Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sachertorte, an Austrian temptation


I always enjoy doing blog posts about food, so here's an especially yummy, sweet, chocolate-y one for you. This postcard, a special surprise sent from Austria, shows a dessert called Sachertorte, named after its creator Franz Sacher. This confection is traditionally composed of two layers of dense, mildly sweet chocolate sponge cake with a layer of apricot jam in the middle. The cake is covered on the top and sides with a dark chocolate icing and traditionally served with unsweetened whipped cream.

Franz Sacher concocted this recipe in 1832 for politician Klemens Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna, Austria. True Sachertorte can only be found in Vienna and Salzburg, Austria, as the closely-guarded recipe was trademarked by the Hotel Sacher in 1876. The Sachertorte is considered one of Vienna's most famous culinary specialties.

Although the recipe is secret even today, many people have come close to replicating it. You can find a possible recipe below.

6 oz (175 g) dark chocolate (50-55% cocoa)
1/2 c (110 g) soft butter
1/2 c (110 g) golden caster sugar
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
5 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) vanilla
1/2 c (110 g) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
For the icing:
6 oz (175 g) dark chocolate (50-55% cocoa)
5 fl oz (150 ml) double cream
2 teaspoons glycerine
2 teaspoons smooth apricot jam
Preheat oven to 300 F (150 C).

1. Start off by melting the chocolate for the cake. Break it up into a heatproof bowl, then place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and leave it to melt slowly, being careful not to let the bottom of the bowl touch the water or the chocolate will overheat. While that’s happening, using an electric hand whisk, cream the butter and sugar until very pale and fluffy. Now beat in the egg yolks, a little at a time, whisking well after each addition.
2. Then, when the chocolate has cooled slightly, fold it gradually into the creamed butter mixture and then add the vanilla extract. Next, sift the flour and baking powder together into a bowl, then put it all back into the sieve and sift it into the mixture a little at a time, carefully folding it in with a large metal spoon. When all the flour is incorporated, wash the whisks in warm, soapy water and dry them thoroughly.
3. Next, in a large, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to the stiff-peak stage, which will take 3-4 minutes, and then carefully fold them into the mixture, bit by bit, still using a metal spoon. Now pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, level the top and bake it on the middle shelf of the oven for about 1 hour, or until firm and well risen. When it’s cooked, allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out on to a cooling rack. Then leave it to get quite cold.
4. Now warm the apricot jam and brush the cake all over with it. Next, to make the icing, melt the chocolate with the cream, again in a bowl over simmering water. Then remove the bowl from the heat, and stir in the glycerine, to give a coating consistency. Pour the icing over the whole cake, making sure it covers the top and the sides completely. Then leave it to set, which will take 2-3 hours.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Who is Oscar Niemeyer?


The name sounded familiar, but I wasn't really sure who Oscar Niemeyer was. After receiving three postcards from Brazil with his architecture on them, I decided it was time to do a little research.

Oscar Niemeyer is a Brazilian architect born in Rio de Janeiro in 1907. Before he was 30 he was an architect of some renown, designing the Brazilian pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939. Over the course of his career Niemeyer designed many famous buildings, including the United Nations headquarters in New York, the public buildings of Brasilia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Brazil, shown below.

Niemeyer was also a famous communist. He grew up during the time of the Russian Revolution
and joined the Brazilian Communist Party in 1945. When the Brazilian government was overthrown in a military coup in 1964, Niemeyer's leftist political leanings made him a target of the new dictatorship. In 1966 pressure from the government led Niemeyer to move to Paris, where he began a new phase of his career and also began designing furniture.

Niemeyer did not return to Brazil until 1985, when the government reverted to democracy. He continued his prolific career there, and at the ripe old age of 101, his works are still under construction around the world. Niemeyer's architecture is best described as graceful, elegant, and harmonious; his style combines Brazilian baroque and modernist features to create light, curved forms. He pioneered the use of reinforced concrete to form unusual curves or shells, a common feature in many of his works.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Krasnoyarsk, Russia - a Siberian adventure


Truthfully, I think this may be the only postcard I've ever received from Russia that was not from St. Petersburg or Moscow. I received it quite a while ago, and it has only now occurred to me that maybe it would be nice to learn a little more about Russia outside of its two major cities. This map shows the Russian krai (province) Krasnoyarsk, and let me tell you, it's a lot bigger than you think it is. It's located in Central Siberia, and it is the second largest Russian krai, comprising 13% of the country's total landmass - that makes it 3 1/2 times the size of Texas, or about the size of the North African nation of Algeria. The administrative center of the krai is Krasnoyarsk (city), located in the extreme south of the province.

Because the Krasnoyarsk krai is so big, it displays a wide assortment of geographical features, which this map so kindly lays out for me. :) The white area of the map refers to the tundra area of Krasnoyarsk, tundra referring to a region where the subsoil never thaws and only very hardy shrubs, grasses, mosses, and lichens can grow. The dark green area of the map is taiga - also a harsh climate, but with a long enough warm season to provide nutrients for hardy coniferous trees, as well as some birch, aspen, and other sturdy trees. There are more animals in this region, especially plant-eaters, rodents, and other small mammals. The light green section of the map shows the area dominated by the beautiful Sayan Mountain Range and Putoran Plateau. Running the length of the krai is the mighty Yenisey River, the world's fifth largest by length and volume.

In 1908 a nuclear-sized explosion occurred 3-6 miles over the surface of the earth in present-day Tunguska Nature Reserve in Krasnoyarsk krai. The area is so remote that reports of the explosion only trickled into towns from the talk of the native people of Siberia. Although still a great mystery, scientists now hypothesize that the explosion was caused by a large meteroid or comet fragment. The explosion flattened over 500,000 acres (2,000 square kilometers) of pine forest.

Krasnoyarsk city in the southern part of the province is most often visited as a stop along the Trans-Siberian Railway. The city is situated along the Yenisey River, with picturesque views of the river, the Sayan Mountains, and the taiga forest. Krasnoyarsk is rich with history, founded in 1628 by Russian Cossacks as a border fort. The most popular visitor spot around Krasnoyarsk is Stolby nature reserve, home to unusual rock formations popular with extreme rock climbers, and currently under consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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