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Tasty Echoes from the Distant Past
I never knew my mother-in-law; she died before I met my husband, David. Yet her presence is palpable in our home because of the recipes she left behind for her three children.
Leslie Morel was born in Vienna in 1923, 15 years before the Anschluss, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria. Through the Kindertransport, she was shipped to safety in London. Later she immigrated to New York.
David continues to prepare his mother’s recipes, partly because he likes these foods but mostly to rekindle childhood memories of his family savoring Leslie’s cooking. He shares these delicacies with our two granddaughters.
They hover as he pours palatschinken batter into a skillet to make tissue-thin crèpes, the way his mother did. Traditionally, palatschinken are filled with walnuts chopped in sugar or apricot preserves.
It’s surprising to hear 5- and 7-year-olds talk about vanilla kipfurl, almond crescent cookies, and malakoff torte, a dome of ladyfingers and custard, but the girls adore Viennese pastries.
These recipes represent a world of opulence, a time before Hitler destroyed a way of life for Austrian Jews. This cuisine arose before cholesterol entered the lexicon, when people welcomed butter and cream. Coffee and pastries were smothered with schlag, whipped cream mixed with sugar flavored by vanilla. Schlag was prepared right before dessert was served — not one minute sooner.
Recently, David’s sister gave him copies of their mother’s repertoire of recipes, some of them in Leslie’s handwriting. The anchovy spread, liptauer, and the cucumber salad, gerkensalat, are not to be missed.
Recently I was melting chocolate with our older granddaughter. “Do you know who this double boiler once belonged to?” I asked her.
“Leslie,” she said. “She was a very good cook.”
Liptauer (Anchovy Spread)
11 oz. of cream cheese, reduced fat, if desired
1⁄4 lb. sweet butter at room temperature
1 tsp. of caraway seeds, chopped gently so they don’t fly
3 Tbsps. capers, drained and chopped
1⁄3 of a (1.6 oz.) tube of anchovy paste, or more if desired
paprika for dusting
Accompaniment: crackers or bread
In a mixing bowl, cream all ingredients with a fork — except the paprika. Recipe can be made to this point and refrigerated, but bring to room temperature before serving. Move liptauer to an attractive bowl and sprinkle with paprika.
Serve as a spread on crackers or with bread.
Makes 11⁄2 cups.
Gerkensalat (Cucumber Salad)
1 seedless cucumber
1 small onion
1⁄8 cup dill, finely chopped
4 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp. sugar
white pepper to taste
paprika for dusting
Wash cucumber and pat dry with paper towels. Create a striped pattern by using a scraper to vertically slice off the cucumber’s skin from top to bottom. Then skip an area about the same width and scrape again.
Scrape on and off all around the cucumber. With a sharp knife, slice the cucumber as thin as possible and place into a large, wide bowl.
Peel and slice the onion as thin as possible. With your fingers, break each slice into rings and add to the bowl.
Add the remaining ingredients — except the paprika. Toss gently to combine.
Place a plate inside the bowl over the cucumber mixture so that it is touching the contents and covering their entire surface. Add some weight to the plate, such as a can of food. The plate should be pressing down on the cumber mixture. Move to the refrigerator for 6 to 12 hours. The pressure of the plate draws out the cucumber’s liquid, and the salad will become resplendent with natural juices.
Before serving, remove the plate and place the salad in an attractive bowl. Sprinkle with paprika.
Equipment: 1 small frying pan (8 inches in diameter across the top and 61⁄2-inches across the bottom).
11⁄2 Tbsps. sugar
11⁄2 cups milk
11⁄2 cups flour
1 tsp. melted sweet butter, plus 10 more Tbsps. for greasing the pan
Preheat oven to 300˚.
In a large mixing bowl, place the eggs, sugar, milk, flour and 1 teaspoon melted butter. Mix ingredients together until well combined.
In a small frying pan, melt about 1 tablespoon of butter on a medium to low flame. Using a soup ladle, pour just enough batter to thinly coat the entire surface of the pan. (Be careful not to use too much batter or the palatschinkin crepes will be too thick.)
When the top surface of the crepe is no longer wet and appears dry, flip it over and fry the other side until golden brown. Palatschinkin can be placed on an oven-proof plate and stored in a 200˚ oven until the entire batch is ready.
In between making each palatschinkin, wipe out the frying pan with a paper towel to collect any butter. Grease the pan with fresh butter before making the next palatschinkin.
chopped walnuts (In a small food processor or by hand, mix 1 tsp. sugar with a 1⁄2 cup of walnuts and chop fine.)
Spread one of the fillings across the entire surface of each palatschinkin. With your fingers, roll into crepes and serve immediately.
Makes about 10 palatschinkin.
Vanilla Kipfurl (Crescent Cookies)
Europeans measure ingredients by weight using the metric system.
2 sheets of parchment paper
150 grams (7⁄8 cup) blanched almonds
150 grams (9 Tbsps.) butter, at room temperature
150 grams (7⁄8 cup) flour
70 grams (1⁄4 cup) vanilla sugar, plus 4 to 5 additional Tbsps. for sprinkling (see recipe above)
2 egg yolks
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 300˚.
In a food processor, chop almonds until they are as fine as coarse sand.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the almonds and remaining ingredients (except the vanilla sugar for sprinkling) until well combined.
Take 1 level tablespoon of dough and roll it between your palms until it forms a snake about 4-inches long. The snake should be evenly thick, particularly at the ends. (If the dough is too sticky to handle, place it in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes and continue.) Bend the snake into a crescent moon shape and place on a parchment- lined baking sheet. Continue making crescents until no dough remains.
Place baking sheets in the oven. After 15 minutes, move the sheet on the lower rung to the top rung and vice versa. Bake for 30 minutes in all, or until the vanilla kipfurl are golden brown at the edges. The dough will hold together but still feel soft to the touch.
Sprinkle the kipfurl with 4 to 5 tablespoons of vanilla sugar, making sure they are dusted with sugar all over. Move to a plate.
Serve immediately, or when fully cooled. Store in an airtight container. Recipe freezes well.
Makes 24 to 28 cookies.
Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. Email her at: [email protected].