Thursday, December 31, 2020

This Little Piggy - New Year’s Cookies l Glücksschweinchen - Neujahrsgebäck


A long standing custom in Germany is to exchange good luck charms (Glücksbringer) around New Year’s Day (Neujahrstag). Many traditional German lucky charms go back centuries and are often rooted in ancient pagan or early Christian legends

Germans have long relied on  'a little help' from pink marzipan piglets (Glücksschweinchen) or chocolate ladybugs wrapped in colorful foil (Marienkäfer), lucky cent (Glücks Cent, formerly Pfennig), chimney sweeps (Schornsteinfeger), horseshoes (Hufeisen) or four-leaf clover (Glücksklee).

Because so rare in nature, it is simply assumed that four-leaf clover brings good luck. A four-leaf clover is a universal symbol for good luck and is said to make secret wishes come true, but only if personally found, not bought. According to an old Christian legends, Eve took a four-leaf clover from the Garden of Eden, for nostalgic memories of paradise.



For centuries, pigs have been symbols representing wealth or prosperity. In old Nordic mythology, the wild boar was considered sacred, a pet of the gods and symbol of fertility. For ancient Greek, Roman and later cultures, owning  pigs meant privilege and affluence.  Nowadays, 'lucky piglets' (Glücksschweinchen) come in many different forms in Germany, there are those made from marzipan, chocolate or cookie dough, to those made from glass or porcelain – just think for example about all those 'piggy banks' (Sparschweine).



In this day and age, many people consider charms, tokens and such trinkets to be mere old-fashioned superstitions, but at least they don’t cause any harm. So, it certainly cannot hurt to try a few of  my New Year’s Cookies in the shape of little piglets or bake some clover leaves.



The recipe I use is another one of my traditional recipes for butter cookies. I always make sure to use white spelt flour for these (Dinkelmehl Type 630), then add pure vanilla and just a bit of lemony flavor from the grated zest of one lemon -  you can go all purpose flour instead and add orange or other citrus zest if you prefer, as long as your citrus fruit is organic and/or untreated.

For decorating my New Year's Cookies,  I chose pink and white colored sugar and heart shaped sprinkles for the piglets and green sugar for the clover leaves, of course, you can leave the cookies plain.



New Year’s Cookies l Neujahrsgebäck


Ingredients

For the dough

  • 125g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 100g superfine baking sugar (feinster Backzucker)
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar (Bourbon Vanille Zucker)
  • 1 eggs (L), free range or organic
  • 250g white spelt flour (Type 630) or use AP (plain) flour (Weizenmehl Type 405), plus some for the work surface
  • grated zest of 1 organic lemon (or other citrus zest such as zest of 1/2 orange)
  • a pinch of fine sea salt

To decorate

  • 1 egg white (M or L), free range or organic
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 25g powdered sugar, or more as needed
  • pink and white sprinkles, nonpareils or colored sugars for the piglets (use green if you make clover leaves)

In addition

  • 2 cookie sheets
  • baking parchment paper
  • pig shaped cookie cutters (or use clover leaves) 



Preparation

  1. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter with the sugar and vanilla sugar, add the egg and mix until well blended. 
  2. Stir in flour, lemon zest and salt. Wrap well and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. When you are ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 180° C (356°F).
  4. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface (or between two sheets of parchment paper) roll each half of dough to 0.5cm (0.2in) thick. 
  6. In a small bowl, mix together the egg white with the water.
  7. Cut into piggie shapes with cookie cutter(s) and place on prepared parchment lined cookie sheets – leave some space between the cookies but they will not spread much.
  8. For the colored sugar border, whisk together the egg white with 1 tbsp water, brush the outline of the cookies and dip into colored sugar, shaking off the excess. 
  9. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until lighty brown.
  10. Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack. Cool completely.
  11. For some of the cookies, mix together the powdered sugar with the remaining water and place a tiny drop of icing on some of the piggies and decorate as desired (or decorate your clover leaves with green colored sugar).



When rolling out sugar cookies, just lightly flouring the work suface is key or just roll the dough between two sheets of baking parchment paper. Try to cut the dough out with as little space between as you can, to minimize scraps. 

And if you want to decrease the chance of the cookies spreading too much while baking, it is also important to place the baking sheet with the cut-outs into the fridge for a few minutes before sliding them into the oven.





It’s important to keep the dough chilled, so work in batches as you roll the dough out. Cover the dough and refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling. While rolling one half of the dough, keep the other in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Use a light hand when re-rolling dough scraps, gently pressing them together and rolling them out quickly. If the dough is overworked your cookies will definitely turn out to be tough.




"This little piggy went to market,

This little piggy stayed home,

This little piggy had roast beef,

This little piggy had none,

And this little piggy cried "wee wee wee" all the way home".

(English-language nursery rhyme and fingerplay)



So, as the old year ends and the New Year (Neues Jahr) gets off to what we all hope is a good start, I wish you Health and Happiness and, of course, as we say around here 'einen guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr' (literally translated 'a good slide into the New Year')!




Thursday, December 24, 2020

Merry and Sweet Christmas Wishes l Herzliche Weihnachtsgruesse und Frohe Festtage


Wishing all of you and your families a very 
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

Ich wünsche euch allen ein frohes Weihnachtfest und besinnliche Festtage!










Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Sweet Christmas Pretzel with Almond, Pistachio, Coconut & Discodip l Süße Weihnachtsbrezel mit Mandeln, Pistazien, Kokos & Discodip


Every year around this time of the month, with only a few days until Christmas Eve (Heiligabend), I appreciate a simple cookie recipe for buttery cut out sugar cookies. Usually it starts with a long look at my rather extensive collection of cookie cutters. So many to chose from, so little time. This week the lovely Pretzel shaped cookie cutter caught my attention.




The recipe I use is a rather traditional recipe for butter cookies with almond flour, vanilla and just a bit of lemony flavor from the grated zest of one lemon -  you can go with orange or other citrus zest if you prefer, as long as your citrus fruit is organic and/or untreated.

For decorating and extra taste and crunch, I chose finely chopped almonds (no skin), unsalted pistachios, unsweetened shredded coconut and so-called 'Discodip' - these are fun sprinkles in happy colors, with an adorable name, from the Netherlands – you can opt for colored sugar or pearl sugar or leave the cookies unadorned. 




Sweet Christmas  Pretzel with Almond, Pistachio, Coconut &  Discodip l Süße Weihnachtsbrezel mit Mandeln, Pistazien, Kokos & Discodip


Ingredients

For the dough

  • 125g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 250g superfine baking sugar (feinster Backzucker)
  • 16g pure vanilla sugar (Bourbon Vanille Zucker)
  • 2 eggs (S), free range or organic
  • 250g AP (plain) flour (Weizenmehl Type 405), plus some for the work surface
  • 100g almond flour
  • grated zest of 1 organic lemon
  • a pinch of fine sea salt

To decorate

  • 1 egg yolk (M), free range or organic
  • about 2 tbsp of milk (I use 3.5%)
  • chopped almonds
  • chopped pistachios
  • shredded unsweetened coconut
  • Discodip, sprinkles, nonpareils or colored sugars

In addition

  • 2 cookie sheets
  • baking parchment paper
  • cookie cutter in the shape of a brezel (or any other shape)




Preparation

  1. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter with the sugar and vanilla sugar, add the eggs and mix until well blended. 
  2. Stir in flour, almond flour, lemon zest and salt. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
  3. When you are ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 180° C (356°F).
  4. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Divide dough in half. On lightly floured surface (or between two sheets of parchment paper) roll each half of dough to 0.5cm (0.2in) thick. 
  6. In a small bowl, mix together the egg yolk with the milk.
  7. Cut into pretzel or other assorted shapes with cookie cutter(s) and place on prepared parchment lined cookie sheet – leave some space between the cookies but they will not spread much.
  8. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the cookies with the egg wash and decorate cookies as desired with nuts, coconut and sprinkles or colored sugars.
  9. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until lighty brown.
  10. Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.




When rolling out sugar cookies, just lightly flouring the work suface is key but there is also another way which I prefer with recipes like this one:  just roll the dough between two sheets of baking parchment paper and try to cut the dough out with as little space between as you can, to minimize scraps. 

And if you want to decrease the chance of the cookies spreading too much while baking, it is also important to place the baking sheet with the cut-outs into the fridge for a few minutes before sliding them into the oven.




It’s important to keep the dough chilled, so work in batches as you roll the dough out. Cover the dough and refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling. While rolling one half of the dough, keep the other in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Use a light hand when re-rolling dough scraps, gently pressing them together and rolling them out quickly. If the dough is overworked your cookies will definitely turn out to be tough - if they do, thread a pretty ribbon through the cookies and use them as Christmas tree decoration.



For more sweet cookie Pretzel inspiration you can take a look at my Summer Pretzel with Cinnamon & Vanilla (Sommerbrezel mit Zimt & Vanille)  HERE – pictured above.




Saturday, December 19, 2020

Christmas Market at Home: Sugar Roasted Nuts l Weihnachtsmarkt Zuhause: Gebrannte Nussmischung


At present, there are no Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) that we can visit during Advent season. I must admit that I miss walking past the wooden stalls and inhaling the many familiar smells of Christmas season. But there is no need to despair this year, as there is always the possibilty to make some of those much beloved Christmas market treats at home. 

Usually, there are quite a few treats to chose from. There is the ever present fried sausage (Bratwurst) in a roll with mustard, waffles, cotton candy, candied apples, mulled wine (Glühwein), potato fritters (Reibekuchen) with apple sauce or smoked salmon, and thick slices of Christmas Stollen with a generous layer of powdered sugar that will inevitably fly off and cover your dark winter coat with lots of white specks while you indulge. But one of our favorite treats are the Gebrannten Mandeln (literally translated as 'Burnt Sugar Almonds'). They are usually sold in colorful paper cones.




With as few as six ingredients, water, sugar, vanilla sugar, spices, salt, and nuts, most recipes out there for Christmas-market-style Sugar Roasted Almonds have only minor variations. Some cooks add only cinnamon, some even a bit of pepper, but I prefer a rather generous amount of Speculoos Spices and vanilla. For the Speculoos Spices, I sometimes make my own mix, other times, I add a trusted Speculoos Spice Mix  – both options will result in delightful caramelized nuts. If you need a recipe for making your own spice mix, take a look HERE

And btw Speculaas is the word the Dutch use, while Speculoos is the Flemish word - they both mean the same, though. And a classic Speculoos aka Speculaas Spice Mix will contain most of or all of the following warm spices: cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, white pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise, and nutmeg.




In previous years, I mostly used almonds (Gebrannte Mandeln) but this year I prefer a mix of almonds, hazelnuts and a handful of pumpkin seeds (Kürbiskerne). As far as the nuts are concerned, I should add that while it’s obviously okay to use regular nuts and seeds, I find that it makes a difference if you use organic produce – not only is the flavor superior but, of course, it’s better for all of us. But no matter what the origin of your ingredients, make sure they are fresh and their flavor is not off – nuts do tend to go rancid rather quickly. Storing them in a cool place and buying smaller quantities is therefore always a good idea. No need to take the skins off the nuts by the way.



As far as the flavoring is concerned, I should add that although this Christmas season it’s all about my Speculoos Spice Mix (Spekulatius Gewürz Mischung), you could also use a Pumpkin or Apple Pie Spice Mix, or Gingerbread Spice Mix (Lebkuchen Gewürz Mischung). The added salt is up to you – I like to add a pinch of salt to the caramel while cooking but it’s also very nice to sprinkle your favorite coarse sea salt on the still warm nuts once they have finished cooking, that way you can enjoy a mix of sweet and salty caramelized nuts. 



The trickiest part of the process is deciding when to remove the nuts from the pan. Ideally it’s a balance between the initial powdery white coating and the eventual crunchy hard caramel. You will probably have to try it a few times to get it perfect. 




Sugar Roasted Nuts  l Gebrannte  Nussmischung


Ingredients

  • 125ml water
  • 200g sugar
  • 16g pure vanilla sugar (Bourbon Vanille Zucker)
  • 1 tbsp Speculoos Spice Mix (Spekulatiusgewürz) ready made or homemade OR use 1 tbsp of your Gingerbread, Apple Pie or Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix
  • generous pinch of sea salt
  • 200g mixed nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, macademia nuts or pecans OR a mix thereof - I also like to add a few seeds such as pumkin seeds or some sunflower seeds (for a total of 200g)
  • a sprinkling of coarse sea salt (entirely optional) to sprinkle on the Sugar Roasted Nuts while they are still warm



Preparation

  1. Put the water, sugar, vanilla sugar in a medium pot. Without stirring, place over medium high heat and let the sugars dissolve. 
  2. As soon as the mixture is clear and bubbling, stir in the nuts, then the Speculoos Spice Mix (or other spices you are using) and salt - this is best done using a wooden spoon.
  3. Keep stirring, the clear sugar will first coat the nuts. As you keep stirring, the sugar will turn white and powdery. Keep stirring.
  4. The sugar will then start to caramelize a little and again coat the nuts. Continue stirring as you want the caramel to be between golden and amber colored. This stage takes a little practice - if you feel like your pan is getting too hot, just take it off the heat.
  5. Once the nuts are well coated with mostly shiny caramel, pour them out onto a parchment lined baking sheet and use two forks or spoons to separate them. Be careful, they will still be very hot. You don’t have to separate each individual nut, but just make sure there are no big clumps.
  6. Leave them on the baking sheet and let them cool before you serve them - once they have cooled completely, you can store them in a cookie tin, glass jar or pack them up in paper bags and share them with your Knuffelcontact ....(this is the Flemish Word of the Year and means "hug buddy or cuddle contact" and has become a basic right for every Belgian during the corona crisis).



While you prepare these Sugar Rosted Nuts, you should remember that caramelizing sugar can be a bit dangerous. The caramel will be incredibly hot and it can turn from golden to black in a matter of seconds. Make sure to keep an eye on it at all times - especially with little persons around.

If you want to double the recipe, be aware that it will take longer for all the sugar to get powdery and then to caramelize. Just keep stirring, the sugar with get powdery and then caramelly eventually.



For more delicious inspirations for your Speculoos aka Speculaas Spice Mix, you might want to take a look at:

  • Gevulde Speculaas - a traditional Dutch Christmas cake filled with amond paste (HERE)
  • Kruidnoten - Dutch spiced cookies in the shape of nuts (HERE)
  • Speculaas Muffins with Marzipan (Spekulatiusmuffins mit Marzipan) (HERE)
  • Speculaas Biscotti with Almonds (Spekulatius-Biscotti mit Mandeln) (HERE)
  • Speculaas Waffle Rolls (Spekulatius Eiserkuchen) (HERE


And for lots of pics and information about the origin and history as well as a recipe for those famous Speculoos Cookies, you might want to take a look HERE.



Thursday, December 17, 2020

Tarte Flambée with Shallots & British Back Bacon l Flammkuchen mit Schalotten & Back Bacon


Having blogged about Tarte Flambée (Flammkuchen) before, I will not go into the details of its origin or history. But I will tell you that the Pizzawheels that I wrote about last week, aren’t the only fingerfood of sorts that we like to indulge in while spending a lot ot time at home these days.





Lately, Tarte Flambée (Flammkuchen) has become a new go-to dish for me. And just like my Pizzawheels versions (vegetarian, vegan or regular) are wonderful on their own, with just a side salad or a steaming bowl of soup, my interpretation of Flammkuchen is also quite delicious with just a salad – these days I usually go with lambs lettuce (Feldsalat). And should you be looking for a more substantial meal, a soup is also absolutely perfect with Flammkuchen – my current seasonal choice is a creamy German potato soup (Kartoffelsuppe) – the recipe will follow in one of my up-coming posts.

With this recipe, I somewhat veer off Flammkuchen tradition - with this version I like to roll out the dough not too thin, and I use shallots instead of onions as shallots are milder and sweeter with a less dominant onion flavor, but still very flavorful. And I love the look of rashers of bacon instead of cut-up cubed or thinly sliced bacon. If you cut the Tarte into four equal parts, everyone gets a nice slice off bacon with their piece. Overall, with the crème fraîche, the shallots and the bacon, this is a creamy, oniony, delicious Tarte Flambée that is so very easy to put together.



Tarte Flambée with Shallots & British Back Bacon l Flammkuchen mit Schalotten & Back Bacon

Ingredients 

For the Dough

  • 250g (8 oz) white spelt flour (around here Dinkelmehl Type 630) OR strong white bread flour (around here Weizenmehl Type 405), plus extra for dusting
  • 3.5g dried yeast (Trockenhefe)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp mild olive oil (suitable for cooking)
  • 6 tbsp cold water
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt

For the Topping

  • 200g crème fraîche (I use 30%)
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
  • mild olive oil
  • 1 tbsp freshly chopped chives
  • 250g shallots, peeled and very finely sliced (I like to use the my mandoline for getting even slices)
  • 8 slices of smoked bacon, speck or pancetta (I like to use British back bacon)




Preparation

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 220°C (425°F).
  2. Put 50g (2 oz) of the flour, the yeast, sugar, olive oil and 4 tbsp of the water in a bowl and mix together. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to prove for about 30 minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the flour, about 2 tbsp more water and the salt to the proved mixture and mix the dough.
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes (OR use the dough hook of your stand mixer and mix for about 10 minutes) until the dough is quite sticky and elastic.
  5. Divide the dough in half and then roll out onto two floured baking sheets – either leave it a bit thicker (which is what I like to do OR roll it out as thin as possible).
  6. In a small bowl, mix together the crème fraîche, freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, and chives – taste for seasoning (remember that the bacon is relatively salty, so make sure to go a bit easy on the salt).
  7. Spread the crème fraîche mixture over the dough, sprinkle with thinly sliced shallots (at this point I like to add a good grinding of black pepper again but that is optional) and lay the slices of bacon on top of the shallots (go with 4 slices of bacon per Flammkuchen). 
  8. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes or until nicely browned at the edges.
  9. Sprinkle with additional chives and serve piping hot.



More Flammkuchen inspiration:

  • Tarte Flambée with Purple Asparagus (Lila Spargel-Flammkuchen) (HERE) - pictured above
  • Tarte Flambée with White and Green Asparagus and Prosciutto (Flammkuchen mit weißem und grünen Spargel und Prosciutto) (HERE
  • Tarte Flambée with Goat's Cheese & Zucchini (Flammkuchen mit Ziegenkäse & Zucchini) (HERE
  • Tarte Flambée Sucrée with Apples and Cinnamon Sugar (Süsser Flammkuchen mit Äpfeln und Zimt-Zucker) (HERE) - pictured below


And a 'Flambette' inspiration:

  • Late Winter Comfort Food - Wholegrain Spelt Flour 'Flambettes' with a Topping of Caramelized Fennel (Flambette mit karamelisiertem Fenchel) (HERE)



Monday, December 14, 2020

Christmas Stollen Scones l Weihnachtsstollen Scones


Inspired by the traditional German Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen), I decided to bring you a Christmas Stollen Scones recipe - a scone version of the traditional, fruity bread traditionally eaten in Germany at Christmas time and during Advent season.




Just like the classic German Christmas bread, these scones have candied peel, almonds, traditional German Christmas Stollen Spice Mix (Weihnachtsstollen Gewürz) and a thick dusting of icing sugar.




Christmas Stollen Scones (Weihnachtsstollen Scones) are an easy scone to make for any teatime, coffee break, or for your Christmas morning breakfast. It is nice to pair these delightful scones not only with your favorite hot beverage but also with some fresh butter, jam and local honey (my personal favorite).




Christmas Stollen Scones l  Weihnachsstollen Scones
(yields about 14 scones)


Ingredients 

For the Scones

  • 300g plain (AP) flour (around here Weizenmehl Type 405) OR white spelt flour (around here Dinkelmehl Type 630), plus some for the work surface
  • 2 tsp baking powder (Weinsteinbackpulver)
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 50g superfine baking (caster) sugar 
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar (Bourbon Vanille Zucker)
  • 2 tsp Stollen Spice Mix (Weihnachtsstollen/Christstollen Gewürz) the recipe for a homemade Stollen Spice Mix is HERE) OR use Pumpkin Pie Spice (common in American cuisine) OR go with Mixed Spice (popular in British cuisine)
  • 6 tbsp neutral tasting oil such as sunflower oil (suitable for baking)
  • 5 tbsp milk, room temperature (I use 3.5%)
  • 150g Quark (you can substitute Skyr), low fat (around here Magerquark 10%)
  • 1 tbsp candied lemon peel, organic if possible (Zitronat)
  • 1 tbsp candied orange peel, organic if possible (Orangeat) – OR use a total of 2 tbsp mixed peel instead – OR with just water, sugar and organic/untreated peel make your own
  • 100g natural almonds, chopped
  • grated peel of ½ orange, organic and/or untreated (you can substitute the zest of 1 organic/untreated lemon)


For the Garnish

  • 25g unsalted butter, for brushing on top
  • 25g icing sugar, for dusting on top 






Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F). 
  2. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment paper or a silpat mat.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, vanilla sugar and and Stollen Spice Mix (or other spice mix) into a mixing bowl. 
  4. Add the oil, milk and Quark (or other fresh cheese).
  5. Add the candied peels, almonds and lemon zest.
  6. Gently knead the dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to about 1cm (0.5 in) thick – my dough rectangle measured about 28 cm x 16cm (11in x 6in).
  7. Cut into 14 triangles and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until risen and springy to the touch. 
  9. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. 
  10. Melt the 25g of butter and brush the still warm scones immediately with the warm melted butter and sprinkle very generously with icing sugar. 
  11. Serve with your favorite tea, coffee, hot chocolate, mulled wine (Glühwein) or non-alcoholic punch. 




For more Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen) inspiration and lots of information about the history of this famous festive bake, make sure to take a look at:

  • Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen) (HERE
  • Stollen Spice Mix (Weihnachtsstollen Gewürz) (HERE)  
  • Stollen Muffins (HERE) - pictured above
  • Christmas Stollen Bar Cookies (Stollenkekse) (HERE) - pictured below



It is definitely nice to have a scone recipe up your sleeve that comes together in no time, yet packs all the wonderful, familiar flavors and textures of a traditional German Stollen - instant festive mood even on a weekday.