Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Topfenkolatsche: My perfect metaphor

Canterbury Booksellers broke me in—cheese danish and a cappuccino, random books of poetry with pretty covers and narrow spines, and my journals dotting, dashing in a downtown rain. This was my idea of a literary lifestyle. I was hardly 16.

I wanted to tear books from the shelves and roll in them. I said this out loud, “I want to tear books from the shelves and roll in them!” I thought the ink would seep in leaving the coffee and sugar to fuel me. “I'm going to be famous one day.”

For years into early adulthood the order stayed the same--cheese danish and a cappuccino, poetry books and pens. Write. Write. Write.

And so it seemed, I should begin in cheese danishes with a recipe for Topfenkolatsche—traditional cream cheese (Topfen) danish. And like writing, the only way to begin is to begin. 

I practically planned the day around mixing the pastry dough (1 ½ hours to rise); creaming the cheese, butter, eggs, lemon zest; rolling the pastries; anointing them with lather; folding them into neat packets to rise again (45 more minutes); and baking (30 minutes at 400 degrees). 

The process was systematic and ritualistic. I followed the recipe to the letter.

Then they burned 15 minutes into the 30 minute bake time and I demanded we order a pizza.

I thought this, though--that failing at my first made-from-scratch cheese danish is just like finding that first rejection in the mail slot. That rewriting and reworking a recipe is the same thing--it comes from the desire to make something good and finding out you need more practice, more poetry books, and a lower oven temp. It comes from taking what you can from the masters then tossing it out and starting from scratch.

I recently received my first acceptance from an online literary magazine. To celebrate, I'm going to buy some puff pastry dough and make a not-so-traditional cream cheese danish.

Your turn: Tell us what food means "literary" to you. Or what were you so excited to cook, but ended up needing to remodel? There are no mistakes in cooking or writing, only new tastes to be explored.


  1. My first thought is fresh coffee. But I think that's just because I would love to share one of those puff pastry not-so-traditional cream cheese danishes and toast you with a mug of java to celebrate your acceptance.

    The most "literary" food to me is vegetable soup. I am constitutionally incapable of making a little bit of soup. It's always a vat, a cauldron. Never the same, and with all that chopping, usually a few drops of my own blood enriches the broth (like writing only with less blood).

    I love the concept of this blog -- wish you all were in my neck of the woods.

    p.s. Your photos are super wtih this post.

  2. Victoria, I love your descriptions here (I'm glad I already had breakfast, or I'd be heading to the nearest bakery), the photos, the metaphor...

    Food definitely is a literary experience for me, whether it's remembering the farm meals from my childhood (how did my mother and grandmother manage to prepare so many different dishes for every single meal?) or the contemplative experience of chopping onions and peppers (when I like to think about writing projects) or the sensual experience of eating itself, that seems to spice up my creativity.

  3. What have I made that deserves a re-do? Egg-free cakes that have flopped and folded and fallen apart. I keep going at them, though, like this writing thing. There's something sweet in it that I just can't resist.

  4. @Beth, I would toast you from many miles away, but hold a hope that some day we'll be toasting in the same room. I would love to see a version of your veggie soup recipe. I've never made a brothy soup I've fallen in love with, but I've eaten them for sure.

    @Lisa, How did the mothers and grandmothers make those meals? This is something I've been trying to understand for some time now. I started my own micro garden this year, but next, that baby will have to be big. Then comes the big food!

    @Christi, I had the most wonderfully heavy egg free chocolate cake once. Tofu cake. Wow, that baby had heft. I may join you in this pursuit. Can't be any worse then the Topfenkolatsche