Friday, November 27, 2015

Chocolate Buttercake with Walnuts

Well, it has reached that time of year again, it feels as if Christmas is just around the corner. It’s that time when we tackle the various baking challenges that the festive period has to offer. For today´s festive bake, I’ve had a go at an alltime favorite of mine with a rather nice twist, a Chocolate Butter Cake with Walnuts. Think of this cake as basically a cross between a Dutch boterkoek and chocolate shortbread. Crunchy sides, soft, slightly chewy middle and incredibly rich and quite indulgent at this time of year.

To be honest, I don’t think you can properly enjoy the festive seasons if you don’t spend part of it in the kitchen with the aromas of spices and chocolate and citrus filling the air, using every pot, pan, bowl, whisk and sieve, not to mention all those cake molds, cookie cutters etc.

This is a nice cake to bake in a square cake pan or a round one if you prefer. With so few ingredients, it does require some good butter but also some high-quality cocoa powder for a really indulgent, chocolatey taste. So, for the best dark and velvety cocoa powder, try shops that specialize in fine chocolates or look out for your favorite good-quality brand - for the best tasting cake with a dark, rich color, I recommend you use Dutch process cocoa powder.

Chocolate Buttercake with Walnuts

Ingredients for the Cake
  • 250 g butter, unsalted, room temperature (plus some to butter the cake pan)
  • 250 g light brown sugar (such as Billington´s Light Muscovado Sugar or use Dutch "Lichte Basterd Suiker")
  • 1 1/2 tsps pure vanilla sugar (use the best you can afford)
  • 2 egg (L), organic or free range
  • 210 g AP (plain) flour
  • 40 g Dutch process cocoa powder (choose a very good-quality cocoa powder)
  • a generous pinch of fine sea salt
  • 80 g freshly cracked walnuts NOTE: you could use hazelnuts instead of walnuts, though you should toast them first, then rub off their skins before using)
  • vanilla ice-cream, double cream or lightly whipped cream to serve (optional)

In Addition
  • a square cake pan (about 24 x24 cm/9.5 x 9.5 inches)
  • baking parchment

Preparation Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
  2. Butter your cake pan, line the base and sides with baking parchment, then butter again.
  3. Put the butter into the bowl of a food mixer, add the sugar and vanilla sugar and cream for a good 5 minutes until soft and fluffy.
  4. Break the egg into a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork to combine. With the beater at a moderate speed, add the egg to the butter and sugar mixture.
  5. In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, cocoa powder and sea salt.
  6. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until thoroughly creamed.
  7. Mix in the walnuts.
  8. Transfer the mixture to the lined cake pan, gently smoothing the surface flat.
  9. In a asmall bowl, break up the egg, and brush the surface oft he cake.
  10. Then score the surface with the tines of a fork.
  11. Put in the pre-heated oven and bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until the cake is firm to the touch.
  12. Transfer to a rack and leave to cool before turning out and slicing. Servet he cake on the day it was made. Any leftover cake can be wrapped tightly in plastic and kept for up to 2 days.

The moistness of the cake will depend not just on the addition of all that good butter (this is a butter cake after all), but how long you bake it. Short of the delicate moment when you mix it all together, it is the baking time that is truly make or break. What you are looking for is the moment, somewhere between 35 and 40 minutes, when your cake is crispy round the edge, but still a bit soft in the center. When baking this cake, please remember that when it comes out of the oven the cake should still be moist - sticky even - in the middle. As it cools the crust will crisp.

My perfect moment for such buttery, chocolatey goodness is in the afternoon, around 4 pm, when a nice piece or slice goes perfectly with a small, strong coffee. It acts as a pick-me-up, a little zip of energy to get you through till lunch or dinner. Or perhaps just through till your next piece of chocolate cake.

Since it is the season not only for showing off all your baked goods, but all your festive decorations and ornaments as well, I decided to bake teeny tiny gingerbread houses and let the kids decorate them while I rummaged through countless boxes searching for my treasured handcrafted wooden set of Hänsel and Gretel and the witch.  As I happily retrieved my heirloom figurines from all that tissue paper that they were wrapped in, the kids had put their final touches to the houses and they loved how it all looked  - the cake, the gingerbread houses, the powdered sugar snow and the little fairy tale figurines – not a bad start to the festive season.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gevulde Speculaas

When you visit Belgium, you will notice that Christmastime is always marked by the presence of Speculoos cookies. In fact, pretty much every day of the year is marked with Speculoos, but at Christmas, they go from being delicious small additions to a cup of coffee or tea to something altogether grander, culminating into huge cookies that are shaped into the image of Saint Nicolas in December. And Speculoos cookies are also a feature of Christmas in the Netherlands, where their name is slighly changed to Speculaas. If you want to make Speculaas cookies, you can make them either by rolling out the dough and cutting or by using the traditional wooden molds to shape into windmills, flowers or animals.

But there is also a different version of Speculaas, which is called Gevulde Speculaas, meaning “filled speculaas”. This delicious version is made with a layer of dough, similar to that used to make Speculaas cookies, then filled with almond paste, and topped with more dough. The whole is then baked, and finally cut into slices.

The dough is easily put together and so is the filling which I always just assumed was made from Marzipan, but it is something that the Dutch call Amandelspijs, meaning „almond paste“. This is a paste made from ground almonds, sugar and eggs, and somtimes with a little lemon zest which does add a little extra flavor and a certain freshness to the filling.

When it comes to the spices, there is traditional Dutch mixture called Speculaaskruiden, meaning “speculaas spices” that can be made from spices you probably have already stored in your cupboard. If you follow my blog, that spice mixture is rather well known to you. Personally I believe that Gevulde Speculaas is best made with freshly mixed spices but  you could use other spice mixture you like, such as Pumpkin Pie Spices (rather American and available online), or even Mixed Spice (rather British and also available online as well as at your favorite British shop).

The resulting Gevulde Speculaas cake is very rich, as the speculaas does not turn crisp like the Speculaas cookies, but instead you get a spiced pastry encasing the rich almond filling. You can really use as little or as much filling as you like but I believe a ratio of equal parts pastry and filling seems to work best.

This recipe requires three components: first the Almond Paste for the filling. Second the Speculaas Spice Mix for the dough. And third the Speculaas Dough itself. You should start off by making the Almond Paste for the Filling:

Gevulde Speculaas

Filling - Almond Paste

Ingredients for Almond Paste
  • 125 grams (4½ oz) natural almonds, skins off
  • 125 grams (10 tbsps) superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 egg (L), organic or free range
  • 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest (organic lemon) NOTE: if you prefer a thicker layer of almond paste, you can double the amout of ingredients.

Preparation of the Almond Paste
  1. Grind the almonds for one or two minutes in a food processor, until rather fine.
  2. Then add the sugar, and grind for another minute or two.. The almonds should be very finely ground now.
  3. Add the egg and the lemon zest to the food processor and process further until the almond paste comes together.
  4. Wrap the almond paste well and place in the refrigerator. NOTE: If you prefer a more pronounced almond taste, you could always add a drop or two of natural almond extract - but remember when it comes to almond extract, a little goes a long way

Speculaas Spice Mix

Ingredients for the Speculaas Spice Mix
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon (*)
  • 1 tsp ground cloves (*)
  • 1 tsp ground mace (*)
  • 1/3 tsp ground ginger (*)
  • 1/5 tsp (a pinch) ground white pepper
  • 1/5 tsp (a pinch) ground cardamom
  • 1/5 tsp (a pinch) ground coriander seeds
  • 1/5 tsp (a pinch) gound anise seeds or star anise
  • (*) These are essential. The other spices are entirely optional
  • NOTE: If you have whole spices at home, you can grind the spices yourself using a coffee grinder, or use a food processor and a fine sieve.

Preparation of the Speculaas Spice Mix
  1. Carefully measure out spices.
  2. Mix all spices well.
  3. Scoop the mix into a spice jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  4. Label the jar with the name of the spice mix as well as the preparation date.
  5. And use for baking Speculaas cookies, Gevulde Speculaas, muffins, Christmas cookies, waffles, cakes and much more.
  6. Discard any leftovers after four months and make a new spice mix.

Pastry - Speculaas Dough

  • 250 grams (2 cups) all purpose (plain) wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 150 grams  (¾ cup) light or dark brown sugar, firmly packed (such as the Dutch "Lichte Basterd Suiker" or "Donkere Basterd Suiker")
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsps Speculaas Spice Mix (see above recipe)
  • 175 grams (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2-3 tbsps milk (3.5%), optional NOTE: if you like you can add a bit of grated zest from an organic orange or mandarin/clementine to the dough..

  1. Put flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices in a bowl.
  2. Cut the butter in dices, add to the flour mixture and knead until smooth.
  3. Add a little milk if the dough is too dry.
  4. Wrap in saran wrap and place in the refrigerator for a good two hours.

Assembling and Baking the Gevulde Speculaas

  • Cooled Speculaas Dough
  • Cooled Almond Paste
  • whole almonds without skins for decoration, halved, about 25 depending on your personal pattern
  • 1 egg (L), organic or free range
  • baking pan with removable bottom 26 cm – 28 cm (10-11 inches)

  1. Grease the baking pan with some butter, line bottom with some parchment paper and butter again.
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C (356° F).
  3. Divide the dough into two portions.
  4. On a very lightly work surface, roll out both portions odf the dough until they are about the size of your baking pan.
  5. Put one of the layers in the pan and press it lightly to fit the bottom.
  6. Lightly beat the egg with a teaspoon cold water.
  7. Brush some of the egg wash over the dough in the baking pan.
  8. Roll out the almond paste between two sheets of saran wrap, until it is exactly as big as the pan, and put it on the dough in the pan.
  9. Press the almond paste lightly down to fit in the pan, and brush some more of the egg wash over it.
  10. Now put the second layer of dough on top of the paste, press it lightly, and make as smooth as possible.
  11. Brush the rest of the egg wash over the dough.
  12. Decorate the pastry with the halved almonds.
  13. Bake for 40 minutes or until the cake feels firm to the touch.
  14. Let cool completely in the pan, then cut into pretty slices and serve the same day – but wrapped well, the Gevulde Speculaas keeps for a few days as it is very moist from the Alomnd Paste.

As I mentioned above, Speculaaskruiden („speculaas“ in the Netherlands, „speculoos“ in Belgium and „Spekulatius“ in Germany) is the typical flavor in a number of cookies and other baked goods.  You can bake the traditional Speculaas Cookies with them (here are mine), you can also add the Speculaas Spice Mix to cakes and muffins like my Speculaas Muffins I made a few weeks ago (here) or wonderfully fragrant Speculaas Biscotti I made last December (here is the recipe).

So, there is no reason to wait any longer to bake a Gevulde Speculaas and then let your imagination be your guide and come up with other lovely creations using the amazingly fragrant and utterly delicious, seasonal Speculaas Spice Mix.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Saint Martin´s Day & Sweet Dough Men - Sankt Martin & Weckmänner

Today, on November 11th, Germans celebrate St. Martin's Day (“Martinstag”) also known as the "Feast of St. Martin of Tours". It is a special day that is particularly popular with children.
Heute am 11. November feiert man in Deutschland Sankt Martin, auch bekannt als das "Fest des Sankt Martin von Tours". Für Kinder ist dies ein ganz besonderer Tag. 

St. Martin was born in 316 or 317 and started out as a Roman soldier, he was baptized as an adult, became a monk and was named Bishop of Tours on July 4th, 372. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life.

The most famous legend of his life is that one cold winter day, during a snowstorm, he was riding through the country when a shivering beggar came his way. Since he had neither food nor money, St. Martin cut his wollen cloak in half with his sword to share it with the freezing beggar. It is said that he thus saved the beggar from a certain death.
Sankt Martin wurde 316 oder 317 geboren. Er wurde zunächst römischer Soldat, dann wurde er als Erwachsener getauft, wurde Mönch und am 4. Juli 372 dann Bischof von Tours.

Man sagt, dass er ein guter Mensch war, der ein ruhiges und einfaches Leben führte. Die berühmteste Legende seines Lebens ist, dass er an einem besonders kalten Wintertag, während eines Schneesturm über Land ritt, als er auf einen frierenden Bettler traf. Da er weder Essen noch Münzen bei sich hatte, teilte Sankt Martin seinen Umhang mit seinem Schwert und gab die eine Hälfte dem Bettler damit der nicht mehr frieren sollte. Es wird gesagt, dass er damit dem Bettler das Leben rettete.

Every year, St. Martin´s Day is celebrated to commemorate the day of his burial on November 11th, 397.

In some parts of the Netherlands, in a small part of Belgium, and in some areas of Germany and Austria, children walk in St. Martin´s processions through the villages and cities. They carry colorful St. Martin´s  paper lanterns and sing St. Martin´s songs. Usually, the procession starts at a church and ends at a public square. The lantern processions are aften accompanied by an actor impersonating the Saint. He is on horseback dressed like a Roman soldier and wrapped in a red woolen cloak. When the procession reaches the town square, a St. Martin’s bonfire is lit and in some parts of Germany, such as the Rhineland (where we live) and the Ruhr area, Sweet Dough Men ("Weckmänner") are distributed to the children.
Jedes Jahr wird Sankt Martin gefeiert, um dem Tag seiner Beerdigung am 11. November 397 zu gedenken.

In einigen Teilen der Niederlande, in einem kleinen Teil Belgiens und in einigen Gebieten Deutschlands und Österreichs gehen Kinder in Martinszügen durch die Dörfer und Städte. Sie tragen bunte Martinslaternen und singen Martinslieder. In der Regel beginnt der Martinszug an einer Kirche und endet am Marktplatz. Die Martinszüge werden oft von einem Reiter begleitet, der als römischer Soldat verkleidet, Sankt Martin darstellt. Desweiteren begleiten meist auch einige Musikgruppen die Martinszüge. Am Ziel des Martinszugs wird ein Martinsfeuer entfacht und im Ruhrgebiet und im Rheinland (da wo wir leben) werden frisch gebackene Weckmänner an die Kinder verteilt.

The tradition of the mostly handcrafted paper lanterns goes back to former times, when people lit candles to honor their saints and when lanterns were put up everywhere in town when a bishop dropped by for a visit.
Die Tradition der Laternen geht zurück auf frühere Zeiten, als Menschen Kerzen anzündeten, um ihre Heiligen zu ehren und Laternen überall in der Stadt aufgestellt wurden wenn ein Bischof zu Besuch kam.

The custom of lighting a St. Martin´s bonfire after the lantern procession represents the beginning of festivities. In former times, most of the work on the fields had been completed and now it was time to celebrate, drink and eat. Traditionally, a fat goose and sweet bread treats were served.

Today, in the days and weeks leading up to the feast of St. Martin, children craft their own St. Martin´s lanterns in school or in kindergarten.

On the day of the celebrations, after participating in one of the numerous lantern procession´s, the children go door to door singing St. Martin´s songs in exchange for sweets or other small treats. Singing in exchange for candies is called "schnörzen" around here in the Rhineland.
Der Brauch des Martinfeuers am Ende des Martinszug symbolisiert den Beginn der Festlichkeiten. In früheren Zeiten war um diese Zeit die meiste Arbeit auf den Feldern war getan, und nun war es Zeit zu feiern, zu trinken und zu essen. Traditionell wurden eine fette Gans (Martinsgans) und süßes Brot serviert.

Heute, in den Tagen und Wochen vor dem Sankt Martinsfest, basteln die Kinder ihre eigenen Martinslaternen in der Schule oder im Kindergarten.

Am Tag der Feierlichkeiten gehen die Kinder nach dem Martinszug von Tür zu Tür und singen Martinslieder – sie werden mit Süßigkeiten oder anderen Kleinigkeiten belohnt. Hier im Rheinland nennen wir das "schnörzen". 

As mentioned above, to conclude the celebrations of St. Martin´s Day, the traditional treat that is given to the children after the St. Martin´s Day procession, are pastries called “Weckmänner”, baked goods in the shape of a man holding a clay pipe.

Every year, I also bake a few of these "Sweet Dough Man" for family and friends.
Wie oben erwähnt, ist es nach dem Martinszug  mmer noch Tradition, dass alle Kinder, die mit dem Martinszug gegangen sind, einen Weckmann bekommen.Allerdings ist der Weckmann ursprünglich  ein Gebäck, das den Bischof Nikolaus von Myra darstellt.

Auch ich lasse es mir nicht nehmen und backe jedes Jahr zu Sankt Martin einige "Weckmänner" für Familie und Freunde.

To this day, the clay pipe that each sweet dough man carries, symbolizes an episcopal crozier, in memory of St. Martin the Bishop.
Die Tonpfeife, die die Weckmänner ziert symbolisiert einen umgedrehten Bischofsstab, in Erinnerung an St. Martin den Bischof.

The clay pipes that I always use were handcrafted in Germany and have become somewhat of a collector´s item.
Die Tonpfeifen, die ich immer benutze, werden in Deutschland handgefertigt und über die Jahre haben sich da schon einige angesammelt.

Today, on St. Martin´s Day,  we will be watching the St. Martin´s procession along our street, right in front of our house. We will decorate the front yard with lots of colorful lanterns. And after the procession, the children will carry their candle-lit lanterns from house to house in our neighbourhood singing St. Martin´s songs, receiving sweets and other little treats. We will be waiting for them with baskets full of sweets, apples and clementines.

 The festivities in memory of St. Martin bear some resemblance to Halloween that was celebrated in many parts of the world just eleven days ago.
Heute geht ein Martinszug direkt in unsere Strasse. Wir werden den Vorgarten mit vielen bunten Laternen schmücken. Und nach dem Zug werden die Kinder in unserer Nachbarschaft mit ihren handgefertigten Martinslaternen von Haus zu Haus gehen, Martinslieder singen, und dann Süßigkeiten oder andere Kleinigkeiten bekommen.Wir werden auf die Kinder mit Süßigkeiten, Äpfel und Clementinen warten.

Die Feierlichkeiten zu Ehren von St. Martin ähneln denen zu Halloween, das in vielen Teilen der Welt vor elf Tagen gefeiert wurde.

Sweet Dough Men
(yield: makes six dough men)

Ingredients for the Yeast Dough 
  • 500 grams "strong wheat flour"
  • 42 grams of fresh yeast (or 1 package of active dry yeast)
  • 80 grams fine (caster) sugar
  • 180 ml lukewarm milk
  • 60 grams unsalted butter 
  • 3 egg yolks (L), free-range or organic 
  • 1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla sugar 
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest (organic)
  • one pinch fine sea salt
(für sechs Stück)

Zutaten für den Hefeteig
  • 500 Gramm Mehl (Type “550”)
  • 42 Gramm frische Hefe (oder ein Päckchen Trockenhefe)
  • 80 Gramm feinster Zucker
  • 180 ml lauwarme Milch (3.5%)
  • 60 Gramm Butter, geschmolzen
  • 3 Eigelbe (L), Freiland oder Bio 
  • 1 ½ TL Bourbon Vanillezucker
  • 1 TL geriebene Zitronenschale (Bio)
  • eine Prise feines Meersalz
Ingredients for the Decoration
  • 1 egg yolk (L), free-range or organic 
  • 2 tbsps milk
  • a few raisins for the eyes, mouth and buttons
  • clay pipes * OR small lollipops 
Special Equipment needed
  • 2 baking sheets
  • 2 sheets of baking parchment
  • soft brush
Zutaten für die Deko
  • 1 Eigelb (L), Freiland oder Bio
  • 2 TL Milch
  • ein paar Rosinen für Augen, Mund und Knöpfe
  • Tonpfeifen oder kleine Lutscher
  • 2 Backbleche
  • 2 Bögen Backpapier
  • Backpinsel
Preparation of the Yeast Dough
  1. Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the center of the flour.
  2. Then add the fresh yeast to the warm milk together with the sugar, stir to dissolve, pour the yeast mixture into the well, cover with some of the flour.
  3. Cover the bowl and leave the starter for about 10 minutes.
  4. Then add the butter, egg yolks, pure vanilla sugar, lemon zest and salt to the flour mixture. Mix all the ingredients together and knead well.
  5. Cover again, leave the dough to rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead. Return the dough to the bowl.
  7. Cover the dough and let rise again until it has doubled in volume, about 40 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 190 °Celsius (375° Fahrenheit).
  9. Knead the dough and divide into 6 pieces to form into gingerbread men shaped "Weckmänner".
  10. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
  11. Place the pastries onto the prepared baking sheets, cover and leave to rise again for 10 minutes.
  12. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk with the 2 tbsp. milk.
  13. Brush the pastries with the egg wash and decorate with raisins for the eyes, mouths and buttons. Add clay pipes (if using).
  14. Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes until golden. Let cool on racks.*NOTE: unfortunately I am unable to locate a U.S. source for the clay pipes
Zubereitung des Hefeteigs
  1. Das Mehl in eine Schüssel geben, in die Mitte eine Vertiefung drücken.
  2. Die Hefe und den Zucker in der warmen Milch auflösen, in die Mulde gießen und mit Mehl vom Rand bestreuen.
  3. Zugedeckt an einem warmen Ort 10 Minuten gehen lassen.
  4. Butter, Eigelbe, Vanillezucker, Zitronenschale und Salz zum Mehl geben und alles zu einem glatten Teig verarbeiten.
  5. Zugedeckt an einem warmen Ort zirka 30 Minuten gehen lassen.
  6. Dann mit den Händen auf der leicht bemehlten Arbeitsfläche gut durchkneten. Den Teig wieder in die Schüssel geben.
  7. Zugedeckt weitere 40 Minuten gehen lassen, bis sich der Teig verdoppelt hat.
  8. Den Backofen auf 190° Celsius vorheizen.
  9. Den Teig zusammenkneten, in 6 Portionen teilen und Weckmänner formen.
  10. Zwei Backbleche mit Backpapier auslegen.
  11. Die Weckmänner auf die vorbereiteten Backbleche legen und zugedeckt noch einmal 10 Minuten gehen lassen.
  12. In einer kleinen Schüssel das Eigelb mit den 2 EL Milch verquirlen.
  13. Die gegangenen Weckmänner damit bestreichen und mit den Rosinen Augen, Mund und Knöpfe eindrücken. Tonpfeifen auflegen.
  14. Die Weckmänner für zirka 20 Minuten backen.Vom Blech nehmen und auf einem Gitter abkühlen. 

Have a wonderful St. Martin´s Day today!

  "Up and down the streets, the paper lanterns are illuminated: red, yellow, green, blue, dear Martin come and take a look!"
Viel Spaß beim Sankt Martinsfest heute!

"Durch die Straßen auf und nieder leuchten die Laternen wieder. Rote, gelbe, grüne, blaue, lieber Martin, komm und schaue."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Speculaas Muffins with Marzipan - Spekulatius-Muffins mit Marzipan

Before the pre-Christmas baking frenzy officially season starts, and I find myself baking through countless delightful Christmas cookies, I am posting a recipe for Speculaas Mufffins with Marzipan. You will be delighted with this recipe as it is full of fabulous warm spices, can be put together in no time and is absolutely ideal for enjyoing at this time of year together with a steaming cup of coffee, tea or mulled wine.
Bevor die vorweihnachtliche Backsaison offiziell beginnt und ich mich durch unzählige Keksrezepte backe, gibt es noch ein schnelles, aber sehr leckeres Rezept für unglaubliche leckere Spekulatius-Muffins mit Marzipan. Diese kleinen Köstlichkeiten sind schnell gebacken, eignen sich ganz ausgezeichnet für den Nachmittagstee oder Kaffee und stimmen schon mal ein klein wenig auf die kommenden Wochen ein.

If you take the time to prepare my Speculaas Spice Mix before getting ready for baking, you will be well prepared for baking many of my up-coming recipes and lots of other wonderful Christmas cookies. And the muffins will taste so much better if you prpeare them with my homemade spice mix using the freshest spices available. The smell during baking will be incredibly tempting, aromas of spices and brown sugar will waft through your house. But if you prefer to use a ready-made, good-quality spice mix for speculoos, by all means do so, as it is widely available online or at your favorite spice merchant.
Wenn man sich jetzt die Zeit nimmt und vor dem Backen meine Spekulatius-Gewürzmischung auf Vorrat zubereitet, dann hat man schon ein wenig Vorsprung für meine kommenden weihnachtlichen Rezepte und viele andere wunderbare Backwaren. Und die Muffins schmecken auch um Längen besser. Der Geruch während des Backens ist einfach unglaublich gut, es riecht einfach wunderbar nach Gewürzen und braunem Zucker – unvergleichlich. Aber man kann auch ohne Weiteres auf eine fertige Spekulatius-Gewürzmischung zurückgreifen – es gibt sie online oder beim guten Gewürzhändler.

Speculaas Muffins with Marzipan
(recipe for 12 muffins)

For the muffin batter
  • 4 tbsps. molasses (I use sugar beet syrup from "Grafschafter", a local producer)
  • 2 eggs (L), organic or free range
  • 75 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 300 grams wheat (AP) flour
  • 16 grams baking powder
  • 175 grams soft brown sugar
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla sugar
  • 2 tsps speculaas spice mix (please see the *recipe below)
  • ½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 180 ml milk, room temperature

Ingredients for the Filling
  • 100 grams baking marzipan, divided into 12 portions (such as "Odense" or "Lübecker")

Ingredients for the Topping
  • 2 tbsps slithered hazelnuts
  • 2 tbsps coarse brown cane sugar

Spekulatius-Muffins mit Marzipan
(ergibt 12 Stück)

Zutaten für den Teig
  • 4 EL Zuckerrüben-Sirup (z. B. "Grafschafter")
  • 2 Eier (L), Bio oder Freilandhaltung
  • 75 g ungesalzene Butter, Zimmertemperatur
  • 300 g Weizenmehl Type 550
  • 16 g Backpulver (ein Päckchen)
  • 175 g hellbrauner Zucker, fein
  • 2 TL Bourbon Vanillezucker
  • 2 TL Spekulatius-Gewürzmischung (*Rezept siehe unten)
  • ½ Tl Ceylon Zimt
  • eine Prise feines Meersalz
  • 180 ml Milch (3.5%), Zimmertemperatur

Zutaten für die Füllung
  • 100 g Back-Marzipan, aufgeteilt in 12 Stücke (z.Bsp. Lübecker Backmarzipan)

Für den Belag
  • 2 EL Haselnussblättchen
  • 2 EL Rohrzucker, grob

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 ° Celsius (160° Celsius for convection).
  2. Place some pretty paper muffin liners in your muffin baking tray.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the molasses, eggs and butter until they turn a lighter color and are foamy, that will take about 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. In a another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, vanilla sugar, speculaas spice mix, cinnamon, and salt.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk.
  6. Add a spoonful of muffin batter to each liner, then add the marzipan, then another spoonful of batter, until all muffins are filled.
  7. In a small bowl mix together the slithered hazelnuts with the cane sugar.
  8. Top each muffins with some of the sugar mixture.
  9. In the pre-heated oven bake your muffins for about 25 minutes, making sure to check after 20 minutes.
  10. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then take them out of the muffin baking tray and serve.
  1. Den Backofen auf 180 ° Celsius (Umluft 160°) vorheizen.
  2. Das Muffinblech mit Muffinlinern bestücken.
  3. In einer mittleren Rührschüssel den Sirup, die Eier und die Butter so lange rühren bis sie schaumig sind, zirka 3 bis 5 Minuten.
  4. In einer weiteren Schüssel das Mehl, Backpulver, hellbraunen Zucker, Vanillezucker, Spekulatius-Gewürzmischung, Zimt und Salz mischen.
  5. Die Mehlmischung abwechselnd mit der Milch unter die Butter-Mischung rühren.
  6. Je Muffin einen Löffel Teig, dann das Marzipan, dann wieder einen Löffel Teig geben, bis alle 12 Muffinliner gefüllt sind.
  7. In einer kleinen Schüssel den Rohrzucker mit den Haselnussblättchen mischen.
  8. Die Muffins damit bestreuen
  9. Im vorgeheizten Backofen die Spekulatius-Muffins etwa 25 Minuten backen.Minuten. Nach 20 Minuten Backzeit nachprüfen ob die Muffins schon gar sind.
  10. Auf einem Kuchengitter erkalten lassen, dann aus dem Muffinblech nehmen und servieren.

Of course you can always use a ready-made spice mix but if you do take the time to put together your own spice mix, it will most certainly come in handy during the up-coming baking season in November and December and I must admit that it never ceases to amaze me how much better fresh spices taste and smell.
Man kann natürlich auch eine fertige Spekulatius-Gewürzmischung nehmen, aber wenn man am seine eigene Mischung zusammen stellt und dabei die besten und frischten Gewürze nimmt, dann schmeckt das November und Dezember Gebäck um Einiges besser und würziger.

Speculaas Spice Mix

Ingredients for the Speculaas Spice Mix
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground mace
  • 1/3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/5 tsp (a pinch) ground white pepper
  • 1/5 tsp (a pinch) ground cardamom
  • 1/5 tsp (a pinch) ground coriander seeds
  • 1/5 tsp (a pinch) gound anise seed or star anise
NOTE: If you only have whole spices at home, you can grind the spices yourself using a coffee grinder, or use a food processor and a fine sieve.

Preparation of the Spice Mix
  1. Carefully measure out spices.
  2. Mix all spices well.
  3. Scoop the mix into a spice jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  4. Label the jar with the name of the contents as well as the preparation date.
  5. And use for baking muffins, Christmas cookies, waffles, cakes and much more.
  6. Discard any leftovers after four months and make a new spice mix.

Zutaten für die Gewürzmischung
  • 4 TL Ceylon Zimt
  • 1 TL Nelken, gemahlen
  • 1 TL Muskatblüte, gemahlen
  • 1/3 TL Ingwer, gemahlen
  • 1/5 TL weißer Pfeffer, gemahlen (eine Prise)
  • 1/5 TL Kardamom, gemahlen (eine Prise)
  • 1/5 TL Koriander, gemahlen (eine Prise)
  • 1/5 TL Anis, gemahlen (eine Prise)
TIPP: wenn man nur ungemahlenen Gewürze zu Hause hat, dann die Körner in der Kaffeemühle mahlen oder mörsern

Zubereitung der Gewürzmischung
  1. Die Gewürze ganz genau dosieren.
  2. Alle Gewürze gut mischen.
  3. In ein Glas mit gut schließendem Deckel füllen.
  4. Das Glas mit Datum und Inhalt beschriften (am besten sind Gewürzmischungen wenn man sie innerhalb von vier Monaten nach Herstellung verwendet).
  5. Für Muffins, Kekse, Spekulatius, Waffeln, Kuchen und vieles mehr.
  6. Falls noch Reste vorhanden sein sollten, nach vier Monaten eine neue Mischung zubereiten.

So, November baking season has started and I cannot imagine a recipe that is more fitting or more delicious than this one for baking at this time of year. This way, I can enjoy one of these Speculaas Muffins with a cup of my favorite coffee while, at the same time, taking the time to ponder the countless delightful Christmas recipes that I am planning to prepare during the up-coming weeks. I cannot wait!
Also, die November-Vorweihnachts-Backsaison ist damit ganz schön lecker eröffnet und ich kann mir kein köstlicheres Rezept als dieses vorstellen um die "Ruhe vor dem weihnachtlichen Backsturm" noch etwas zu genießen und bei einer Tasse Kaffee und einem Spekulatius-Muffin uber die vielen wunderbaren Weihnachtsrezepte noch ein wenig nachzudenken. Ich freue mich!

Since we are experiencing rather unseasonably warm temperatures these days - may I suggest that these muffins make a great outdoor dessert for one of those lovely autumn picnics - trust me.
Da es zur Zeit ja eher frühlingshaftes Wetter ist, bietet sich ein herbstliches Picknick ja auch noch an - ich kann euch versichern, dass sich die Muffins als Nachtisch bestens dafür eignen. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fresh Goat Cheese with Honey, Walnuts & Rye Leaves - Ziegenfrischkäse mit Honig, Walnüssen & Roggen-Blättern

Last week, the owners of the "Minten" Dairy Goat Farm invited the public to visit their farm and their small farm shop located in the picturesque town of Rheinbach, Germany. The idea behind this event was to introduce the visitors to the different varieties of goat milk cheese that they produce at their farm.
Die Familie Minten lud am Samstag, den 24. Oktober zu einem kleinen Hoffest auf ihren Milchziegenhof Minten in Rheinbach ein. Die Besucher waren eingeladen die verschiedenen Ziegenkäsespezialitäten kennenzulernen, bevor Ende November die Milchziegen des Hofs in die "wohlverdiente Babypause gehen".

The owners raise two different breeds of goats. On one hand the very pretty white ones called the "White German Goats" (Weiße Deutsche Edelziege), a species of goats that has been called that way since the year 1928 - it is considered to be the most common kind of goats presently being raised in Germany. These goats produce about 850 to 1200 kilos of milk per year, a very good yield, I was told.
Auf dem Milchziegenhof Minten werden zwei Sorten Ziegen gehalten. Zum einen die Weiße Deutsche Edelziege (WDE). Seit 1928 werden alle weißen Schläge in Deutschland unter diesem Namen zusammengefasst. Die Weiße Deutsche Edelziege kommt hauptsächlich in Baden-Württemberg, Niedersachsen, Nordrhein-Westfalen und Schleswig-Holstein vor. Sie gibt im Jahr etwa 850 kg bis 1200 kg Milchmenge.

The owners also raise the very pretty light and dark brown goats called "Colorful German Goat" (Bunte Deutsche Edelziege). These goats have been called this way since 1928. They produces about the same amout of milk as the white ones do - the owner told me that "maybe just slightly less" - they are considered to be a tad more "lively"  than their white colleagues - hence they were a bit harder to photograph properly...
1928 entstand die Rasse Bunte Deutsche Edelziege (BDE), als man verschiedene Farbvarianten braun getönter Ziegen aus allen Gebieten Deutschlands zusammenfasste. Sie gibt im Jahr ebenfalls etwa 850 kg bis 1200 kg Milchmenge. Der Besitzer sagte mir, dass die beiden Sorten "fast gleichviel Milch geben" - wobei die braunen Ziegen ein wenig "aktiver" als ihre weißen Kollegen sind - und damit auch ein wenig schwieriger zu fotografieren...

The cheeses that are for offered at the shop can vary according to the season. When we visited, the cheeses for sale included soft goat cheese (plain, with herbs or with ramson); goat cheese feta-style (plain, with herbs or garlic); marinated goat cheese (with pepper, herbs, tomatoes and chili); goat cheese gouda-style (plain, with green pepper, caraway, and fenugreek); and a new specialty, namely a goat cheese marinated in red wine. Apart from the fresh cheeses they was also goat salami and goat sausages for the bbq available for sampling and for sale. If you happen to have a suitable container on hand while you visit, yo might also be able to buy fresh goat milk.
Die angebotenen Produkte im Hofladen können je nach Saison variieren. Das Sortiment enthält Ziegenfrischkäse (natur, mit Gartenkräutern oder Bärlauch); Ziegenweichkäse Feta Art (natur oder mit Kräutern und Knoblauch); Ziegenfrischkäse-Bällchen (mit Pfeffer, Kräutern, Tomaten und Chili); Peppenhovener Ziegenkäse (natur, mit grünem Pfeffer, Bockshornklee, Kümmel, usw.) und Peppenhovener Ziegenroter (eingelegt in Rotwein). Neben den verschiedenen Ziegenkäsesorten gibt es auch Ziegensalami und Ziegengrillwurst. Es wird auch Ziegenmilch angeboten wenn es die Saison erlaubt.

When you visit the farm shop, you are likely to find not only fresh goat cheese there but also products from other regional farmers and manufacturers. The shelves were stacked with honey, fresh eggs, jams and pasta.
Man findet im kleinen Hofladen der Familie Minten weitere Produkte aus der Region, zum Beispiel frische Eier, selbstgemachte Marmeladen, Nudeln, Eierlikör und Honig.

As we all know, the longer a goat cheese ripens, the more pronouced it will taste. The young and still soft fresh goat cheese still has a very delicate and mild flavor that harmonizes so very well with fresh or even dried herbs, such as parsley or chives. It is also quite delicious with freshly cracked black pepper or some lovely crunchy Fleur de Sel. Sometimes I also like to serve it alongside some fig jam or apricot compote.

But now, with fall aromas wafting through the cool air, we enjoy the fresh goat cheese with some lovely local runny honey and some walnuts and homebaked warm rye-leaves - you could not ask for a more delicious or more seasonal appetizer than this one.
Die Länge der Reifezeit bestimmt bekanntlich die Geschmacksrichtung des Ziegenkäses. Der junge und noch weiche Ziegenfrischkäse hat einen delikaten und noch sehr milden Geschmack, wobei er hervorragend mit frischen oder getrockneten Kräutern wie Petersilie oder Schnittlauch harmoniert. Lecker schmeckt er auch mit etwas schwarzem Pfeffer aus der Mühle oder Fleur de Sel. Ich serviere ihn auch sehr gerne mit Feigenkonfitüre oder Aprikosenkompott.

Jetzt im Herbst geniessen wir Ziegenfrischkäse am liebsten mit flüssigem Honig von unserem Lieblings-Imker, frisch geknackten Walnüssen vom Markt und noch warmen, selbst gebackenen Roggen-Blättern. Was für eine wunderbar herbstliche Vorspeise!

Fresh Goat Cheese with Honey, Walnuts and Rye Leaves

Ingrediensts for the Rye Leaves
  • 100 grams wheat flour (I use white)
  • 100 gram rye flour (I ususally get my flour from this local mill here)
  • 15 grams fresh yeast
  • 75 ml likewarm water (approx. 37 ° Celsius)
  • 5 tbsps mild olive oil
  • 1 tbsp superfine sugar
  • a pinch of fine sea salt

Ingredients for the Topping
  • 200 grams fresh goats´ cheese
  • 30 grams freshly cracked walnuts
  • some runny honey (preferably from your local favorite beekeeper)
Ziegenfrischkäse mit Honig, Walnüssen und Roggen-Blättern

Zutaten für die Roggen-Blätter
  • 100 g Weizenmehl Type 550
  • 100 g Roggenmehl Type 997, z. B. von der Broicher Mühle (Info hier)
  • 15 g frische Hefe, zerbröckelt
  • 75 ml warmes Wasser (ca.37 Grad)
  • 5 EL mildes Olivenöl
  • 1 TL feinster Zucker
  • etwas feines Meersalz

Zutaten für den Ziegenfrischkäse
  • 200 g Ziegenfrischkäse von Minten (Info hier)
  • 30 g gehackte Walnüsse
  • flüssiger milder Honig (möglichst von einem Imker aus der Nähe) 

  1. For the rye leaves, using the dough hooks of your hand mixer, mix together the wheat flour, the rye flour, the yeast, 75 ml lukewarm water, 2 tbsps olive oil, 1 tbsp sugar, a pinch of salt. 
  2. Cover your mixing bowl with a tea towel and let the dough rest in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out the dough on your lightly floured work surface.
  4. Cut leave shapes from your rolled-out dough, either using cookie cutters or collect "real leaves" to use as templates.
  5. Add 2 to 3 tbsps olive oil to a non-stick pan and fry your leaves in the pan, on medium heat, for about 3 minutes on each side.
  6. Transfer carefully to a cooling rack and let cool slightly - so the leaves will not break.
  7. Serve the leaves alongside fresh goat cheese, cracked walnuts and your favorite local runny honey.
  1. Für den Teig der Roggenblätter Weizenmehl, Roggenmehl, Hefe, 75 ml lauwarmes Wasser, 2 EL Olivenöl, 1 TL Zucker und Salz mit den Knethaken des Handrührgeräts zu einem glatten Teig verarbeiten.
  2. Mit einem Tuch abdecken und an einem warmem Ort ungefähr 30 Minuten gehen lassen.
  3. Den Teig auf der leicht bemehlten Arbeitsfläche ausrollen.
  4. Aus dem Teig Blätter ausstechen oder schneiden (am besten ein Originalblatt als Ausschneidehilfe benutzen).
  5. 2 bis 3 EL Öl in einer beschichteten Pfanne erhitzen, die Blätter darin von jeder Seite ungefähr 3 Minuten bei mittlerer Hitze braten.
  6. Auf einem Kuchenrost etwas erkalten lassen, damit sie beim Servieren nicht brechen
  7. Ziegenfrischkäse mit Honig und frisch gehackten Walnüssen und Roggen-Blättern servieren.

The owners make a point of visiting regional farmers´ markets on a regular basis. That way they can introduce more customers to their wonderful products. For example, they also sold some of their cheese at the farmers´ market in the town of Gelsdorf at the end of October (you can vist my post here). You can also find an assortment of their cheeses in some farm shops.
Regelmäßig ist die Familie Minten auf Wochenmärkten sowie auf regionalen Bauernmärkten mit ihren Produkten vertreten, wie zum Beispiel beim Tag der offenen Höfe und Betriebe in Gelsdorf  Ende Oktober) - siehe auch mein Post hier. Auch in einigen Bauernläden in unserer Gegend kann man ihre Produkte finden.

For more information:

Dairy Goat Farm "Minten"
Peppenhoven 8
53359 Rheinbach
Mehr Informationen:

Milchziegenhof Minten 
Hofkäserei mit Bauernladen
Peppenhoven 8
53359 Rheinbach

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Gingerdead Men for a Happy Halloween!

For Halloween this year, why not bake these lovely little fellows. These cookies are a cinch to prepare and they smell wonderful while baking. Kids will love rolling out the dough, using a fun cookie cutter and icing to decorate these spooky yet cute Gingerdead Men for Halloween.

Gingerdead Men

(Yield: 16-18 cookies)

Ingredients for the gingerbread cookies
  • 380 grams (3 cups) all purpose (plain) wheat flour
  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) light brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp  ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla sugar or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 170 grams (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 205 grams (3/4 cup) molasses (I used sugar beet syrup from a regional producer called „Grafschafter“)
  • 2 tbsps milk (3.5%)

For the icing
  • some confectioners' sugar
  • a few tbsps milk or half and half
  • a few drops of pure vanilla extract (optional)

  1. In a food processor, mix flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, baking soda, and vanilla until combined
  2. Add butter and mix.
  3. With food processor running, add molasses and milk and mix until dough is evenly moistened.
  4. Divide dough in half and roll each half out to 0.6 cm (¼ inch) thickness between two sheets of parchment paper.
  5. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or overnight) or until the dough is firm.
  6. Once dough has been chilled, preheat your oven to 175 ° Celsius (350° Fahrenheit).
  7. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  8. Remove parchment paper from dough, stamp and cut out cookies using the Gingerdead Men cookie cutter or any other gingerbread men cookie cutter you have on hand. NOTE: while it is easier to cut when the dough is cool, you will get a better impression when the dough has softened slightly. To stamp cookies, dip both sides of the cutter into flour and tap off any excess. Using the stamp side, press it evenly into the dough until it is flush with the dough. Flip over the cutter, center it over the impression and press it down to cut out the shape. If the dough sticks to the cutter, just give it a couple taps.
  9. Place cut-outs on prepared baking sheet, leaving 2.5 cm (1 inch) of space in between cookies.
  10. Bake for about 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown
  11. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to wire rack to completely cool.
  12. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, cutting, and baking with remaining dough until used up
  13. While cookies are cooling, add confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract and milk to a bowl and whisk until you have a piping consistency.
  14. Then use a piping bag and tip to flood the icing into the "bone areas"
  15. Allow icing to harden, then store cookies in an airtight container.

Happy Baking and Happy Halloween!