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!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hot Cross Buns - Half for You and Half for Me

Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be‘ - this an old Irish rhyme on the sweet bun that many of us know as a Hot Cross Bun, a real seasonal food, associated with the end of Lent (Fastenzeit), traditionally eaten and baked only on Good Friday (Karfreitag), now eaten around the Easter season, especially the week before Easter, the Holy Week (Karwoche). It's known and beloved in many countries including England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These lovelies have also been called 'one of the British Commonwealth's most loved and literal foods'.

A traditional hot cross bun is a yeasted and spiced sweet bun. It's filled with dried fruits such as raisins, currants, or sultanas and sometimes mixed peel, then marked on top with a cross that's either piped on or etched into the dough. According to the Oxford Companion to Food ,they're made from a ‚rich yeast dough of flour, milk, sugar, butter, eggs, currants and spices‘.

There is a rather definite explanation for why they appear around Easter. Of course there’s some pretty obvious Christian symbolism - bread (for communion), cross (for the crucifixion of Jesus), and spices (for the seven spices used by Joseph of Arimathea to embalm Christ’s body). Because they have a long history, there are also several stories, or tall tales, about them. And the legends and superstitions have grown considerably, over time.

One story has hot cross buns going back as far as the 12th century. It is said that a monk baked the buns and marked them with a cross, in honor of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and became a symbol of Easter weekend.

Back in the days, Elizabeth I decreed they could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials - too special to be eaten any other day, or too many superstitions. People believed the buns carried medicinal or magical powers, and feared them being abused. To beat the law, people baked the buns in their own kitchens.  If caught, they had to give up all their illegal buns to the poor.

Another tale is that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday, and hung from the kitchen rafters, ward off evil spirits for the next year. They're also said to prevent kitchen fires from breaking out.  Better still, this will ensure that all breads baked that year will turn out perfectly. Yet another tale is that taking the buns on sea travels protects the boat from shipwreck.

And, my personal favorite belief or call it superstition, is the one that those who share a hot cross bun will enjoy a strong friendship for the next year.  As mentioned above, there is this old Irish rhyme that sums this one up - 'Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be.'

And, apart form all those lovely tales and stories and the strong sybolism, they’re utterly delicious (that is if you are into that sort of baked goods, and who isn't), plus they're pretty fun to make too, just taking a bit of time for that yeast to do its thing and rise.

Hot Cross Buns
(makes 12; prep 3.5 to 4 hrs; bake 20 minutes)

Ingredients for the Buns
  • 500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting (around here that’s ‚Type 550‘)
  • 10g fine sea salt
  • 75g superfine (caster) sugar
  • 10g instant yeast
  • 40g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs, (M), free range or organic, beaten
  • 120ml warm full-fat milk (I use 3.5%)
  • 120ml cool water
  • 150g sultanas (feel free to soak them in warm tea or apple juice for about 30 minutes prior to adding them to the yeast dough; strain well before using)
  • 80g raisins
  • finely grated zest of 2 oranges (organic and/or untreated peel)
  • 1 baking apple, cored and diced, peel on (I like to use ‚Elstar‘)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon (I like to use 'Ceylon cinnamon')
  • 1 tsp‚Mixed Spice‘*

For the crosses
  • 75g plain flour
  • 75ml water

For the glaze
  • 75g apricot jam

Mixed Spice

Mixed spice is a British blend of sweet spices, similar to the pumpkin pie spice used in the US and the Dutch spice mix called speculaaskruiden, used mainly to spice food associated with the Dutch Sinterklaas celebration on Decemeber 6.  It is often used in baking, or to complement fruits or other sweet foods. The term 'mixed spice' has been used for this blend of spices in cookbooks at least as far back as 1828.  
  • 6 tsp ground coriander
  • 6 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 6 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cloves
Mix all spices toghether and keep in a glass spice jar for up to 4 months. Feel free to half the recipe and/or prepare smaller quantities. Left over spice mix is wonderful in fruit compotes, waffles and shortbread - no limits really.

Preparation of the Buns
  1. Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the butter, eggs, milk and half the water and turn the mixture round with your fingers. Continue to add the water, a little at a time, until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more – you want dough that is soft, but not soggy. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until the mixture forms a rough dough.
  2. Tip the dough onto your lightly floured surface and begin to knead. Keep kneading for 5-10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft, smooth skin.
  3. When your dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm spot until at least doubled in size – at least 1 hour, but it’s fine to leave it for 2 or even 3 hours.
  4. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and scatter the sultanas, raisins, orange zest, apple, cinnamon and mixed spice on top. Knead in until evenly incorporated. Cover and leave to rise in a warm spot for 1 more hour.
  5. Fold the dough inwards repeatedly until all the air is knocked out. Divide into 12 pieces (of roughly the same weight) and roll into balls. Place, fairly close together, on 1 or 2 baking trays lined with baking parchment or silicone paper.
  6. Cover each tray very loosely with cling film (kitchen wrap) and leave to rest for 1 more hour, or until the dough is at least doubled in size and springs back quickly when lightly prodded with your finger. 
  7. Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 200°C (395°F).
  8. For the crosses, in a small bowl, mix the flour and water to a paste. Using a piping bag fitted with a fine nozzle (or fill a freezer bag and snip off a small corner) pipe crosses on the buns. 
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. 
  10. Warm the apricot jam with a bit of water, sieve and brush over the tops of the warm buns to glaze. 
  11. Cool the buns on a wire rack BUT serve warm (best!) or at room temperature. You can eat them as they are or halvedm slathered with butter and maybe some local honey, homemade or marmelade.

In this recipe, the addition of one apple to the dough enhances the taste and lends a lovely, moist texture, you can leave the apple out and substitute mixed peel if that's what you prefer.

Hot-cross Buns!

Hot-cross buns!
Hot-cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons;
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!

Source: This is the most common version of the Hot Cross Buns, an English language nursery rhyme, Easter song, and street cry referring to the spiced English bun known as a hot cross bun. The earliest record of the rhyme was published in London in 1798; earlier references to the rhyme as a street cry in London, 1733, noted:

Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs.
With one or two a penny hot cross buns.

Both the nursery rhyme and the street cry refer to the fact that you could either get two small buns OR one regular bun for one penny!

If dried fruits aren’t your thing you might want to try one of the many new variations on the traditional recipe, such as toffee, orange-cranberry, chocolate chip and coffee.  But make sure to mark your buns with a cross and to use the same mixture of spices though, as ‚spice' and 'the cross' are important things in all hot cross buns‘ (Dorothy Hartley's, Food in England, published in 1954).

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Sbrisolona Mantovana - One Big Crumbly Torta

Sbrisolona Mantovana, a crunchy, crumbly, nutty tart is a typical sweet treat from the city of Mantova (in English 'Mantua') in Northern Italy. The Sbrisolona is locally also known as Sbrisolina, Sbrisulusa or Sbrisulada.

'Sbriciolarsi' means 'to crumble' or 'to fall into pieces'. In the recipe below, the crumbs are made of cornmeal and almond meal, sugar, roughly chopped almonds, butter and just enough egg yolk to keep the sandy and coarse bricioli (crumbs) bound together while baking. When baked the Sbrisolona is like a really huge cookie whose texture is a cross between buttery shortbread and the most delicious crumb topping you ever made.

It's commonly thought that this shortbread like, crumbly sweet treat that can in found in most Mantua's bakeries, has its origins in the surrounding Lombard countryside. The origin of Sbrisolona Montovana is from the cucina povera ('cuisine of the poor') and contained modest ingredients. Peasants made a hard and crumbly dessert of sorts by mixing crushed grains such as millet and cornmeal, hazelnuts and lard. This modest treat was then enrichened by the cooks serving the city's ruling Gonzaga family in the 1600's with the additions of almonds, butter, sugar and spices (expensive ingredients at the time). Though it would be several centuries before these ingredients were readily available (and affordable) to much of the city and surrounding countryside's population, it was a Torta that many local, less well-off families worked hard to save up for and make on special occasions.

Sbrisolona is meant to be enjoyed in large chunks or shards rather than slices.

Sbrisolona Mantovana

  • 200g fine cornmeal, plus some for dusting the pan
  • 150g almond meal (almond meal not almond flour - as the almond meal still contains the skins and has a coarser grind than the almond flour)
  • 200 g superfine (baking) sugar
  • 8 g pure vanilla sugar
  • ¼ fine sea salt
  • 200 g unsalted butter, chilled, cubed (or go with 100g chilled lard and 100g chilled butter)
  • 2 egg yolks (M), room temperature, preferably free range or organic
  • 50g whole almonds with skin 
  • powdered sugar (optional)

  1. Butter a 26 cm (9in) baking pan (I like to use a pie dish here but feel feel to use a regular cake pan), line the bottom with baking parchment, flour the pan, shaking off any excess.
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C ( 365°F).
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal and the almond meal, the sugar, vanilla sugar and salt.
  4. To the bowl, add the cubed butter, the egg yolks and mix everything together with your hands (alternatively go with a food processor here), making sure the dough is squeezed into streusel-like pieces.
  5. Transfer the dough into the prepared baking pan and pat it down gently. NOTE: it is traditional to add the whole almonds on top of the dough before baking BUT my personal prefence is to chop the whole almonds coarsely and add them to the dough 
  6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 45 minutes or up to an hour.
  7. Transfer the baked Sbrisolona Mantovana to a wire rack to cool – dust with powdered sugar (optional) just before serving and serve whole OR break into large chuncks or shards and place on a serving platter OR display in a large glass jar, maybe on your kitchen counter (if you have room for it).

The above version of Sbrisolona Mantovana is more of a traditional recipe from the city of Mantova, it contains nowhite flour‘ but a mixture both of fine cornmeal and almond meal, many other recipes for ‚Torta Sbrisolona‘ or simply ‚Sbrisolona‘ call for a mix of wheat flour (Italian '00' flour which is available at Italian stores or online) as well as cornmeal in addition to the almond meal. Also, it is noteworthy that traditional recipes were made with all lard or a mix of lard and butter, I went with all butter here but feel free to go the lard route.

Feel free to add to the traditional recipe, some cinnamon is nice here or go with the grated zest of an untreated or organic lemon or orange.

If you prefer a more decadent version of the original, you can always add large chunks of dark chocolate in addition to the almonds. When I add chocolate, I go with about 100 g (that's 3.5 ounces) 75% chocolate and a bit of cinnamon too.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Visiting Maria Laach Abbey (Benediktinerabtei Maria Laach) & Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel)

Maria Laach Abbey (Benediktinerabtei Maria Laach) is a Benedictine abbey situated on the shore of Lake Laach (Laacher See) in the Eifel region of the Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) in western Germany.

Founded in 1093 as a priory by the first Count Palatine of the Rhine, Heinrich II von Laach and his wife Adelheid von Orlamünde-Weimar.

Laach became an independent house in 1127, under its first abbot, Gilbert. The abbey developed as a center of study during the 12th century. The 13th-century abbots Albert (1199–1217) and Theoderich II (1256–1295) added significantly to the buildings and architectural decoration, including the monumental tomb of the founder.

Laach Abbey was dissolved in the secularisation of 1802. The premises became the property, first of the occupying French, and then in 1815 of the Prussian State.

In 1820 the buildings were acquired by the Society of Jesus, who established a place of study and scholarship here.

The Benedictines of the Beuronese Congregation moved into the monastery in 1892, and it was raised into an abbey the following year. The restoration of the church, at that time still the property of Prussia, was inaugurated by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1897.

The abbey structure dates from between 1093 and 1177, with a paradisium added around 1225 and is considered a prime example of Romanesque architecture of the Staufen period. Despite its long construction time the well-preserved basilica with its six towers is considered to be one of the most beautiful Romanesque buildings in Germany.

Following are a few impressions from my most recent visit there.

We are well into lent these days. A good time to think about traditional and new lenten foods. Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. The length of the Lenten fast was established in the 4th century as 46 days (40 days, not counting Sundays). It symbolizes Jesus of Nazareth’s 40-day time of fasting in the desert. Many Christians commemorate this with various acts of abstention and austerity – traditionally abstaining from eating meat, but there are many variants.

The range of rituals that are observed during Lent is enormous, and I will barely scratch the surface here, but I think it’s worth contemplating, whether you consider yourself part of an organized faith community or not, the deeper symbolic meaning and the potential value of Lent.

There are also a few interesting facts about Lenten traditions around the world: Danes’ traditional festivity before Lent is called ‚Fastelavn‘, much like the German Carnival (Karneval) celebrations,  and consists of the eating of multitudes of deep-fried and jam and custard-filled pastries and children beating a bucket full of candy. The kids who successfully break it open are declared ‚Cat Kin‘ and ‚Cat Queen‘

In Oaxaca, Mexico, Good Friday, the final Friday of Lent, is observed by people making aguas frescas and ice cream and giving them out to passersby, in honor of the Samaritan woman who gave Jesus water on his way back to Galilee.

In Germany, Holy Thursday is known as Green Thursday (Gründonnerstag) and traditionally green foods like a spring herb soup, fried eggs with spinach, quiches and other dishes with green vegetables are eaten on that day.

Swedish children dress as witches on Holy Thursday and are given Easter Eggs and candy ahead of Easter Sunday.

A hot cross bun is a spiced sweet bun made with currants or raisins, marked with a cross on the top, and traditionally eaten on Good Friday in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and some parts of the Americas. The bun marks the end of Lent and different parts of the hot cross bun have a certain meaning, including the cross representing the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices inside signifying the spices used to embalm him at his burial

We need to be shaken out of our habits now and then, when we act out Lent symbolically it can simply be about reminding ourselves that we have more than we need, that we are stronger than we believe we are, and that we can do more with less. Whether you observe it in a highly literal and deeply Christian manner or whether you take a pagan or irreligious look at Lent, the Lenten season is worthy of your attention because it helps to remind you that you live a better life when you make mindful choices.

So, without further ado, here is a recipe, or just take it as an inspiration, for some Lenten food that we enjoy on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent – no meat for us on those days but a delicious, veggie based bowl of Lenten Soup (Fastensuppe) accompanied by traditional Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel) – a traditional recipe that hails from Austria (the oldest one dates back to January 3, 1890) and is said to be a close relative of today’s world famous Bagel. Both, the Beugel and the Bagel, have a chewy crust and slightly dense interior, they are round, and, most importantly, have to be boiled before they get baked. For bagels it's baking soda and water (unless you want to go with lye), for Lenten Beugels it's salted water.

According to folklore, the round shape of the Beugel is said to represent the sun, the light, that in Christian interpretation means the resurrection of Christ at the end of lent. Be that as it may, the round shape of the Lenten Beugel is certainly different from the Pretzel (Brezel), also a lenten food, that is said to have been conceived by a monk to represent arms crossed in prayer.

Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel)

  • 400g wheat flour (strong baking flour or bread flour; around here ‚Type ‚550‘)
  • 100g rye flour (around here ‚Type 960‘)
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1 tsp ground caraway seeds
  • 250ml lukewarm water
  • 100ml lukewarm milk
  • 1 tbsp sugar beet molasses OR use runny honey (I like to use local "Rübenkraut")
  • 21g fresh yeast
  • boiling water
  • coarse salt
  • caraway seeds, whole 

  1. To make the dough whisk together the flours, salt and the ground caraway.
  2. In another bowl, mix together the water with the milk and the molasses, add the crumbled yeast and dissolve the fresh yeast in the water.
  3. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and mix by hand or with a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment until flour mixture comes together to form a homogenous, elastic dough.
  4. Proof in a warm spot for about  15 minutes (the dough will be slightly puffed and soft).
  5. While the dough is proofing, put a large pot of water and salt generously.
  6. Place baking parchment on a baking sheet.
  7. Divide the proofed dough into 14 to 15 pieces, each weighing about 60g.
  8. To shape the Beugel, roll each piece to a ball, then form a ropes about 25cm long. Shape the ropes into round, making sure to pinch together the ends.
  9. Once the water has come to a rolling boil, dip each for 30 seconds in the salted boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on greased or parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.
  10. Sprinkle each Beugel with coarse salt and caraway seeds. 
  11. Heat oven to 200°C.
  12. Bake Beugel for 20 to 25 minutes or until deep golden brown.

A last remark with respect to the soup bowl (Laacher Refektoriumschüssel) it was crafted in the pottery studio (Keramikmanufaktur) of the Maria Laach Abbey that was given new life in 2007 but that actually dates back to the early 20th century when Father Theodor Bogler who had learned his craft at the famous Bauhaus, worked there as an artist. The bowls are all handmade, crafted with ceramic from the Westerwald region of Germany, glazed with a transparent glaze and adorned with a blue line. The blue used for the decor is called ‚Laacher blue‘ (Laacher blau) picking up on the color of and meant as an hommage to the Lake Laacher (Laacher See) where the Abbey is located. Today, the soup is oftentimes served in these bowls in the Refectory.

For more information on the Maria Laach Abbey, pls go here.
For more information about the Abbey's pottery studio, pls go here.