When I was in high school, the year between junior and senior year, I had a job scooping ice cream at an ice cream shop on old West Berlin's main drag, the Kurfürstendamm. Did you know that Germans eat more ice cream than, well, most people? I scooped - and tasted - a lot of ice cream that summer. So much so that for about a decade afterwards, I couldn't even smell ice cream without feeling slightly nauseous.
This summer, as we race through the final recipe testing before the manuscript for the German baking book is due, is shaping up to be the same kind of summer. The fug of butter and sugar that hangs in the air every other day here - once so cozy and wonderful a scent! - is making me want to run for the hills.
But I cannot run! Baking is my duty! So instead, I cook up green and leafy lunches for Maja, my incredible co-baker, and me on testing days, and I take refuge in cold and salty drinks, which feel like the only thing quenching my thirst right now. I buy sauerkraut juice at my local discount grocery store (no joke - if you're a pickle juice lover, THIS IS EVERYTHING). I am planning a weekly gazpacho production cycle for as long as it stays hot and the oven is on. I'm still heavily into shrubs, inspired by one of my Harper's Bazaar columns from the spring. And then there's ayran: cool, creamy and refreshing ayran.
Ayran, a salted and sparkling Turkish yogurt beverage, is available on almost every street corner in Berlin, which boasts the largest Turkish community in the world outside of Turkey. But it's a cinch to make your own ayran at home - you simply mix a few spoonfuls of yogurt with a bit of salt and water (I like sparkling, which has the added benefit of making the drink foamy, but you can use still) and, if you like, a pinch of mint for some added zhuzz. I have really fragrant dried mint that works beautifully in ayran, but right now I'm really loving the very pure, clean flavor of plain ayran.
I got the inspiration for making ayran at home from Janet Fletcher's new book, Yogurt, which was recently published by Ten Speed Press. It's a slim little book packed with easy recipes that I want to subsist on all summer long, like tomato and bulgur soup with yogurt, and grated carrot and cumin salad with yogurt, and Turkish-spiced green beans with, wait for it, yogurt. In fact, I've earmarked almost every page in the chapters on soups, salads, and vegetables.
Oh, and the one for "Lamb Meatballs in Warm Yogurt Sauce with Sizzling Red-Pepper Butter." Because lamb meatballs! In warm yogurt sauce! With sizzling red-pepper butter! I mean, really.
But first, back to baking. Honeyed gingerbread, to be exact. Ayran in hand.
Janet Fletcher's Ayran
Adapted from Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Note: The author calls for drained or Greek yogurt. I used regular whole-milk yogurt, which is very smooth and creamy here in Germany, and it worked beautifully, but if you can't find such creamy yogurt to start with, you should probably follow Fletcher's recommendation.
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2-3/4 cup still or sparkling water
Salt, to taste
Ice cubes, optional
1. Place the yogurt in a glass. Whisk in just enough water to thin the yogurt to the consistency of buttermilk. A word of caution: if using sparkling water, the foam will rise quite quickly. Whisk in salt to taste. Add ice cubes, if desired. Drink.