Sunday, August 18, 2019

Cowboy Cookies for a Birthday Girl

A couple of years ago, I came across a recipe for so-called 'Cowboy Cookies'. Needless to say that the recipe name attracted my attention, a bit like the 'Everything-but-the-Kitchen-Sink Cookies'. Although I am know to bake lots of different cookies following more traditional European recipes, I also love to bake big, chewy, chunky American-style cookies. To make a long cookie-baking story short, a couple of years ago, I started baking Cowboy cookies and the kids loved them. Then, on a regular basis, I got requests for Cowboy cookies. This past week I got a request for Birthday Cowboy Cookies AND a I was handed a new recipe. It seems the birthday girl was attracted to the fun title of the cookies for 'Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies'. Why not try a new recipe, I said, I was going to bake Cowboy Cookies (and a lovely cake) for the birthday anyways.

Former First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush is credited with creating this version of Cowboy Cookies. And the story behind her now famous Cowboy Cookie recipe is interesting, to say the least.

It was already commonplace for US presidential candidates to release family recipes during their campaign, it is thought 'to help humanize the candidates and also allows them to promote family values'. But contests pitting the baking ability of potential first ladies against each other are relatively new. They began in 1992 when Hillary Rodham Clinton got everyone talking with her infamous cookie comment, discussing working as a lawyer while her husband was governor of Arkansas:

''I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas,'' she said. ''But what I decided to do was pursue my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.''

She may have been trying to say that in 1992, women had other options. But instead, her remark created a reactionary cookie contest, the brainchild of Family Circle Magazine, which published her chocolate chip recipe and one from Barbara Bush, asking readers to try baking both and then vote on their favorite. Interestingly, the results of the bake-off have almost always predicted the winner of the presidential election, save a couple outliers.

In the first First Lady bake-off in 1992, Hillary Clinton’s chocolate chip cookies beat out Barbara Bush’s chocolate chip recipe, and again in 1996, Hillary’s chocolate chip recipe won over Elizabeth Dole’s Pecan Roll cookies. In 2000, Laura Bush debuted her Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies, and as expected, they beat our Tipper Gore’s Ginger Snap recipe. Laura Bush switched up her original recipe during her husband’s second presidential campaign in 2004 to a similar oatmeal chocolate chunk recipe, but it’s her first Cowboy Cookie that’s become so famous.

Here is an adaptation of the winning recipe, it’s a classic chocolate chip cookie that's been beefed up with old-fashioned oats, chopped pecans, shredded coconut and sweet cinnamon.

Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies
(Adapted from Laura Bush)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder 
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda 
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (I like to use 'Ceylon cinnamon')
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I like to use fine sea salt)
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (I like to use superfine baking sugar)
  • 1 1/2 cups light-brown sugar, packed 
  • 3 eggs (I used 'M', organic)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla (I used pure vanilla extract)
  • 3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used dark Belgian baking chocolate chunks)
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (around here 'Kernige Haferflocken')
  • 2 cups sweetened flake coconut 
  • 2 cups chopped pecans

  1. Heat oven to 350°F ( 175°C).
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in bowl.
  3. In a very large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in sugars to combine thoroughly.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Beat in vanilla.
  5. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips, oats, coconut and pecans.
  6. For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup (I used an ice cream scoop instead) dough onto ungreased baking sheets (I lined my sheets with baking parchment), spacing 3 inches (7.5 cm) apart.
  7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until edges are lightly browned; rotate sheets halfway through. 
  8. Remove cookies to rack to cool.

These are my minimal changes: the original recipe yields between 36 to 42 rather huge cookies, I halved the recipe and made considerably smaller cookies using a regular ice cream scoop. I also reduced the baking time to 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure to let them cool on the baking sheets before trying to remove them. I also lined my baking sheets with baking parchment instead of baking the cookies on ungreased baking sheets.

If you enjoy chewy cookies loaded with mix-ins like pecans (which I luckily food at my health food store), old-fashioned oats, large flaked coconut and dark chocolate (I splurged and used a wonderful deep, dark Belgian baking chocolate), these are you.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) and Herb Bundles (Kräuterstrauß) for Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt)

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary (Mariä Himmelfahrt) commemorates the Virgin Mary's assumption into heaven. Assumption Day is celebrated on or around August 15 in many countries, particularly in parts of Europe and South America. This day is a public holiday in the German states of Saarland and some parts of Bavaria. This August feast day is the oldest of all the festivals of Mary. The annual commemoration of Mary is connected with the ancient traditional belief that her body did not decay but soon after the burial was united again with her soul and was taken up to Heaven.

The universal belief of Mary's assumption has been framed in ancient legends and stories. The most famous of these legends is that Mary’s tomb was opened on the request of St. Thomas, the tomb was found empty, and thus the Apostles concluded that her body was taken up to Heaven. In lieu of her body, it was said that there was a wonderful smell of flowers and herbs.

In pre-Christian times the season from the middle of August to the middle of September was observed as a period of thanksgiving for the successful harvest of grains. Many symbolic rites were aimed toward the assurance of prosperous weather for the reaping of the fall fruits, vegetables and grains and for winter planting. Some elements of these ancient cults are now connected with the feast and season of the Assumption. All through the Middle Ages the days from August 15 to September 15 were called 'Our Lady's Thirty Days' (Frauendreißiger) in the German-speaking sections of Europe. Many Assumption shrines even today show Mary clothed in a robe covered with ears of grain.

Popular legends ascribe a character of blessing and goodness to 'Our Lady's Thirty Days' and all food produced during this period is especially wholesome and good, and will remain fresh much longer than at other times of the year.

The fact that herbs picked in August were considered of great power in healing occasioned the medieval practice of the 'Blessing of Herbs' on Assumption Day. The Church thus elevated a popular belief of pre-Christian times into a religious observance and gave it the character of a Christian rite of profound meaning.

There are a number of special traditions about trees and plants on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary and my personal favorite tradition on this day is the collection and benediction of herbs and plants.  Some people will go out into the fields and meadows to collect herbs with medicinal and culinary properties, or they will collect culinary herbs from their gardens. Popular herbs to collect include agrimony, chamomile, clover, mugwort, mullein, St John's wort, tansy, thyme, valerian, verbena, wormwood, and yarrow.

Each herb in the Herb Bundle has a distinct taste but also a special meaning and/or purpose. The rose, for example, represents Mary, lavender is known to soothe, mint is a herb with refreshing qualities, chamomile has healing properties etc. There are no 'official rules' for Herb Bundles, but the number of herbs (and flowers) that one puts into a bundle should always be a 'magic number':

3 – the number 3 represents 'Trinity'
7 - the number 7 represents 'Days of Creation' or the 'Sacraments'
9 - the number 9 represents 3x3, meaning three times 'Trinity'
12 -  the number 12 represents the number of Apostles or the 'Tribes of Israel'

After the benediction of the herbs, some herb bundles are placed by alters and others are fixed to the walls of houses and stalls. And although there is no such thing as one specific culinary tradition for Assumption Day, there are many dishes that can be prepared with those healthy August herbs.

So, in honor of Mary's special feast day, I decided to bake a Tear & Share Herb Bread with lots of herbs from my kitchen garden – the soft ones, like Italian parsley, chives and basil, are folded into the yeast dough, while the sturdy ones, like sage, thyme and rosemary graze the top of this delicious, sharable bread.

Tear & Share Herb Bread - Kräuterbrot

  • 500g strong white flour, plus extra for kneading (around here that’s 'backstarkes Weizenmehl Type 550')
  • 21gr fresh yeast OR 7g sachet dried yeast
  • 125ml whole milk (I use milk with 3.5% fat content)
  • 125ml water
  • 1 tbsp molasses (around here that’s ‚Zuckerrübensirup‘)
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 30g butter, room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 3 tbsp fresh, soft herbs, chopped finely (such as Italian parsley, basil, chives or dill)
  • a few small branches of rosemary, thyme, oregano or a few sage leaves, for garnish
  • good olive oil suitable for baking
  • a few flakes of coarse sea salt (optional)
In addition
  • a springform pan, 24 cm; butter and dusted with flour, excess flour shaken out

  1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Heat the 125ml of water and the the 125ml of milk in a saucepan over a low heat until lukewarm, add the molasses and the yeast and stir until dissolved.
  3. Make a well in the center of the flour, add the milk/yeast mixture, cover with a bit of flour, cover with a tea towel and let rest for about 15 minutes.
  4. Uncover the bowl, add the salt and the butter and knead for a good 8 minutes until the dough comes together and turns soft and elastic.
  5. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl and cover loosely with a tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for about 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
  6. When the dough has doubled in size, tip it onto a floured surface and flatten with the palms of your hands. Spoon the chopped soft herb mixture on top and knead until evenly incorporated. Sprinkle with a little extra flour if it becomes sticky.
  7. Place the dough in the oiled bowl and cover again with the tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for another hour.
  8. When the dough has risen again, tip it onto your lightly floured work surface one more time.
  9. Divide the dough into nine (at this point you can use a scale to make sure your dough is equally diveded into 9 portions) and shape into neat balls by pulling the dough from the outside of the ball and pushing into the center. Turn over with the ends underneath. Place the rolls in a circle in the prepared springform pan. Cover loosely with lightly oiled kitchen wrap and leave to prove in a warm place for a good 15 minutes OR until the rolls are puffed, risen and 'have come together'. 
  10. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C convection).
  11. Brush the top of each roll lightly with olive and place a small sage leaf or small herb branch on top. Brush with more olive oil (sprinkle with a bit of coarse sea salt - optional) and bake in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown. If the bread browns too quickly, cover loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.
  12. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool a little before serving & sharing. Serve with good farm fresh butter OR with extra good olive oil and coarse sea salt for dunking.

Paintings and other artworks depicting Mary's Assumption often depict Jesus or God, representing heaven, at the top. Early Christians or other people are usually in the lower part of the paintings and represent life on earth. The paintings often show Mary making her journey to heaven. She may be accompanied by angels or cherubs who serve as her guides.

The above painting depicts Mary's Assumption and I took the picture last week at the St. Michael's church in Luxembourg City, Luxemburg (Méchelskierch, Stad Lëtzebuerg).

The picture below depicts the inside of St. Mary of the Assumption church in Cologne (St. Mariä Himmelfahrt, Köln).

(Ad/Werbung): my recipe for the Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) is part of my series for a 'local' (meaning across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia) 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 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
  • and, today for Mary's Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) my Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) (HERE) - more delicious treats to come very soon.

Monday, August 5, 2019

August Baking: Belgian Salted Butter Pound Cake - Backen im August: Belgischer Salzbutter Kuchen

We were in Antwerp (Belgium) this past weekend, and spent a rather pleasant time there thanks to having planned visits to the market and a number of different bakeries and coffee shops. I am always intrigued by the wide variety of baked goods and specialties that Belgian bakeries offer. All those treats seem to be displayed in a very, let’s call it 'French kind of way' – the way the tarts, most of them loaded with fresh fruits and berries of the season, savory quiches, flaky croissants, artisan breads, fresh rolls, buttery madeleines and blissful chocolates are displayed, always reminds me of French pastry shops.

I have taken a particular liking to the selection of Belgian pound (loaf) cakes as well as the way they are presented. Apart from the classic butter pound cake, you will likely see lemon, almond, vanilla, and chocolate pound cakes as well. Some plain, some adorned with almonds or a simple powdered sugar icing. Their shape is longer than the ones we are used to in Germany, a bit sleaker, more elegant, they always seem to be more delicate, yet their crumb and texture is pleasantly rich and delicious.

Ah, you’re just back from Antwerp. So this must be a Belgian recipe, you say. Well, yes, and no. On our recent visit, I noticed a vanilla butter type of pound cake in a pastry shop, bought a slice, tasted it, and since my extensive thumbing through my collection of Belgian cookbooks did not turn up any satisfactory results, and since the internet didn’t provide any similar recipes either, I tried to re-create it with Belgian ingredients.

Apart, of course, from the baking pan that I bought a long time ago, I used Belgian salted butter, eggs and fine sea salt. And I am more than happy with the result. Given that there are a number of Belgian items involved here, and given the fact that it truly resembles the lovely cake that I tasted in Belgium, I believe this fine teacake definitely merits the addition of 'Belgian' to its 'Salted Butter Pound Cake' name.

Belgian Salted Butter Pound Cake

  • 125g butter with sea salt (I used Belgian butter), at room tempertaure, plus some to grease the baking pan
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt (I used Belgian sea salt)
  • 250g powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
  • 24 g pure vanilla sugar, (around here that equals 3 packets of 'Bourbon Vanille Zucker'), either qood quality store-bought OR homemade 
  • finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 2 eggs (M), free-range or organic (I used Belgian eggs; the weight for both eggs weighed together was 56g with shells)
  • 250g all purpose (plain) flour, plus some to flour the baking pan (my flour hails from a Belgian mill)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 175ml full fat cream (I used cream with a 30% fat content)
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • seasonal berries or fruits, to serve
  1. Preheat your oven to 180° C (356°F).
  2. Lightly grease a regular loaf pan: 24cm x 10.5cm (9.5in x 4in) or 26.5cm x 9.5cm (10.5in x 3.7in). For this recipe I used the 26.5cm x 9.5cm loaf pan.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter until very light. Beat in the salt, both sugars and the lemon zest gradually and then the eggs, one by one. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat until the mixture is very light and fluffy.
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder,
  5. Alternately add the wet ingredients (cream and lemon juice) and the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour.
  6. Stir to combine after each addition.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.
  8. Bake the cake for 60 to 65 minutes, until it springs back when pressed lightly on top, and a long toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. NOTE: if the cake appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with foil for the final 20 minutes or more of baking.
  9. Remove the cake from the oven, and loosen its edges. Wait 5 minutes, then carefully turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Cool completely before serving, as it will crumble and fall apart if you cut into the cake while it is still warm.
  10. To dress the cake up a bit, simply sift some powdered sugar over the top (just before serving) and serve fresh seasonal fruits or berries alongside.

You can keep this pound cake for a few days – it gets even better a day or two after you made it – you will notice that the fine sea salt taste is a bit more pronounced on the second day. But it will keep moist and delicious for up to a week. And while a traditional pound cake has no leavening other than air and eggs, my recipe includes some baking powder as well, to lighten it up a little.

You might have noticed that my recipe calls for salted butter as well as fine sea salt - this will add the most delightful bit of sea salt taste to the final cake - you might want to experiment with the kind of salted butter you want to use for this recipe. I used good-quality, regular salted butter. If in doubt, give the butter a taste before you get started on the recipe, if the butter is very salty, omit the additional quantity of salt.

This special pound cake is incredibly rich, and, fortunately, one slice goes a long way. Better yet, no need to serve whipped cream alongside, but, by all means, if you happen to have some seasonal berries on hand, like these very tangy red currants, serve them alongside. You will end up with a perfectly balanced dessert here – buttery cake with tangy berries is my kind of August dessert bliss.

Make this easy pound cake for breakfast, afternoon tea or for a summer picnic.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

White Camembert Tart & Marienstatter Apple Chutney: Summertime Dining at its Best

The other day, while doing my grocery shopping I was looking for a nice French 'Brie', oftentimes lovingly nicknamed 'The Queen of Cheeses'. Brie is a soft cheese named after the French region Brie. It's a creamy, off-white cheese with an edible rind, soft-ripened, made from cow's milk and usually sold in small rounds. While waiting my turn at the cheese counter and oogling the generous offerings, I noticed some delicious looking rounds of 'Camembert de Normandie', also made from cow's milk, with a smooth, runny interior, a buttery flavor and a white bloomy rind that is also meant to be eaten with the cheese. It occurred to me that whenever I see Camembert it always makes me think of a popular appetizer, Breaded Camembert Rounds with Cranberry Sauce that my mother found hard to resist whenever she spied the dish on a restaurant menu.

Well, if you, like most people I know, including myself of course, enjoy warm Camembert oozing from its breading and mingling with a tangy, fruity compote or chutney, this is definitely a recipe you should try. To compliment this dish, Germans usually go the 'Preiselbeermarmelade' route – which, without dwelling on botanical subleties here, is a compote akin to, but not exactly the same as, cranberry sauce. As an alternative, I quite enjoy a red currant jam alongside my breaded Camembert. But, for now, that traditional recipe is meant for another blogpost in the near future.

Back to my shopping for Brie. When it was my turn to order cheese at the counter, I had changed my mind. I proceeded to buy three smallish rounds of Camembert de Normandie instead of the Brie and I was going to serve a simple to make White Camembert Tart that should reflect the flavors of Breaded Camembert Rounds in a tart shell.

By the time I had placed my Camembert cheese loot into my shopping kart, I was keen on getting started on the pastry dough (it does need to rest and cool for a bit) and had no desire to look further for that sometimes elusive 'Preiselbeermarmelade'So, while waiting in line to pay my groceries and pondering the contents of my freezer and cupboard, I remembered that one of my kind dinner guests had recently visited the Abbey Marienstatt (Abtei Marienstatt), located in the Westerwald region. While there, he had tasted some of the delicacies lovingly produced at the Abbey and chosen to buy some very tasty Apple Chutney (Apfelchutney), of which I was the lucky recipient. So, to make a long story short, 'Marienstatter Applechutney‘ alongside a White Camembert Tart it was for dinner that early summer evening.

While I was running rather late that day with taking pics and all, I ended up really liking the way this very easy recipe turned out. A simple, no-fuss, all-butter pastry, fresh eggs, French cheese, some sea salt, white pepper, freshly ground nutmeg, and freshly ground bread crumbs is all it takes to get that breaded Camembert taste. For this recipe it turned out to be a tasty idea to add some freshly made bread crumbs after the first 20 minutes of baking, right on top of the still wobbly custard, then continue baking until done. Voilà! Not bad for a weekday supper.

White Camembert Tart


For the Pastry
  • 250 g all purpose (plain) flour (alternatively, you can use white spelt flour), plus some for flouring the tart pan and your work surface
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 125 g unsalted butter, nice and cold, plus some for greasing the pan
  • 1 egg (L), free- range or organic
  • 1-3 tbsp cold water
In addition
  • one quiche pan 26 cm or 28cm (10.5in or 11in), preferably with a removable bottom
  • a soft-bristled pastry brush
  • ceramic pie weights (or beans/rice) and two sheets of parchment paper for blind-baking and for lining the baking pan
For the Filling
  • 3 Camembert rounds, cut into slices; shingled into pre-baked pie shell (each weighs about 125g for a total of 375g), preferably Camembert de Normandie
  • 3 eggs (L), free-range or organic
  • 200ml cooking (double) cream
  • 200g sour cream
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground white pepper
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 heaping tbsps homemade bread crumbs (not the sandy ones form the box, pls)
To serve
  • apple or pear chutney OR
  • cranberry jam (which, around here would be 'Preiselbeermarmelade‘ – the 'cranberry' is the North American cousin of the 'Preiselbeere')

Preparation of the Quiche
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and the salt. Cut up the cold butter into small cubes and, using your fingertips, rub together the ingredients just until it looks like coarse oatmeal.
  2. Add the egg and the water and mix everything together as quickly as possible. Pat the dough into a disc. Wrap in food wrap and place in the fridge for at least one hour (better for three hours).
  3. Take the pastry out of the fridge 30 minutes prior to making the quiche.
  4. Then on a lightly-floured work surface, roll out the dough to a circle 28cm (12 inches).
  5. Grease the baking pan with some butter and line the pan with parchment paper, then butter again and dust with flour and make sure to shake out the excess. Then line the pan with the pastry (either cut off the excess dough OR crimp the edges) and place in the fridge for another 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
  7. Take the baking pan out of the fridge, dock the dough with the tines of a fork, line with crumbled parchment paper, fill-up with pie weights and ‚blind‘ bake in the middle of the oven for about 12 to 15  minutes, or until the pastry is dry to the touch.
  8. Take the baking pan out of the oven, remove the pie weights and the parchment paper and bake again for another 5 to  10 minutes or until the pastry has a golden color. Leave the crimped edge OR use a small, sharp knife to trim away the excess pastry from the edge.
  9. While your tart case pre-bakes, you can make your filling. In a bowl, beat the eggs and cream together until evenly combined.
  10. Add a pinch of freshly ground white pepper, a good pinch of fine salt, and some freshly grated nutmeg.
  11. Place the Camembert slices over the base of the pastry case.
  12. Carefully pour the creamy egg mixture into the tart case and place on a baking sheet.
  13. Bake for a good 20 minutes, until set but still wobbly, then sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and very carefully slide the baking shett back into the oven.
  14. Continue to bake for another 15 to 25 minutes or until the filling is just set and golden.
  15. Leave in the pan for 5 minutes, then carefully unmould the tart.
  16. Serve warm or cold, with a side salad and homenmade cranberry jam (optional).

If you would like to speed things up further, you can go with a good quality, premade shortcrust pastry.

  • For more info with respect to the Abbey Marienstatt (Abtei Marienstatt), pls go HERE (in German)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Of Müsli Power Bars & Saint Christopher's Day (The Patron Saint of all Travelers and Motorists)

School holidays are in full swing around here. In Germany they are set at regional level by each of the 16 federal states (Bundesländer). Each state will have holidays each year for fall, Christmas, Easter and summer, plus schools in most states also have a winter break around February. A few states have a break of about one to two weeks for Pentecost around May/June. There are also days off throughout the year which vary between the different states.

German school holidays are often used as a time for families to get together and celebrate festive holidays such as Christmas and Easter, go away on family vacations or have a local day trip. Holidays may also coincide with regional days of celebration or Carnival periods - for example as we live in the Rhineland, we always have a few days off for Carnival celebrations (for this year's recipe with respect to these popular holidays, pls go HERE).

Different beginning and ending days for the holidays are meant to ensure that the German highways, rail system and airports are not overwhelmed with vacationing families at the same time.

But just in case you want to make sure to be well prepared for and well-fed during your trip (no matter the method of transportation), following is a lovely recipe for my Müsli Power Bars that can easily be prepared in advance of your trip, fed to your hungry travel companions during the trip or be packed up and enjoyed at your place of desination. They are chock-full of protein (nut butter), heart healthy oats, dried fruits, coconut and dark chocolate to keep all of you travelers happy and your energy levels up.

Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel)

  • 265g rolled oats (around here that would be 'kernige Haferflocken‘)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (I like to use 'Ceylon cinnamon‘)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 50g chocolate chunks (I like to use dark chocolate with 70% cacao) – you can use nuts, seed or chopped dried fruits instead 
  • 30g unsweetened shredded aka dessicated coconut (I like to use coarsely shredded coconut, available at most health food stores)
  • 60g dried fruits such as sour cherries, cranberries or 30g dried raisins and 30g sultanas or go with 60g apricots (chopped)
  • 75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150g dark brown sugar (or use light brown sugar)
  • 35g superfine baking (caster) sugar 
  • 2 eggs (M), free-range or organic, at room temperature
  • 250g peanut butter, smooth or chunky (I like to use a brand from The Netherlands with small chunks) – you could swap another nut butter if you prefer OR make your own nut butter
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar (around here that's 'Bourbon Vanillezucker')

  1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC (356°F).
  2. Butter a 25x5x25cm rectangular/brownie baking pan. Line with baking parchment - leaving leave enough to grab when the baked bars are finished, so you can use the overhang as handles, to lift the bars from the pan.
  3. Mix the oats, cinnamon, baking soda, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. In a small bowl, mix the chocolate chips, coconut, and dried fruits.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl by hand, beat the butter and brown and granulated sugars until light and fluffy. 
  6. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl, to make sure they are well-incorporated.
  7. Then add the peanut butter and the vanilla sugar and mix, then add the oat mixture and mix on the lowest speed of the mixer for two minutes.
  8. Mix in the chocolate chips, coconut, and cherries and stir until completely incorporated, making sure everything is well-mixed.
  9. Scrape the dough into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top. 
  10. Bake until the top is golden brown and the center feels just set when you press it lightly, 20 to 25 minutes. NOTE: pls make sure not to overbake, as they still harden while cooling and they should be soft and chewy inside.
  11. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack; cool completely before slicing (this can take up to two hours).
  12. Eat the same day they were made OR keep the Müsli Bars in a cookie tin between layers of parchment paper (to prevent sticking). 

While we can all use energy from the these delicious Müsli Power Bar during our travels, it certainly cannot hurt to reassure ourselves of a bit of saintly protection of St. Cristopher, whose service to travelers earned him the honor of being the patron saint and protector of travelers. It is the story of a man who was, himself, a traveler, and of his journey to find Christ.

According to legend, St. Christopher, initially called ‚Reprobus‘, encountered a hermit who instructed him on the Christian faith. He suggested that he might use his strength to help travelers cross a dangerous river. One day a child arrived to be carried across the river, Reprobus took the child upon his shoulders, but as he crossed the river, the child grew heavier until Reprobus feared he would fall and that they would both drown. When he finally reached the other side, he said to the child: "You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were." The child replied: "You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work."

When they reached the opposite bank, Christ asked Reprobus to press his staff into the ground. When he did, the staff turned into a beautiful flowering tree, and he was rewarded. Christ then baptized Reprobus in the river and gave him his Christian name which ‚Christopher‘ which means ‚Christ-bearer‘.

The above three pics of the St. Christopher statutes were taken by me at the famous Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), St. Andreas Basilica (Basilika St. Andreas) also in Cologne and at the Münster Cathedral (St.-Paulus-Dom). 

Christopher spent the remainder of his life in the service of Christ and worked tirelessly to spread Christ's teachings. He died a martyr in Lycia, in 251 A.D.

During the 1960s, the Catholic Church reviewed and revised the Calendar of Saints, and eliminated the feast days of several saints including the celebration of St. Christopher which was on July 25th. Although Christopher does remain a saint, his day of celebration is no longer listed in the Catholic calendar. Despite this, devotion to St. Christopher continues. Travelers wear St. Christopher medals around their necks, place St. Christopher medallions on their dashboards, carry St. Christopher medal key chains in their pockets, or affix a St. Christopher bell to their bicycle handlebar - like my hubby did!

All St. Christopher medals depict a bearded, middle-aged man. Upon his shoulders sits a child representing Christ, and in his hand is a staff. The Latin inscription around the medal, this one on a bicycle bell reads ‚Sancte Christophore - Iter Nostrum Protege‘ which means ‚Saint Christopher protect us during our travels‘.

(Ad/Werbung): my recipe for the Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel) is part of my series for a 'local' (meaning across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia) 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 listen (in German) HERE.

The various recipes 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)
  • and, today for St. Christopher's Day (St. Christophorus), these energy-packed Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel) (HERE) - more delicious treats to come very soon.