How to serve toffee.

My great-grandmother was a great influence on me, although I never met her. But I get it from stories my mother who adored her has told me. My favourite one, and the most impressive, gives a wonderful example of what it takes to be cultivated, and maybe more of what a certain upbringing does to you and your morale. She was very particular about the way a table was set. As a middle aged woman, long before the war, I’m talking World War II, she indulged in style, decorated her house beautifully, with no trouble apart from striving for perfection on a daily basis, she would give orders to the few servants she had, and was known for her splendid dinner parties. But it wasn’t just the times and circumstances that made her the lady that she was and to bring her daughter up to be one too in the future, meaning to instruct my grandmother, then a young girl, never to take too much sugar with tea, what unthinkable intemperance, regardless of my grandmother’s sweet tooth of course, to force her to sit at the dinner table as if she had swallowed a broomstick and to introduce her to the effects of alcohol, a young lady’s demeanour and virtue mustn’t be compromised by a glass of wine, let alone three, it was her composure, her absolute restraint in everything she did. This would actually not be a story if she hadn’t had to adapt to war times. First of all, that dinner table got lost in ruins, bombs smashed it to pieces, and after the war was over, there was not much food to serve. But no war could ever impinge on her dinner celebrations, anything had to meet her demands, it was like an obsession with her. My family was happy to have anything at all, potatoes were a luxury, there weren’t any oysters to sprinkle with lemon juice, meat on the table would be conceived as a mirage, a fata morgana, but she would never eat up, even in these days, she would leave something behind on her plate, always, whatever it was, however humble a meal had been prepared, she would leave something to be thrown away, for one could get the impression she’d been hungry, and hunger, oh dear, what a vulgar sensation, how weak a character one would be to adapt to a life in ruins, she might have thought, and so she did not. Never. How absurd, and yet, quelle contenance. I think of her, each time I want to eat something right off the box, like these toffees. And then, I take a beautiful plate or dish, and one of the antique glasses for the sherry instead of the dishwasher safe ones, and enjoy life her style. God bless her.

The Chocolate Diet — Success Guaranteed!

If you want to gain weight, for whatever reasons, do the following: buy three packages of assorted chocolates, pick your favourites from each package, arrange them casually in a bowl and serve them with at least four episodes of any show interesting enough to make you stay put in front of the TV no matter what happens or who’s at the door. Wash each chocolate down with a generous helping of non-skimmed milk, Baileys or, why not, some banana milkshake. Repeat. Bon appétit and bonne chance!

Midnight Chocolate

When God came up with cocoa beans, he must have been in a very good mood. Cocoa beans are the best beans there are—sorry, Heinz, no offence, but your bean cans were portrayed by Andy Warhol, this is as far as your fifteen minutes of fame go. Anyway, cocoa beans are so very rich in healthy flavonoids, but more importantly, without cocoa beans there was no chocolate, and without chocolate there were no chocolate glazed marzipan cakes, especially the one in my fridge (keeping it in the fridge is important to make the thick chocolate glaze as crunchy as possible), the one I just devoured out of sheer lust. And now I am in such a good mood, the best of moods, actually, just like God himself the day he came up with cocoa beans.

Anne Boleyn Cake

Sprüngli’s truffes cake is a serious matter. It’s heavy duty. It’s heavy weight. It’s nothing but cream and sugar and cocoa and butter and eggs, some flour, more cocoa and cream, and some almonds and hazelnuts. It was obviously made to kill people, to instantly clog their arteries, fatten their hips, and ruining their appetite for days. I know what I am talking about, I am a survivor of endless attacks on my veins’ sobriety, afterwards always claiming in vain I would never lose control again—until the next battered defeat. When I left Zurich and Sprüngli for good, I had to set an end to this cake’s power over me, at least symbolically, and so I made myself its executioner. Inspired by the passing of mostly female English royalty like Mary Stuart and Lady Jane Grey, I put Sprüngli’s truffes cake to death with my cheese cleaver. It took even more attempts to break its neck than poor Anne Boleyn’s.

Brioche up!

Let them eat cake, qu’ils mangent de la brioche, Marie Antoinette is said to have replied quite stupidly when confronted with the people missing their daily bread, and although this has often been disguised as quite untrue a quotation, it somehow still sticks to her. So, whenever I’m in Switzerland or France, I think of the Queen of France when I have brioche, although never when I eat cake—you see, truth be told for once, brioche is nothing like cake, it’s way too neutral in taste, it’s great with breakfast and café au lait, but it does taste wonderful cake-like when stuffed with truffles from Sprüngli, one of the world’s finest chocolatiers. So, as a basic rule, whenever you’re in France, have brioche, but whenever you’re in Switzerland, try a Truffe Brioche. For Marie Antoinette’s sake.

The hypnotic Easter bunny.

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.

From Rioja with love.

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.