that cake, I just had to, I don’t know how I finally managed to take another tram, I think I ran them all down somehow, but the other one wasn’t the right one either, I started panicking, I was way too late now, all of a sudden night had fallen, it was completely dark outside, the time was 6:25 pm – hadn’t I left at noon? – and that streetcar had just passed the Zurich opera house to make it home to Seefeld, like it was mocking me, I just had to get out, but even if I managed to, how should I ever make it to Sprüngli’s in time, with five minutes left at my hand? Any suggestions? Any? Well, neither had I, instead, I woke up screaming. Still without any cake, but at least safe and sound. I made it to the fridge and had noisette yoghurt. No raspberries, but quite yummy.
My grandmother used to travel and bake a lot after retiring, she had all this time on her hands and filled it with some culinary creativity, and as she was fond of red wine and Spain, she ended up baking but one cake only, her masterpiece, her Rioja cake, commonly and less specifically known as her red wine cake, as in the 1970s, Rioja was quite uncommon a beverage in Germany and she didn’t feel the urge to explain her extravagances to just anybody she had over for tea and sympathy, she was a teacher, the most loved one of her village, her funeral was crowded with former students, she must have been a hell of a teacher, anyway, I, being more into France than into Spain, have always replaced Rioja with some Bordeaux when I made that cake, but now, just to cherish her memory, I opened a bottle of Rioja, the batter takes a quarter of a litre, as well as vast amounts of cocoa, chopped dark chocolate, this one is from Venezuela, quite fitting an origin, it’s a Spanish speaking country after all, anyway, the cake‘s obviously soaked with flavonoids from all that red wine and cocoa, kind of an anti-ageing approach to baking. I think, I’ll have another slice just now.