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.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Spiced Carnival Doughnuts - Gewürzkrapfen

This year’s Carnival pastries are like a spiced version of traditional doughnuts paired with a freshly made Apple Compote. I like to serve a little bit of pleasantly tart winter fruit compote alongside these sweet treats, as these two, the doughnuts and the compote, complement each other in a delicious way - the tartness of the fruit balances out the sweetness of the doughnuts. If you do make a fruit compote make an easy Apple Compote or go with pears or quince or other seasonal fruits - as the pastries are made with lots of warm spices, I would recommend a simple fruit compote, flavored only with some lemon juice and a wee bit of sugar.

As it has become tradition , I try to feature a different recipe for seasonal and traditional German carnival pastries every year.  In 2015 I blogged about Carnival Doughnuts (Karnevalskrapfen), a lovely round type of doughnut made with fresh cheese (Quark), a traditional pastry, fried in hot oil until deep golden-colored and served with a cinnamon-sugar coating. Also in 2015 I featured Fried Almond Cookies (Mutzemandeln), a typical recipe from the Rhineland region, almond shaped and with lots of ground almonds in the dough. And in 2014, I tried my hand at making Quark Doughnut Strips (Quarknudeln), also made with fresh cheese (Quark) and also with fresh yeast. Back in 2013, I baked a Doughnut Cake (Krapfenkuchen) using a sweet yeast dough.

Spiced Carnival Doughnuts - Gewürzkrapfen
(Inspired by a recipe from Johann Lafer)

  • 250ml lukewarm milk (I like to use 3.5%)
  • 42g (1.5 oz) fresh yeast, crumbled
  • 600g (21.2 oz) strong baking flour (around here it’s called 'Type 550')
  • 60g (2.1 oz) superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • 4 egg yolks (M), free range or organic
  • 1 tbsp rum
  • grated zest from each ½ organic lemon and ½ organic orange
  • 1/8 tsp gingerbread spice mix - Note: if you cannot find Gingerbread Spice Mix at the store or online, you can mix it yourself, link is at the bottom of this post
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon (from Ceylon if possible)
  • 1/8 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 100g (3.5 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • flour for the work surface
  • 1l vegetable oil for frying
  • 100g (3.5 oz) cinnamon sugar (sugar mixed with Cinnamon)

  1. Make the yeast mixture: in a medium bowl whisk together the milk with the yeast, 50g (1.7 oz) of the flour and the sugar. Cover and let stand 20 minutes in a warm spot.
  2. To the bowl of your stand mixer, add the remaining flour, the egg yolks, rum, lemon- and orange zest, gingerbread spice and all the other spices. Using the dough hook, beat at low speed, add the soft butter at the very end and beat until a sticky dough forms. 
  3. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl. Cover and let rest in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume (about one hour).
  4. Roll and cut: turn the risen dough out onto a floured surface and roll to 1cm (0.40in) thickness.
  5. Using a pastry wheel, cut into (3cm x 5cm) (1.2in x 2in) diamond shapes. Mark the top of each dough piece with a cross.
  6. Cover and let rise another 15 minutes.
  7. Fry until golden: pour oil into a Dutch oven and heat to 180° C (360°F).
  8. Fry dough, in batches, 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until they puff up and are golden brown – make sure to slide dough slowly into the oil to avoid splattering.
  9. Carefully remove onto a rack with kitchen roll underneath and allow to cool until you can handle them. 
  10. Dust with cinnamon sugar.

Apple  Compote - Apfelkompott

  • 225g (8oz) cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • ½ organic lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp superfine (caster) sugar

  1. Put the apples in a saucepan with the lemon juice, zest and water. 
  2. Cover and cook over a low heat until they are soft and mushy.
  3. Take off the heat and stir in the sugar. 
  4. Cool and serve.

For more of my Carnival recipes, please go here:

  • Carnival Doughnuts (Karnevals-Krapfen) can be found here
  • Fried Almond Cookies (Mutzemandeln) are here
  • Quark Doughnut Strips (Quarknudeln) here
  • Doughnut Cake (Krapfenkuchen) is here
  • Gingerbread Spice Mix (Lebkuchengewürzmischung) can be found here

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Jamón Ibérico from Guijuelo and New Potato, Spinach & Pea Frittata with Iberico Ham Topping

A few weeks ago I was contacted by people from the IBEHAM Project and asked if I would like to learn more about and sample some of their Iberian ham (Jamón Ibérico) from Guijuelo a municipality located in the province of Salamanca, and then share my experience with the readers of my blog and on social media. Since I had the pleasure of having tasted Iberican ham before and are aware of its rather unique qualities, I agreed and was kindly sent two different varities -  the Jamón de Bellota and the Jamón de Cebo de Campo.

The Jamón Ibérico (as opposed to the Jamón Serrano) comes from a certified Iberian breed of pigs that varies significantly from pigs found elsewhere. Ibérico pigs are reared in freedom, roaming the meadows foraging for acorns (from the holm oaks and cork oaks) as well as herbs and grasses, building their muscles and thereby facilitating the permeation of fat into their flesh. Their special diet gives their meat that uniquely characteristic taste. Ibérico pigs yield hams that are streaked with glossy marbling fat. The texture of the ham is remarkably soft. Due to high percentage of healthy mono unsaturated fat within the meat, slices of Ibérico ham glisten when served at room temperature.

Many centuries ago, the rulers of western Spain decreed that each town and village should create pastures studded with oak trees, called the 'Dehesa'. During the spring and summer, cattle grazes the fields, during the fall and winter when the holm and cork oaks provide acorns (bellota) that fall from the trees, the Iberian pigs are released to fatten up. Iberico pigs love acorns. Each pig can eat 10 kilos of acorns a day. When the pigs destined to be Bellota hams are released onto the Dehesa at the age of about 10 months they weigh in about 200 pounds each, after 3 to 4 months of the period known as the ‘montanera’ each pig roughly doubles its weight. The pigs destined to be Cebo hams, on the other hand are grain fed for the same length of time. In Spain, there are only four regions that are allowed to produce Iberico ham (both the Bellota as well as the Cebo) – Huelva, Los Pedroches, Extremadura and Guijuelo.

To prepare the hams for consumption, it has to go through a rather elaborate process of salting, washing, post-salting, natural curing and ageing, which can take anywhere form two to five years. This extraordinarily long curing process is possible because of the huge amount of fat on each ham and, in the case of the Bellota hams, the antioxidant quality of their diets. Over the curing period the hams lose nearly half their weight as the fat drips away. The ultimate result is meat that is dark red and well marbled.

When buying Iberician ham make sure to look for the so-called Quality Guarantee – a seal, label and special stamp. The PDO Guijeulo seals and labels guarantee the traceability of an Iberian pork product from animals that are raised, fed, processed and cured under the stringent quality controls. All producers have to meet those high standards before their product can be sold.

The people fom the IBEHAM Project sent me both a red label and a green label sample with the red being acorn-fed (Bellota) 75% Iberian, and the green being grain-fed (Cebo de Campo) 75% Iberian. When we tasted the two well marbled hams, at room temperature, the Bellota tasted somewhat more complex, with a slightly more rounded, nutty flavor, the Cebo de Campo, was a bit less complex and with a higher percentage of fat – yet both were absolutely amazing.

Iberian ham is considered to be part of the well-known Mediterranean diet – thanks to the feeding and breeding conditions of the pigs, the ham is rich in healthy fats, vitamins and proteins. And I must say that it defintively has a complex, intense flavor, with a note of sweetness that is truly unparalleled.

The European Stamp of Distinguished Quality (PDO: Protected Designation of Origin) marks Iberian ham out and confers a distinction of excellence with respect to other Iberian products, sharing a series of values and attributes that differentiate and protect them from lower-quality imitations: deep rooted in the environment and the ecosystem;  100% natural product; traditional production methods and quality control systems that are guaranteed by law and performed by independent inspectors.

The PDO Guijuelo is made up of family businesses, many of whom are third and fourth generation producers, that are engaged in producing a unique product that meets the most demanding quality standards.

Having tasted those wonderful Iberian hams, I realized, again, how very delicious they are, with their rich and nutty flavor, they are certainly a real treat. Thanks very much to the Ibeham project for having given me this chance not only to taste the hams but also to be able to incorporate them in a number of wonderful recipes.

Above I share pictures of my Salsify with Tomato Chili Oil with Jamón Ibérico de Cebo de Campo Topping – a delicious seasonal and regional winter vegetable, with a bit of heat from the chili, sweetness from the tomatoes and delightful bits of Iberican ham - a truly wonderful combination of flavors. And below, I share my recipe for a New Potato, Spinach and Pea Frittata with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Topping - also seasonal, although more on the spring side of recipes - comforting, delicious and a perfect vessel for the amazing topping of Bellota ham.

New Potato, Spinach & Pea Frittata with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Topping


For the Frittata
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 150g (5½ oz) baby spinach leaves, washed and picked through with some water still clinging to the leaves
  • 500g (1 lb 2 oz) cooked new potatoes, sliced (I used red skinned variety)
  • 100g fresh OR frozen peas (small ones)
  • 8 eggs (M), free range or organic
  • 1 tbsp, fresh basil (washed, dried and chopped)
  • 2 tsp fresh chives (washed, dried and finely chopped)
  • 1 tbsp fresh flat-leaved (Italian) parsley, (washed, dried and chopped)
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the Topping
  • a few slices Iberico ham (I used Jamón Ibérico de Bellota)
  • some well drained caper berries and fresh herb blossoms (optional)

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (395°F).
  2. Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a large frying pan with a flameproof handle and sauté the spring onions and the crushed garlic for 3 minutes, or until they have softened.
  3. Add the spinach and continue frying for 2 minutes, or until the spinach has wilted. Then add the peas and cook for another 5 minutes. Then stir in the potatoes and heat through.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the basil, chives and parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, reduce the heat and cook for a few minutes over a medium to low heat and allow the mixture to set slowly without stirring until the egg begins to set.
  6. Transfer the pan tot he pre-heated oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until set and golden.
  7. Once the frittata has cooled to room temperature, turn it out onto a wooden board and cut the frittata into wedges, then top with a few slices of Iberico ham, caper berries (or you could use green olives here) and and herb blossoms. Serve straight away.
  8. NOTE: make sure to cook the egg mixture over a medium to low heat and allow the mixture to set slowly without stirring. Stirring once the eggs have begun to set will break the mixture apart. Too high a heat will burn the base before the egg mixture is set sufficiently to be finished in the oven.

One last note, during my research on Jamón Ibérico I learned that it is advisable to serve this ham at room temperature, not cold from the fridge, that way the complex flavors of this carefully produced natural product will have a chance to fully develop – so wether you serve the ham as paper thin slices on a plate, as part of a mezze spread or as a topping to a Frittata, make sure to let the ham come to room temperature before enjoying it - sometimes this delicate Iberican ham is also served on a pre-warmed serving plater, glistening and shiny, giving this product a chance to develop its complex flavors.

Thank you, again, to the kind people at the IBEHAM Project for sending me these wonderful samples of Jamón Ibérico (Bellota as well as Cebo de Campo) from Guijuelo - for more information about the ham, the cooperation with the European Union and the project itself, pls go here  - although I was provided with samples, pls note that the above opinions are my entirely my own.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Gâteau aux Carottes - Carrot Cake

This lovely little Gâteau aux Carottes – (Carrot Cake) is inspired by a recipe from Pierre Hermé, the famous French pastry chef and chocolatier. Back in 2013, we baked the wonderful 'Sablés aux Olives Noires Pierre Hermé - Pierre Hermé´s Black Olive Sablés' for the French Fridays with Dorie Group (FFwD - link here) and we loved the recipe. Today, I am presenting another of his countless recipes, a simple Carrot Cake. As a matter of fact, I love Carrot Cakes, the classic European version with a simple glaze that I blogged about in the past (go here for the recipe) and occasionally also the British or American, double-layer version with lots of grated carrots, nuts and sultanas or raisins and slathered with cream cheese frosting and finished with a topping of candied carrots, chopped walnuts or pecans, a rather indulgent treat.

The first thing that caught my attention when I saw this recipe, was its simplicity - petite cakes with few but quality ingredients and big on taste, always interest me. And this Carrot Cake delivers. It is easy to make and superbly delicious and it contains just a few ingredients - its taste and texture depend upon the quality of the ingredients that you choose to use for the recipe. If possible, use organic carrots and eggs, maybe farm fresh eggs, use a good mild oil here and buy your nuts at a place with a high turnover and grind them yourself just before adding to the batter. As far as the vanilla and cinnamon are concerned, these two ingredients were added by me to the recipe - I like to use homemade vanilla sugar and organic Ceylon cinnamon which has a warm taste and will not overpower the other ingredients. These two additions are a nice compliment to the flavors - leave them out if you wish.

One last remark with respect to these adorable and delicious 'Simple Cakes' (as I like to refer to them), if you can get hold of a small fancy baking pan, get it and then use it! Simple cakes look even more appealing when you use an unusual baking pan. After all, as the saying goes - you eat with your eyes first!

Gâteau aux Carottes -  Carrot Cake
(inspired by Le Larousse des Desserts de Pierre Hermé, Larousse, first published in 1997, latest ed. from 2006)

Ingredients for the Cake
  • 2 eggs (M), farm fresh, organic and/or free range
  • 100g powdered sugar, sifted
  • 4g pure vanilla sugar (use homemade if you have some on hand) - not in the original recipe
  • 50g all purpose (plain) flour (around here I use 'type 405'), plus some for flouring the pan
  • 10g baking powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon (I like to use organic Ceylon cinnamon) - not in the original recipe
  • 60 g finely ground hazelnuts (grind both types of nuts just before making the cake)
  • 70 g finely ground almonds
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 250g carrots (washed, trimmed and peeled you will end up with 200g finely grated carrots, about 3 medium ones), try to use organic carrots
  • 25 ml vegetable oil (I like to use sunflower oil)
  • PLUS: some unsalted, room temperature butter for greasing the pan

Glaze (optional)
  • about 2 heaping tsp apricot jam, heated and strained - not in the original recipe
  • a few chopped natural pistachios
  • OR: use a bit of powdered sugar for a simple yet elegant dusting

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C (356°F).
  2. Using a pastry brush, butter and flour your baking pan carefully, turn the pan upside down and shake out any excess flour (I used a small baking pan - a light-colored, non-stick metal pan works best).
  3. In a large bowl, with a hand-held mixer, whisk the eggs with the powdered sugar and vanilla sugar until the mixture becomes white and fluffy (or do by hand with a large whisk).
  4. In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, both typs of ground nuts and salt.
  5. Switching from the mixer to a spatula or large spoon (wooden or metal), add the flour mixture to the egg mixture.
  6. Then add half the the grated carrots to the mixture, then the oil and then the remaining carrots and stir just until combined. Do not whisk.
  7. Pour into your prepped cake pan, level and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
  8. Once the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, take it out of the oven, place it on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then carefully loosen from the pan and while still warm brush the apricot glaze evenly over the surface of the cake (optional). If you like, you can sprinkle the finished cake with a bit of chopped pistachios.
  9. Let cool completely and serve - if you have chosen not to glaze the cake, dust with a bit of powdered sugar just before serving. NOTE: this Carrot Cake keeps well for a few days, if you keep it covered and in a cool place.

Nothing beats a simple little Carrot Cake - whether you're enjoying it with your as 'Breakfast Cake' with your morning coffee, afternoon tea or just fancy a treat.