Grandma Bercher’s Cinnamon Rolls

Grandma Berchers Cinnamon Rolls ©2013 La Domestique

Cinnamon rolls are a Bercher family tradition. It all started with my great grandmother, Frances Bercher. Born Frances Schuster in Germany, she immigrated to America with her family in 1908 at 13 years of age. Eventually she married my great grandfather and settled along with other German immigrants in Arkansas, where most of our family still lives today. I never knew Grandma Bercher, but she was a legend in our family and in the town. She was famous for her cinnamon rolls, but even more famous for her welcoming, generous spirit. A devoted Catholic, she baked trays and trays of cinnamon rolls for parish functions. Sugar was rationed during the Depression before Word War II, but that didn’t stop her. She and Papa Bercher tended a vegetable garden in their yard and people would bring their sugar to trade for home grown produce so she could continue baking for the community.

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Irish Christmas Cake

Irish Christmas Cake (c) 2012 La Domestique

Last night we ate our first slice of Irish Christmas Cake. To my Irish-born-and-raised husband, this fruit cake is an essential part of celebrating Christmas. If you ask him about Christmas cake, his eyes gloss over as he recites its virtues, from boozy dried fruit to moist, dark crumb to marzipan crust. My experience with Christmas cake came a couple of years ago when we traveled to Ireland during the holidays for a family wedding. As we journeyed from house to house visiting friends and relatives, I noticed a Christmas cake appeared on every table in every home. Once invited in, we gathered around the kitchen table next to the warm stove. A pot of tea and the obligatory slice of Christmas cake placed on the table sustained us through hours of chatting and catching up. The dense crumb studded with golden raisins, currants, and glacé cherries was heavy with holiday spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. Covered in a thick coating of marzipan and wrapped in white fondant, the cake tasted tooth achingly sweet. Everyone had their favorite way to eat Christmas cake, my husband preferring to peel off the fondant and nibble at the marzipan. He had a history of stripping the whole cake of marzipan and leaving the naked fruit cake for everyone else!

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Halloween Barmbrack, an Irish Tradition

Halloween Barmbrack (c)2012 La Domestique

Barmbrack – such a strange word to those of us who didn’t grow up in Ireland. Originating from the Gaelic language, bairín, is a reference to the yeast of fermented bear and breac, notes the speckled appearance of currants and golden raisins. This sweet bread is leavened with yeast, enriched with milk and butter, and infused with cinnamon and nutmeg. Tokens are wrapped in parchment, then folded into the bread dough to be discovered later when the bread is sliced. My Irish husband’s favorite Halloween memory is of gathering at the table with his family to slice into the barmbrack. Each token symbolizes a different prediction for the future. Find a ring in your slice and you’ll be married soon. The matchstick predicts an unhappy marriage. A pea foretells poverty, a coin, wealth. It’s great fun to see who gets what, laughing at the good and the bad (which is very Irish).

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Cardamom & Prune Bread

Cardamom & Prune Bread (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

I realized yesterday that winter has arrived in Colorado and it’s here to stay. Rather than fluctuating between 80 degree days and snowstorms, we’ve settled into a peaceful season of sunny but decidedly chilly temperatures. I haven’t seen a snowflake tumble from the sky in at least a week, but the white snow refuses to melt from the pastures and shaded sidewalks remain coated in sheets of black ice. At about four o’clock in the afternoon, the sun begins its rapid descent behind the Rocky Mountains, and within minutes night has fallen. It’s quite a shock. I’m learning to adapt to the light as it changes with the seasons; from warm and strong to gray and diffused. I’ve moved my photography set-up to a different room and found a new magic hour to shoot. I do believe this craft is about getting in sync with my environment. Rather than forcing things I must let go and allow myself to be directed by the elements I have to work with. Each day it comes with more ease, and though I haven’t found my sweet spot in this new season yet, I feel it within my reach. I cannot make summer pictures out of blue-toned winter light, but with practice I hope to capture the beauty of light as winter solstice approaches. I won’t bemoan the challenge, as it’s the constant changes in light that make photography so interesting. The sun rises and sets. The earth tilts on its axis. Each day is a new day with new challenges. C’est la vie!

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Bucherondin with Fig Purée and Pine Nuts

The best part of cooking is discovering beautiful flavors and textures. The second best part is playing with flavors and textures, being inspired and surprised. Yesterday I baked Fig-Walnut Bread from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. The recipe calls for dried figs to be plumped in boiling water, then puréed. This luscious paste is beaten into the quick bread batter, resulting in a sweet, moist loaf with the pleasant crunch of tiny fig seeds. I marveled at the deep purple color flecked with hundreds of golden seeds. I couldn’t believe how something so simple has eluded me all this time: I can make fig purée at home. This may sound silly, but I often gazed at the shining jars of expensive puréed figs in gourmet shops and it never occurred to me to make it at home. Part of the reason is that figs are not grown where I live, so I’m not used to working with them in the kitchen. By the time California figs make it to my Colorado grocery store, they always look so sad and overripe. Dried fig purée is a game changer in my kitchen. My mind is spinning with wonderful ideas of how to cook with this liquid gold.

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