Have you noticed that travel makes you feel lighter?
No matter how much weight you're carrying in your backpack, no matter how much stuff you've crammed into your suitcase, loaded onto your bike or shoved into your car... traveling can feel a bit like floating around. You let the wind lead you. There is no resistance. You are free.
While I usually have a hard time letting go and I repeatedly fall into the trap of forcing things upon myself, traveling makes me see things in a different light. The moment I step out of my daily routine, all obligations, all expectations, all restrictions seem to fade away. Suddenly, everything around me becomes a possibility. Nothing more, nothing less. I am filled with inspiration and "wants," without feeling the pressure of a "must." This is when I come into my own, when I recognize the things that really drive me. You know, from within.
As Thomas and I biked our way from Hamburg to Copenhagen a couple of weeks ago, I found myself inspired by so many things. I noticed how peaceful and content I felt being outside all day, riding through the golden hills of southern Fyn. I saw how much I am drawn to architectural simplicity. And I was reminded of how incredibly enthusiastic I can be about food. I marveled, and I tasted, and I savored. And on a couple of occasions, I said: "I want to recreate this."
This is what I want to take with me.
I had this idea that, the moment we crossed the border into Denmark, the streets would be lined with cinnamon rolls. I would walk into the first bakery I saw, buy the most beautiful pastries and munch on them at some idyllic spot by the sea. I was a little disappointed when the border town turned out to offer little more than sex shops and abandoned arcades. To buy our first proper Danish pastries, we had to ride on for about 20 km until we hit a supermarket in Gråsten. I bought a cinnamon roll and something called a Spandauer and as we sat in this tiny square in the middle of a shopping area - the opposite of what I'd pictured - Denmark took me by surprise.
I'd bought the Spandauer for Thomas. It was a puff pastry base with a vanilla cream filling and a sugary glaze, comparable to the "achtkoek" we have in Belgium. It was not my kind of pastry at all. I almost said no when Thomas offered me a taste. That would've been a mistake, because, boy, was that Spandauer tasty! The puff pastry was still crispy, the layer of vanilla cream was strong, but not too thick and the glaze wasn't overly sweet. Oh, if only the bakers back home made it this way... if only I could make it this way.
If a pastry I didn't normally like could taste this good, what more deliciousness would Denmark have in store for me?
I think the cinnamon roll is the ultimate Danish pastry. Streets lined with cinnamon rolls, remember? Turns out that the Danish have tons of variations on the cinnamon roll. That first one I had in Gråsten was all gooey and topped with a chocolate glaze, others were gooey but lacked the chocolate and still others were dry, more bread-like... filled with sugar and cinnamon, of course, but without the stickiness. Unless they were glazed.
And here I was thinking that a cinnamon roll was just a cinnamon roll.
The first couple of cinnamon rolls, I must be honest, were a bit of a let-down. I'm simply not a big fan of those gooey pastries, nor do I particularly like big dollops of glazing. But then, on our second morning in Copenhagen, when I'd almost given up, I rode down to Meyers Bageri to get us breakfast and I took home the most perfect Kanelsnurre. (It's the one on top of this post.) I was quite thrilled, indeed. This twisted cinnamon roll was crispy and yeasty. Sweet, but not too sticky. Fresh and still a little bit warm.
Delicious enough to make me want to give homemade cinnamon rolls another try. (My previous attempts have not been all too successful.)
whole wheat croissants
See that little one in the bottom left corner, with all the seeds on top? Yes, it looks a little sad compared to that giant Kanelsnurre. But don't be fooled. The moment I bit into it, I knew I would gladly pass up the Kanelsnurre for another one. I mean... it's a croissant, but it's whole wheat. There's butter, but there's also that nutty taste that you get from using whole wheat. It's a treat, but it won't leave you hungry. Basically, it's genius.
Every time we walked into a bakery or a supermarket, we kept our eyes open for these whole wheat croissants. And every time that we didn't see them, I felt a tinge of disappointment. With every let-down, though, I also grew more adamant that I wanted to try to make them myself. We didn't find any more whole wheat croissants, so I'm making a promise right here and now: I will make them. It would be a shame not to do something with the enthusiasm I felt that day in Nykøbing.
the chocolate nemesis
The night Thomas and I arrived in Copenhagen, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner at Paté Paté. We were still doubting whether or not to have dessert when our waiter lured me in with his description of the "chocolate nemesis." It wasn't the fact that it was one of their most popular desserts that convinced me, though, nor was it his claim that "if you love chocolate, this is the dessert for you." It wasn't even his anecdote about how the waiters ate it straight from the cake tin after their shift... It was the way he described the dessert itself: "like a chocolate cake, but cooked." I was so intrigued by the idea of cooking a cake, that I had to try it.
While waiting for our dessert, I realized that by "cooking," he must have meant that it was baked while in a water bath, like a flan. My excitement wavered a little bit. Suddenly, it didn't seem quite as special and intriguing anymore.
I was right about the water bath.
I was wrong about it being not that special.
In fact, it was very special: a dense chocolate flan with the crispy cracked top of a cake and, most importantly, the taste of my mother's chocolate cake. Wow! I don't simply want to recreate this, I want to perfect it. No, even more... I want to add it to our collection of family recipes and save it for generations to come. That's how special it was.
Yes, I already knew that I loved food. I also knew that I could be overly enthusiastic about it. Without that enthusiasm, Les Filles de Madeleine wouldn't exist. But in the hustle and bustle of daily life, and in trying to manage this blog on top of everything else, even baking can sometimes feel like a chore. It's good to have these moments to remind myself of how passionate I actually am about it, of how much I still want to learn. As daily life, crammed schedules and the weight of expectations - imagined or real - start to sneak up on me again, I'll do my best to hold on to these moments. I'll savor them, just like I savored that chocolate nemesis.