Category Archives: Tech news of the weird

New portrait painting in progress: Sebastian in brights.

Portrait of Sebastian by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Oct 30 2018I am super pleased with how this portrait of a new friend is coming along.

Portrait of Sebastian by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Oct 30 2018 detailSebastian is a circus performer and producer who comes from the Oz steampunk scene and has some fabulous outfits.

He calls this one his “Snow White” colors and I love how the brights pop against the soft colors of the salon.

I have had more of a challenge finding people who are into dressing up for fun in Berlin than I did in the Bay Area. This isn’t a dress-up town, alas.

I love people who love clothes and fashion and performative identity and was happy to find another collaborator!

Above is after the second sitting. Here’s after the first.

Using a canvas toned gray the way Sargent did has speeded up my painting even more. You can see the edge of the gray along the right side below!

Portrait of Sebastian by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Oct 30 2018 first sitting

This portrait will be done in one more sitting I expect.

And then I need to get back to the painting of Shakrah, which was interrupted for a long spell by the bus accident and my hand injury!


September 2018 Unterwegs!

phone call on the bus by Suzanne Forbes Sept 21 2018The thing about this guy with the phone on the bus was…

He was really excited about the phone call he was trying to get his friend to listen in on, and his friend was extremely “whatever” about it. Also, I don’t think I conveyed it in the drawing, but the phone was the thinnest I’ve ever seen, an absolute wafer.

Large shoes on the U1 by Suzanne Forbes Sept 21 2018This young woman had very large shoes.

And patterned pants that were definitely skating the edge of being Hammer Pants.

Bears on the U7 Sept 21 2018 by Suzanne ForbesI actually drew these two bears lovin on each other during the summer.

I saw them on the U7 at 4am, during CSD weekend. Christopher Street Day is the big Gay Pride weekend in Germany. They were headed home, like me, and the one with the Yankee hat was definitely German, but I guess the Yanks transcend nationality. The one with the curly hair had a Bear flag pendant, but I couldn’t figure out how to show it.

This is an example of a drawing I didn’t finish for a long time because I was frustrated with it; it’s not my best draftswomanship, coming at the end of a long night. And I am rarely pleased with my execution of horizontal compositions, which I why I rarely do them. However I loved these two and so I finally sucked it up and did my best to finish it. Not my best drawing, but two of my sweetest subjects!

Thank you, my Patreon Patrons, for making it possible for me to draw these Berlin people and share their stories. People are fucking beautiful, and it brings me the purest joy to tell you about them.

previous unterwegs posts:

August 2018 unterwegs

July 2018 bonus round

July 2018

April 2018

March 2018

February 2018 bonus round

February 2018

January 2018 bonus round

January 2018 round 1

December 2017

November 2017

September 2017

July bonus round



May bonus round

May round one


March 2






On the roof of a fancy hotel, Miss Natasha plays the accordion.

Two drawings of Miss Natasha Enquist by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2018I was invited to Miss Natasha Enquist‘s performance at the Grace Bar at Zoo Hotel.

That’s the drawing on the left, in blues and greens. The Grace Bar is a very fancy place, and I never go anywhere fancy in Berlin, so it was an interesting experience. The rooftop bar was absolutely full of blue magic hour light, reflected from the blue-tinted glass of neighboring buildings and the long Berlin twilight.Miss Natasha Enquist at Blue Summer Night Aug 16 2018 by Suzanne Forbes

It was very beautiful, but the scenesters and “influencers” at this invite-only party were completely ignoring that.

I had to leave after her first set because it was quite hot and the waiters were passing around all these frosty mojito thing drinks, which made me very thirsty! I very, very rarely feel any temptation to drink alcohol since I got sober in ’89, but a hot night and frozen drinks all around was a bad combo for me, so I went home!  And quickly got to work on drawing the colors of the evening. I tried to capture that blue feel.

Miss Natasha Enquist at the English Theater Aug 28 2018 by Suzanne ForbesI was also inspired to finish an orphaned drawing from this April, when Miss Natasha performed a concert at the English Theater, with proper theatrical lighting. Me and several friends went to see her, including Giulia Caruso, a fellow artist and also fellow art collaborator with Miss Natasha. The lighting and visuals were really lovely, but unfortunately it was really dark in the seats!

So I finished the lighting and color on this from memory, my mental file of images of light particles falling on MNE’s elegant face. As a portraitist, it’s so important to me to draw the same models over and over, to really try to understand how light lies over the skin and bones of a face I know.

There’s a reason artists paint the same person many times; it’s because it’s a different story every time.

Women who rock: Das Fluff in Berlin!

Dawn and Das Fluff by Suzanne Forbes Sept 18 2017I finally got to see Das Fluff perform! Post-punk electric filth!!

My friend and muse, Donut Heart drummer Rah Hell, told me I would love them. And I did!!!

I went to frontwoman Dawn’s 51st birthday party gig at her favorite Berlin bar, Leydicke. You can’t explain Leydicke; it’s one of those Berlin places that just breathes magic. I had met Dawn at the Donut Heart video release party and liked her very much, and i was excited to hear her music. We are the same age and share much cultural and aesthetic furniture. I missed two of their Berlin gigs this summer due to my ever-present perimenopause health variances, and they are frequently playing in London and soon again touring Japan. It’s hard to get paying gigs for bands in Berlin, whereas in Tokyo serious rock is always in demand.

So I was determined to make this gig in my own part of Berlin, the West. I arrived at midnight, in time for the second set, and it was fantastic. Das Fluff has a sound that is both very modern and very responsive to the era Dawn and I became adults in, the 80s. And it is FILTHY and raging.

Das Fluff audience at Leydicke by Suzanne Forbes Sept 18 2017The crowd was all ages, as so often in Berlin, and international, and multi-gendered.

Berlin is a dress-down town, so most people were in leather jacket and black jeans mufti, except a couple gorgeous genderqueer belles in gothabilly style.

I was so happy I got to chat briefly with Dawn after the set. There is nothing like talking to a woman your own age, who has as much hard-won experience and personal power as you do. We are both here in Berlin, doing our art in the most truthful and authentic and finally distilled way, after long hiatuses from our work. We are beautiful and strong and staying the course.

There is a story to the woman in her 80s who was rocking out hard to Das Fluff, but I’m not going to tell it. She was there, she was dancing. She is part of the mystery of Leydicke, part of the mystery of Berlin. Sometimes both art and life are long.

Follow Dawn on twitter, Das Fluff on fb, and buy new Das Fluff album “Flower with Knife” on vinyl or DL here.

Painting Mitch Altman at 3am.

Mitch was here in Berlin, so of course I had to ask if I could paint his picture! He was a great model, and this watercolor thing is SO FUN!Mitch Altman in Berlin By Suzanne Forbes Aug 22 2016

Amazing art collab night!

Daria and Ian came over to work on stuff.Daria and Ian By Suzanne Forbes June 16 2016 Berlin

Me and Daria are going to have a table at Berlin Graphic Days.

Daria Rhein's artwork on textiles, June 2016

Daria Rhein’s artwork on textiles, June 2016

Just the Friday night, not the whole event, because tabling for a whole weekend is totally out of range for me spoon-wise.

So we are making lots of stuff for our table.





Daria Rhein's artwork on textiles, June 2016

Daria Rhein’s artwork on textiles, June 2016

We tried out all kinds of cool printing stuff, like vinyl stickers and fabric transfer printing and temporary tattoo printing.

It all worked pretty well. The stuff you can make yourself with an ordinary printer these days is incredible. I cut up an old tablecloth to see if we could transfer images to it and it totally worked.

I traded Daria an embroidery moth for the original drawing of the breathtaking moth.

I’m going to frame it in a really ornate black frame I have, I just need to get glass cut. We traded tattoo time for two of my hand-sculpted necklaces too- she now has a tentacle and an anatomical Heart of Gold.

Here’s Ian!Ian by Suzanne Forbes June 16 2016

Ian drew the whole time when he wasn’t pitching in on graphic design or Daria’s website.

Ian made this beautiful drawing of me and I grabbed a frame out of my beautiful new workshop cabinets and framed it and hung it up right away!

I don’t have the Instagram because I don’t have a telephone but I can look at things on it!

Drawing of Suzanne Forbes by Ian Bowden June 2016

Drawing of Suzanne Forbes by Ian Bowden June 2016

Ian and Daria graphic design-ified this old drawing of mine for stickers.Suzanne Forbes mantis sticker 2016

I am the happiest I’ve been since I was 19.

How to move to Berlin in 2016, Part 1.

Are you a well-paid tech worker who is sick of barely getting by in SF, New York or DC? Do you have a spouse who has health problems and doesn’t earn much money?

Are you exhausted from working 70-hour weeks and being constantly on call? Is your spouse sick of doing battle with the health insurance company over enormous copays and treatments they refuse to pay for? Do you feel like you can’t afford to have kids, even though you’d like to?

If that sounds like you, Berlin is your best shot at a decent life, maybe the kind of life your parents had. You might still have a chance at the American dream, in Germany.

First, let’s see if you are a candidate for a good financial picture in Germany. (it’s my first flowchart- sorry it’s kinda janky!)2016


Next, ask yourself some important questions.

Do you care about owning a house? Most Berliners rent for their entire lives.

Do you like public transport? You can certainly have a car in Berlin, but it is very difficult and expensive to get a driver’s license if your license is from a state that doesn’t have the wonderful reciprocity deal. Plus, the superb transit is really one of the defining characteristics of life here.

Are you ok with a life of modest expectations? This isn’t really a culture about getting rich or having huge successes. It’s about security, stability, and straightforwardness.

Speaking of that, are you ok with people telling you exactly what they think? Occasionally very rudely? A total stranger told me I was “doing it wrong” today, because of the way I was pulling my little shopping trolley.

Can you follow rules without losing a lot of energy over “why” and “that’s stupid”? There are a lot of rules in Germany. Most of them boil down to, “Be responsible for your own actions and don’t make life harder for your fellow humans”, but you still have to know them all.

Are you a good recycler? The recycling here is CRAY. I only recycle because my friends have kids, but 18 years in California, and especially Berkeley, trained me to separate and sort. Good thing, cause they are SO serious about it here.

We’ll close Part 1 with the most useful thing you can do if you are planning a move here.

Step 1: Learn some fucking German.

I had never been to Germany and did not know a single word of German except zeitgeist and schadenfreude. All the blog posts I read said that it was no worries, everyone speaks English in Berlin. This may be true if you spend all your time talking to expats in expat neighborhoods like Prenzlauerberg and work for a tech company whose HR department will manage every detail of your move.

But if you are moving yourself on a shoestring or limited resources, you will be well served to learn a bunch of basic words, like the word for apartment. Because trust, MOST people you will encounter in the process of setting up a life here do not speak English.

Works in Progress, 2D and 3D.

S-Bahn_WIP_Suzanne_Forbes_2015 - EditedI started this drawing on the S-Bahn and haven’t had occasion to ride the S again for a bit, so it’s on hold til I do! I thought the amount of correction and adjustment that goes into any drawing might be of interest.

I’m almost done with the mantis- her feet turned out to want to look like a ballerina in toe shoes, and I’m rolling with it. Her wings are made of two kinds of patterned sheer green organza and one kind of green fibrous paper, layered in an embroidery hoop and stitched together with fine wire.mantis WIP Suzanne Forbes

Eating Mexican Food in Berlin.

SantaMariaEastside_by_Suzanne_Forbes_July_2015Santa Maria EastSide. That’s where you go. That’s pretty much it, I’ve heard.

Or maybe a few other places. We went to EastSide, in Friedrichshain, with longterm SF residents who’ve lived here for a couple years. There was a lot of ranting about the poor quality of much of the food in Berlin – from them, not us. We have been so insanely broke with the costs of the move since we got here that we have eaten out exactly twice. And we never ate anywhere but taquerias and the occasional splurge on Indian in the Bay Area, so we’re not really up on what a nice meal should be anymore.

My fancy food business days are far behind me, and somewhere along the line, during the second divorce and the recession and the years of poverty and depression, I just stopped caring.

All I wanted was some simple peasant food to keep body and soul together, like a taco or a quesadilla, and a really superb banana cream tartlet, made with chocolate ganache, salted caramel, and Nels’ perfectly executed crème pâtissière and delicate pâte sablée, streets better than Tartine’s, from the bakery at Market Hall. Or a slice of classic American lemon meringue pie, as good as any I’ve ever had, with a four-inch crown of meringue, from Sweet Adeline. Or the unbelievable butterscotch and chocolate pot de crème at Town Hall. Or a scoop of Bi-Rite balsamic strawberry ice cream with the couverture sprinkles and marcona almonds (when they first opened Khris Brown said “this is so good I don’t even have to blog about it!” #bestlineofthenoughties). Or an exquisite yuzu truffle, available only a few weeks a year, from Chocolatier Blue. What? I said I was over food, not dessert.

I haven’t been able to afford dinner anywhere nice in the Bay for a decade, but I could almost always afford a perfect treat from a really good bakery.

Anyway, we don’t have really a lot to say about food in Berlin. We live on De Cecco pasta, which at least you can get at every grocery store, and yogurt. However, the food we tried at Santa Maria Eastside was good. (In the drawing our friend is explaining to my hubby how to make the German “o” sound. ) I had chilaquiles, which are possibly my favorite food on earth, and they were definitely as good as the weekend special chilaquiles at my beloved, cherished, treasured Cactus Taqueria or my equally precious and adored Los Cantaros.

I had tacos or chile rellenos or a quesadilla or chilaquiles at a taqueria at least twice a week for 18 years, and I will miss Bay Area Mexican food forever.

So it goes. At least we have doner kebab and falafel.

*About bakeries: when I first arrived in the East Bay it was as the Santa Rosa-to-San Jose sales rep for Albert Uster, a Swiss baking supply company used, then and now, almost exclusively by top-level professional pastry cooks. I had just spent a year managing the bakery at Dean & Deluca in Georgetown. Bakeries are very important to me, and my SF job was perfect because I drove all over the Bay Area meeting all the bakery managers and pastry chefs.

*About the bakery at Market Hall: I also worked at Market Hall as a cheesemonger my first summer and Fall in the East Bay, in ’97, and it was a great company to work for. Linda, the buyer then and now, and Sara the owner care deeply about food and educating the staff. We had classes where I learned things like how the microscopic texture of hundred-year-old bronze dies give the best Italian extruded pastas their sauce-clutching ability, and how to break a wheel of Reggiano. I tasted forty-year-old Balsamic just uncorked and Cowgirl Creamery farmer’s cheese barely a day old while apprenticed to a cheesemonger from Neal’s Yard. Nels, the bakery manager, left for a time and opened his own place, in one of those cursed restaurant locations on Shattuck. His business was killed by the dot-com bust, and it was heartbreaking, but he returned to Market Hall. His standards are as impeccable as ever, freshness and purity always on lock, and the prices have remained exceedingly fair. His butterscotch pudding is insane.

*About Sweet Adeline: the space Sweet Adeline occupies was for a short time in the late ’90s a goth store, back when there were several goth stores on Telegraph. I bought the dark red blouse I wore for my second wedding there. At some point it became a bakery, and it is a superb bakery. They do American and French basics, perfectly. The chocolate cream pie is, like the lemon meringue, as good as any I’ve ever had. The prices are very fair.

*About Chocolatier Blue: You know that scene in Cryptonomicon where Randy goes to have his wisdom teeth out and he is totally confident in the oral surgeon because the guy is an obsessive socially inept tooth-surgery geek? That’s what the chocolatier/confiseur guy at Chocolatier Blue is like. I went in to see him right after he opened his first East Bay store, because my heart never really leaves the business and I like to keep on an eye on things. He was like, local seasonal single origin I am an awkward maniac. The product is the proof, it’s fucking stellar and the prices are exceptionally fair.

*About the best banana cream pie in the East Bay: Fatapples. The shimmering, barely set custard, the perfectly flaky ( you know it’s lard) crust, the dusting of caramelised walnuts- it is the best in town. They try, over and over, to take it off the menu, because the freshness issue is a nightmare. People always hassle them til they bring it back. Their crisps, custards and eclairs are also very, very good.

*About going to Ici: don’t go to Ici. It’s overrated as fuck. Unless, unless, you get a bitter fruit sorbet with their incredible house-made copper kettle caramel and crystallized orange peel. Otherwise, skip Tara’s too and go to the idiotically named iScream, a fairly new traditional-style ice cream parlour on Solano. Parking on Solano is insane, of course, but I give you my secret: pull into the driveway of the bank next door and park in their lot. I can’t promise you won’t get towed, but I never did. iScream has house-made fudge and caramel sauces, fresh whipped cream, and lots of extremely good fruit flavors like blood orange and Meyer Lemon, plus Burnt Caramel and Salted Caramel.

*Where else to go: Feelgood Bakery in the Food Mall thing in Alameda. Another idiot name, but they do traditional French things very well. I had an oversize macaron filled with Crème Chiboust and fresh strawberries there before we left that was very good. It wasn’t an Ispahan in the garden at Ladurée Soho or the pistachio bavarian at Pierre Hermé, but what is?

*Bonus SF bakery: Pinkie’s in SOMA! Pinkie’s is so good. When Wicked Grounds first opened Pinkie’s did our bread and cakes. Cheryl does terrific work with simple classics.

*Where I never got to go: Craftsmen and Wolves on Valencia. I wanted to go so bad! They have a verrine with elderflower- I love elderflower. I totally wanted to try that $6 muffin! But we were just overloaded the last year or two, I never got around to it. Go there for me!

*About the time I spat up a gob of lavender mousse in front of the White House pastry chef: Weirdly, this is a recovery story, not a drinking story!

Managing a department at Dean & DeLuca was a big deal in 1996, and I was always getting invitations to fancy events held by fancy-food importers in the DC area. I was at a presentation at one of the import companies, and Pierre Hermé, then a celebrated young pastry chef and not yet a global brand, did some demos.

He showed what would called nowadays a “hack” for making lots of croquant quickly, and a lavender mousse with cherries in it. He spoke mostly in French; however most of the French I know is bakery stuff, so I was pretty sure there was no alcohol in the mousse. I was standing and chatting with sugar wizards Ewald and Susan Notter, who I was friendly with, and Roland Mesnier, the legendary White House pastry chef, when samples were handed out.

We were given little plates with a triangle of pale violet mousse, studded with deep burgundy cherries. It was so beautiful. I thoughtlessly spooned a bite into my mouth- and frantically, very thoroughly spat it out into my napkin. The cherries were macerated in liqueur, a product sold by the import company! Awkward.

Guerilla Peanut Butter Pie, or how to make a presentable dessert under any conditions.

pie in bowlsI have begun to experiment with making desserts in Europe.

Although I once made spaghetti puttanesca for my second ex-husband’s family in Melbourne, I’d never done any baking anywhere but in the US. Since we’re living in a temporary furnished apartment while we sort out getting our stuff here, I am limited to the equipment in the apartment and the Bosch hand mixer I ordered off Amazon.

Let me insert here just how fucking insane it is to replace EVERY MACHINE IN YOUR HOME. Do you have any idea how many machines and electrical devices you have in your home?¹

Years of professional baking gave me the skills to create dessert under completely raggedy-ass conditions.  My best hacks and tips are revealed here!

So far what I’ve made is peanut butter mousse pie, once today for my third husband’s birthday (it’s his very favorite thing I make) and once for a potluck. I see all the time on expat boards people talking about how much they miss chocolate & peanut-butter desserts. Also, I knew the hostess of the potluck likes chocolate-peanut desserts because I’d seen her have one at Cafe Anna Blume, the delightful cafe in the American Quarter aka Prenzlauer-Berg.

I am that weird person who sneakily observes every dessert you eat and keeps a mental database, so I know what you like.

Variations of peanut-butter refrigerator pie date back at least to the 50s, and I have made many, but the basic components are a graham cracker or chocolate cookie crust, peanut butter whipped with confectioner’s sugar and cream cheese and lightened with whipped cream folded in, and a chocolate ganache. (They have a very good version at Homeroom in Oakland that skips the ganache, but I like it to cut the richness of the peanut butter.)

The recipe below is for the version I made for the potluck, as opposed to the individual dishes I made for the husband. (So he can take some to work tomorrow!)

I had been warned on the toxic expat board Toytown and elsewhere that you can’t get measuring cups and spoons in Germany.

(Europeans tend to measure baking ingredients by weight rather than volume). Actually, I’m sure you can get them at Cakeville in P’Berg, which is not as amazing as Spun Sugar in Berkeley, but a very decent baking shop. I had intended to bring mine, but in the chaos of the last days failed to.

So, here’s what I did.


  • Puder Zucker (confectioner’s sugar), box
  • 2 100g bars of dark chocolate, one Lindt excellence and one of the Ja! generic brand, which was .49!!
  • 500g Bottle of 32% fett Schlag Sahne (heavy cream)
  • Sleeve of Leibniz Vollkorn cookies (good approximation of graham crackers)
  • 350g tub of “Barney’s Best USA©Made Creamy Peanut Butter”, bought at a Mitte Rewe where there are probably more American customers than German at this point
  • ZImt (cinnamon, to add to the cookies)
  • 250g tubs each of mascarpone and butter

Then: No pie or tart pan, so I took a deep Pyrex (mirror-world Pyrex-analog?) casserole dish, buttered it and lined it with the baking parchment I had bought at the Euro store for a Euro. The parchment is brown and slightly corrugated, like the recycled parchment you buy at Whole Foods for seven dollars. I ran the parchment up the sides at the ends, so I would have something to lift the pie out with.

I needed to make sure I could bring the baking dish home, because apparently they are very intense here about the stuff in a furnished flat or sublet.

No food processor or large Ziplock bag and rolling pin to crush the graham crackers: dumped the walnuts out of a ziplock bag from Rewe, filled it with crackers, and crushed them with the heel of my hand. It doesn’t matter if there are little uncrushed pieces.

No bowl, so I used a large cooking pot with low sides.

No brown sugar, but as anyone who’s ever run a torch over powdered sugar on top of a brulee knows, powdered sugar can caramelize and bind a cookie crust too. So I dumped about a half-cup of powdered sugar (I would have used only 1/3 of brown) and a couple shakes of Zimt in with the crushed cookies and stirred well. (Peanut butter loves cinnamon. The surprisingly excellent house-made loss-leader peanut butter cookies at WF are much enhanced by it.)

I learned from my Goddess Rose Levy Beranbaum to always mix dry ingredients well before adding wet.

Put about half a tub of butter in a bowl and microwaved it til partly melted, then let residual heat melt the rest. Took the slightly-cooled liquid butter and poured half into the crumbs, stirred thoroughly, and tested the stick-to-itselfness of the mixture. I added more butter to make it less crumbly, more Play-doh or wet-sand textured, and then used my hands to press it into the casserole dish. (Surprise: in bakeries bakers use their hands to scoop EVERYTHING.)

I baked it at 180°C or 350° for fifteen minutes, which is pretty standard for a crumb or nut crust.

I was confident that the cornstarch in the powdered sugar, mixed with the water in the butter, had been heated long enough to help bind the crust as well. It felt right when I took it out: very slightly puffy and browned at the edges, and it was homogenous to the touch. I don’t know why nut and crumb crusts, which have no leavening and no raw gluten, puff up a bit in baking, but they do.

While the crust was baking I scooped most of the peanut butter out of the jar into my “bowl” and beat it til fluffier with my new hand mixer, which had a surprise feature. Click the speed wheel right you get the normal graduated speed; accidentally click it left and it goes instantly to a speed no American hand mixer I’ve ever used possessed. Yikes! I added about half a cup of powdered sugar and beat that in well, then beat in most of the tub of mascarpone.

Fluffy peanut butter mascarpone frosting! Pipes like a dream on cupcakes.

Pretty stable at room temp, so nothing needed to happen with it immediately.

I took the pan of baked crust and threw it in the freezer to cool. (When you do this, avoid setting it on plastic ice cube trays that could melt. ) Surprise- I had not allowed for the low power of our tiny German freezer, which does not chill nearly as well as a full-sized American one. Oh well.

Meanwhile I made the ganache. I normally make ganache in a food processor, using the Rose method, which is great if you hate chopping chocolate (sticky, greasy AND it stains; chocolate is the devil).

This time I used the Alice Medrich method², because melting chocolate in a double boiler is for schmucks.

I broke up all the Ja! bar and half the Lindt bar, and put them in a ceramic bowl. The Ja! was a little acidic and lecithiny but perfectly fine for a ganache that would be covered by a strong flavor like peanut butter. I saw I had about three tablespoons of melted butter left, so I poured that into the bowl too. Then I added about a third of a cup of cream. I stirred it well, getting liquid on all the pieces of chocolate. The liquid, as long as it’s enough and well stirred in, protects the melting chocolate from bad behaviour.

What I was going for was a ratio of slightly more liquid than chocolate, for a ganache that would be firm enough to cut but not stiff when served cold.

(Rose explains so much about ganache, including the cream ratio, in the Cake Bible.) I turned the dial (no fancy digital inputs on German microwaves!) on our microwave to low and nuked the mixture for a minute. A minute is a long time for chocolate, although dark chocolate tolerates heat better than milk or white, so I yanked it out and stirred it to distribute the heat. Another quick burst of waves and the liquid in the bowl was hot enough to melt the remaining chocolate as I gently stirred it. See the footnotes for more on melting chocolate!

I could tell by eye it was tight (chef talk for viscosity) enough for my purposes; a thread dropped from a spoon sank quite slowly into the dark pool.

I let it sit while I pulled out the crust. The pan bottom was still hot, ( German freezer bah!! ) so I knew that the crust would crumble if i touched it or tried to spread ganache on it. So instead I poured almost all the ganache into the center of the crust and pushed it out to the edges, using my square slotted wooden spatula I bought at TK Maxx our first week here. (Wooden utensils are the soul of a kitchen, I had to have at least one.)

Pushing out from a big central bolus meant most of the loose crumbs that would normally lift were trapped under the wave front of ganache.

(This is how I learned to frost cakes fast and perfect in my first finishing job, a night shift at at European bakery in DC. I never, ever bother with a crumb coat. I’ll make a video sometime.) Of course it wasn’t perfect, but it’s chocolate and cream and cookie crumbs; there’s no real pain point there. Then I zipped it back into the freezer so the ganache could cool off before the heat remaining in the crust could cause it to break, or separate into fats and solids.

In a professional kitchen, you are constantly shifting trays in and out of the walk-in and freezer, to save time and control reactions.

I poured the remaining about three-quarters of the cream into my pot and put the rinsed-off³ beaters back on the mixer. I considered taking the precaution of chilling the “bowl” and beaters, since I didn’t really know how the 32% fett compared to the organic Stornetta cream I’d been using for years and the kitchen was hot. But I said fuck it, because in my experience cream really only fails to whip if you are trying to whip a small amount in a hot-out-of-the-dishwasher bowl and you don’t ratchet up the mixer speed fast enough. Over a cup of cream that’s been in the fridge til whipping and you’re generally fine. And indeed it was, although it took longer than usual for the cream to crease and then billow.

I did take the precaution of whipping to very soft peaks.

I knew the amount of clumsy folding the cream would have to endure to incorporate with the peanut-butter mixer in a pot with a slotted spatula was enough to risk it going grainy.  I am a superb folder, if I do say so, and I dumped the peanut butter mix into the pot of cream and folded fast. Watch some videos of chefs folding if you want to get a handle on technique; it’s great to be able to make a souffle without feeling nervous.

Normally I would have folded a third of the whipped cream into the mixture I was incorporating it into first, to lighten it.

But I was concerned the room temperature mascarpone might be shocked by the cold cream and start forming larger fat globules (aka gross chunks) pretty quickly, so I just went for it. It came together nicely in a fluffy cloud, which I immediately plopped onto the ganache in the crust.

Of course, the ganache hadn’t set yet (German freezer!), so again I had to spread carefully from the center. I threw the whole thing back in the freezer while I got the piping ganache ready. I’d left the remaining couple tablespoons of ganache in the bowl on the flat glass cooktop, which had enough residual warmth to keep it liquid. In commercial kitchens you always find a bowl of ganache or chocolate thinned with oil or water sitting in some 98º spot, ready for piping or dipping.

I didn’t have a plastic piping bag, so I made a paper cornet.

This is one of the things you learn to do right away in a commercial bakery, and you will never be sorry you learned it. The important part is wiggling all the points of the triangle til they line up and the point is tightly closed. Then I spooned the remaining ganache into the cornet, folded it closed, snipped the very tip off with scissors, and used it to to drizzle a zig zag over the top of the pie. Always, always cut off only a tiny bit of the tip first, and test it on a plate.

Lots of baking “tips” resources will tell you to fill a ziplock sandwich bag with chocolate chips and microwave them, then snip a corner, instead of learning how to make a cornet.

raspelThe results from this “tip” are terrible, because you’re using an oval hole instead of a round one, and chocolate chips are loaded with lecithin to survive baking; they’re not meant to be eaten straight or melted.

The melted chips will almost always lose temper or “bloom” when refrigerated and you’ll have ugly white dots of separated fat on your piped lines.

I put the pan of pie on a dish towel, soaked in cold water and wrung out, on the counter. This was both to drop the temperature of the crust a bit more and for control.

A dish set on a damp towel won’t skid away from you across the counter.

Once I’d done the piping, I took chopped peanuts and ran them around the edge of the pie, along the sides of the pan. Then I added Raspelschokolade, chocolate flakes. This is an one of the decor products that are in every supermarket in Germany but in the US were only available from specialty stores until recently.

Layering decor is key to getting a finished look.

Done decorating, I put the pie in the fridge overnight. Whipped cream desserts ( I can’t speak for whipped topping desserts, since I’d chew off my own arm and candy it like a violet before I’d use whipped topping) need to chill in a fridge for six to eight hours to stabilize. Just freezing them won’t do it, because it’s not just about dropping the temperature. Something happens with the fat molecules so they firm up. I don’t know what, I’m not a food scientist, I’m just an artist who’s been lucky enough to hustle food service jobs whenever I was in danger of starving.

In the morning, I took the pie out of the fridge and put it in the freezer. We were travelling a good half-hour across town, to a party where the pie would likely sit on a sideboard for an hour or two before it was eaten. I knew that freezing it wouldn’t affect the flavor in any way, and would make transporting it much safer and eating it much pleasanter. Whipped cream desserts are much better almost still frozen than warm at all.

Things that are mostly flour or mostly fat can be frozen without suffering any ill effects, if handled correctly.

(Rose goes into freezing desserts and dessert components in incredible detail in the Cake Bible. It’s perhaps the most useful information in a book that is 110% useful information.) Trust me, if you’ve ever had some crazy fancy cake I made or been to a party where I made a dozen different desserts, those babies had been frozen. The secret to freezing is plastic wrap. You have to wrap the dessert completely in plastic wrap. You must protect it from the freezer environment, and even more importantly, you must keep it protected as it thaws.

You want the condensation created by the temperature differential of thawing outside on the plastic wrap, not on the surface of your dessert.

Commercial bakeries, even the very very fanciest ones, have trays and trays of cakes and pies and mousses in the freezer. If you’ve had wedding cake, it was frozen at some point. Often the freezers have drawers, so the frozen goods are in a secure, cake-only environment, safe from contaminating flavors or smells.

When we served the pie at the potluck, it had been sitting on a sideboard long enough that the butter between the parchment lining and the pan had softened, making it super easy to lift the pie out of the pan.

peanut butter pieThink of butter as a miracle adhesive/lubricant.

You can use a smear of buttercream to hold a cake tier in place on a cardboard circle once it’s cold, or use it to slide a bombe out of a buttered mold if you warm the outside of the mold by running a hot, moist dish towel over it.

The pie was a huge hit, and late that night my husband asked mournfully, “Is there any peanut butter pie here?”

I had only made enough for the party, as he well knew, so I had to make it again for his birthday…


¹Replacing every machine in your home: The only ones we didn’t sell or donate were our computers, which are designed to run on either type of current, and my sewing machine, since it was the most expensive machine I’ve ever bought besides the dishwasher I left in my long-lost house in Berkeley. Step-up step-down transformers run to a hundred bucks each and are notorious for frying electronics, but I’m going to try one with my sewing machine anyway, because I cherish it so.

Here’s our list:

Halloween electric lights, 10 sets
Halloween fog machine, strobe lights
Christmas electric lights, 5 sets
extension cords and power strips, dozen or so
All-in-one printer/scanner
2 fans
Air Conditioner
space heaters, 2
electric mattress heater
toaster oven
Washer / Dryer
Food Processor
hand mixer
floor lamp
3 table lamps
foot massager
“back massager”
lots of other “back massagers”
coffee machine
Hair dryer
Crimping Iron
2 Curling Irons
Art supplies:
2 electric lightboxes
2 Full Spectrum artist lamps

Crazy, right? So far we’ve bought German-power-compliant versions of the toaster oven, the microwave, the printer, hub’s hair dryer, a fan and a hand mixer. Long way to go.

²Alice Medrich’s Cocolat shop was the first San Francisco bakery I ever went to, in 1987, and Cocolat was the first serious baking book I ever bought. I learned from Cocolat that melting chocolate in a double boiler is for schmucks.

Here’s the thing: a small quantity of liquid introduced when chocolate is melting makes it seize. Double boilers involve steam and drips of water. Instead, I ALWAYS melt chocolate, finely chopped, in a bowl in the microwave. You must wipe out the microwave thoroughly first to make absolutely sure there are no condensation drops waiting to fall or off flavors from leftover food dribbles (white chocolate is especially vulnerable to invasive flavors).

If you will be adding the chocolate to a recipe that has ANY liquid at all, you can take a few tablespoons (at least two T per 8oz, I think) of one of the liquids (water, milk, cream, melted butter, oil, orange juice, rum) and stir it well into the finely chopped unmelted chocolate. Then cover the dish of chocolate, or chocolate and liquid, with plastic wrap to protect it from off flavors and moisture, and microwave it in ridiculously short low-power bursts, stirring every few seconds, until most of the chocolate is melted.

Once it’s removed from the microwave it will continue to melt, so err on the side of caution. Perfect, glossy melted chocolate, with no danger of scorching or seizing. I’ve made hundreds of desserts, including a bunch of wedding cakes, and I have never used a double boiler for chocolate since 1993.

³About washing: if you’re just going fat-to-fat, like creamed butter and sugar to whipping cream to beating ganache, a quick rinse of your stainless steel bowls (all I ever use at home) and utensils is plenty. Egg whites can’t tolerate fat or water, so if you’re beating eggs you must wash the beaters with soap and hot water and dry them thoroughly. If you’re cooking with eggs, you must ALWAYS wash anything that has touched raw egg the same way, so your buttercream doesn’t get bacteria in it. An immunocompromised person or pregnant lady could eat it and get very sick, even if you use free-range organic eggs like I always do (because most of the salmonella cases from eggs come from battery hens).

I also always taste a bit of the mix with the raw eggs, since when I’m baking a cake it’s usually at least a day before serving and there’s time for me to get sick if there’s any danger. I know my immune system can handle it, and I’d rather I got sick than a pregnant lady. When I started seriously baking a lot of my friends had HIV, so I’m super-careful.