Monday, October 31, 2016

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!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

An Ode to a Cake - Nigel Slater´s Autumnal Plum Cake with Hazelnuts and Spiced Frosting

In autumn one of the fruits I most love to bake with are local plums. Around here, plum season starts in late July and finishes in mid-to late-September and although local plums are at their best in September, sometimes you are lucky enough to find a late-season variety of baking plums at the beginning of October. Personally I like to use so-called „Italian plums“ or as we call them „Zwetschgen“ in my baking and cooking. At the beginning of the season the local plums have a vibrant dark blue skin and a distictive tart flavor and are firm-fleshed, as the season progresses, they turn soft-fleshed and loose-stoned which makes them ideal for using them in all kinds of dishes. Out-of-season imported plums belong to a different prune family that originated in Japan. They are sweet, large, round, firm-fleshed, cling-stoned plums that come in different shades of orange-yellow and burgundy that can be cooked, but are much sweeter and taste best eaten raw.

Plums develop a rather intense sweet-tart flavor when cooked. They make excellent jam, jelly and are also often used in desserts such as cakes („Pflaumenkuchen“ – you can look at my recipe here), pies, tarts, fools, crisps and slumps. They can also be used in savory dishes in combination with lamb or pork and can also be bottled. Warm, strong spices such as star anise, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon and black pepper all taste wonderful with poached plums. Cream and custard based accompaniments such as ice cream, rice pudding (here), panna cotta or vanilla puddings balance their flavor in the most delicious of ways.

When the first plums of the season make an appearance in our local markets, I usually go for my well-known, above-mentioned Pflaumenkuchen (plum torte) recipe that hails from my youth. But later in the season, I will scoure the recipe world out there for different and new ways to use plums in my baking. This year I added plums to crumbles, fruit stews and sauces, I shingled them onto free form tarts and piled them into pies but the recipe that impressed me most this season was the Wholemeal Plum Cake with spiced Frosting from Nigel Slater – to all those following my blog, it is no secret that I am a very faithful fan of his distinctive cuisine.

When I took one look at the recipe, I knew that I would adore it. And I did. In my personal opinion it is simply sensational.

I love the way baked plums taste in this cake in combination with the brown sugars, then the warm spices and the sweet hazelnuts…but what I liked even better than the naked cake itself was the cake in combination with the lovely spiced frosting. Just the right amout of spices and crunch from the sesame and poppy seeds and, if you like rosewater, than, by all means add the dried (organic!) rose petals – they add another layer of excitement to this cake.

If, like me, you are a fan of Nigel Slater´s cake recipes, and you bake this cake, you will definitely recognize his signature style in this plum cake – for instance as with Nigel Slater's Chocolate Beetroot Cake (for my version, look here) or Beetroot Seed Cake (I blogged about this one here) – there are poppy seeds in the frosting and although these two cakes contain beetroot, this plum cake reminds me of those cake. And I cannot deny a certain sense of satisfaction when those beloved people that I share my cake with, recognize a certain cook from just tasting what I prepared for them – I guess that they listened to my foodie ramblings after all.

Wholemeal Plum Cake with Spiced Frosting
(inspired by a Nigel Slater recipe)

Ingredients for the Cake
  • 200 g unsalted butter, soft
  • 75g light muscovado sugar
  • 75g golden (superfine) caster sugar
  • 100g hazelnuts, skinned (I like to use Italian „round Romans“ hazelnuts, they are the best tasting ones I can get here)
  • 500g, plums (I used Italian plums)
  • 4 eggs (M), free-range or organic
  • 150 g wholemeal flour, sifted
  • 2 ½  tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • a pinch of fine sea salt

Ingredients for the Icing
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 3 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • a pinch ground Ceylon cinnamon 
  • 6 cardamom pods 
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds 
  • 2 tsp poppy seeds 
  • 2 tsp dried rose petals, organic (I get mine from a tea merchant)

Preparation of the Cake
  1. Pre-heat your oven at 160°C. 
  2. Line the base of a 22cm spring-form baking pan. 
  3. Dice the butter and put it in a food mixer with the sugars and beat for 5 minutes, till light and fluffy. Regularly push the mixture down from the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure even creaming.
  4. While the butter and sugar cream, toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan, watching carefully and moving them round the pan so they color evenly. Grind to a fine powder in a food processor. 
  5. Cut the plums in half and discard their stones.
  6. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork then add, slowly, with the paddle turning, to the butter and sugar mixture.
  7. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and the ground hazlenuts, then add to the batter, mixing it together thoroughly. 
  8. Scrape the batter into the lined cake tin and gently smooth the surface.
  9. Place the plums evenly on the surface of the cake. You want them to sink into the body of the cake as it bakes. 
  10. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the cake is spongy to the touch.
  11. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to settle for 20 minutes.
  12. Run a palette knife around the inside of the pan to the loosen the cake, then undo the pan and place the cake on a plate.

Preparation of the Icing
  1. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, stir in the lemon juice, adding a little water if required to bring it to a thick, pouring consistency. 
  2. Stir in the ground cinnamon. 
  3. Crack open the cardamom pods, remove the seeds and grind them to a fine powder. Stir into the icing. 
  4. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan unrtil they are golden, then mix them with the poppy seeds.
  5. Transfer the cake to a plate, then trickle the spiced icing over the surface. 
  6. Scatter with the sesame and poppy seed mixture.
  7. Add rose petals plus a few organic rose buds (optional) – but only if you and your guests enjoy the taste of rosewater in your confections.

As Nigel Slater so aptly points out Plums will cook to a golden jelly in a cake, but are best in one made with the darker sugars, such as light or dark muscovado, and to which you have added ground ginger or mixed spice. The sugar’s butterscotch notes serve the fruit well.“ And I could not agree with him more – this cake recipe is an autumnal dream, meant to make all of us plum-cake, nut-laden, spice-infused cake lovers, swoon…