No sooner had the white smoke cleared from the skies above the Vatican than a topical cookbook crossed the desk: "A Taste of Heaven: A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Monks and Nuns," published in, uh, 2009.
Why now? Perhaps Pope Francis aims to drum up business for church-run bakeries? Or had a janitor unearthed this book in some neglected corner of the newsroom?
Divine intervention or not, we're big fans of monastery-made caramels, sauces, beers, cheeses and -- oh, yes -- fruitcakes, so we're happy to oblige.
This 218-page volume by Madeline Scherb is part cookbook, part travelogue (Tarcher/Penguin, $15.95). She delves into the history of monastery cooking, baking and brewing, and lovingly captures the stories of those who toil in monastic kitchens. She also offers touring advice for those who might find themselves near monasteries in Belgium, France, Germany and the United States.
Included are 35 recipes for such dishes as Shrimp with Chartreuse liqueur from France, and Brother Victor's Pear Clafoutis, topped with vanilla caramels from an Iowa abbey. There's a shopping guide, too; one extensive site is www.monasterygreetings.com.
This soup is made with the Belgian Trappist monks' Achel beer. You should be able to find Achel or Rochefort locally; if not, substitute a non-Trappist ale and put a little extra in the collection plate Sunday.
-- Linda Zavoral
Creamy Beer Soup
Serves 6 to 8
750-ml bottle Achel Extra or Rochefort (3 1/2 cups)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar
4 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons creme fraiche or heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Pour beer, water and sugar into a large soup pot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat.
2. Beat yolks, creme fraiche, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Slowly add 1/2 cup of the hot beer mixture to the eggs, whisking until well combined.
3. Pour egg mixture into soup pot, stirring constantly; cook for a couple of minutes more over low heat, without boiling. Season to taste. Serve immediately.
-- Adapted from the book "Twelve Months of Monastery Soups" from Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery, New York