Saturday, December 24, 2011

Amaretto Walnut Coins

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I am doing you a favour today and spare you my usual blabber. It is Christmas Time and there is such a great recipe to share on the final day of my countdown/bake-o-thon! It is nutty and fruity with a nice shot of booze - what better way is there to get merry?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pfeffernüsse (Pepper Nuts)

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Christmas Day is coming closer and closer. The tree is up and decorated, half of the presents are bought and the grill assembled. You've heard me. Is said Grill. With a capital G. It's December, it's cold and wet (no snow for me at Christmas this year probably) and my wacky mother is holding up her tradition to invite people in the late morning and have the last barbecue of the year. That's how she rolls. Bless her heart.

And by Christmas Day, I actually mean Christmas Eve, which is the 24th December. Unlike in many other countries where the presents are being unwrapped in the morning of the 25., it is all about Christmas Eve here. The family comes together, (religious people may go to a Christmas mass where children usually re-enact the Nativity), you eat and then it is time for gifts (and other religious people may skip the first mass and go to a later one sans Nativity as the latest is usually held at midnight). That is probably the rough plan for many German families. When I was little, one of my gifts always was a board game that we played after the gift giving.

Oh yeah, and the food! What I am about to write will probably make a few people's heart stop for a second. As long as I can think, the dinner on Christmas Eve always consisted of one thing, and I know it is the same in many German families: Potato-Salad and bangers/wieners.
I do not know what the story behind serving a humble meal like this is, though.
The two days afterwards (the official Christmas Holidays) however, Germans usually step it up a notch and prepare more festive meals like duck, goose or roasts.

Coming to the fourth recipe of my 5 Day Christmas Countdown/Bake-a-thon.
This one has really got the Christmas flavours tingling. With allspice, cardamom and ginger, it is a spice-fest. But the kick (or a certain “je ne sais quoi”) is definitely giving the white pepper. Pepper in a biscuit? Yes. But don't worry, it is not hot and the pepper is not overpowering. This really tastes like Christmas to me.

Pfeffernüsse (Pepper Nuts)
You can find the original here (German).

The dough needs to rest over night so it is easy to whip it up in the evening.

  • 275g (9.7 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1 generous pinch of baking soda
  • 75g (2.6 oz) butter (or margarine for a vegan version)
  • 3 tbsp. honey (ca. 50g; replace with maple syrup or more dark beet syrup for a vegan version)
  • 75g (2.6 oz) dark beet syrup/molasses (alternative: simple molasses)
  • 75g (2.6 oz) demerara sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1/4 ts ground white pepper
  • 1/2 ts ground dried ginger
  • 1 generous pinch of cardamom
  • 1 generous pinch of allspice
  • 75 g (2.6 oz) icing/powdered sugar 

  1. Mix together flour and baking soda
  2. In a medium pot, boil up butter, honey, dark beet syrup, demerara along with pepper, ginger, cardamom and allspice.
  3. Add flour and quickly stir it up into a homogeneous mass. Let it cool down completely. Wrap it up in cling film/saran wrap and keep in in the fridge over night (the dough can become rather tough but do not fret, that is alright).
  4. The next day, let dough regain room temperature again. Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F).
  5. Roll dough into hazelnut-sized balls and bake on second rack from the bottom for about 12 minutes (the pepper nuts will not rise a lot, so you do not need to leave too much space between the balls while baking).
  6. Let them cool completely. Stir icing/powdered sugar with about 1 ts of water to icing. Brush on pepper nuts.

On the first day, the pepper nuts will be rather tough and crunchy. But keep them in a jar or box for a couple of days and they will soften, developing their spicy flavour.


How do your traditions on Christmas look like?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Coconut Macaroons

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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Or in my case, it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
Or sound. I believe that these two crucially belong together. At least when it's the right kind of music. I want to be honest. The first time I hear 'Last Christmas' some time in Mid-November, I feel like gagging a little. Maybe it's the major case of overexposure the song had to suffer from over the last decades or maybe it's just that it's simply not my kind of tune but I find it utterly annoying.

However, earlier this week, I have had the opportunity to listen to a Michael Bublé record and I really started to catch a bit of the Christmas Spirit. While I did not like all of the tracks per se, it's the classics that get me. Winter Wonderland, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and such. And then, the real classics: Silent Night and Ave Maria. I'm just not feeling those poppy 'contemporary' Christmas songs. Uh-uh.
But you really got me, Mr. Mickey Bubbles.

And while I'm in the mood for sharing a bit about me, why not something that makes me look like an oddball. Do you know what my favourite Christmas compilation is? It's the one from Ally McBeal (that TV show). Yes. Really. Just go ahead and give me that “You're a weeeeiiirdo.” look, but I can't help it. Oh, just to be clear, I am not getting paid for mentioning these records.

Coming to the recipe. Again, it's a fairly simple (in fact, it's probably the quickest and easiest of the all) classic recipe for Christmas perfect for last minute baking: Coconut Macaroons! Alright, I bet you know this one as it's not exclusively German with its origins being somewhere else, but they are still pretty Christmas-y. I decided to make the moist, dense kind as opposed to the ones resembling meringues. So there is no beating the eggs necessary. The little thing that makes these ones extra special is that you roast the shredded coconut beforehand to get a bit of a flavour boost.

Coconut Macaroons

  • 200g (7 oz)  shredded dried coconut 
  • 150g (5.3 oz) sugar 
  • 3 egg whites 
  • 1 TS almond liqueur (optional)  

    1.  Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F). 
    2. In a small pot, toast shredded dried coconut until light brown on high heat, stirring continuously (be careful not to roast them too much as the macaroons may become dry).
    3. Remove from heat and immediately stir in sugar let cool slightly.
    4. While mass is still very warm yet not hot anymore, stir in egg whites (this step is the only tricky one as the macaroons will not stick properly if mass is either too hot or cool. It should be hot but not painfully hot at about 50°C).
    5. Add almond liquer (optional).
    6. With a teaspoon, form macaroons. Bake on centre rack for 17-20 minutes.

    I have dipped the bottoms of the macaroons in dark couverture but this step is completely optional (but good!).


    Do you have a favourite Christmas song or album?

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

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    Day 2 of my 5-Day Christmas Bake-a-thon and I am starting to feeling it.
    Like I said, I did not have time so far to think about Christmas at all. Well, the only little accomplishment I mastered was to plaster the windows with some lights after switching into Tomb Raider mode when trying to find the ever so mysteriously disappearing boxes full of decorations in the basement. It's never where I could have sworn it was and it's never in the condition I thought I have left it (I am looking at you, weird ravel that is supposed to be Christmas lights! Must be the same effect that applies to headphones or any kind of cable, really...).

    Oh yeah, to stick with the theme of bringing you traditional German Christmas Goodies, here is some random trivia: Did you know that decking the Christmas tree with candles originated in 17th century Germany? It only really became a tradition in the Early Modern Period and was established in the UK during Queen Victoria's reign and spread through emigration to North America and Australia (Wikipedia is so clever, innit?).

    I doubt that Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars) have been around for so long, but who knows. These pretty little things originally come from Swabia, a region in South Germany yet are known in the whole country today. Making them can be quite a sticky business, but laying out the surface with ground hazelnuts like in this recipe really helps. However, you know what I just do? I just flatten the dough with my hands and only use a rolling pin to even it out a little afterwards but for the less barbaric more traditional people among us, I've heard that laying the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper works wonders! And just for stating the obvious, you will need a star-shaped biscuit/cookie cutter, duh. But technically, any shape will do and I can even imagine them looking nice just cut into diamonds.

    Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

    Note: While the recipe is not exactly mine, it has been in my family for quite a while with the source unknown. This is one of those recipes that friends and neighbours pass around on hand-written notes.
    • 190g (6.7 oz) Icing/powdered sugar
    • 100 (3.5 oz) Almonds, finely ground
    • 200g (7 oz) Hazelnuts, finely ground 
    • 2 Egg whites
    • 1 TS of Cinnamon
    • 1 Dash of Lemon Juice

    1. Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F).
    2. Either with a food processor or a hand mixer, beat together egg whites and icing sugar into a nice and firm, sticky glaze (this can take a little while). Set 1/3 of it aside.
    3. Add 100g (3.5 oz) hazelnuts as well as the other ingredients to the remaining 2/3 and knead it in first with a spoon, then with your hands.
    4. Cover a flat surface with remaining hazelnuts and roll out dough (or whatever method floats your boat). It should be about 8-10mm (0.3-0.4 inches) thick.
    5. Cut out biscuits and put them on a baking tray laid out with parchment paper. Generously spread biscuits with egg white glaze.
    6. Bake on centre rack for 10-12 minutes, sticking a wooden spoon between oven door after 8.

    They should still be a bit chewy but speaking from experience, crunchy is not exactly a failure, either. :)


    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)

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    Alright, so I'm a big old liar.
    Last post – which was AGES ago – I promised that I would stick around and keep writing. I did not.
    But hey, at least I'm pretty good at lying as I had convinced myself at that moment I could do it. Damn how oblivious I was.
    The reason I was on a hiatus? University. Let's just say there had been complications with my Bachelor's Thesis that had me stuck on the computer rewriting and writing it (or falling into comatose four hour sleeps or lying on the floor in fetus position slowly rocking myself back and forth...whatever) until the last third of November and then trying desperately to catch up on all the academic things I have missed (I had to complete my thesis during the first semester of my master's programme... long story), holding presentations, attending a three-day course over the weekend in between yadda yadda yadda.


    Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)

     Good news is, I'm back! It's the middle of December and no thought was given towards Christmas so far. Not one. Meaning: No Christmas shopping yet, no trips to the Christmas market yet and only vague plans of how Christmas is going to be this year.

    Among all those Chrismas-y things I have missed so far naturally is: Christmas Baking!
    With only five days left until Christmas Eve, I hereby announce my 5-Day Christmas Countdown/ Last Minute Bake-athon! Starting today, I will post one recipe daily until Friday! Yay! But not just any kind of recipes. In a little attempt to spread some warm and cosy Old Worldly Christmas lovin', I will share the most traditional German Christmas biscuits and other pastries I could think of.

    Admittedly, Vanillekipferl, sort of translating to Vanilla Crescents – do not ask me what Kipferl is supposed to mean as it is probably some kind of dialect – are more of German-Austrian-Bohemian origin, but as the boarders are rather blurry both geographically and historically, one cannot really pin it down to one particular country, especially not today's.

    In Germany at least they belong to Christmas like Candy Canes do in the States and while there sure is a plethora of recipes for such a traditional kind of biscuit – with the ingredients varying slightly – this one is simply amazing. They really are delightfully light and almost melt-in-your-mouth airy. I think it is the lack of egg that helps with the consistency and also makes it really easy to veganize! Just replace the butter with margarine and there you go!

    Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)

    Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)

    As recipes usually ask for vanilla sugar, which is not easily to be found everywhere around the world, I omitted it in my version and rather added the vanilla straight to the dough as opposed to rolling the baked biscuits in a mixture of icing and vanilla sugar.

    • 250 g (8.8 oz) Cake or All-Purpose Flour
    • 200 g (7 oz) Butter (or margarine for a vegan version)
    • 100 g (3.5 oz) Walnuts, finely ground (I quickly did that in a blender)
    • 70 g (2.5 oz) Icing/Powdered Sugar
    • 1 Pinch of salt
    • Seeds of 1 Vanilla Pod (You could go crazy and use two, I dare you!)
    • Extra Icing/Powdered Sugar

    Note: You can also make these using ground almonds or hazelnuts, but increase the amount of butter to 7.8 oz then

    1. Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F)
    2. Knead together all ingredients but the extra icing sugar. (I did that with my hands and I would recommend you doing that, too)
    3. Let the dough sit for at least half an hour.
    4. Form dough into rolls as thick as a finger. Cut into 3cm (a bit more than an inch) long pieces.
    5. With your hands, shape pieces into little crescents.
    6. Bake on the second rack from the top for 15-20 minutes (they should hardly brown)
    7. Immediately yet carefully remove from tray as they both burn and break easily at this state.
    8. Let cool completely and roll in generous amounts of icing sugar.

    Getting the right shape can be quite a pain in the bum so sometimes I just roll the dough into little balls to bake vanilla buttons. It indeed is even less time consuming that way.

    Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)