Friday, December 6, 2019

Pains d' Épices de Saint Nicolas for December 6 - Saint Nicholas Gingerbread (Nikolauslebkuchen)

Today, on December 6th, we celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas (Sankt Nikolaus Tag). This special day always falls on December 6, at the beginning of Advent and it represents a time for celebration especially in Eastern Europe and many other countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, France and Italy. St Nicholas was a Christian bishop who was born in the port city of Patara in what we now call Turkey and reportedly died on December 6th, 340 AD. He lost both of his parents at a young age and was brought up in a monastery. He reportedly used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. Nicholas became a priest at the age of 17 and travelled through Palestine and Egypt before returning to Myra where he was made Bishop.

Saint Nicholas is referred to by many names throughout Europe such as Sinterklaas in the Netherlands or Nikolaus in Germany. On the night of December 5th, children put their shoes or a special SaintNicholas´ boot (Nikolausstiefel) in front of the fireplace or the front door to find them filled with traditional, seasonal sweet treats, clementines, oranges, apples, nuts and small presents the next morning (December 6th).

To mark this very special day, over the years I have baked a number of different treats. I love the Dutch Kruidnoten (Spice Nuts/Cookies - recipe HERE) or the Belgian Speculoos (Spice Cookies formed in special wooden moulds - recipe HERE), this year I have lost my heart to these 'Pains d'Épices de Saint Nicholas' - literally translated 'Saint Nicholas' Gingerbread'. The recipe hails form the Alsace region (France) and its basically a honey gingerbread dough, cooled, rolled out, cut out, baked and decorated. Easy as they are, these traditional cookies make formidable gifts on Saint Nicholas' feast day.

Pains  d'Épices de Saint Nicolas - Saint Nicholas Gingerbread (Nikolauslebkuchen)

  • 500g AP (plain) flour, plus some to roll out the cookies (OR use white spelt flour, around here 'Type 630')
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 200g superfine (baking) sugar
  • 16g pure vanilla sugar
  • 1 tbsp Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground anise
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 250g runny (liquid) honey
  • 100 ml water
  • 150g powdered sugar and some more water for the glaze

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, vanilla sugar, and all the spices. 
  2. Then add the honey and half the water. Knead the dough by hand or with the dough hooks of your hand mixer. If it seems too dry, add more of the water (up to 100ml).
  3. Wrap the dough in kitchen wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or longer).
  4. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C and line two baking (cookie) sheets with baking parchment.
  5. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to about 1 cm thickness, cut out the cookie shapes, place on your prepared baking sheets and bake for about 10 to 12 minutes - the cookies should be puffed by not hard or dark brown.
  6. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on a cooling rack, once they have cooled, place them directly on the cooling racks, mix the powdered sugar with some water and brush the cookies. Once the icing has set but is still wet, place a Saint Nicholas' paper cut-out on each cookie. Let dry completey and keep in a cookie tin in a cool place or gift wrap individually.

Like every year, our kids, as most of their frineds, lined up their big winter boots last night and this morning, their boots were miraculously filled with homemade Pains d'Épices de Saint Nicolas, Belgian chocolates, oranges, clementines, walnuts, peanuts and a few small gifts.

Saint Nicholas is famous for his many acts of charity, one of which involved a poor distraught man who had three daughters and who couldn´t provide a proper dowry. As Saint Nicholas learned of their plight, he came to their aid by throwing three small sacks of money through their window while they were asleep. So, in the spirit of Saint Nicholas it's seems like a wonderful and much beloved annual tradition to share some of our treats with friends and collegues, this year's most popular treat for sharing is lovingly decorated Saint Nicholas Gingerbread.

Bonne Fête Saint Nicolas! Have a nice Saint Nicholas' Day! Euch allen einen schönen Nikolaustag!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Petticoat Tails Shortbread for St. Andrew's Day - Shortbread zum Andreastag am 30. November

Saint Andrew has been celebrated in Scotland for over a thousand years, with feasts being held in his honor as far back as the year 1000 AD. However, it wasn’t until 1320, when Scotland’s independence was declared with the signing of  The Declaration of Arbroath, that he officially became Scotland’s patron saint. The flag of Scotland, the St Andrew’s Cross, was chosen in honor of him (the white cross represents St Andrew's cross and the blue represents the sky).

It is believed that Andrew the Apostle, also known as Saint Andrew, was born between the years 5 AD and 10 AD in the village of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, now part of Israel. According to Christianity, Saint Andrew was one of Jesus Christ’s twelve disciples. He and his brother, Simon Peter, were fishermen when they met Jesus Christ and became his first disciples.

Like Jesus, Saint Andrew was martyred for his beliefs by crucifixion. Andrew died in Patras in Achaea (Greece) on November30th, 60 AD. Early texts describe Andrew as bound, not nailed, to a Latin cross of the kind on which Jesus is said to have been crucified but a tradition developed that Andrew had been crucified on a cross of the form called crux decussata (X-shaped cross, or 'saltire'), now commonly known as a 'Saint Andrew's Cross' (Andreaskreuz)supposedly at his own request, as Andrew is said to have refused a T-shape cross, deeming himself 'unworthy' to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus Christ.

Sometime after his death, a few of his relics arrived in Scotland, including a kneecap, arm and finger bone. There are many versions of this tale, but in one religious fable, in 345 Saint Rule (aka Saint Regulus, a Greek bishop) was instructed by an angel to take some of Saint Andrew’s relics and go west by ship, wherever he would be shipwrecked, Saint Rule was to establish a church. Indeed, Rule and his followers eventually found themselves off what is now Scotland, where they were shipwrecked in 347. The site of the shipwreck is said to have been near what is now the harbour of St Andrews, a place that at the time was under Pictish control and known as Kilrimont. According to legend, Rule established a church in what is now St Andrews dedicated to St Andrew and housing his relics.

St. Andrews Cathedral was built to house the reliquary in 1318, but both the cathedral and the relics were destroyed in the Scottish Reformation. In order to make up for this loss, the Archbishop of Amalfi generously gifted a piece of Saint Andrew’s shoulder blade, so that a piece of the saint would remain forever in Scotland.

Why is he patron saint of Scotland – well, it seems that there is no one clear tale that answers this question, however, one story says that at the end of the 8th century, Achaius, King of Scots (796-828) was preparing for battle against King Aethelstan of East Anglia. Saint Andrew appeared to King Achaius in a dream promising him victory, then on the day of the battle an X appeared in the sky, the symbol of Saint Andrew. Achaius vowed if he won he would make Saint Andrew the country's patron saint. Achaius won the battle and today, the Scottish flag has the X-shaped cross on it, as it is Saint Andrew's symbol.

In Scotland, and many countries with Scottish connections, Saint Andrew's Day is marked with a celebration of Scottish culture with traditional Scottish food and music. In Scotland the day is also seen as the start of a season of Scottish winter festivals – in Germany but also parts of Ukraine, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Russia and Romania, a superstitious belief exists that the night before Saint Andrew's Day (Andreasnacht) is especially suitable for magic that reveals a young woman's future husband or that binds a future husband to her.

It is interesting to note that Saint Andrew is the patron saint not only of Scotland but other countries and cities around the world as well, including Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Russia and Ukraine. And the flag of Scotland (and consequently the Union Flag and those of some of the former colonies of the British Empire) is, by far, not the only flag featuring the Saint Andrew's saltire cross (including New Spain and Burgundy).

But Saint Andrew's Day also marks the beginning of the Advent season – that, of course, marks the beginning of festive baking season. Finally. The actual origin of the rather curious name 'Petticoat Tails' is somewhat elusive but there are a few suggestions. One is that the shortbread disc was said to resemble the stitches sections of cloth that formed the petticoats of ladies when them were laid out on the floor. Other ideas are less romantic, noting that the name could derive from petits cotés, a type of pointed biscuit, meant for dunking into sweet dessert wine, or the old French term for little biscuits, petites gastelles.  Whatever the real source of the name, they are a perennial favorite and Mary, Queen of Scots was reputed to have been particularly fond of the Petticoat Tails, which in her days were commonly flavored with caraway seeds, which were all the rage in British baking for several centuries. In fact, the earliest published shortbread recipes from the 18th century were more elaborate than the standard shortbread today - they were baked with candied citrus peels and garnished with caraway comfits.

Scottish 'Petticoat Tails' Shortbread

  • 300g plain (AP) flour (OR use white spelt flour), plus a little extra for rolling out the dough
  • 50g rice flour (OR use fine corn flour but not corn starch or polenta)
  • 225g salted butter, room temperature
  • 100g superfine baking (caster) sugar 
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar
  • icing sugar, for dusting

  1. In a bowl, whisk together the flours, add the butter, sugar and vanilla sugar and, using the dough hook of your hand mixer, mix all the ingredients together until pale and creamy. OR tip all the ingredients onto your lightly floured work surface and bring the dough together as a disk, but whatever you do, don’t overwork it. Cover it with kitchen wrap and place in the fridge for a good 60 minutes.
  2. Take the dough out of  the fridge (if it is too cold to handle properly, leave it out for a while), unwrap and roll to a 25cm circle, about 1cm thick. Trim around a large plate to get a neat edge. 
  3. Transfer the dough to a large baking sheet. Use 2 fingers to crimp all the way around the edge of the dough then, using the tines of a fork, mark dotted lines to portion the shortbread into 8 wedges. Cover the shortbread and place the baking sheet in the fridge to chill again – this time for about 30 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 180° C.
  5. Bake the shortbread for 25 to 35 minutes or until golden and cooked through. 
  6. Leave to cool completely on the tray (otherwise the shortbread will break).
  7. To decorate, place a lacy doily over the shortbread and dust with a generous layer of icing sugar. Pull the doily away to reveal the lacy pattern. NOTE: The Shortbread will keep for up to 5 days; of course, it is always best to use a large cookie tin for storage and to keep the tin in a coolish place.

Known for his generous and cooperative spirit, St. Andrew remains the patron saint of fishermen, fishmongers, singers and pregnant woman, and is said to offer protection against sore throats and gout.

If you are like me around this time of year, you will certainly know of a few friends and/or family members that appreciate your seasonal bakes - so, I always make sure to bake more than one round of shortbread, I start with the above classic vanilla version, then I make anouther batch, add festive spices (about 2 generous teaspoons of a seasonal spice blend such as 'Speculaas Spice Mix') often dividing the dough in two or three, to make a few smaller rounds with the same pretty design - these make formidable gifts for cookie lovers, trust me. You can easily order a spice mix online, buy it at your local store or mix it yourself using the freshest of spices, for the my recipe for a very seasonal Speculaas Spice Mix, you can go HERE. Btw while the Dutch refer to the classic cookies as Speculaas, the Belgians call them Speculoos, the recipe for the spice blend, however, remains the same.

Happy St Andrew's Day to all those celebrating it today – since St. Andrew is my patron saint, you will find me in the kitchen today, happily baking away a few rounds of Scottish Shortbread.

I took the below picture of Saint Andrew at the St Andrew's church in Cologne, Germany. For more info about this beautiful dominican church, that is just a stone's throw away from the Cologne Cathedral, pls go HERE.

Please note that this blog post is part of my series for a 'local' radio station, where, throughout the year, I present different baked goods that are closely tied to various holidays and seasons. If you are interested, have a LOOK & LISTEN (in German) HERE.

The various recipes of my series can be found here:

  • in January, for Three Kings Day (Dreikönigstag) two kinds of Galette des Rois (Dreikönigskuchen) (HERE)
  • for Lent (Fastenzeit) Lenten Soup with Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel) (HERE)
  • for Good Friday (Karfreitag) the delicious Hot Cross Buns (HERE)
  • for Pentecost /Whitsun (Pfingsten) the fun Allgäu Bread Birds (Allgäuer Brotvögel) (HERE)
  • for the beginning of the summer vacation, the lovely Sacristains (Almond & Sugar Puff Pastry Sticks) (HERE)
  • for St. Christopher's Day (St. Christophorus), the energy-packed Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel) (HERE)
  • for Mary's Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) my Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) (HERE)
  • for Mary’s Birthday (Mariä Geburt) some very pretty Mary’s Sweet Rolls (Süße Marienküchlein) (HERE
  • for Thanksgiving (Erntedankfest) a delicious and seasonal Thanksgiving Apple Tart with Frangipane (Erntedank Apfeltarte mit Mandelcreme) (HERE)
  • for Halloween a Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake (Kürbis-Gewürzkuchen)
  • for Martin's Day (Martinsfest) the cheerful Sweet Dough Men (Weckmänner) (HERE
  • and, today for St. Andrew's Day a classic Petticoat Tails Shortbread (HERE) - more delicious treats to come very soon.

Btw, most crossings in Europe and around the world are marked by some form of a Saint Andrew's Cross (Andreaskreuz) to warn road users about a level crossing and/or about a level crossing with no barriers. I took the below pic tonight at the corner of Kaiser- and Königstrasse (Emperor's -and King's Road) in Bonn, Germany.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Red Beet Hummus & Comfort Food

Comfort food is often the food that reminds us of home, of the country where we grew up. To me, beets aka beetroots count as one of my comfort foods. Growing up, I just loved eating beets, especially pickled beets and I liked them even more than pickled cucumbers and cornichons, which I loved too. Back then, we often enjoyed pickled veggies such as beets (you know, the crinkle-cut version) as a side dish at dinner time which mostly consisted of thick slices of fresh bread, an assortment of cheeses and cold cuts. Which, of course was perfectly allright and made me happy.

But times change and so do tastes and although I still consider beets to be part of my comfort food universe, I also love them served in many other different ways. Of course, you wouldn’t do a beet justice by simply enjoying it pickled in what I consider today to be a rather punchy, albeit pleasantly punchy, pickling liquid, squashed together with obiqutous slices of sharp white onions and mustard seeds in a big fat glass jar with a screw cap. There is more to beets than that. You can roast these lovely veggies to sweet perfection. You can turn them into soup (think Borscht here). Or slice them onto Pizza or Flammkuchen (Tarte flambée), eat them raw (Beet Carpaccio) or cooked.

Belonging to the same family as chard and spinach, both the leaves and the root can be eaten. While the leaves have a pleasantly bitter taste, the round roots are sweet. Typically a rich purple color, beets can also be white or golden.

Although comfort food means that we still enjoy things we loved in the past, most of us do not mind moving on every once in a while, leaving the comfort zone (if you want to call it that) and venture out to new recipes that still have a comfort factor (like a beloved ingredient) but that interpret the comfort foods from our childhood in a new way. In the spirit of broadening my culinary horizon and all the while keeping in mind that I love beets, over the years, I have tried many recipes with beets as the star ingredient. I have made soups and salads, cakes and brownies, took the sweet as well as the savory route, paired them with herbs or dark chocolate. Because, at the end of the day, if you do cook with beets, you gotta love them, as their earthy sweetness will always be present in your dishes, no matter which way you interpret them.

Which leads me to today's recipe, my version of a Red Beet Hummus, which, in turn, believe it or not, the kids just love, and who knows, maybe it will rank as one of their comfort foods one day. In this recipe there is no chickpeas and no yogurt , which many recipe call for. I find the taste of the beets is nicely complemented by just lemon juice and a bit of fresh zest.

So onto this recipe for my colorful red beet hummus made with cooked red beets, tahini, freshly squeezed lemon juice, lemon zest, and just a touch of garlic (which, you can skip if you do not like to cook with garlic), cumin, black pepper and salt. If you like the earthy taste of beets, and you like hummus, you’ll love this beet hummus.

It’s also very simple to make. Once you have cooked your beets, all that's left to do is putting everything into a food processor or blender and whisking away. It also keeps for a few days in the fridge, making it the perfect weekday lunch solution or take-along snack.

Red Beet Hummus

  • 4 red beets (M), scrubbed clean and roasted OR cooked
  • 2 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 5 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (or use less to taste)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced 
  • 1 tbsp cumin, ground
  • ½ tbsp lemon zest (froma about 1 lemon, organic is best)
  • a good glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. To roast them in the oven: heat oven to 190°C (375°F). Trim the leaves and most of stalks off the beets, leaving a stump of stalk on each. Wrap the beets individually in pieces of baking parchment, then in foil and place them on a baking tray. Roast for about 60 to 90 minutes (depending on their size) or until the point of a sharp knife can be easily inserted, then leave to cool. Unwrap, peel and trim the stalks away from the beets. OR cook the beets, cut off most of the tops, scrub the roots clean and place them in a covered dish with about 6 cm of water in a  190°C (375°F) oven, and cook until easily pierced with a knife or fork. OR, cover with water in a sauce pan and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. OR if time is of the essence, use good-quality, store-bought, beets, drain on kitchen towels and proceed with the recipe. NOTE: when boiling beetroot, leave the beets with their root ends and a bit of their stem attached and don't peel them until after cooking since beet juice can stain your skin. If, however, your hands become stained during preparation and cooking beets, rub some lemon juice over them to help remove the color OR do wear kitchen gloves.
  2. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, peel and chop them. Place them in a food processor (or blender) together will all the other ingredients and pulse until smooth OR until your beet hummus has the consistency you're happy with. 
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings and ingredients as desired.
  4. Chill and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  5. Serve with freshly cut veggies for dipping or as a base for oven-roasted veggies such thick slices of cauliflower or go with crackers (homemade or store-bought) or grilled slices of baguette. For fresh veggies, I prefer a somewhat coarser hummus, with roasted veggies, I go with really smooth hummus - just process away to your hearts content. If you're looking for a cracker recipe, go HERE.

For more inspirations with respect to recipes using beets, you can take a look at these:

Red Beet Top & Goat’s Cheese Bruschetta (HERE) ( a Kitchen Lioness original - see pic above)

Chocolate and Beet Brownies; Beet and Cumin Soup with Spiced Yogurt and another version of Beetroot Hummus - with yogurt (HERE) (three Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipes)

Beetroot with Walnut and Cumin (HERE) (another HFW recipe)

Beetroot Seed Cake (HERE) (a Nigel Slater recipe)

Extremely Moist Chocolate-Beetroot Cake with Crème Fraîche and Poppy Seeds (HERE) (another Nigel Slater recipe)

Lime Honey Beet Salad (HERE) (a Dorie Greenspan recipe that we made many moons ago for our Fridays with Dorie online group)

Monday, November 11, 2019

St. Martin´s Day Sweet Dough Men - Weckmänner

Today, on November 11th, we celebrate St. Martin's Day (Martinstag) also known as the Feast of St. Martin of Tours. It is a special day that is particularly popular with children.
Heute am 11. November feiern wir Sankt Martin, auch bekannt als das Fest des Sankt Martin von Tours oder einfach Martinsfest. Für Kinder ist dies ein ganz besonderer Tag. 

St. Martin was born in 316 or 317 and started out as a Roman soldier, he was baptized as an adult, became a monk and was named Bishop of Tours on July 4th, 372. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life.

The most famous legend of his life is that one cold winter day, during a snowstorm, he was riding through the country when a shivering beggar came his way. Since he had neither food nor money, Martin cut his wollen cloak in half with his sword to share it with the freezing beggar. 
Sankt Martin wurde 316 oder 317 geboren. Er wurde zunächst römischer Soldat, dann wurde er als Erwachsener getauft, wurde Mönch und am 4. Juli 372 dann Bischof von Tours.

Man sagt, dass er ein guter Mensch war, der ein ruhiges und einfaches Leben führte. Die berühmteste Legende seines Lebens ist, dass er an einem besonders kalten Wintertag während eines Schneesturms über Land ritt, als er auf einen frierenden Bettler traf. Da er weder Essen noch Münzen bei sich hatte, teilte Martin seinen Umhang mit seinem Schwert und gab die eine Hälfte dem Bettler, damit er nicht mehr frieren sollte. 

Every year, St. Martin´s Day is celebrated to commemorate the day of his burial on November 11th, 397.

In some parts of the Netherlands, in a small part of Belgium, and in some areas of Germany and Austria, children walk in St. Martin´s processions through the villages and cities. They carry colorful St. Martin´s  paper lanterns and sing St. Martin´s songs. Usually, the procession starts at a church and ends at a public square. The lantern processions are aften accompanied by a rider on horseback dressed like a Bishop or a Roman soldier wrapped in a red woolen cloak. When the procession reaches the town square, a St. Martin’s bonfire is lit and in some parts of Germany, such as the Rhineland (where we live) and the Ruhr area, Sweet Dough Men (Weckmänner) are distributed to the children.
Jedes Jahr wird das Martinsfest gefeiert, um dem Tag seiner Beerdigung am 11. November 397 zu gedenken.

In einigen Gebieten Deutschlands, aber auch in Teilen der Niederlande, Belgiens und Österreichs, gehen Kinder in Martinszügen durch die Dörfer und Städte. Sie tragen bunte Laternen und singen Lieder. In der Regel beginnt der Martinszug an einer Kirche und endet am Marktplatz. Die Martinszüge werden oft von einem Reiter begleitet, der, als römischer Soldat verkleidet, Sankt Martin darstellt. Desweiteren begleiten meist auch einige Musikgruppen die Martinszüge. Am Ziel wird ein Martinsfeuer entfacht, im Ruhrgebiet und im Rheinland (da wo wir leben) werden frisch gebackene Weckmänner an die Kinder verteilt.

The tradition of the mostly handcrafted paper lanterns probably dates back to former times, when people lit candles to honor their saints and when lanterns were put up everywhere in town when a bishop dropped by for a visit.
Die Tradition der Laternen geht wahrscheinlich zurück auf frühere Zeiten, als Menschen Kerzen anzündeten, um ihre Heiligen zu ehren und Laternen überall in der Stadt aufgestellt wurden, wenn ein Bischof zu Besuch kam.

The custom of lighting a St. Martin´s bonfire after the lantern procession represents the beginning of festivities. In former times, most of the work on the fields had been completed and now it was time to celebrate, drink and eat. Traditionally, a fat goose (Martinsgans) and sweet bread treats were served.

Today, in the days and weeks leading up to the feast of St. Martin, children craft their own St. Martin´s lanterns in school or in kindergarten.

On the day of the celebrations, after participating in one of the numerous lantern procession´s, the children go door to door singing St. Martin´s songs in exchange for sweets or other small treats. Singing in exchange for candies is called 'Schnörzen' in the City of Bonn. The expressions 'Dotzen' or 'Gribschen' are also used.

Der Brauch des Martinfeuers am Ende des Martinszug symbolisiert den Beginn der Festlichkeiten. In früheren Zeiten war um diese Jahreszeit der Hauptteil der Feldarbeit erledigt, nun war es Zeit zu feiern, zu trinken und zu essen. Traditionell wurden eine fette Gans (Martinsgans) und süßes Brot serviert.

Heute, in den Tagen und Wochen vor dem Sankt Martinsfest, basteln die Kinder ihre eigenen Martinslaternen in der Schule oder im Kindergarten.

Nach dem Martinsfest gehen die Kinder abends von Tür zu Tür und singen Martinslieder – sie werden dafür mit Süßigkeiten oder anderen Kleinigkeiten belohnt. Hier im Bonn nennen wir das 'Schnörzen'. Je nach Ort und Dialekt heißt das Martinssingen aber auch Dotzen oder Gribschen.

As mentioned above, to conclude the celebrations of St. Martin´s Day, the traditional treat that is given to the children after the St. Martin´s Day procession, are pastries called Weckmänner (also called Stutenkerl or Piepenkerl). These are festive bakes in the shape of a man holding a clay pipe, originally portraying St. Nicolas of Myra. In some places of Germany, these dough men are still handed out on St. Nicolas' Day on Dec. 6.

Every year, I bake quite a few of these Sweet Dough Man to share with family and friends.
Wie oben erwähnt, ist es nach dem Martinszug  immer noch Tradition, dass alle Kinder, die mit dem Martinszug gegangen sind, einen Weckmann (andernorts auch Stutenkerl oder Piepenkerl genannt) bekommen. Ursprünglich ist der Weckmann ein Gebäck, das den Bischof Nikolaus von Myra darstellt. In einigen Gegenden gibt es deshalb heute noch solche Weckmänner am Nikolaustag am 6. Dezember.

Auch ich lasse es mir nicht nehmen und backe jedes Jahr zu Sankt Martin einige Weckmänner, um sie mit Familie und Freunden zu teilen.

To this day, the clay pipe that each sweet dough man carries, symbolizes an episcopal crozier, in memory of St. Martin the Bishop.
Die Tonpfeife, die die Weckmänner ziert, symbolisiert einen umgedrehten Bischofsstab, in Erinnerung an St. Martin den Bischof.

The clay pipes that I always use were handcrafted in Germany and have become somewhat of a collector´s item.
Die Tonpfeifen, die ich immer benutze, werden in Deutschland handgefertigt und über die Jahre haben sich da schon einige angesammelt.

This year, I tried my hand at different types or versions of the Weckmänner. Apart from the traditional ones following my trusted recipe below, I made some with Vanilla Butter Streusel -  looks a bit like they're wearing woolen sweaters - quite delicous too. 
Diese Jahr habe ich verschiedene Sorten Weckmänner ausprobiert, unter anderem mein traditionelles Rezept (siehe unten) aber auch einige mit Vanille-Butterstreuseln. Ich finde, damit sehen die Weckmänner aus, als ob sie Wollpullis anhätten - auch sehr lecker.

Sweet Dough Men
(yield: six)

Ingredients for the Yeast Dough 
  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 30g fresh yeast (or 11g dry yeast)
  • 250ml lukewarm whole milk (3.5%)
  • 50g fine (caster) sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter 
  • 1 egg (L), free-range or organic 
  • 1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla sugar 
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest (organic)
  • a pinch fine sea salt
(für sechs Stück)

Zutaten für den Hefeteig
  • 500g backstarkes Mehl (Type '550')
  • 30g frische Hefe (or 11g Trockenbackhefe)
  • 250 ml lauwarme Milch (3.5%)
  • 50g feinster (Back)zucker
  • 50g Butter, Zimmertemperatur
  • 1 Ei (L), Freiland oder Bio 
  • 1 ½ TL Bourbon Vanillezucker
  • 1 TL geriebene Zitronenschale (Bio)
  • eine Prise feines Meersalz
Ingredients for the Decoration
  • 1 egg yolk (L), free-range or organic 
  • 2 tbsp whole milk (3.5%)
  • a few raisins for the eyes, mouth and buttons
  • clay pipes OR small lollipops 
Special Equipment needed
  • 2 baking sheets
  • 2 sheets of baking parchment
Zutaten für die Deko
  • 1 Eigelb (L), Freiland oder Bio
  • 2 TL Milch (3.5%)
  • ein paar Rosinen für Augen, Mund und Knöpfe
  • Tonpfeifen oder kleine Lutscher
  • 2 Backbleche
  • 2 Bögen Backpapier
Preparation of the Yeast Dough
  1. Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the center of the flour.
  2. Then add the fresh yeast to the warm milk together with the sugar, stir to dissolve, pour the yeast mixture into the well, cover with some of the flour.
  3. Cover the bowl and leave the starter for about 15 minutes.
  4. Then add the butter, egg, pure vanilla sugar, lemon zest and salt to the flour mixture. Mix all the ingredients together and knead well.
  5. Cover again, leave the dough to rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead. Return the dough to the bowl.
  7. Cover the dough and let rise again until it has doubled in volume, about 40 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 180 °Celsius (356° Fahrenheit).
  9. Knead the dough and divide into 6 pieces to form into gingerbread men shaped Weckmänner.
  10. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
  11. Place the pastries onto the prepared baking sheets, cover and leave to rise again for 10 minutes.
  12. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk with the 2 tbsp. milk.
  13. Brush the pastries with the egg wash and decorate with raisins for the eyes, mouths and buttons. Add clay pipes (if using).
  14. Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes until golden. Let cool on racks.
Zubereitung des Hefeteigs
  1. Das Mehl in eine Schüssel geben, in die Mitte eine Vertiefung drücken.
  2. Die Hefe und den Zucker in der warmen Milch auflösen, in die Mulde gießen und mit Mehl vom Rand bestreuen.
  3. Zugedeckt an einem warmen Ort 15 Minuten ruhen lassen (Vorteig).
  4. Butter, Ei, Vanillezucker, Zitronenschale und Salz zum Mehl geben und alles zu einem glatten Teig verarbeiten.
  5. Zugedeckt an einem warmen Ort ca. 30 Minuten gehen lassen.
  6. Dann mit den Händen auf der leicht bemehlten Arbeitsfläche gut durchkneten. Den Teig wieder in die Schüssel geben.
  7. Zugedeckt weitere 40 Minuten gehen lassen, bis sich der Teig verdoppelt hat.
  8. Den Backofen auf 180° Celsius vorheizen.
  9. Den Teig zusammenkneten, in 6 Portionen teilen und Weckmänner formen.
  10. Zwei Backbleche mit Backpapier auslegen.
  11. Die Weckmänner auf die vorbereiteten Backbleche legen und zugedeckt noch einmal 10 Minuten gehen lassen.
  12. In einer kleinen Schüssel das Eigelb mit den 2 EL Milch verquirlen.
  13. Die gegangenen Weckmänner damit bestreichen und mit den Rosinen Augen, Mund und Knöpfe eindrücken. Tonpfeifen auflegen.
  14. Die Weckmänner für zirka 20 Minuten backen.Vom Blech nehmen und auf einem Gitter abkühlen. 

Have a wonderful St. Martin´s Day today!

  'Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin ritt durch Schnee und Wind, sein Ross, das trug ihn fort geschwind. Sankt Martin ritt mit leichtem Mut. Sein Mantel deckt ihn warm und gut.

Im Schnee saß, im Schnee saß, im Schnee, da saß ein armer Mann, hatt' Kleider nicht, hatt' Lumpen an. Oh, helft mir doch in meiner Not, sonst ist der bittre Frost mein Tod!

Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin zog die Zügel an. Sein Ross stand still beim armen Mann. Sankt Martin mit dem Schwerte teilt den warmen Mantel unverweilt.

Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin gab den Halben still, der Bettler rasch ihm danken will. Sankt Martin aber ritt in Eil hinweg mit seinem Mantelteil.'
Folk song (late 19th century)
Euch allen ein schönes Martinsfest heute!

'Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin ritt durch Schnee und Wind, sein Ross, das trug ihn fort geschwind. Sankt Martin ritt mit leichtem Mut. Sein Mantel deckt ihn warm und gut.

Im Schnee saß, im Schnee saß, im Schnee, da saß ein armer Mann, hatt' Kleider nicht, hatt' Lumpen an. Oh, helft mir doch in meiner Not, sonst ist der bittre Frost mein Tod!

Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin zog die Zügel an. Sein Ross stand still beim armen Mann. Sankt Martin mit dem Schwerte teilt den warmen Mantel unverweilt.

Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin gab den Halben still, der Bettler rasch ihm danken will. Sankt Martin aber ritt in Eil hinweg mit seinem Mantelteil.'
Volkslied (Ende 19. Jh.)

Please note that this blog post is part of my series for a 'local' radio station, where, throughout the year, I present different baked goods that are closely tied to various holidays and seasons. If you are interested, have a LOOK & LISTEN (in German) HERE.

The various recipes of my series can be found here:

  • in January, for Three Kings Day (Dreikönigstag) two kinds of Galette des Rois (Dreikönigskuchen) (HERE)
  • for Lent (Fastenzeit) Lenten Soup with Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel) (HERE)
  • for Good Friday (Karfreitag) the delicious Hot Cross Buns (HERE)
  • for Pentecost /Whitsun (Pfingsten) the fun Allgäu Bread Birds (Allgäuer Brotvögel) (HERE)
  • for the beginning of the summer vacation, the lovely Sacristains (Almond & Sugar Puff Pastry Sticks) (HERE)
  • for St. Christopher's Day (St. Christophorus), these energy-packed Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel) (HERE)
  • for Mary's Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) my Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) (HERE)
  • for Mary’s Birthday (Mariä Geburt) some very pretty Mary’s Sweet Rolls (Süße Marienküchlein) (HERE
  • for Thanksgiving (Erntedankfest) a delicious and seasonal Thanksgiving Apple Tart with Frangipane (Erntedank Apfeltarte mit Mandelcreme) (HERE)
  • for Halloween a Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake (Kürbis-Gewürzkuchen)
  • and, today for St. Martin's Day (Martinsfest) the cheerful Sweet Dough Men (Weckmänner) (HERE) - more delicious treats to come very soon.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

St. Martin's Day Crescents - Martinshörnchen

For the second festive bake, I chose Martinshörnchen. These are crescent-shaped rolls, said to originate in Saxony (Saxony, or Sachsen, is the tenth largest of Germany's sixteen states) literally‚ 'St. Martin’s little Crescents‘. Similar to the recipe I featured in my previous post, these Crescents are made with a simple yeast dough enriched with sugar, vanilla, butter, whole milk and fresh eggs. And like the St. Martin's Day Sweet Pretzels (Süße Martinsbrezeln) they are best eaten the day they were baked.

They are equally wonderful for afternoon tea as they are for breakfast, of course. But, originally, they were handed out after the Martinssingen - this being a popular custom where children go through the suburbs from door to door after the onset of dusk carrying their colorful paper lanterns and singing Martinslieder (St Martin's Eve songs).

The shape of the Martinshörnchen is inspired by the most famous legend surrounding the life of St. Martin. The Crescents are said to symbolize the cloak that St. Martin of Tours cut with his military sword and shared with a beggar. According to medieval accounts about his life, Martin was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity after an encounter with a beggar at the gate of the city of Amiens in Northern France. Martin cut his cloak in half in order to share it with the beggar, who that night appeared to him in a dream and revealed himself to be Christ. This experience encouraged Martin to renounce the army and be baptized. He became a priest and was appointed bishop of Tours in 371. For more details about St. Martin's life, pls go HERE or HERE.

St. Martin´s Day Crescents - Martinshörnchen


For the Yeast Dough
  • 500g strong bread flour (around here Type '550') OR go with AP (plain) flour, plus some extra for flouring 
  • 30g fresh yeast
  • 250ml whole milk (I like to use 3.5%), lukewarm
  • 1 egg (L), free-range or organic if possible
  • 80g superfine (caster) sugar
  • 8g OR 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter, soft
  • one pinch fine sea salt
  • 1 tbsp rum (you can leave out the rum, if you want but them make sure to add the zest of 1/2 organic or untreated lemon)

For the Eggwash
  • 1 egg yolk (L), free-range or organic if possible
  • 2 tbsp whole milk 

For the Finish
  • some pearl sugar*

Special Equipment needed
  • 2 baking sheets
  • parchment paper suitable for baking

Preparation of the Yeast Dough

(yields about 12 crescents, depending on the size you choose - pls remember that with varying size, the baking time will vary as well)
  1. Put the flour in a bowl, make an indentation in the center of the flour and crumble the yeast into the indentation.
  2. Then add 1 tbsp of the sugar and 5 tbsp of the milk to the yeast in the center of the flour. Using a fork, mix some of the flour into the yeast-sugar-milk mixture - just enough to cover the starter.
  3. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and leave the starter to rise for about 15 minutes.
  4. Then add the egg, the remaining sugar, vanilla sugar, butter, salt, rum (or lemon zest) and the remaining milk to the flour mixture. Mix all the ingredients together and knead, until bubbles form and the dough does not stick to the mixing bowl anymore. Tip onto your lightly floured work surface and continue to knead for a few minutes until you have an elastic, smooth dough.
  5. Leave the dough to rise in a warm draft free area for another 60 minutes OR until the dough has doubled in size.
  6. In the meantime, line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle and cut into angled triangles.
  8. Roll the dough triangles into croissant shaped pastries.
  9. Place the pastries onto the prepared baking sheets, cover with lightly oil food wrap OR with a loose plastic bag and leave to rise again for 15 minutes.
  10. Preheat your oven to 200° C.
  11. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk with the 2 tbsp. milk.
  12. Carefull brush the pastries with the egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar.
  13. Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes (agian, depending on the size you make these) OR until deep golden. 
  14. It's best to let the Martinshörnchen rest for a few minutes before taking them off the parchement and transferring them to cooling racks.
 *Pearl sugar is a type of specialty sugar used in baking. Sugar crystals are compressed together to form larger nibs of sugar, hence it's also called 'nib sugar'. You can find it at specialty stores, online, OR you can even make it yourself. You could also skip the pearl sugar and sub with a generous dusting of powdered sugar after baking and cooling the Martinshörnchen.

Serve while still warm, if possible - as is, because, of course, they are wonderful enjoyed plain as 'fingerfood'. But if you want to gild the lily or serve them for afternoon tea, offer your freshly baked Martinshörnchen together with some good farm fresh butter and homemade jelly or jam (you know, the one you bought at the farmer's market and have not had a chance to use yet) or, my favorite, honey from your local beekeeper.

For more special St. Martin's Day recipes, please take a look at these lovely festive bakes:

  • St. Martin's Day Sweet Pretzel (Süße Martinsbrezeln) HERE
  • Saint Martin´s Day Sweet Dough Men I (Weckmänner) HERE
  • Saint Martin´s Day Sweet Dough Men II (Weckmänner) HERE

To celebrate Martin Luther (who, btw was named after 'Martin' and baptized on November 11, 1483)

  • Yeast Luther Roses with Raisins & Cherry Jam (HERE)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

St. Martin's Day Sweet Pretzels - Süße Martinsbrezeln zu St. Martin

St. Martin’s Day (this special day is also known as 'Martinmas') is coming up on Monday, November 11. It is the feast day that celebrates the life of one-time soldier, turned bishop, St. Martin of Tours. I have written about St. Martin’s day celebrations at length in the past, including the St. Martin bonfires (Martinsfeuer), the handcrafted St. Martin's paper lanterns (Martinslaternen) and the processions (Martinszüge) – this is a wonderful feast day, one of my favorites. Last week, I was asked to put together a feature for a local radio show about this festive day (more coming up on this blog soon). So during my research, I came across a number of wonderful recipes and traditions, too many to crowd them all into one post, so I plan on posting a few recipe ideas within the next couple of days.

Today I’m beginning my series on St. Martins Day feast day bakes with this recipe for St. Martin’s Day Sweet Pretzels (Süsse Martinsbrezel). They are pretzels with a double twist, sweet, pillowy, brushed with melted butter before and after baking and then doused with vanilla-cinnamon-sugar. The yeast dough is enriched with milk, butter, sugar and heavy sour cream (Schmand as it is known here) I enjoy anything made with an enriched dough like French brioche, Italian panettone, doughnuts, Britsish hot cross buns, German raisin buns (Rosinenbrötchen), etc. If you cannot get your hands on Schmand, using full-fat Greek yogurt will do the trick.

So here we go. This is what I call a fun recipe, a recipe that’s fun to make and fun to share. And, after all, St. Martin's Day is all about sharing.

It’s is also a real treat, these pretzel are so good eaten while still warm and fresh out of the oven and the kitchen smells just great while these are baking. Just perfect for the gloomy wheather we are having these days, a true afternoon delight alongside a cup of hot tea.

St. Martin’s Day Sweet Pretzels - Süße Martinsbrezeln

  • 500g strong baking flour (around here that’s ‚Type 550‘) OR use 500g white spelt flour OR use AP (plain) flour, plus some to work the dough
  • 150ml lukewarm milk
  • 30g fresh yeast
  • 1 tbsp molasses (I like to use ‚Rübenkraut‘, a type of regional sugar beet molasses) OR use runny honey
  • 80g melted butter
  • 200g heavy sour cream (called ‚Schmand‘ around here, this is like a sour cream with a 20% fat content), make sure it’s room temperature
  • 80g superfine (baking) sugar
  • 8g vanilla sugar
  • grated zest of ½ organic (untreated) lemon
  • pinch of fine salt


To brush the pretzels before baking
  • 2 tbsp warm milk
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
To brush the pretzels after baking
  • scraped seeds from a vanilla bean (you can substitute pure vanilla sugar)
  • 100g superfine (baking) sugar
  • ½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon
  • 50g melted butter

  1. Put the flour in a large bowl and create a well in the center of the flour.
  2. In a jug, mix together the lukewarm milk with the crumbled yeast and the molasses, stir to dissolve.
  3. Then pour the milk mixture into the well in the flour. Using a fork, mix some of the flour onto the milk mixture - just enough to cover the starter. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave the starter to rise for about 15 minutes.
  4. Then add the melted butter, the heavy sour cream, the sugar, vanilla sugar, lemon zest and salt to the flour mixture. Mix all the ingredients together and knead to form a rough dough.
  5. Tip out onto a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a slightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled kitchen wrap and set aside until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  6. In the meantime, line two or more (if you have them) baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside. Mix together the second topping, that is, the scraped seeds of the vanilla bean, the sugar and the cinnamon. NOTE: keep the vanilla bean and add it to a jar filled with sugar for homemade vanilla sugar.
  7. Once risen, knock out the air bubbles in the dough and divide into 16 equal pieces. Using your hands, roll each piece into a long rope about 50 cm long. NOTE: if you prefer big, fat pretzels, feel free to divide the dough into 8 equal pieces instead, make sure to extend the baking time by up to 10 minutes.
  8. To form into pretzels, lay the rope in a U-shape with the curve pointing towards you. Take the two ends and cross them over twice. Take the ends, lift them backwards and press them into the curve of the U-shape. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  9. Carefully place the pretzels onto your prepared baking sheets. Lightly brush with the first topping (lukewarm milk mixed together with melted butter).
  10. Cover lightly with oiled kitchen wrap. Set aside for about 15 minutes or longer until puffy (not completely risen as you would need for a bread dough).
  11. While the pretzels are rising, heat your oven to 180°C.
  12. Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Brush the warm pretzels with the first topping, that is melted butter and sprinkly rather genously with the vanilla-cinnamon-sugar mixture.
  13. Enjoy warm or at room temperature – pls note, these are best eaten the day they were made.

For more special St. Martin's Day recipes, please take a look at these lovely festive bakes:

  • St. Martin's Day Crescents (Martinshörnchen) HERE
  • Saint Martin´s Day Sweet Dough Men I (Weckmänner) HERE
  • Saint Martin´s Day Sweet Dough Men II (Weckmänner) HERE

To celebrate Martin Luther (who, btw was named after 'Martin' and baptized on November 11, 1483)

  • Yeast Luther Roses with Raisins & Cherry Jam (HERE)

Monday, October 14, 2019

Buckwheat and Chickpea Flour Crackers

Just a short post today but with a lovely recipe for Buckwheat and Chickpea Flour Crackers. In general, there are two types of crackers, leavened or unleavened. Leavened crackers (such as cream crackers) have a distinctive bubbly texture due to the bicarbonate of soda they contain. Unleavened crackers, such as matzo cackers, are made from only water and flour.

As their name suggests, my crackers are made with two alternative flours (no leavener), some sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, some good olive oil, water and black as well as white sesame seeds. These crackers are a crunchy, tasty platform for butter, cheese and anything at all savory. They are fabulous dipped in homemade hummus and they are a superb crunchy accompaniment to homemade soup, too.

Buckwheat flour, rather more exotically 'farine de sarrasin' in French, is in itself always gluten-free, it is flour milled from buckwheat, a cold climate plant from the same family as rhubarb, sorrel and dock. Buckwheat’s pointed, triangular seeds resemble cereal grains, and the fine-textured flour is greyish, speckled with black. It has a distinctive, slightly sour and nutty taste and is rich in vitamins and minerals. It is made into pancakes and bread in the US, Russia, India, China, and Brittany in Northwest France, where it is also used in rustic porridges, savory pancakes called 'galettes au sarrasin' and fruit flans. It is added to pierogi dumplings, bread and cakes throughout Eastern Europe, and to noodles in Japan.

Chickpea flour, aka, gram flour, is made from ground chickpeas, is also gluten free and is great to coat vegetables for pakoras or to make flatbreads. It is also used to make socca aka farinata (savory chickpea flour pancakes) or bhajis (Indian origin vegetables fried in batter with spices) and it is used for falafel (a Middle Eastern dish – deep-fried ball of chickpeas, herbs, spices and onion).  It is pale yellow and powdery and has an earthy flavor best suited to savory dishes.

Buckwheat and Chickpea Flour Crackers

  • 120g buckwheat flour
  • 120g chickpea (aka gram) flour
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp white sesame seeds
  • 80 ml water, room temperature (or more)
  • 3 tbsp mild olive oil (suitable for baking)
  1. In a large bowl, mix the flours, pepper and salt together with the sesame seeds.
  2. In separate bowl, whisk the water with the oil. Stir in to the dry ingredients and mix to a firm dough.
  3. Knead the dough for a few minutes. Return to the bowl, cover and set aside for about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 180°C (375°F) and line two baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment.
  5. Oil your work surface and roll the dough out as thinly as possible.
  6. Using a ruler and a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into rectangles or diamonds. Place on to the prepared baking sheets close together, but not touching.
  7. Spray or brush the crackers lightly with water. At this point you can add a topping if you wish (more seeds). You can reknead any left-over scraps, but they will not be as successful as first kneading. Alternatively, put the scraps on a baking sheet and bake them for snacking.
  8. Bake the crackers for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Turn the oven off, open the door for about 30 seconds and then close again. Leave the baking sheets in the residual heat of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes if you are looking for extra crispness. 
  9. Transfer the baked crackers to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Serve or store in an air-tight container for up to two weeks.

My favorite way to enjoy these crackers is dipped into homemade hummus that I like to top at this time of year with fresh pomegranate seeds, chopped soft garden herbs (such as basil and Italian parsley), a bit of cold-pressed olive oil, black and white sesame seeds as well as herb blossoms.