Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Pretty little Carrot Cake in June

The other day (well, maybe a few weeks ago) I posted pictures of this carrot cake on Instagram and promised that the recipe would follow soon - well, that was a little ambitious on my part but today, only three months later, here it is, the recipe for what I claimed 'is the only carrot cake recipe you'll ever need'. The added pistachio nuts make all the difference to this pretty little carrot cake recipe. As does the presentation - like pretty flowers (the edible kind, please) and pretty cake plates (I suspect we all have a few of them in our cupboards).

And, yes, I have posted many Carrot Cake recipes before, like the (also very pretty) Gâteau aux Carottes inspired by a recipe from Pierre Hermé, the famous French pastry chef and chocolatier (HERE). Or the European-style Springtime Carrot Cake (HERE). Or Nigel Slater's Carrot Cake (HERE). So, basically, I am a carrot cake lover and believe that there is no such thing as having too many carrot cake recipes. Not only do I find them irrestible but also very versatile - one or two layers, with or without frosting, fancy, torn into small pieces, elegant or rustic - love them all.

Pretty little Carrot Cake


For the Cake
  • 250ml (8fl oz) sunflower oil (or use other neutral tasting vegetable oil suitable for baking)
  • 250g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar (or use homemade vanilla sugar)
  • zest ½ orange, organic or untreated 
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 3 eggs (L), free-range
  • 250g (8oz) self-raising flour, sifted
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 250g (8oz) carrots, organic, grated (you will need about 3 large carrots)
  • 100g (3½oz) unsalted pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped

For the Cream Cheese Frosting (optional)
  • 300 (10oz) cream cheese 
  • 75g (2½oz) icing sugar, sifted
  • Zest ½ orange
  • 1-2tbsp orange juice

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C° (356°F).
  2. Grease a shallow 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan and line the base and sides with baking paper, extending the paper 5cm (2in) above the pan.
  3. Place the oil, sugar, vanilla sugar, orange zest and a pinch of salt in an electric mixer bowl and mix on a medium speed until well beaten. Reduce the speed of the mixer and gradually add the eggs, one by one, mixing after each addition.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon and ginger.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and gently fold in until smooth.
  6. Fold in the grated carrots and half the chopped pistachio nuts. 
  7. Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth the surface.
  8. Bake for 35 to 40 mins, or until golden and firm to the touch. 
  9. Cool in the pan for about 10 mins, then, with the help of the overhanging baking paper, turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely. 
  10. To make the icing, use a handheld electric beater to mix together all the ingredients until smooth and light.
  11. Either: spread over the top of the cake and sprinkle with the remaining nuts OR cut the cake into small (12) squares, dollop a bit of frostimg over each piece and decorate with pretty edible flowers and then sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.

Serve this pretty little carrot cake at your next afternoon tea party. Be it May or June or whatever month. It's always delicious.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Pentecost (Whitsun) Celebrations, Allgäu Bread Birds & A Visit To The Flax Market at Linn Castle

Pentecost (Pfingsten) has been celebrated in the Christian church since the third century, always on the 7th Sunday after Easter (Ostersonntag). The English word ‚Pentecost‘ and the German ‚Pfingsten‘ are both derived from the Greek ‚pentecoste‘, fifty, hence it’s celebrated the 50th day after Easter.

In Germany, Pentecost is a high church holiday and is celebrated on two successive days, Whit Sunday (Pfingstsonntag) and Whit Monday (Pfingstmontag), as they say in Britain. Churches often hold open-air services on these two days. People come together to celebrate outdoors, because summer is on its way. The celebrated date changes each year depending on what date Easter Sunday falls on, but is typically observed in late May or early June. This year, the feast day of the Holy Spirit, as it’s often referred to, falls on June 9.

This holiday commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles after Christ’s resurrection and ascension.  Since Pentecost is so firmly rooted in Germany’s Christian traditions, the second day of Pentecost is a public holiday in all German states. Post offices, banks, stores and other businesses are closed.

In contrast to Christmas or Easter there are only few traditions at Pentecost. However, there are a number of charming local and regional customs tied to this springtime feast. Already during the Middle Ages, noble and royal marriages, knights’ jousting tournaments, riding competitions and aristocratic events were held with great pomp on Pentecost.

Celebrations vary depending on what part of Germany you visit. It’s not uncommon to see areas of the country decorated in beautiful red flowers to signify the fire of the holy spirit, as well as birch branches, with birch often associated with both the planting of the Pentecost tree as well as the Pentecost wreath. Churches are often decorated with young birch twigs (Pfingstbaum) and a lot of families like to go for a walk or extended hike. In some parts of Germany they light large bonfires (Pfingstfeuer).

In rural areas, Pentecost was when the cattle were led out to the fields for the first time after the long winter. There would often be a specially decorated ‚Pentecost ox‘ (Pfingstochse) leading the cattle herd into the hills. Some of these traditions have already died out or become rare. Yet as a celebration of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost is still a festival of hope, joy and the beginning of summer.

In past times, popular superstitions about Pentecost revolved around certain herbs, plants and even flowers.  For example, the calendula (Ringelblume) was believed to have curative powers if picked on Whitsunday morning at sunrise – or that face-washing with Pentecost dew would prevent freckles. It was also hoped that water (Pfingstwasser), scooped up from wells or brooks at this time would heal the sick, or that lighting one’s candle from a Pentecost bonfire (Pfingstfeuer) would dispel evil spirits.

There is one tradition, a culinary one, that I particularly like, it it the so-called ‚Allgäu Bread Birds‘ (Allgäuer Brotvögel). The Allgäu is one of the most popular holiday regions in Germany, it stretches from the Danube to the Alps and its attractions include Neuschwanstein Castle in Southern Germany.  As children we used to spent all our summer holidays there - this particular region is still very close to my heart. And it is home to one very lovely and fun Pentecost tradition.

It was customary to bake so-called Bread Birds (or Doves) for Pentecost. They are akin to sweet rolls shaped like birds  – the tradition was to bake the birds around Ascension Day (40 days after Easter) when they would be pulled through a hatch in the nave of the church, they remained there until Pentecost, when the hatch was opened and the bread birds were sent flying from the nave onto the congregation. Obviously, the birds were meant as a symbols of the Holy Spirit descending upon the churchgoers.

However, it seems that the somewhat unruly behaviour of the worshippers, when they tried to catch one of the treasured birds, caused irritation and therefore was officially prohibted in the year 1803, as a ‚mindless and inexpedient ceremony‘. Nonetheless, this wonderful tradition has not only been kept alive in some regions of Bavaria but has been revived in some Parishes that nowadays distribute bread birds to children attending mass on Pentecost.

I have come across sweet as well as savory (bretzel dough) versions of these birds and while both are delicious, I will present the sweet version today. Do keep in mind that these birds were originally meant to represent doves and that the following recipe is a good-mannered interpretation of the original, but steeped in a fun tradition nevertheless.

Allgäu Bread Birds (Allgäuer Brotvögel)
(for about 12 birds)


For the Dough
  • 500g strong bread flour, plus some to work the dough (around here 'Type 550')
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 75g superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (I use whole milk 3.5%)
  • 1 egg (L), free-range or organic, lightly beaten

For the Decoration (optional)
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with a bit of cold water
  • a few rasins or currants (cut in half if too large)
  • some pearl sugar (available at bakeware stores or online)

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Form a well. Add the butter to the well.
  2. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk, pour the milk mixture into the well, add the egg. Using the dough hooks of your mixer, mix until you have a soft dough, then knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
  3. Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Turn the risen dough out onto your work surface. Knead briefly and divide into 12 pieces.
  6. To shape birds, roll each piece into a 30cm rope.
  7. Tie each rope into a knot. Cut one end a few times with scissors to form tail feathers. Tuck in the other end of the nose to form the beak.
  8. Brush with egg wash and insert raisins or currants for eyes. Add some pearl sugar (optional).
  9. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely and let rise again, about 15 minutes.
  10. Bake in your pre-heated oven at 180° C (160°C convection oven)  for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown (depending on the size of the birds).
  11. These are best served the day they were made.

Who knows, these Allgäu Bread Birds might become a tradition in your house around Pentecost. They are quite delicious, all warm and soft, fresh from the oven – maybe with a bit of good butter and local honey or homemade jam slathered all over them. After all, tradition lives on in our interpretations.

The above pictures were taken today at the Krefeld flax market at Burg Linn ('Linn Castle') where at Whitsun well over 300 exhibitors (I believe there were 313 today) present their guilds and craftmanship. The history of the flax market dates back to the 12th century, to the lord of the castle, Knight Otto von Linn. Even then there was a lively market - not only for flax - that quickly developed into one of the most important markets in the region. Merchants sold and traded flax and linen, iron, wood, leather and wicker goods, stones, pottery, textiles, horse harness, grain and later, also meat and bread. 

Today if you visit the market, you can watch fossil grinders, barbers and blue printers, turners, falconers, felters, flax processors, glass blowers, hand weavers, ceramists, leather punchers. Ropes and soap boilers. Stick maker, bag maker, weaver and cylinder maker. And many more. A must see, if you are in the area. For more info on the market, pls take a look here.

Happy Pentecost! - Frohe Pfingsten!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

May Poles in Bonn (Germany) & Springtime Quiche

While the Month of April ended with 'Walpurgis Night' (Walpurgnisnacht), on April 30th, linked with age-old superstitions and customs, such as huge bonfires, the wonderful month of May is welcomed with fests, music and dance to celebrate the long-awaited arrival of spring. May is celebrated in many different ways throughout Germany.

May celebrations include the 'Dance into May' (Tanz in den Mai) and a variety of events such as setting up the ‚May Pole' (Maibaum) as well as a number of smaller outdoor fests. In Germany, there are two types of May Poles. First, there is the May Pole that is typically set up at the town market place during the morning hours on May 1st. It remains there throughout the month of May. The tradition of setting up a May Pole dates back to the 13th century and was customary as a religious practice in Austria, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg (southwest Germany) to represent new life, the beginning of spring and the earth awakening from winter’s sleep. The tree trunk is decorated with a garlands, wreaths, and hand-crafted wooden figures, guild symbols and painted pictures that tell the story of the village or town in which it is located. Secondly, there is the somewhat scaled-down, more light-hearted version  - pretty popular around here in the Rhineland – when (mostly) young men put up birch trees that they decorated with colorful papper ribbons and wooden hearts (with the name of the recipient) in front of the house or apartment of their beloved ones. The trees stay there for a good month.

The following pics were taken in the City of Bonn (where we live) - a few colorful, fun impressions of this year's Bonn May Poles (Bonner Maibäume):

To match the spring theme of the lovely month of May, I made a wonderful, delicate green and white Springtime Zucchini Ribbon Quiche.

A crisp crust hiding a soft filling has always worked for me. Baking tarts or quiches is like celebrating the delicious contrast of food that is both soft and crisp. Let me just tell you that to make this quiche, it helps to have a simple vegetable peeler. Rolling the super thin slices of zucchini is a bit fiddly and time-consuming, but it means you don't have to pre-cook them and it looks quite appealing.

I think its flavor and design is pretty perfect for any kind of springtime celebration, and it would add a welcome burst of green to any Springtime luncheon.

Springtime Zucchini Ribbon Quiche


For the Pastry
  • 150g plain (AP) flour
  • 75g butter, cold
  • 35g Pecorino Romano, grated (you could sub Parmesan here)
  • 1 egg yolk (M or L), free-range or organic
  • some iced water (use your judgment here)

For the Filling
  • about 3 zucchinis (courgettes)
  • 100g soft cheese (such as ricotta)
  • 100 ml cream (I use full fat)
  • 1 egg (L), free-range or organic
  • finely grated zest from ½ lemon (again, organic if possible)
  • freshly ground black pepper, salt
  • You will also need a 22cm diameter quiche/tart pan (round or rectangular) with a removable base

  1. Make the pastry first. Put the flour and butter in a food processor and reduce to fine crumbs. Add the Pecorino (or Parmesan) and egg yolk and blend briefly, then introduce enough water (about 2 to 3 tbsp) to bring to a soft rollable dough. With lightly floured hands, pat the dough into a ball then cover and chill in the fridge for a good 30 minutes.
  2. Set the oven at 200° C and place a baking sheet on the middle shelf.
  3. Remove the pastry from the fridge, roll out and line the tart/quiche pan (you may have a little left over – keep any remaining pastry for patchwork if necessary). Poke the bottom of the dough all over with a fork then place your tart pan on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Fill with foil and baking beans and cook in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes.
  4. Lift out the baking beans and foil, then return the tart case to the oven for 5 to 7 minutes until dry to the touch and golden.
  5. Lower the oven to 180° C.
  6. Using a vegetable peeler, slice very thin ribbons of zucchini.
  7. While pastry cooks, whisk together the soft cheese, cream, egg, lemon zest as well as freshly ground black pepper and salt.
  8. Once the tart case is blind baked, roll up the zucchini slices and stand them in the tart pan.
  9. Pour the ricotta mixture over the zucchini rolls.
  10. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top has browned lightly and the filling is set. If your quiche is brwoning too quickly, very loosely cover with foil while baking.

There are many ways to welcome the month of May and springtime - may poles, quiches and lily of the valley are just some of them...By the way, in German 'lily of the valley' are called 'Maiglöckchen' which literally translates to 'Bells of the Month of May'.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Celebrate the Season with a Green Spring Tart

The sun is coming out and with it comes a harvest of tasty spring vegetables and this vibrant Green Spring Tart is a delicious way to enjoy seasonal veggies that are available now, in this fabulous month of April.

This tart is a wonderful light lunch or dinner of all butter puff pastry topped with delicious green asparagus, to which I added a few stalks of leftover white asparagus from the previous day (this is optional, of course), green peas, wild garlic leaves from our garden and farm fresh eggs – all of which sit on a bed of creamy soft cheese enhanced with soft herbs such as Italian parsley, basil, tarragon and/or chives, best to go with what you have on hand, which is probaly what you enjoy the most. The tart is simply bursting with the fresh flavors of spring, and, if you ask me, spring just couldn't be more tasty than this.

Green Spring Tart

  • 375g pack ready-rolled all butter puff pastry (of course, feel free to use a homemade puff pastry, a rough puff pastry works very well here)
  • 1 egg yolk (M), free-range and farm fresh or organic (if possible)
  • 150g pack soft cheese
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • zest from 1/2 lemon, finely grated (organic and/or untreated)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh soft herbs such as Italian parsley, chives, basil and tarragon
  • 1 bunch green asparagus, peeled where necessary, woody bottoms trimmed off, blanched* (for about 2 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus), halved lengthwise NOTE: I added a few stalks of white asparagus here, for looks and because I happened to have them on hand
  • a handful of peas (from fresh or frozen), blanched* as well 
  • a few leaves of wild garlic (optional)
  • 4 eggs (M or L), free-range or organic
  • olive oil
For Garnish (optional)
  • pink radish cress and garden cress (purslane instead of cress is also a good option here)
  • freshly ground black pepper and coarse sea salt
  • some good quality, cold pressed (extra virgin) olive oil

'Blanching' means to plunge a fruit or vegetable into boiling water for a short amount of time before transferring it to an ice bath, which quickly stops the cooking.

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200° C. Unroll the pastry sheet onto a large baking sheet/tray that you covered with parchment paper. If the edges are not straight, trim them with a sharp knife. Score a border, about 1cm in from the edge. Prick the middle area with a fork all over or score a criss-cross pattern over the central piece of pastry (this will prevent it from rising too much). Glaze the border with the egg yolk. Bake for 15 minutes. The pastry should be almost cooked, puffed and starting to color. Take the pastry out of the oven and flatten the middle area with the back of a spoon.
  2. Meanwhile, season the soft cheese with salt, pepper and lemon zest, taste, then fold in the herbs.
  3. Spread the soft cheese mix over the pastry to within the borders to the edges.
  4. Carefully toss the asparagus, the peas (and the wild garlic leaves, if using) with the olive oil in a bowl. Season wih salt and pepper to taste. Lay the  asparagus in a reasonably neat row across the surface of the tart so the tips meet the edge. Then add the peas and the wild garlic leaves.
  5. Bake the tart for about 10 minutes, then add the eggs – you can either crack the eggs directly onto the tart (nestled between the veggies) OR pre-cook them briefly and THEN place them on top of the tart.
  6. Finish baking until the border of the tart is deep golden and the topping is lightly spotted golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes more OR 20 to 25 minutes total (that is, if you go without the eggs).
  7. Let the tart cool for 5 minutes, garnish with pink radish cress and garden cress, grind black pepper over the tart, sprinkle with a bit of sea salt, add a few drops of olive oil and serve. 
  8. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy this rustic and simple tart of crisp and flaky puff pastry topped with creamy cheese and the most delicious of green spring veggies and herbs. Complete with a few eggs if you like and then finish it all off with different types of fresh, peppery cress, such as pink radish and garden cress, herb blossoms (for the looks) and maybe a few drops of really good extra virgin olive oil.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter Lamb & Easter Bunny Cakes

Lamb & Bunny Cakes (Osterlamm & Osterhasen Kuchen) are traditional German Easter desserts. Around here, these cakes are the centerpiece and dessert on many tables at Easter. The sweet lamb, representing the Lamb of God, is baked in a special lamb shaped mold then served as is or decorated with either a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar, or in some homes, with frosting. Same holds true for the Bunny Cake. 

Pound cake is the best candidate for a mold because of its close crumb. Mine is flavored with ground almonds, cinnamon and vanilla plus I used white spelt flour  – you just need the right molds to get started.

As far as the molds are concerned, they are basically two types, cast-iron ones that are often considered family treasures passed down to other keen bakers through the years, usually more pricey and harder to find than the regular light-weight aluminum ones that, come Easter, are readily availble at kitchenware stores or online.

Easter Lamb & Bunny Cakes
(each serves 6; prep 25 min; bake 30 to 40 minutes)

  • 150g unsalted butter, room temperature, plus some for greasing the molds
  • 100g superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 pkg. (8g) pure vanilla sugar
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 eggs (M), free range or organic
  • 150g white spelt flour, plus some for the molds (OR use AP flour)
  • 75g almond meal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 50ml milk, room temperature (I use 3.5%)
  • 15 ml Amaretto (or rum)
  • powdered sugar for dusting both cakes (optional)

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F) and place a baking sheet that you covered with baking parchment (to catch any drips) in the bottom rack of the oven.
  2. Using a pastry brush, coat the interior surfaces of both halves of one bunny and one lamb cake mold with melted butter, making sure you get into all the crevices. Dust the molds carefully with flour, shake off the excess flour and put the molds together using the clips and/or lttle ‚feet‘ that come with the molds.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the butter until light and creamy. Add sugar, vanilla sugar and salt. Beat until light and creamy.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the milk with the Amaretto (if using) – you can use 65 ml of milk instead.
  5. Add the eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time and beat each egg for 1 minute before you add the next.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, the baking powder and the cinnamon.
  7. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk mixture, and beat just until combined.
  8. Fill the dough into both molds but don’t fill them completely otherwise they might overflow in the baking process.
  9. Place in oven and bake about 30 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the bunny and lamb comes out clean (30 minutes for the bunny; 40 minutes for the lamb).
  10. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack for 10 minutes.
  11. Make sure to let baked lamb and bunny sit in the pans for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove the sides of each pan before you place the cakes on cooling racks.
  12. Serve plain or dust with powdered sugar; you can also frost the cooled cakes.

If you wish, surround the Easter Lamb & Bunny Cakes with colored eggs and display as a beautiful centerpiece on the table in the days leading up to Easter. You'll definitely want to enjoy looking at them for a while before you eat them. The cakes won't go bad, although they obviously won't be quite as delicious as the day you baked them.

The Easter Lamb Cake is sometimes decorated with a bow around its neck and the Resurrection flag, as is the tradition. I like to serve my lambs with different colored flags and this year I finally managed to get a traditional hand-stichted flag for some of my lamb cakes.

  • for my Coconut Easter Lamb Cake recipe, pls go here
  • for my Vanilla Bean Easter Bunny Cake recipe and a pic of the cast-iron cake mold, pls take a look here

Wishing all of my readsers, their families and friends a Very Happpy Easter!

Ich wünsche allen meinen Lesern, ihren Familien und Freunden ein Frohes Osterfest!