Sugar and spice


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I often think I could be someone you'd love to hate:
  • I go to bed early and never stay out late, even at weekends
  • I'm bright and cheerful in the mornings without needing coffee or having the alarm clock on snooze for an hour.
  • I rarely drink alcohol and have never taken drugs or smoked.
  • I love to exercise and work out almost every day.
  • I like the normally unpopular things like anchovies, stinky cheese, raisins in cheesecakes, brussels sprouts, cabbage and spinach.
  • I'm always early for appointments and the first to arrive at parties.
  • I never forget to floss.
  • I never eat at the cinema because the noise distracts me.
  • I only watch original versions of films and love reading subtitles.
  • My flat is a mess 90% of the time and if you're brave enough to open any of my cupboards, things tend to fall out.
  • My favourite seasons are autumn and winter and I don't like summer.
  • I cry easily at films.
  • And last but not least, I love Christmas. The whole smaltziness, kitsch and overblown occasion that it is. The twinkling of the lights, the smell of cinnamon and chestnuts, coming home laden with bags stuffed with presents, buying a poinsettia, listening to classic songs by the Carpenters, Bing Crosby, Andy Williams and Nat King Cole, watching the Snowman and It's a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve then bursting into tears. The build-up part is my favourite so I try to make the most of every spare minute; baking Christmas cookies for friends, going out for walks in the evenings wrapped up warm to see the decorations and visiting the Christmas markets. Yesterday I finished work early and headed over to Gendarmenmarkt and then to the one at the Opernpalais. It made me realise how much I love this city in winter. Instead of the usual mulled wine or waffles I paid one final visit to the charmingly old fashioned Opernpalais for coffee and cake which will close at the end of the year. The room was packed with people savouring their spectacular Viennese style Torten, large bowls of soup and hot chocolate piled high with cream. A sad farewell to a Berlin institution which offered a welcome relief to Starbucks; I'm going to miss that place.

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Scandinavian design on the way to the market

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Stormy weather over Gendarmenmarkt

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Anyone for a cocktail?

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Alpaca wool

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The market at the Opernpalais

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Opernpalais café

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Just part of the amazing range of cakes

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Dusk on Bebelplatz

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Fairy lights at Potsdamer Platz

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As promised in my last post, here's my version of Julia's recipe for the Swedish spice cake. Her original recipe uses unsweetened bilberries which you should also choose if you're lucky enough to find any. In Berlin there were plenty in jars but sweetened which I hate so I replaced them with fresh cranberries. Julia also used lait ribot which you can easily find in Brittany but I replaced it with buttermilk, although any kind of fermented milk would be fine. My icing came out too thin and was more of a syrup but the cake was still moist and delicious and should definitely be an addition to the Christmas coffee time.

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Mjuk pepparkaka or Swedish spice cake (original recipe in French here)


100g soft butter, unsalted
2 eggs
100g brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
220g white spelt flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100ml buttermilk
100g unsweetened cranberries

1. Grease and line your cake tin (it should hold up to 1.5l). Preheat the oven to 150°C.
2. Melt the butter.
3. Beat the eggs and sugar vigourously for five minutes until thick and frothy.
4. Add the spices, flour, bicarb of soda followed by the buttermilk, melted butter and cranberries, beating in slowly.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour.
6. Decorate the cake with icing and berries.

For the icing

Combine 200g icing sugar, a tablespoon of lemon juice and 25ml of water. Heat up to 40°C and pour over the cake. The icing will set as it cools.

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