Today is the opening of Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I am SO excited to go see it! I’ve always loved his work – the strong visuals and nostalgia – it’s like seeing fairytale illustrations come to life on the big screen. This new movie holds an extra ounce of delight for me because one of the main characters is a baker, and she’s employed at a beautiful patisserie called Mendl’s.
This past Valentine’s Day I received a gorgeous box of macarons from the fictional Mendl’s bakery (courtesy of Fox Searchlight – I think. No note or explanation was enclosed.) This is a genius way to promote a movie, if you ask me. But seriously. How did I get on that mailing list? And do they know I have Moonrise Kingdom artwork all over my living room walls? Whatever the case, I appreciated the gift and it made me feel like I was part of the story in some small way. The macarons were yummy, too!
Now, apparently Mendl’s sells some of the fanciest, tastiest pastries in all the land. One particular of note is a choux tower stacked three puffs high – you can see them balanced on the candelabra-esque display in the picture above. They remind me of a confection (mostly stacked two high) known as Religieuse. I was thisclose to trying my hand at the choux towers, but without having seen the movie yet, I didn’t want to assume anything regarding flavor. Instead, I went with a cut-out cookie all decorated up to look like the Mendl’s delivery truck. The adorable wood paneling on the sides of the truck completely sold me on the idea of cookie-ifying it, and as you may know, I’ll take any opportunity I can to create Bavarian detail in chocolate fondant.
UPDATE! 3/29/14: The recipe for Courtesan au Chocolate has been released, so I had to try it, of course. (And thanks to the reader who pointed me in the right direction!) Below are my results. Despite the tooth-achingly frilly appearance of the pastry, it’s not overly sweet. The choux puffs hold an intense chocolate pastry cream that is so silky and smooth. The recipe calls for a garnish of one cocoa bean on top of each tower, and all I could find locally was a chocolate covered coffee bean – but it was a delicious addition, nonetheless. We really loved this dessert and it’s something I’ll keep in rotation! You can find the recipe for Courtesan au Chocolat here, though I used the choux puff recipe from the SprinkleBakes book.
Since the scene is set in the Republic of Zubrowka (fictional, also), which is an Eastern European nation, I made my favorite European cookie: Murbteig. It’s a buttery cookie that I almost always infuse with lemon zest and vanilla bean, but the variations are endless, really. You can pat it into the bottom of a pie pan and use it for pie crust, use it for cut-out cookies and jammy thumbprints. You can see its many uses here, in a past Christmas cookie post.
The above shows a little of my process making the fleet of Mendl’s trucks. I hand-cut 4×3-inch square cookies. Ready-made Satin Ice fondant was used for the pink truck facade, and chocolate fondant for the wheels and wood detail. Decorator piping tips made excellent wheel cutters! I free-handed the lettering for the Mendl’s sign (which, you can probably tell, it isn’t perfect) with red and white gel food colors mixed with a drop of two of vodka.
To those of you who get to see the movie tonight – I’m so jealous! It’s not even showing in my town yet! My consolation is that I’m working on a very special 90th birthday cake this weekend for my husband’s Grandmother – 90, my friends! I’m so honored to be making such a special cake. I get tears in my eyes just talking/typing about it. You can be sure that I’ll be sharing pictures and posts of the occasion. But until then, go see this amazing movie! You can get a peek of it here.
Murbteig Butter Cookies
Yield: About 4 dozen cookies [click for printable recipe]
Source: Adapted from my favorite cookbook The New Pastry Cook by Helen S. Fletcher.
This all-in-one cookie dough is sometimes referred to as German Shortcrust or Viennese Shortdough. All you need to know is that it’s buttery and delicious – and it’s easily made with a food processor. The unfilled baked cookies will keep well for 10-14 days in an airtight tin. In fact, they improve with age. Doubling this recipe is not recommended, even in a large machine. Successive batches may be made without cleaning the bowl and blade. Over-processing the dough will make it too crumbly and the cookies will fall apart, so do be careful to not overwork the dough.
Zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup/100g sugar
2 1/2 cups/303g all purpose flour, sifted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. (2 US sticks) unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
- Place lemon zest, seeds of the vanilla bean and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process for 1-2 minutes. Sugar should be pale yellow and fragrant with lemon. Add the flour and salt, process for 5 seconds to mix. Cut butter into pieces and place in a circle on top of the flour mixture in the food processor. Process for about 20 seconds, or until the butter is cut into the flour very finely. Mixture should be light and powdery. Add yolks in a circle on top of the mixture and process for 20-30 seconds until a ball forms. Process again 10 seconds longer. Roll dough between sheets of wax paper or parchment paper to 1/4-inch thickness.
- Preheat oven to 350F. Reduce temperature to 325F just before putting the cookies in the oven.
- Remove top sheet of wax paper and cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a knife. Dough is very buttery, so I did not have to flour my cookie cutters. If dough wants to stick, dip cookie cutters in flour. Transfer cut outs to a parchment-lined cookie sheet using a spatula.
- Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or place cut-outs in the freezer for 15-20 minutes (preferred). Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on size. Let cool completely and dust with confectioners’ sugar or frost as desired. Scraps can be re-rolled between wax paper and cut again.