Monday, October 14, 2019

Buckwheat and Chickpea Flour Crackers

Just a short post today but with a lovely recipe for Buckwheat and Chickpea Flour Crackers. In general, there are two types of crackers, leavened or unleavened. Leavened crackers (such as cream crackers) have a distinctive bubbly texture due to the bicarbonate of soda they contain. Unleavened crackers, such as matzo cackers, are made from only water and flour.

As their name suggests, my crackers are made with two alternative flours (no leavener), some sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, some good olive oil, water and black as well as white sesame seeds. These crackers are a crunchy, tasty platform for butter, cheese and anything at all savory. They are fabulous dipped in homemade hummus and they are a superb crunchy accompaniment to homemade soup, too.

Buckwheat flour, rather more exotically 'farine de sarrasin' in French, is in itself always gluten-free, it is flour milled from buckwheat, a cold climate plant from the same family as rhubarb, sorrel and dock. Buckwheat’s pointed, triangular seeds resemble cereal grains, and the fine-textured flour is greyish, speckled with black. It has a distinctive, slightly sour and nutty taste and is rich in vitamins and minerals. It is made into pancakes and bread in the US, Russia, India, China, and Brittany in Northwest France, where it is also used in rustic porridges, savory pancakes called 'galettes au sarrasin' and fruit flans. It is added to pierogi dumplings, bread and cakes throughout Eastern Europe, and to noodles in Japan.

Chickpea flour, aka, gram flour, is made from ground chickpeas, is also gluten free and is great to coat vegetables for pakoras or to make flatbreads. It is also used to make socca aka farinata (savory chickpea flour pancakes) or bhajis (Indian origin vegetables fried in batter with spices) and it is used for falafel (a Middle Eastern dish – deep-fried ball of chickpeas, herbs, spices and onion).  It is pale yellow and powdery and has an earthy flavor best suited to savory dishes.

Buckwheat and Chickpea Flour Crackers

  • 120g buckwheat flour
  • 120g chickpea (aka gram) flour
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp white sesame seeds
  • 80 ml water, room temperature (or more)
  • 3 tbsp mild olive oil (suitable for baking)
  1. In a large bowl, mix the flours, pepper and salt together with the sesame seeds.
  2. In separate bowl, whisk the water with the oil. Stir in to the dry ingredients and mix to a firm dough.
  3. Knead the dough for a few minutes. Return to the bowl, cover and set aside for about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 180°C (375°F) and line two baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment.
  5. Oil your work surface and roll the dough out as thinly as possible.
  6. Using a ruler and a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into rectangles or diamonds. Place on to the prepared baking sheets close together, but not touching.
  7. Spray or brush the crackers lightly with water. At this point you can add a topping if you wish (more seeds). You can reknead any left-over scraps, but they will not be as successful as first kneading. Alternatively, put the scraps on a baking sheet and bake them for snacking.
  8. Bake the crackers for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Turn the oven off, open the door for about 30 seconds and then close again. Leave the baking sheets in the residual heat of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes if you are looking for extra crispness. 
  9. Transfer the baked crackers to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Serve or store in an air-tight container for up to two weeks.

My favorite way to enjoy these crackers is dipped into homemade hummus that I like to top at this time of year with fresh pomegranate seeds, chopped soft garden herbs (such as basil and Italian parsley), a bit of cold-pressed olive oil, black and white sesame seeds as well as herb blossoms.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Thanksgiving Apple Tart with Frangipane - Erntedank Apfeltarte mit Mandelcreme

Thanksgiving in German-speaking countries is an autumn harvest celebration called Erntedank or Erntedankfest ('harvest festival of thanks'). The observance usually takes place in September or October, depending on the region. Germany has a long tradition, but one that is different in many ways from that in North America. The German 'Erntedankfest' is mostly a rural and a religious celebration. When it is celebrated in larger cities, it is usually part of a church service and not anything like the big traditional family holiday in North America. Although it is celebrated locally and regionally, none of the German-speaking countries observe an official national Thanksgiving holiday on a particular day, as in Canada or the United States.

In German-speaking countries, Erntedankfest is often celebrated on the first Sunday in October, which is usually also the first Sunday following St. Michael's Day (Michaelistag) on September 29, but various locales may give thanks at different times during September and October. It is usually celebrated with church services, a parade, music, and a country fair atmosphere. In some places there will be thanksgiving procession (Erntedankprozession), complete with the presenting of the traditional harvest crown (Erntekrone) for the harvest queen (Erntekönigin). In some places, there is also an evening service followed by a lantern and torch parade (Laternenumzug) for the children and fireworks.

For Thanksgiving (which we celebrate today) it has become a tradition in our family to bake this Apple Tart with Frangipane, a tart that combines a buttery crisp pastry with a sweet almond cream, a layer of sliced seasonal baking apples, a final glazing of homemade apple or quince jelly (Apfel oder Quittengelee) and chopped almonds - simply wonderful and hard to beat.

For the decoration of my tart, years ago I was inspired by the apple design on the fabric. I use my apple-shaped cookie cutter and always decorate my tart with apple cut-outs. I rather like the way this recipe fits in with the season and thanksgiving - the design and the ingredients.

Thanksgiving Apple Tart with  Frangipane - Erntedank Apfeltarte  mit Mandelcreme


For the Pastry
  • 350g (12oz) AP (plain) flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 150g (6oz) cold butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 50g (2oz) caster sugar
  • 2 eggs (M), free range (or organic if possible), beaten

For the Frangipane Filling
  • 75g (3oz) butter, softened
  • 75g (3oz) superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla sugar
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 2 eggs (M), free-range or organic (if possible), beaten 
  • 75g (3oz) ground natural almonds (toast the almonds prior to grinding them to enhance their sweet almond flavor)
  • ½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon (optional)
  • 3 to 4 seasonal baking apples (depending on their size)
  • some freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 egg (M), free-range or organic (if possible), beaten

For the Glaze
  • a few tbsps of apple jelly (or use quince jelly instead; you can evne go with strained apricot jam)
  • some chopped almonds (you can toast them if you prefer)

  1. You will need a 28cm (11in) round, loose-bottomed fluted tart or quiche pan, 3-4cm (1-1.5in) deep.
  2. First make the pastry: either by mixing the flour and butter in a food processor or by hand – rubbing the flour and butter together with your fingertips, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. 
  3. Add the sugar and mix in briefly, then add the eggs and 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. 
  4. Mix until the pastry just holds together. 
  5. Divide the pastry in two. Form discs. Wrap in food wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill for a good thirty minutes.
  6. Butter your tart/quiche pan and line the bottom with a round of baking parchment. Butter the parchment.
  7. After the pastry has chilled, take one disc out of the refrigerator, roll the pastry out on a floured surface as thinly as possible,and use to line the tart pan.
  8. Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork.
  9. Place in the refrigerator while preparaing the fragipane fillling.
  10. To make the frangipane filling: place the butter, sugar, vanilla sugar and salt in the food processor and whizz until creamy, blend in the eggs, then mix in the ground almonds and cinnamon, if using.  NOTE: alternatively, beat together with a wooden spoon if making by hand.
  11. To prepare the apples: peel the apples, core and slice thinly. Place in a medium bowl and mix with a few drops of fresh lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
  12. Take the pastry-lined tart pan out of the refrigerator.
  13. Spoon the frangipane mixture into the pastry shell, spreading it evenly.
  14. Then arrange the apple slices on top of the frangipane. 
  15. Take the remaining pastry disc out of the refrigerator
  16. Roll the pastry out on the floured surface as thinly as possible, and using your cookie cutter, make some cut-outs, make sure you have enough to be able to cover your apples.
  17. Take the beaten egg and dip the edges of your cut-outs into the egg and arange the cut-outs on top of your apple slices.
  18. Place the tart in the refrigerator while your oven pre-heats.
  19. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and place a heavy baking sheet inside to heat up.
  20. Place the tart pan on the hot baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the pastry is crisp and the tart is golden brown.
  21. Take the tart out of the oven and place on a cooling rack for a good 15 minutes.
  22. To finish, heat up a bit of apple jelly and brush the top of the warm tart with it. Decorate the border of the tart with chopped almonds.
  23. Remove the tart from the pan and transfer to a serving plate.

This beautiful apple tart tastes as good as it looks. I used seasonal apples in my recipe. However, firm but ripe pears can be used instead – if you choose to use ripe but not too soft baking pears in this recipe, do not forget to use a pear-shaped cookie cutter (if you are so lucky to own one) or just about any other shape you have on hand, maybe a leaf-shaped one.

And if almonds are not your thing, you can certainly substitute other nuts here such as ground and chopped hazelnuts or go with walnuts which are also wonderful in combination with apples or pears.

If possible, let this  Apple Tart rest for 30 minutes rather than to serve it straight from the oven. But it is nice to enjoy it while just warm, or at room temperature, as is, or serve it with a generous dollop of softly whipped vanilla cream or vanilla ice cream.

Simple, but delicious and just a little bit classy. Really nice for a Thanksgiving (Erntedank) celebration.

Please note that this blog post is part (Ad/Werbung): my recipe for Thanksgiving Apple Tarte with Frangipane (Erntedank Apfeltarte mit Mandelcreme) is part of my series for a 'local' (meaning across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia) radio station, where, throughout the year, I present different baked goods that are closely tied to various holidays and seasons. If you are interested, have a LOOK & LISTEN (in German) HERE.

The various recipes of my series can be found here:

  • in January, for Three Kings Day (Dreikönigstag) two kinds of Galette des Rois (Dreikönigskuchen) (HERE)
  • for Lent (Fastenzeit) Lenten Soup with Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel) (HERE)
  • for Good Friday (Karfreitag) the delicious Hot Cross Buns (HERE)
  • for Pentecost /Whitsun (Pfingsten) the fun Allgäu Bread Birds (Allgäuer Brotvögel) (HERE)
  • for the beginning of the summer vacation, the lovely Sacristains (Almond & Sugar Puff Pastry Sticks) (HERE)
  • for St. Christopher's Day (St. Christophorus), these energy-packed Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel) (HERE)
  • for Mary's Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) my Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) (HERE)
  • for Mary’s Birthday (Mariä Geburt) some very pretty Mary’s Sweet Rolls (Süße Marienküchlein) (HERE
  • and, today for Thanksgiving (Erntedankfest) a delicious and seasonal Thanksgiving Apple Tart with Frangipane (Erntedank Apfeltarte mit Mandelcreme) (HERE) - more delicious treats to come very soon.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Butternut Squash Tart for the First Day of Fall

This is a delicious, delicately spiced Butternut Squash Tart with the flavors of brown sugar and warm spices, in particular cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. The filling is similar to a pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie in texture but the earthy sweetness of fresh butternut squash purée sets this pie apart from regular pumpkin pies. It's quite easy to prepare at home and makes for a wonderful fall dessert that I really enjoy in September. And, the golden brown color of the baked pie is kind of hard to beat.

I have baked many pumpkin and squash pies over the years. I must admit that I like butternut squash pies the best. I have eaten them with a pecan topping, meringue topping or plain. I prefer them plain. Sometimes I bake this pie in an unbaked pie shell, or I partially bake (blind bake) the pie shell first before filling to avoid a soggy bottom. Occasionally I bake it with a cookie crust.

This time I made a made a tart crust with whole wheat cookies, pre-baked it for 15 minutes and left the baked tart plain. And I really liked it. So, that’s the recipe I’m posting today – a no-fuss, cookie crust butternut sqaush pie to start off fall baking in a yummy way.

Butternut Squash Tart with Whole Wheat Cookie Crust


For the Cookie Crust
  • 200g whole wheat cookies (around here 'Vollkornkekse') OR use graham crackers 
  • 2 tbsp superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • 56g unsalted butter, melted 

For the Filling
  • 1 cup fresh butternut squash purée
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar (firmly packed)
  • 2 eggs (M), free-range or organic
  • 85 ml cream (half-and-half) OR use condensed milk 
  • 3/4 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt 
  • 1 tbsp spelt flour
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar (around here 'Bourbon Vanilla Zucker')

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (356°F) degrees. 
  2. Break up large cookies and process cookies, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a food processor until fine crumbs form, then add the melted butter. Process until combined. 
  3. Transfer mixture to a 24 cm (9.5in) tart pan with a removable bottom, pat into bottom and up the sides.
  4. Place tart pan on a parchment lined baking sheet, and bake until crust is fragrant and slightly colored, about 12 to 15 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat the squash with the brown sugar. 
  6. Add the eggs, cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, flour, butter, and vanilla sugar. Beat until well blended and smooth.
  7. Pour the filling into the pre-baked pie crust and place on the center oven rack.
  8. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until set. When the filling is set, transfer the pie to a rack to cool.
  9. Serve just warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream (you culd also go with crème fraîche or vanilla custard) or plain. It’s nice to sprinkle a bit of freshly ground cinnamon and/or nutmeg on top of the whipped cream just before serving.

While there are a ton of pumpkin or squash pie recipes out there, I like this one. It’s s simple. It’s fast. You are likely to have most ingredients on hand – honestly, who doesn’t happen to have a bit of butternut squash lingering in the fridge after a long weekend cooking up fall veggies for a crowd?!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Mary's Sweet Rolls (Süsse Marienküchlein)

Since September 8th marks the end of summer and beginning of fall as well as Mary's Birthday - nine months after the feast of the Immaculate Conceptionthis day has many thanksgiving celebrations and customs attached to it, such as the blessing of the summer harvest and fall planting seeds and seedlings.

In France there is a nice connection between the Nativity of Mary and wine: this feast day is the occasion for a grape harvest festival in the wine regions of France where winegrowers call this feast 'Our Lady of the Grape Harvest'. They bring their best grapes to the local church to be blessed and then tie some of the first fruits to the hands of the statue of Mary. An extensive festive meal which includes the new grapes is often part of this day's celebrations.

On this day, which, by the way is also the name day for all Marias and Mariettas, Italians like to eat blueberries, the blue of the berry is a reference to the traditional color of Mary’s cloak.

As the summer draws to a close, in the Alp region of Austria and Bavaria this day is 'Drive-Down Day' (Almabtrieb) during which the cattle are led from their summer mountain pastures in the slopes and brought to their winter quarters in the valleys. The 'Almabtrieb' is usually a large caravan, with loads of decorations and festivities. In some parts of Austria, milk from this day and all the leftover food are given to the poor.

There are a number of Marian Feast Days, too many to list them all. I talked about the wonderful traditions with respect to herbs and Assumption Day in my blog post here. So, today, September 8th, celebrates Mary's birthday and while there is no one specific traditional baked good that is prepared on this day, during my research I came across a recipe for 'Mary’s Sweet Rolls' (Süsse Marienküchlein) - their name refers to the fact that although these lovely sweet rolls can be baked throughout the year, of course, because they are just perfect for teatime, it is nice to bake them on special occasions like one of the many Marian feast days.

While the original recipe I found is for small rolls with pearl sugar only, I decided to add some slivered hazelnuts to some of them. We have a hazelnut tree in our garden and the nuts are ripe about this time of year, so this personal touch seemed fitting - plus I think the hazelnuts make these rolls look even prettier.

And let us not forget that not only is the beginning of September often associated with sowing and harvest, but there is even a folk saying which can be traced back to the Middle Ages that says that ‚Nuts are at their best on Mary’s Birthday‘ (‚An Marä Geburt sind die Nüsse gut‘). One more reason to add freshly harvested hazelnuts from our tree to these rolls.

Mary's Sweet  Rolls (Süsse Marienküchlein)

(yields about 25)
  • 250ml milk (I like to use 3.5%)
  • 100g butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 21g fresh yeast OR 8g instant yeast (around here 'Trockenbackhefe')
  • 550g strong baking flour (around here 'Type 550')
  • 75g superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • grated zest of ½ organic lemon
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar (around here 'Bourbon Vanillezucker')
  • 1/8 tsp Cinnamon (I like to use 'Ceylon cinnamon')
  • 2 eggs (M), free-range or organic

In Addition
  • some milk (again, I like to use full fat milk)
  • pearl sugar (aka 'nib sugar' or 'hail sugar') 
  • slivered hazelnuts
  • pure vanilla sugar 

  1. Heat the milk to lukewarm, add the butter and the yeast to the milk and stir until the yeast and butter are dissolved.
  2. In a mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, salt, lemon zest, vanilla sugar and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture tot he yeast mixture. Then add the eggs. Mix all the ingredients until combined. Knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
  3. Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour. 
  4. After that, punch the dough down and roll it out to about 2 cm thickness.
  5. Using either a cookie cutter or a glass, cut into rounds, transfer them to parchment lined baking sheets and allow them to rise for an additional 20 minutes.
  6. While the rounds are rising, pre-heat your oven to 170° C.
  7. Next brush some milk over the top of the buns and sprinkle some pearl sugar and/or slithered hazelnuts mixed with some vanilla sugar on the tops. 
  8. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. NOTE: These treats are best eaten the day they were made.

Despite common belief, the hazelnut is not a bush but a tree and in many cultures the hazelnut tree is revered as a sacred tree. And if one needed one more reason for the addition of hazelnuts to this recipe, I came across a legend from the Middle Ages during my research. According to the legend, Mary feel asleep under a hazelnut tree and when she awoke, she blessed the hazelnut tree that had provided a safe shelter to her while she slept so that from that day on, every person that stands under a hazelnut tree shall feel safe and never despair.

Please note that this blog post is part (Ad/Werbung): my recipe for Mary's Sweet Rolls (Süsse Marienküchlein) is part of my series for a 'local' (meaning across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia) radio station, where, throughout the year, I present different baked goods that are closely tied to various holidays and seasons. If you are interested, have a listen (in German) HERE.

The various recipes of my series can be found here:

  • in January, for Three Kings Day (Dreikönigstag) two kinds of Galette des Rois (Dreikönigskuchen) (HERE)
  • for Lent (Fastenzeit) Lenten Soup with Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel) (HERE)
  • for Good Friday (Karfreitag) the delicious Hot Cross Buns (HERE)
  • for Pentecost /Whitsun (Pfingsten) the fun Allgäu Bread Birds (Allgäuer Brotvögel) (HERE)
  • for the beginning of the summer vacation, the lovely Sacristains (Almond & Sugar Puff Pastry Sticks) (HERE)
  • for St. Christopher's Day (St. Christophorus), these energy-packed Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel) (HERE)
  • for Mary's Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) my Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) (HERE)
  • and, today for Mary’s Birthday (Mariä Geburt) some very pretty Mary’s Sweet Rolls (Süße Marienküchlein) (HERE) - more delicious treats to come very soon.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Colorful September Veggie Fritters

Veggie Fritters are a wonderful way to enjoy a variety of vegetables. Once you have a base recipe, you can vary them according to your personal taste and the season. The best Veggie Fritters aren’t just packed with veggies, they’re also enhanced with cheese such as parmesan (feta or halloumi) and soft herbs (such as parsley or chives). Then they are pan-fried, making them nice and crispy.

Vegetable fritters are an easy way to eat more veggies. They pack up great for lunch, either on their own or in a sandwich, and they even make a nice, light dinner when paired with a simple salad. But the best part about these fritters is that what you decide to put in them is really just determined by what you already have in your kitchen.

Boosting veggies with plenty of complementary flavors is exactly what makes fritters so delicious. Cheese loves vegetables, so tossing a little grated or crumbled cheese into the mix doesn’t hurt. Aromatics like garlic, fresh herbs, and spices also help keep things exciting. Once you know the basic formula, it’s just a matter of experimenting with different combinations.

These easy Sweetcorn Fritters are the perfect accompaniment to chicken or pork, but also good as finger food, for lunch or brunch with a lovely Yogurt Radish Dip or try them with avocado and eggs.

In general, vegetable fritters love a dipping and dolloping sauce, especially a creamy one. I like to use Greek yogurt or a 10% natural yogurt, then I like to add cottage cheese (go with low fat or the regular one) but adding Quark (German fresh cheese) to the yogurt is also very nice. Just go with what you like and what you have on hand. Got any leftover pesto, stir that into the dip, harissa is also nice if you like it spicy. Or just add freshly squeezed lemon juice, pepper and salt to the dip.

Sweetcorn Fritters with Yogurt Radish Dip


For the Fritters
  • 4 sweetcorn cobs 
  • 3 eggs (M), free-range or organic
  • 200g plain (AP) flour (less or more depending on the moisture level of your veg) NOTE: for a gluten-free version, you can use an equal amount of chickpea flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g cup grated parmesan NOTE: you can use crumbled feta or coarsely grated halloumi instead
  • freshly ground black pepper, fine sea salt
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • chopped chives or parsley
  • vegetable oil, for frying
For the Dip
  • 100g natural yogurt (use the one you enjoy the most and/or have on hand) 
  • 50g cottage cheese (full fat or reduced fat) OR use Quark (fresh cheese)
  • a bit of good quality olive oil
  • a few fresh radishes (washed carefully to remove dirt, topped, tailed, chopped and moisture dried off)
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
  • grated zest of 1/2 organic lemon and some lemon juice
  • cress (optional)

  1. Cook your cobs in a large pot with salted, boiling water for about 15 minutes; take out, run under cold water and dry off.
  2. Use a sharp knife to cut down the length of each cob to remove the kernels.
  3. Process 2/3 of the sweetcorn kernels in a food processor. Then add the 3 eggs, process some more.
  4. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, grated parmesan, pepper, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the sweetcorn mixture and process again until all the ingredients come together OR use a spatula to mix everything together so that it’s evenly combined.
  5. Transfer the sweetcorn mixture to a medium bowl, add the thinly sliced spring onions, chopped herbs and mix well.
  6. Add the oil to a large frying pan - as you need to shallow fry these, so make sure the base of the pan is well covered. 
  7. Heat the oil then test by adding a tiny bit of the batter – it should immediately start bubbling around the edges when it hits the oil. Using a small ladle OR an ice cream scoop, drop batter onto the oil – you need around 2 tbsp of mixture per fritter. You should be able to fry 4 to 5 at any one time – be careful not to overcrowd the pan.
  8. Fry for a couple of minutes on one side until light brown then turn over and cook for a further minute.
  9. Turn out onto kitchen paper to remove any excess oil and keep warm in a low oven. 
  10. Continue until you have used all the batter.
  11. Transfer the fritters to a plate and serve warm, at room temperature, or cold with a dipping sauce of your choice, if using.
  12. For the dip, mix together all the ingedients and place in the fridge while preparing the fritters - I like to serve a really cold dip with warm fritters.

You can also use grated and well drained zucchini and summer squash. I like to garnish my Zucchini (Courgette) Fritters with just a bit of Greek yogurt and maybe some herbs – personally I like the flavor combination of basil and zucchini, so I often add a bit of basil to my Greek yogurt to compliment the zucchini fritters.

Let the season and your taste buds be your guide when prepearing Veggie Fritters - apart from sweetcorn or zucchini, you can also use carrots, parsnips, or even chard.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Cowboy Cookies for a Birthday Girl

A couple of years ago, I came across a recipe for so-called 'Cowboy Cookies'. Needless to say that the recipe name attracted my attention, a bit like the 'Everything-but-the-Kitchen-Sink Cookies'. Although I am know to bake lots of different cookies following more traditional European recipes, I also love to bake big, chewy, chunky American-style cookies. To make a long cookie-baking story short, a couple of years ago, I started baking Cowboy Cookies and the kids loved them. Then, on a regular basis, I got requests for Cowboy Cookies. This past week I got a request for Birthday Cowboy Cookies AND a I was handed a new recipe. It seems the birthday girl was attracted to the fun title of the cookies for 'Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies'. Why not try a new recipe, I said, I was going to bake Cowboy Cookies (and a lovely cake) for the birthday anyways.

When doing my research on these cookies, I learned that former First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush is credited with creating this version of Cowboy Cookies. And the story behind her now famous Cowboy Cookie recipe is rather interesting, to say the least.

It seems that it was already commonplace for US presidential candidates to release family recipes during their campaign, it is thought 'to help humanize the candidates and also allows them to promote family values'. But public contests pitting the baking ability of potential first ladies against each other are relatively new. They began in 1992 when Hillary Rodham Clinton got everyone talking with her infamous cookie comment, discussing working as a lawyer while her husband Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas:

''I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas,'' she said. ''But what I decided to do was pursue my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.''

She was probaly trying to make the point that in 1992, women had other options. But instead, it appears from what I have read, that her remark created a so-called 'reactionary cookie contest', the brainchild of Family Circle Magazine (a US home magazine that commenced publication in 1932, with British as well as Australian editions) which published her chocolate chip recipe and one from Barbara Bush, asking readers to try baking both and then vote on their favorite. Interestingly, the results of the bake-off have almost always predicted the winner of the US presidential election.

Be that as it may, in the first First Lady bake-off in 1992, the recipe for Hillary Clinton’s chocolate chip cookies beat out the one from Barbara Bush, and again in 1996, Hillary’s chocolate chip recipe won over Elizabeth Dole’s Pecan Roll cookies. In 2000, Laura Bush debuted above Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies, and as expected, they beat our Tipper Gore’s Ginger Snap recipe. Then in 2004 Laura Bush switched up her original recipe during her husband’s second presidential campaign to a similar oatmeal chocolate chunk recipe, but it’s her first Cowboy Cookie recipe, the Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies that’s become so beloved and famous - there are countless articles and blog entries written on the subject of these cookies.

Here is my personal adaptation of Laura Bush's winning recipe. As a European baker I would classify these cookies as classic chocolate chip cookies (chocolate chips always mean chunks of dark Belgian chocolate) fortified with lots of old-fashioned oats (the coarse variety), chopped pecans, shredded coconut (coarse shredds) as well as sweet cinnamon.

Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies
(Adapted from Laura Bush)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (390g)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder 
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda 
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (I like to use 'Ceylon cinnamon')
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I like to use fine sea salt)
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (340g)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (300g - I like to use superfine baking sugar)
  • 1 1/2 cups light-brown sugar, packed (300g - I like to use fine cane sugar)
  • 3 eggs (I used 'M', organic)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla (I used pure vanilla extract)
  • 3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (400g - I used dark Belgian baking chocolate chunks)
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (270g - around here 'Kernige Haferflocken')
  • 2 cups sweetened flake coconut (150g)
  • 2 cups chopped pecans (220g)

  1. Heat oven to 350°F ( 175°C).
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in bowl.
  3. In a very large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in sugars to combine thoroughly.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Beat in vanilla.
  5. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips, oats, coconut and pecans.
  6. For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup (I used an ice cream scoop instead) dough onto ungreased baking sheets (I lined my sheets with baking parchment), spacing 3 inches (7.5 cm) apart.
  7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until edges are lightly browned; rotate sheets halfway through. 
  8. Remove cookies to rack to cool (cool on the baking sheets before removing).

These are my minimal changes: the original recipe yields between 36 to 42 rather huge cookies, I halved the recipe and made considerably smaller cookies using a regular ice cream scoop. I also reduced the baking time to 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure to let them cool on the baking sheets before trying to remove them. I also lined my baking sheets with baking parchment instead of baking the cookies on ungreased baking sheets.

If you enjoy chewy cookies loaded with mix-ins like pecans (which I luckily food at my health food store), old-fashioned oats, large flaked coconut and dark chocolate (I splurged and used a wonderful deep, dark Belgian baking chocolate), these are your kind of cookies.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) and Herb Bundles (Kräuterstrauß) for Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt)

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary (Mariä Himmelfahrt) commemorates the Virgin Mary's assumption into heaven. Assumption Day is celebrated on or around August 15 in many countries, particularly in parts of Europe and South America. This day is a public holiday in the German states of Saarland and some parts of Bavaria. This August feast day is the oldest of all the festivals of Mary. The annual commemoration of Mary is connected with the ancient traditional belief that her body did not decay but soon after the burial was united again with her soul and was taken up to Heaven.

The universal belief of Mary's assumption has been framed in ancient legends and stories. The most famous of these legends is that Mary’s tomb was opened on the request of St. Thomas, the tomb was found empty, and thus the Apostles concluded that her body was taken up to Heaven. In lieu of her body, it was said that there was a wonderful smell of flowers and herbs.

In pre-Christian times the season from the middle of August to the middle of September was observed as a period of thanksgiving for the successful harvest of grains. Many symbolic rites were aimed toward the assurance of prosperous weather for the reaping of the fall fruits, vegetables and grains and for winter planting. Some elements of these ancient cults are now connected with the feast and season of the Assumption. All through the Middle Ages the days from August 15 to September 15 were called 'Our Lady's Thirty Days' (Frauendreißiger) in the German-speaking sections of Europe. Many Assumption shrines even today show Mary clothed in a robe covered with ears of grain.

Popular legends ascribe a character of blessing and goodness to 'Our Lady's Thirty Days' and all food produced during this period is especially wholesome and good, and will remain fresh much longer than at other times of the year.

The fact that herbs picked in August were considered of great power in healing occasioned the medieval practice of the 'Blessing of Herbs' on Assumption Day. The Church thus elevated a popular belief of pre-Christian times into a religious observance and gave it the character of a Christian rite of profound meaning.

There are a number of special traditions about trees and plants on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary and my personal favorite tradition on this day is the collection and benediction of herbs and plants.  Some people will go out into the fields and meadows to collect herbs with medicinal and culinary properties, or they will collect culinary herbs from their gardens. Popular herbs to collect include agrimony, chamomile, clover, mugwort, mullein, St John's wort, tansy, thyme, valerian, verbena, wormwood, and yarrow.

Each herb in the Herb Bundle has a distinct taste but also a special meaning and/or purpose. The rose, for example, represents Mary, lavender is known to soothe, mint is a herb with refreshing qualities, chamomile has healing properties etc. There are no 'official rules' for Herb Bundles, but the number of herbs (and flowers) that one puts into a bundle should always be a 'magic number':

3 – the number 3 represents 'Trinity'
7 - the number 7 represents 'Days of Creation' or the 'Sacraments'
9 - the number 9 represents 3x3, meaning three times 'Trinity'
12 -  the number 12 represents the number of Apostles or the 'Tribes of Israel'

After the benediction of the herbs, some herb bundles are placed by alters and others are fixed to the walls of houses and stalls. And although there is no such thing as one specific culinary tradition for Assumption Day, there are many dishes that can be prepared with those healthy August herbs.

So, in honor of Mary's special feast day, I decided to bake a Tear & Share Herb Bread with lots of herbs from my kitchen garden – the soft ones, like Italian parsley, chives and basil, are folded into the yeast dough, while the sturdy ones, like sage, thyme and rosemary graze the top of this delicious, sharable bread.

Tear & Share Herb Bread - Kräuterbrot

  • 500g strong white flour, plus extra for kneading (around here that’s 'backstarkes Weizenmehl Type 550')
  • 21gr fresh yeast OR 7g sachet dried yeast
  • 125ml whole milk (I use milk with 3.5% fat content)
  • 125ml water
  • 1 tbsp molasses (around here that’s ‚Zuckerrübensirup‘)
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 30g butter, room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 3 tbsp fresh, soft herbs, chopped finely (such as Italian parsley, basil, chives or dill)
  • a few small branches of rosemary, thyme, oregano or a few sage leaves, for garnish
  • good olive oil suitable for baking
  • a few flakes of coarse sea salt (optional)
In addition
  • a springform pan, 24 cm; butter and dusted with flour, excess flour shaken out

  1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Heat the 125ml of water and the the 125ml of milk in a saucepan over a low heat until lukewarm, add the molasses and the yeast and stir until dissolved.
  3. Make a well in the center of the flour, add the milk/yeast mixture, cover with a bit of flour, cover with a tea towel and let rest for about 15 minutes.
  4. Uncover the bowl, add the salt and the butter and knead for a good 8 minutes until the dough comes together and turns soft and elastic.
  5. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl and cover loosely with a tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for about 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
  6. When the dough has doubled in size, tip it onto a floured surface and flatten with the palms of your hands. Spoon the chopped soft herb mixture on top and knead until evenly incorporated. Sprinkle with a little extra flour if it becomes sticky.
  7. Place the dough in the oiled bowl and cover again with the tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for another hour.
  8. When the dough has risen again, tip it onto your lightly floured work surface one more time.
  9. Divide the dough into nine (at this point you can use a scale to make sure your dough is equally diveded into 9 portions) and shape into neat balls by pulling the dough from the outside of the ball and pushing into the center. Turn over with the ends underneath. Place the rolls in a circle in the prepared springform pan. Cover loosely with lightly oiled kitchen wrap and leave to prove in a warm place for a good 15 minutes OR until the rolls are puffed, risen and 'have come together'. 
  10. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C convection).
  11. Brush the top of each roll lightly with olive and place a small sage leaf or small herb branch on top. Brush with more olive oil (sprinkle with a bit of coarse sea salt - optional) and bake in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown. If the bread browns too quickly, cover loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.
  12. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool a little before serving & sharing. Serve with good farm fresh butter OR with extra good olive oil and coarse sea salt for dunking.

Paintings and other artworks depicting Mary's Assumption often depict Jesus or God, representing heaven, at the top. Early Christians or other people are usually in the lower part of the paintings and represent life on earth. The paintings often show Mary making her journey to heaven. She may be accompanied by angels or cherubs who serve as her guides.

The above painting depicts Mary's Assumption and I took the picture last week at the St. Michael's church in Luxembourg City, Luxemburg (Méchelskierch, Stad Lëtzebuerg).

The picture below depicts the inside of St. Mary of the Assumption church in Cologne (St. Mariä Himmelfahrt, Köln).

(Ad/Werbung): my recipe for the Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) is part of my series for a 'local' (meaning across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia) radio station, where, throughout the year, I present different baked goods that are closely tied to various holidays and seasons. If you are interested, have a listen (in German) HERE.

The various recipes of my series can be found here:

  • in January, for Three Kings Day (Dreikönigstag) two kinds of Galette des Rois (Dreikönigskuchen) (HERE)
  • for Lent (Fastenzeit) Lenten Soup with Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel) (HERE)
  • for Good Friday (Karfreitag) the delicious Hot Cross Buns (HERE)
  • for Pentecost /Whitsun (Pfingsten) the fun Allgäu Bread Birds (Allgäuer Brotvögel) (HERE)
  • for the beginning of the summer vacation, the lovely Sacristains (Almond & Sugar Puff Pastry Sticks) (HERE)
  • for St. Christopher's Day (St. Christophorus), these energy-packed Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel) (HERE
  • and, today for Mary's Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) my Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) (HERE
  • for Mary’s Birthday (Mariä Geburt) some very pretty Mary’s Sweet Rolls (Süße Marienküchlein) (HERE)- more delicious treats to come very soon.