How to bake a black forest cake abroad with no equipment: Not a guide

24 Nov 2018 erasmus exchange france language trips marseille recepies cooking

After my last post talked extensively about how to obtain an ERASMUS+ semester and my expectations for it I now finally want to share some experiences about the actual thing.

Living in a foreign country sets off a gradient of attitudes: When you arrive and live through the first weeks, you are electric, eager to experience but also permanently in your fight mode. As you get more familiar with your new surroundings and get to know your local peers, this naturally fades. The excitement tones down over time as you get accustomed to your new everyday life. You continue to enjoy your stay, but in a more subtle way - like when you sample a sophisticated dessert - you savor the taste which you have grown to know and every now and then you discover a new facet of it.

The first weeks had a lot of stuff that kept me always alert - if … I …. wouldn’t … have .. been .. so ….. tired. I did a language course with the majority of the other internationals before the normal university resumed which started each day at nine and ended at 3h30 with a pause for lunch. That pause was one hour thirty but believe me, if I say you needed all of that time. Of the campuses’ four main student restaurants only one was open for us and it was not the biggest one. That meant queues - a complaint we never grew tired of discussing between ourselves or after each lunch break with the teacher. Every day, there were some activities that were organised by the students’ office in which almost everyone participated.

One time, we had a dinner event where everyone was supposed to bring a typical dish for his country. The inclined reader should know that our apartment kitchens on campus were in no way up to that task - we have one electric stovetop, no microwave or oven and a medium-sized sink along with a frightening lack of power outlets in the right places. The opposing side of the room is outfitted with a 30cm wide kitchen counter, mounted a bit too low, just enough for it to be uncomfortable. The best place to assemble a cake which was invented in the country of the Frankfurter Küche (look here for much kitchen in a small space!). But I set out to accomplish the impossible and wanted to create a black forest cherry cake. Teaming up with one of my German classmates, we set out to buy what you need for that sort of thing: Giant brownie slabs (try to get a chocolate cake base in France), cream (never made it to whipped cream though), cream stiffener (we instead bought stiffener for beaten egg white because the box looked prettier), chopping board (yes, the kitchen came without any tools; this doubled as the serving plate), canned cherries, cherry liqueur (apparently there is a big enough population of permanently drunk people everywhere so you can always get these items) and more.

In a steaming hot kitchen (pun intended) we sliced the brownies in the direction in which nobody slices brownies to get them to be flatter and used them as a base. The non-started whipped cream just halted our progress for a bit - I biked out to get some spray cream asap. When I came back though I saw in horror that my co-confisseur only had a vague idea of the black forest cake - the cake was missing cherries between the first layer and the second one. Me, ever the perfectionist, did not let this pass. We thus lifted the second layer and stuffed the appropriate cherries under it while my mate hurled tempered complaints about the necessity of the process at me. Recounting these events, I wonder why the cake did not turn into a pile of crumbled, wet brownie, cherries, and cream. We decorated it with the name of the university on top, written with the deco cherries and managed to turn it into a presentable cake.

At the event we encountered the dishes of our friends: Some were very impressive and tasty, some other outings clearly were more appropriate for the non-kitchen we got to work with. The bias clearly was desserts and dishes which you can prepare in one pot, but the Asians impressed with some marinated brochettes, there was a Garspachio, funky Brazilian bonbons, Swedish meatballs, a tortilla, obazda, for some reason a pot with rice and peas, and our hosts provided some French cheese and wine. Overall, this made for a very enjoyable meal (and people liked our cake which always is a good feeling). The evening cumulated in a karaoke event where there was an equal split between international hits and songs in the respective native language of the people which no one else understood or knew but sang along regardless. My personal highlight was the team up of Danish and Swedish guys (“This is to our Spanish friends!”) who sang a song whose lyrics are composed of the typical Spanish party lingo without actually making sense (Chorus: “No hablo español”).

Which kinds of people can you expect to meet at an evening like this?

If you think about doing an exchange programme at all and your destination institution offers an introductory period with language classes or something else tailored to exchange students I would advise you to do it - by the time the real courses began, I already had contacts here, knew my way around and had administrative stuff sorted out. This gave me a head start compared to the exchange students that arrived late.

Of course, we also did plenty of sightseeing, clubbing, shopping, a trip to an amusement park, caves with bats, a strange party with a jumping castle and traveled to Marseille. There we enjoyed the great calanques rock formation and the rocky beaches with azure blue and clear water that you can hike to from there. Pure magic when the sea appears below you after a 45-minute hike through a vast mountainscape. Also, a great spot for photos. The next day those of us who had a craving for sea-food were able to quench it in the city. Also, we learned some stuff. Classes were actually surprisingly hard (also, I was classified as a C1 on the first day’s test, much to my own surprise) and had you doing stuff like interviewing the librarian of the local film institute.

Long story short, all of us had a great summer.

Sometime after that, the courses actually started. And I promise that I will finally blog about that in my next entry.