Rhymes With Bacon: Veganz Take Berlin

Rose and I at the East Side Gallery

Rose and I at the East Side Gallery

“Rhymes with bacon, which we don’t eat. Because we’re vegan…” sang Rose, as we stood on the train platform, eager to begin our evening.  We bristled with anticipation, and the warmth of a shared bottle of Prosecco–a welcome sensation in the brisk Berlin air that was chilling the train platform.  Tonight was to be my formal introduction into the world of the famed Berlin nightclubs that Rose adores.  Though it’s still not really my scene (despite my love of dancing), I was eager to traverse the dark corners of the nightclubs, as well as participate ever so slightly in the local drinking culture.

When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is immerse myself in the local vegan food offerings.  Even in Moscow, I unearthed favorable reviews for vegetarian restaurants, though I wouldn’t have been surprised were they completely absent from the local landscape.  Given that I had my trusty, local vegan tour guide in Berlin, I did far less research on the vegan offerings before I arrived.  From what I had heard, not only were there plenty of delicious vegan foods available, there was even an entire vegan grocery store chain in Berlin!

Berlin is so vegan friendly, that mushrooms can even DJ!

Berlin is so vegan friendly, that even mushrooms can DJ!

To start things off after my arrival, we swung by a local burger joint that happened to have late night hours.  While neither of us were particularly impressed by the tofu burger, which was actually just a slice of crisp, fried tofu on a bun with lettuce and tomato (we added the ketchup and mustard ourselves), I was just happy to be able to find something filling to eat at that hour.  It always surprised me that in a city with clubs that are open for literally 3 days straight, many restaurants still closed on the earlier side, frustrating both hungry travelers (from the land of 24 hour diners at least) and those suffering a case of the drunchies.

IMG_2625The next day, Rose took me to a favorite Vietnamese restaurant of hers, Hamy, which served vegan options alongside their regular menu.  The space was small and cozy, and featured a large chalk board detailing the daily specials, of which there were only two.  We chose the curry option, and asked for it vegan, with tofu instead of chicken.  Within minutes, we were served an incredibly large portion of heavenly curry, which was perfectly spiced and balanced.  Even chock full of coconut cream and fried tofu, it didn’t feel heavy or greasy.  In my eight months in Israel, I hadn’t had anything that came close (mostly because I only had curry from a restaurant once the entire time I was there, and try as I might, I’m no expert on Southeast Asian cuisine).  After lunch, we headed over to the East Side Gallery, a large section that remains of the Berlin wall, which was then covered in various murals by a number of different artists.

Depictions of the fall of the wall

Depictions of the fall of the wall

The rest of the afternoon was spent whiling away the hours in the sun, pursuing such Berlin past times as drinking cheap beers from a corner store in a park.  We also made our way to a bakery called Cupcake Berlin, which served several vegan options alongside the rest of their baked goods.  Rose and I decided to split a cupcake, and I also bought a brownie to save for later.  I can honestly say their vegan cupcake was amazing, in all of its simplicity.  It was a golden vanilla cake, with a perfectly moist and springy crumb, topped with a rich, buttery vanilla buttercream.  During my travels, I rarely found a cupcake that could compete with those I make myself, but the vegan cupcake at Cupcake Berlin could definitely give me a run for my money (though I think my flavors are by far more compelling).

Drinking 79 cent beer from the corner store in a random Berlin square

Drinking 79 cent beer from the corner store in a random Berlin square

Behold, Cupcake Berlin!

Behold, Cupcake Berlin!

Practicially perfect in everyway

Practicially perfect in every way

Friday was the first rainy day I had experienced in months, but luckily the light drizzle didn’t deter us from our explorations, and we went to the DDR museum, an interactive exhibition dedicated to the years East Germany spent under the communist regime.  We had a chance to look at everything from toys, to a model house, to the clothing (which was frequently made of such poor quality fabrics that many did what they could to smuggle American made clothing in from West Berlin).  There were also videos discussing the housing of the future in East Berlin, as well as clips of radio and television programs.  We quickly passed several hours opening drawers and lifting doors to read about life in the DDR, and how it compared to life in West Berlin at the same time.

With a bear for mom

With a bear for mom

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Welcome to the DDR! The best of all possible worlds….

IMG_2666As the afternoon cleared up, we took a walk across the city and through the Brandenburg gate to see the Holocaust memorial.  On our way there, we took a slightly wrong turn due to an apparent obstruction in our path in the form of a World Cup Carnival (or something like that).  Our detour took us on a leisurely stroll through the Tiergarten before we finally found the memorial.  One of the things that struck me most on my trip was just how late the sun was setting, late even for a trip that nearly coincided with the summer solstice.  As we took in the memorial–both the large stone slabs situated outdoors, which slowly envelope you into their abyss, before receding as you reach the other side–as well as the underground exhibit, we were entirely unaware of how late it was, and just how close to closing the exhibit was.  The indoor exhibit was a more personal display dedicated to works of art made by victims, information detailing the destruction that was wreaked upon each specific communities throughout the rest of Europe, and spotlights on several families that were deeply affected by the events of the Holocaust.  I was rushed through the final exhibit, as the staff closed down the memorial for the evening. It was a sombre start to Shabbat, which I insisted we celebrate in some small amount, especially after an evening spent connecting to the darker moments of our history.  It was then that I finally cracked open my last bottle of wine from the Tzfat winery, and in sharing it with Rose in Berlin, it tasted even better than I remembered.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

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In the thick of it

In the thick of it

We spent Saturday relaxing at home, in preparation for our big night out (we also had a tame night out Friday, where I was introduced to Rose’s friends as well as a DJ they were fans of).  We decided to eat in that night, in order to be more budget conscious, and just as we were discussing the merits of making homemade pizza for dinner that night, one of Rose’s roommates informed us that he and his girlfriend were planning on making pizza–effectively deciding that pizza was indeed the right choice for dinner.  We stopped off at the vegan grocery store that was several blocks from Rose’s apartment, and I marveled at the selection of vegan products I hadn’t had access to during the previous months.  I managed to reign myself in, and only bought a vegan candy bar from, GoMax Go (and basically the thing I missed the most in Israel), and a block of Italian style Cheezly, which I’d heard about, but never seen in the US (or Israel for that matter).  Rose’s roommate made the dough, and we individually topped our pizzas. I chose to make a white pizza with a creamy vegan bechamel, spiced with some black pepper, and enriched with just a touch of the Cheezly.  I also added succulent caramelized onions, razor thin slices of mushroom and yellow bell pepper (two ingredients I’m not generally a fan of, but were totally perfect in this application), some sliced fresh tomato, and then topped the cooked pizza with fresh arugula.  It was absolutely delicious, which lead me to stupidly eating the whole thing (despite its relative heft and richness…I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat for a week after polishing off the last bite).  Luckily, I had the chance to dance it off later that night, when we finally were admitted to the club.

Veganz, vegan grocery store!

Veganz, vegan grocery store!

A vegan pizza in the making

A vegan pizza in the making

Side by side with Rose's pizza, ready for the sauna

Side by side with Rose’s pizza, ready for the sauna

Omnomnomnom. Vegan white pizza complete

Omnomnomnom. Vegan white pizza complete

We started Sunday morning off by going to sleep (and we arrived home early by Berlin standards).  Our plan for the day was to check out a vegan cafe near Maur park, and then hit up Bear Pit Karaoke, within the park proper.  Fast Rabbit (the cafe) was cute and funky, and its menu featured two different wraps, plus a soup of the day.  Rose informed me that they also have THE BEST fries (which I think are named something like the gang bang….).  I decided to get the half and half wrap, which combined both filling options.  I am well aware as I struggle to describe this meal that I should have taken notes, or at least tried a little harder to document our lunch, however, I’m blaming my subpar memory of that particular hour on sleep deprivation.  I do remember Rose having a cauliflower based soup that was so good, I kinda wanted to steal it all from her.

Maur Park

Maur Park

The unexpected highlight of my trip to Berlin was definitely Bear Pit Karaoke, which was held in an open-air, stone amphitheater in the middle of the park.  It’s run by one guy, who brings in a small karaoke machine, laptop (and umbrella), and sets it up Sunday afternoons for some free entertainment. We clearly weren’t the only ones who thought this sounded like a fun time for a lazy Sunday, as the amphitheater was filled with people of all ages, and from all over the world.  After the first song or two, we made our way to an empty bench smack in the middle of the audience, where a man was making the rounds with a cooler of beer, while the host cracked jokes both in English and German.  We were just in time to see the most adorable little girl get up to sing a german song, aided by her mother–followed by a tween who sang a song of her own.  Rose and I contemplated getting up there, but with neither liquid courage, nor the perfect song in mind for the two of us to sing, we kept our hands by our sides.  Our favorite participants were always the American bros, likely in Berlin at the end of a study abroad trip, and dared by their friends.  But even American college guys in polo shirts and boat shoes belting out the Backstreet Boys couldn’t compete with Drunk German Lady.  I can’t remember the exact moment of her arrival, but at some point in the middle of the song, she made her way towards the singer, and began her booze fueled groove.  With each successive singer, she continued to assert her presence, until the host finally (and quietly) asked her to please leave the spotlight.  She refused.  The karaoke continued, and Drunk German Lady continued to dance.  Each of the singers took it in stride, which possibly encouraged her more.  The host’s intermittent pleas became more desperate, as he even appealed to Drunk German Lady’s husband (slightly less drunk, Drunk German Man) to escort her away.  Drunk German Lady began to protest.  She stumbled around the circular stage, appealing to the audience with shouts I couldn’t understand.  At some point she even laid down on the stone.  Her greatest and final attempt to remain a part of the festivities was to drop trou.  And no, she was not wearing any underwear.  The crowd simultaneously gasped, and covered their (or more likely their children’s) eyes.  Unlike in the US or Israel, throughout this whole ordeal, there was not a single security guard in sight.  The gig was only up when a large biker dude stood up, grabbed Drunk German Lady, and unceremoniously threw her out of the Bear Pit area.  She fled the scene, and her husband followed.  As we were leaving later, we passed her laying down in the middle of a walkway in front of a band.  I guess drunk habits die hard.

Welcome to the Bear Pit

Welcome to the Bear Pit

Adorable, courageous toddler

Adorable, courageous toddler

Drunk German Lady getting  her groove on

Drunk German Lady getting her groove on

My last full meal in Berlin was a green thai curry from a pan-Asian place a short ride from the park.  As we exited the park grounds, we passed through a flea market, and spotted a young guy packing up one of the tables, wearing a shirt with Hebrew writing on it.  This was my third Israeli sighting on the trip.  Somehow, we ran into the same guy and some of his friends on the train back to Rose’s, after getting our dinner, and I was quite excited to make sure I hadn’t forgotten all of my Hebrew in the preceding 4 days (it’s been 2 1/2 months since I left now, and I seem to still have the ability to hold a conversation).  For a final Berlin thrill,we made our way back to Berghain for a Sunday evening dance sesh, before my departure the next afternoon.

So long Berlin, hello France!

So long Berlin, hello France!

I managed a final German culinary hurrah at the airport, where I purchased a beer and a bag of paprika chips (which is apparently the flavor to try), and got ready to start my Provençal farm adventure.  All in all, I had a great time.  Even if I could have only eaten bread for the visit, it would have been worth it to see Rose.  As it stands though, Berlin has an amazing vegan scene, and it’s definitely one of the most affordable cities I’ve ever experienced.  I definitely hope to make it back for another visit in the near(ish) future, and try even more amazing vegan noms.

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Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes

I feel like I’ve somehow managed to go overboard on the pumpkin this year, at least recipe-wise, which is funny since the pumpkin craze doesn’t really exist in Israel. All the sensory phenomena associated with pumpkin season in the US are absent here so far. It’s been almost continuously warm and sunny since my arrival in early October (much to my delight), so food cravings tend to be more for things that are light and fresh, rather than warm and comforting, rich with cinnamon, pumpkin, and other warming spices. Nevertheless, I had an idea for a second pumpkin themed cupcake that I was dying to try out. A cupcake spiked with a little bit of the ever popular pumpkin ale. I’m honestly not sure if pumpkin ales can be found here, but I had someone bring me back a bottle from the states for the sole purpose of making these cupcakes.

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Pumpkin ale cupcake, maple frosting and toasted pecans

While these would definitely make an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table, I made these for a going away party for a friend who was moving back to Boston. They were a hit among all in attendance, which was more of a pleasant surprise not because I was worried about the combination of flavors, but because in making them in a borrowed kitchen, I lacked even such basic equipment as measuring cups. In the end, I guesstimated using a small disposable plastic cup (on which was writtenThis is 1 Cup), by assuming it was actually equivalent to about 6 oz, and measuring the ingredients from there. Luckily, ratios are really the most important part of baking, so despite my make-shift equipment, everything was in proportion.

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Pumpkin ale batter

Of course, I didn’t see any pumpkin puree in the grocery stores here, so for efficiency, I chose to use mashed sweet potato in the batter, which was equally nice. I also threw in some vegan white chocolate chips, mostly because we had them (and they’re so easy to find here!). The cupcake is topped with a salted maple buttercream and toasted pecans. I used pure maple syrup in the frosting since it was easier to request bottle of maple syrup from the US, rather than maple extract. The salt was added to counterbalance the sweetness of the maple and sugar combination. The pecans provide a buttery crunch that tops the cupcakes off perfectly. I would actually recommend choosing either the frosting or the white chocolate chips, since the chips made the batter a little bit more sweet than I would have liked.

Make shift five shekel muffin pan from the shuk

Make shift five shekel muffin pan from the shuk

Pumpkin Ale Cupcake:

  • 1/2 c canned pumpkin puree (or mashed sweet potato)
  • 3/4 c pumpkin ale
  • 1/3 c oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 c all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 salt
  • 1/2 c vegan white chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners

In a medium bowl, stir together pumpkin, ale, sugar, oil, and and vanilla.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  Stir with a fork until just combined.  Fold in the white chocolate chips if using.

Fill liners 2/3 full and baking for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick or thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool completely before frosting.

Cooling cupcakes speckled with white chocolate

Cooling cupcakes speckled with white chocolate

Maple frosting:

  • 1 c vegan margarine ( or 1/2 margarine and 1/2 shortening)
  • 1/3 c pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 c confectioners sugar

Put the maple syrup in a small saucepan of medium heat. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Simmer 5-10 minutes until the syrup has reduced a bunch.  You want it to be 1/4 c or less.  Add a tablespoon or two of the margarine and let cool.  Beat the margarine until fluffy, and add the sugar and salt.  Beat until combined.  Add the vanilla and the maple syrup.  Beat til fluffy, then put in the fridge to set for about 15 minutes.  Beat again before using.

Top cupcakes with maple frosting and toasted pecans.

Beer, Baileys, and Cupcakes

I’ve gotten a lot of requests for a food blog in the last few years, and I figured the time was ripe to give in to peer pressure.

This is the “Irish Car Bomb” cupcake, named after the drink (I apologize if you find that drink offensive, but I didn’t make it up).  I invented this recipe when I decided to enter the vegan bake-off last February.  I think I applied too late (too late for another cupcake anyway), so I didn’t get to compete with it, but I did make it for fun several weeks later as a treat for my coworkers.  I then improved on the recipe for my friends 21st birthday a few weeks after that.Image

This cake is all vegan, all the time.  In fact, I considered calling this blog “The Olive Branch” because I feel like a plant based symbol of peace of was an appropriate description my cuisine.  Alas, tea, booze and cupcakes have managed to take over, and this is the one that started it all.

This cupcake is a chocolate stout cake, with a Jameson chocolate truffle baked into the center, topped with a homemade “Bailey’s” (or I guess I could just say dairy free Irish creme) buttercream, and drizzled with a Jameson spiked dulce de leche.  I know there’s no tea in these, but in order to get to tea time, I had to go through booze time.

I did adapt the cupcakes into a whole cake recently (yesterday) which made me realize that I’m not particularly fond of making whole cakes. From here on out, I will only be taking orders for cupcakes.  And now, for the recipe.  There are a lot of components, but most of them can be made well in advance.

A note on my cooking: when I cook, I generally tend not to have any kind of recipe, and to just dump things into a pot or pan and see what happens, but I can at least try to guesstimate proportions when I post stuff now.  I do use actual recipes when I bake, so those are easier to provide, though they also still generally involve a fair bit of tweaking.

Dulce de (coco) leche (adapted from Alton Brown):

  • 1 can full fat coconut milk
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped
  • 1/2 tsp of baking soda
  • Irish whiskey (I used Jameson)

Combine the coconut milks, sugar and vanilla bean and seeds into a size pan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved, then stir in the baking soda (the mixture bubbled up quite violently when I did this, so I would definitely lower the heat first).  Bring back to a gentle simmer, and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally. After an hour, remove the vanilla bean, and then continue to cook until it is a dark caramel color, about 2 hours.  Turn off the heat and incorporate the whiskey.  The thicker the mixture, the stronger you can make it (since you can use the whiskey to thin it out).  Strain through a fine mesh sieve and allow to cool. Serve on cupcakes or ice cream (or on a spoon…or finger as was the case last night).  Store in the fridge (I keep mine in a squeeze bottle).

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Irish Cream

  • 1 can of full fat coconut milk
  • 1 can of light coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup of sugar (brown sugar works too!)
  • 3/4 cup espresso or strong coffee (I used a heaping tablespoon of instant coffee dissolved into 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder
  • Whiskey to taste (about 1 cup, but really, make it as strong as you want it)

Combine the sugar and coconut milks in a pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, until just slightly reduced, and stir in the coffee mixture.  Remove from heat and add the whiskey.  Enjoy over ice, stirred into coffee, hot chocolate, soy milk!  Store in the fridge.

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Jameson chocolate truffles (adapted from Chloe’s Kitchen)

  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk, with the cream stirred in
  • 1 1/2 cups of semi-sweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, either chips or chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 shots worth of whiskey

Warm coconut milk in a sauce pan over medium heat, until barely boiling.  Add chocolate and stir until smooth.  Remove from heat and add vanilla, salt and whiskey.  Pour in a pie plate or loaf pan and chill until firm.  Form into walnut sized balls, using a tablespoon and freeze until ready to use.  If you want a stronger truffle, I would reduce the amount of coconut milk before adding more Jameson because we want the ganache to set up firm.

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Cupcakes (adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)

  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsps all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder (I prefer Cocoa Rouge by Guittard.  It has a really deep chocolatey flavor that is exceedingly smooth, rather than bitter)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup stout (I used Brooklyn Brewery chocolate stout. Most Guinness is not vegan in the US)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and fill a cupcake tin with liners.

Combine the milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and let stand (to curdle just a little) while you work on the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Combine the milk mixture with the stout, sugar, oil and vanilla.  Stir together until foamy and well combined.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet in two batches, mixing until well combined, about 2 minutes.  Distribute the batter evenly among the cupcake tin, so each is about 3/4 of the way full.  Place a frozen truffle on top of each cupcake, and bake about 18-22 minutes. The cake should spring back lightly at your touch.  It will not be possible to use the toothpick test for doneness because of the truffle, which should have become encased in batter while baking.  Let cool before frosting.

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“Bailey’s” buttercream

  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance (I prefer sticks for frosting)
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder
  • 1 tbsp whiskey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup vegan Irish Cream

Beat together shortening and margarine until fluffy.  Add sugar and cocoa pwder and beat a few minutes longer, until well combined.  Then add the espresso powder, whiskey, vanilla and “Baileys”  Beat together about 5 minutes, until smooth and creamy.

To assemble: either pipe or spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes.  Drizzle with dulce de leche. Eat and repeat.

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Here’s a picture of the full sized cake version.  Making this was definitely a case of Murphy’s Law, as one thing after another tried to trip me up.  Tweaks I made to convert this include adding more liquid as well as some Earth Balance into the ganache, so as to make it spreadable.  Turned out, even though I loved the consistency, I think I over filled the layers, and ended up with ganache oozing out into the icing, so that’s where the chocolate shavings came in.  The writing was dulce de leche mixed with confectioner’s sugar in order to stiffen it up a little bit.  The birthday boy and friend thought it looked great (though I would have liked to make a cleaner presentation of it), and gave me ultimate praise for taste.

Whew! Well that was quite the recipe typing marathon.  I promise I don’t always make stuff that is this complicated, but I can promise it will always be delicious!