Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Brussels sprout soufflé fresh from the oven
Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts 

My mother is an amazing woman. A retired gynecologist at 93, she is still going strong, grocery shopping with her bike, climbing up the stairs to her third floor apartment, staying on top of the news, and struggling to keep up with the pile of medical magazines on her table (I inherited those qualms to throw out unread newspapers - you never know what you might miss!)

Three years ago she also learned to use a computer in order to join Facebook. She didn't want to be the only family member not able to see the photos my daughter posted from her stay in Bhutan, my sister's from her garden on Mallorca, or pictures of my newest kitchen ventures.

When I visited my mother last fall in Hamburg I wanted to cook something with her, something light, healthy and, of course, delicious.

My Mom's no-frills kitchen
Kitchens resemble owners - Mutti's kitchen is a spacious, cheerful place, a cooking/dining room with a no nonsense, no frills, and waste-not-want-not attitude.

The tall cabinet - painted in neon pink, yellow and blue by my 14-year old sister 50 years ago, when my mother was not looking - holds an abundance of supplies, kitchen gadgets, and odds and ends.

Many of those were left behind whenever my sister and I were moving ("You never know when somebody might need them," Mutti insists), but the strangest item is an enameled colander - made from a recycled WWII helmet, with holes for the strap!

Helmet turned colander

Baking there is a bit of a challenge, because the oven also serves as storage space for pots and pans, that have to find another place in a kitchen full of flower pots, newspaper clippings, and other things my mother likes to have around.

But I am a baker, and where there is a will, there is a way. So one morning we went shopping and purchased Brussels sprouts, limes, graham cookies and sweetened condensed milk (not an easy thing to find in German supermarkets).

Mutti purées Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts are the base for a wonderful soufflé that will turn even Brussels sprouts haters into fans. It can be also made with broccoli or cauliflower.

(3-4 servings)
(adapted from Johanna Handschmann: "Aufläufe aus der Vollwertküche")

300 g Brussels sprouts (or broccoli or cauliflower)
 40 g butter
 40 g whole wheat flour
250 ml heavy cream or milk
1/2 cube vegetable broth (or 1 tsp. broth granules)
pepper, freshly grated, to taste
pinch nutmeg, freshly grated, to taste
herbal salt, to taste
50 g Emmental cheese, coarsely grated
3 - 4 eggs, separated
butter, for gratin form

Cut large Brussels sprouts in halves, broccoli or cauliflower in florets. Cook in steamer for ca. 5 - 7 minutes until almost done. (Or cook with 1 cup water and 1 tsp. lemon juice in pan with tightly fitting lid.) Drain and set aside.

For the Béchamel sauce, cook butter in a large sauce pan until foaming. Add flour and cook over medium heat for 1 - 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until slightly browned. Remove from heat, and whisk in cream or milk in a slow stream. Add herbal salt and spices, then bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened. Set aside.

Béchamel sauce

Preheat oven to 400º F/200º C. Adjust rack to middle rung. Place high rimmed gratin form in oven for 5 minutes, to warm up.  

Using a food processor, immersion blender or chef's knife, finely chop Brussels sprouts (or broccoli or cauliflower).

Stir purée into butter/cream mixture. Add cheese and egg yolks and mix until well blended. Season with herbal salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Remove hot gratin form from oven, and melt a piece of butter, tilting pan to grease bottom.

Whisk egg whites with pinch of salt until stiff. Fold into vegetable mixture. Pour into gratin form, smooth top with rubber spatula, and immediately place into oven.

Bake gratin for 20 - 25 minutes, or until top is well browned. Let cool for 5 minutes in switched-off oven with door slightly ajar, then serve immediately.

Waiting for her daughter...

My mother loves desserts - she often says with conviction: "The dessert is always the best part of a meal!" We both prefer tart fruits, and don't like it overly sweet. Therefore I chose a citrus-y dessert that is as delicious as it is simple:

KEY LIME BARS  (16 servings)  (adapted from "Cook's Illustrated")

142 g/5 oz animal crackers or other dry cookies
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 pinch salt
57 g/4 tbsp butter, melted

57 g/2 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp. lime zest (1 lime)
1 pinch salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk (399 g/14 oz)
1 egg yolk
½ cup lime juice ( 1-1/2 limes)
lime zest , for garnish

Preheat oven to 325ºF/160ºC. Line an 8 x 8" (20 x 20 cm) square pan crosswise with aluminum foil strips, allowing extra foil to hang over edges of pan. Mist with oil spray.

For the crust, process crackers in food processor until finely ground (or place cookies in ZipLock bag and crush them with roller pin), add brown sugar and salt, and pulse to combine.

Drizzle with melted butter, and pulse until all crumbs are moistened. Press crumbs evenly into bottom of pan.

Bake crust until deep golden brown, 18 - 20 minutes. Let cool on wire rack (don't turn off the oven!)

For the filling, combine cream cheese, lime zest and salt in mixing bowl. Add sweetened condensed milk, and mix until well blended. Whisk in egg yolk. Add lime juice, and mix gently until incorporated.

Pour filling in cooled crust, and smooth top with spatula. Bake until set, and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides (15 - 20 minutes.)

Transfer pan to wire rack, and let cake cool to room temperature. Decorate with lime zest. Cover pan with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.

Remove cake from pan by lifting foil extensions. Cut into 16 squares.

Key Lime Bars

I could never find fresh Key limes, when I baked these, but you can as well use regular (Persian) limes. But don't substitute with bottled lime juice - the bars will not taste the same!

Since the sweetened condensed milk supplies plenty of sugar, I cut down on the sugar when making the crust (from 3 tablespoons to 1 tablespoon.)

"Cook's Illustrated" suggests toasted shredded coconut as garnish for those who don't like it too tart. Mutti and I, of course, love citrus flavor and used lime zest curls as decoration.

The Key Lime Bars keep fresh for several days if stored in the refrigerator - if they last that long!

My mother Gisela, my older sister Ingrid, and me in the Fifties


  1. Hey..this is great...what power mothers give us, food,and so much wisdom...


  2. I will always mind my mother's wise comments about importance of desserts...
    Thanks, Jeremy!

  3. Hi Karin,

    Thank you for the link to your souffle recipe. Emmental with broccoli/brussels sprouts sounds delicious.
    I'm also eying your key lime bars...I have all of the ingredients on hand to make these, including a partial package of cream cheese that needs using up.

  4. Zosia, both versions of the souffle are really good, even my husband, who doesn't care much for Brussels sprouts, like it.
    The Lime Bars are so easy to make, and, if you are a citrus fan like me, just the right thing. This is the dessert I make often, when I am back in Germany, visiting friends and wanting to surprise them with an unsual American dessert.
    Thanks for visiting!