Sunday, December 25, 2016

Festive Baking - The Sultan´s Stars

Wishing all of you my friends and faithful readers and all of your families a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Or as we say around here "Frohe Weihnachten und Festtage!" These festive times would not feel right without a little sweet recipe from my kitchen.

Of course, for obvious reasons, stars are a very popular choice for Holiday creations and I was inspired to bake my lovely Sultan' s Stars during our recent visit to an amazing Medieval Christmas market.

For my Sultan´s Stars you need to make a simle rich dough raised with yeast. The dough is flavored with butter, vanilla and lemon zest. To finish the stars, I brushed them with some egg yolk mixed with a bit of milk and topped them with thinly sliced almonds (you could also opt for chopped ones) and pearl sugar. They were a delicious addition, as they toast during baking to provide some crunch and flavor contrast.

I also added a small handful of raisins and sultanas to add some additional sweetness to the dough. Entirely optional, of course, but this is a nice addition if you enjoy dried fruits in your baked goods. I am pleased to say this all worked very well, and the result is an easy, fun recipe that will leave you with light, sweet and fragrant festive stars to enjoy during the holidays.

Sultan´s Stars

  • 500g strong flour or use AP (plain) flour
  • 30g fresh yeast
  • 1/4 l tepid milk
  • 50g butter, unsalted, melted
  • 50g superfine (baking) sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsps pure vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg (M), free range or organic 
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • zest of half a lemon (organic/untreated)
  • a handful of sultanas and/or raisins
  • 1 egg yolk (M), free range or organic mixed together with 1 tbsp milk
  • slithered almonds (or use chopped almonds)
  • a bit or pearl sugar

  1. Sieve the flour in a bowl and form a pit.
  2. Put the crumbled yeast in the pit of the flour, add the milk to the yeast and stir together.
  3. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 15 minutes in a warm place.
  4. Add the butter, sugar, vanilla sugar, egg, salt, and lemon zest to the flour mixture and knead for about 5 minutes until you have a smooth dough.
  5. Add the raisins/sultanas if using and kneed some more.
  6. Transfer the dough to a greased medium bowl.
  7. Cover and let the dough rest in a warm place until it has doubled in volume (for another 60 minutes).
  8. Line two baking sheet with parchment paper (or use your Silpat baking mats).
  9. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a well-floured work surface and use a star-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many stars as possble.
  10. Cover the stars and let them rise again for 15 minutes.
  11. Preheat your oven to 200°C (392°F).
  12. Brush with the beaten egg yolk/milk mixture and sprinkle with almonds and pearl sugar.
  13. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes until golden.
  14. Let them cool on a cooling rack and enjoy. They are best eaten while still warm.

These Sultan´s Stars should be enjoyed with steaming glasses of your favorite tea, strong coffee, cocoa or a homemade mulled wine (Glühwein) that you spiced with cinnamon, cloves and star anise or even warm grape or apple juice. I would also quite happily much on one of these on a chilly winter evening too!

Hope you are spending a peaceful Christmas & Holidays with family and friends!
Ich wünsche euch ein schönes und besinnliches Weihnachtsfest und Feiertage im Kreise all eurer Lieben!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Mor Monsen's Kake – Norwegian Cake for Christmas

Norway’s  well-known Mor Monsens Kake (Mother Monsen’s Cake) is a rather classic Norwegian Christmas cake flavored with lemon zest and garnished with almonds, currants, and pearl sugar. It has been a beloved cake since the 19th century, ever since a Norwegian author wrote what is believed by some to be the first Norwegian cookbook. Hanna Winsnes, in her 1845 book entitled: Lærebog i de forskjellige Grene af Huusholdningen (which, apparently can be loosely translated as A manual On The Different Household Chores), included a recipe for this cake and attributed it to Mor Monsen (Mother Monsen) – whoever that lovely, inspiring person might have been.

This is a simple buttery cake that is a rather nice contrast to all those rich, sweet, spicy Spekulatius (speculoos), Printen, and Lebkuchen (ginger bread cookies) at this time of year. It is perfect with a cup of tea in the afternoon, but also wonderful with your morning coffee and utterly perfect after you made it home collapsing under the sheer weight of all those shopping bags from the last minute shopping and/or grocery spree.

All it takes to make this wonderful cake is creaming butter and sugar together and adding the lemon zest as well as the other cake ingredients, then spreading it all into a buttered and floured sheet pan. Sprinkle with almonds, currants, and pearl sugar, then bake. During baking, it will puff up a little, and some of the dried fruit and slithered nuts will sink down into the batter. Once golden, remove from the oven and cut into pieces – diamonds or triangles are the traditional shapes and you will have a cake that is simple yet elegant, already cut into serving pieces.

There are a lot of versions of this recipe out there and it was a bit unclear which flavor should be added to the batter. Naturally, cardamon came to my mind but in the end I settled for a bit of vanilla and some lemon zest – as I am really partial to that pairing.

Mor Monsens Kake - Mother Monsen´s Cake

  • 225g butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 225g superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • 2 eggs (M), free-range or organic
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla sugar OR ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • zest of ½ organic (untreated) lemon
  • 130g AP (plain) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 25g blanched almonds, slithered
  • 40g currants
  • 20g pearl sugar

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C (356°F).
  2. Grease and line a deep baking pan (30 x 20 cm / 12 x 8 inches).
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
  4. Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl.
  5. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  7. Stir in the vanilla (sugar or extract) and lemon zest, then fold in the flour.
  8. Spoon the batter into the baking tray and spread level.
  9. Sprinkle over the currants, almonds and pearl sugar.
  10. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the top is golden brown.
  11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  12. Cut the cooled cake into diamonds or triangles to serve.

This is a quick and easy recipe to make, using mostly store cupboard and fridge ingredients. It can be stored for a few days in an airtight container, but also freezes very well for those times you fancy a bit of cake at short notice.

It is always nice to have an easy recipe up your sleeve and, personally, I like to make this Norwegian coffee cake when I am looking for an easy cake with those familiar flavors of vanilla and lemon as well as serious buttery goodness.

So as they say in Norway – Gledelig Jul! Or as we say around here - Frohe Weihnachten!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Cooking from the CookForSyria Recipe Book - Labneh Balls and Green Freekeh Salad

Those of you that follow my blog, my cooking and baking adventures and my occasional social media appearances, may have noticed that I not only love to create and re-create traditional recipes from many different countries but that, often, I like to enter unknown territory. Food, like many other everyday things that surround us, is often a challenge. We want to rely on the well-known but we are also curious to test the unfamiliar.

Not that I wasn´t „Ottolenghied“ years ago and dove head first into new culinary adventures, that, among other things, involved stocking up on many a previously unknown ingredient. Nowadays my cupboard shelves are brimming with fabulous and exiting spices such as sumac, ras el hanout, berbere, Spanish smoked paprika (hot and mild), saffron threads, orange blossom water, and many many more.

At the end of the day,  when the rest of my family is already asleep and I am paying a nightly visit to my kitchen to see wether all is in order, I inhale the smells that still linger in my tiny kitchen even long after I have cleaned up…the previously unknown and now much beloved notes of many different spice mixes.

So, when an friend of mine who is a chef-teacher at a local cooking school, asked me wether I was interested in participating and writing about a cooking event that is aimed at getting aquainted with our „new neighbours“ all the while cooking and baking together once a month, I did not hesitate one bit. Although I must admit at being a bit overwhelmed at first at the sight of all that glorious, yet unknown food, I decided to calm my nerves by, what else, searching the internet for Syrian dishes. It did not take me long before I came across the wonderful UK site called CookForSyria.

„CookForSyria is a nation-wide (UK) fundraising initiative curated by Clerkenwell Boy and SUITCASE Magazine. The month-long campaign focused around Syrian cuisine and encouraged “everyone from the UK’s top chefs to people at home to cook and raise money in aid of UNICEF’s Syria Relief fund via Next Generation London (UNICEF’s youth branch). There are hopes that the initiative will then be continued globally.“

I ordered the Cook for Syria Recipe Book and while I am still impatiently waiting for my copy to arrive  – it will not be published before December 28 around here – I looked at the list of recipes that are already available online. Loving many of  the ideas, for starters, and because I had all the ingredients at hand, I made the Green Freekeh Salad first - utterly glorious is all I can say. I even had the Freekeh on hand…not bad.

The Green Freekeh Salad is made with freekeh and chickpeas and tons of herbs (mint, dill, Italian parsley), then cumin, garlic, pomegranate molasses, date vinegar as well as pumpkin and pomegranate seeds and a lovely finish of coarsely chopped smoked almonds. I served some freshly-brewed Mint Tea and Aubergine Boats alongside.

Since the second recipe required a twelve hour wait to drain the whey from organic Greek yogurt in a muslin cloth over my sink (that can only be done overnight at our house) – I made the Labneh Balls the next day.

Both recipes, the one for the Labneh Balls as well as the Green Freekeh Salad, are published in the recipe book and were graciously provided by chef Saima Khan, founder, private chef and caterer for The Hampstead Kitchen, based in Hampstead, North London, that „provides private chefs and catering to locals in Hampstead and neighbouring areas in and around London“.

We loved these, especially the kids. The drained yogurt balls are rolled in different herbs, seeds and nuts, such as dried mint or oregano, red za'atar, nigella seeds (baraka seeds), sesame seeds, smoked paprika, pistachio slivers, crushed smoked almonds, crushed dried rosebuds and flowers. And they do in fact look like little jewels. You can use them as spread on bread or crackers, as a canapé, or package them up and give them away as gifts to family and friends. What a delightful, colorful and delicious keeper-of-a-recipe!

So, now that I know that I do not have to be a stranger to Syrian cuisine and its bold and enticing flavors, I am looking forward to receiving my recipe book (which will be a late Christmas gift to myself this year) – and show it off at the cooking event – maybe I can even convince some of the participants to order a book or two as well. From all that I have seen, this is a wonderful recipe book - and if you need another reason to go out and get it here it is: a portion of the proceeds will go UNICEF’s Syria relief fund.

For more info on the CookForSyria initiative, please look here:

For more info about UNICEF Next Generation London, please look here: and/or look up your local UNICEF chapter.

For more info on Clerkenwellboyec1, the curator of the CookForForSyria campaign, please visit his Instagram account:

For more info about Saima Khan and The Hamstead Kitchen, please look here:

To order the Cook For Syria Recipe Book, please visit your local bookstore or order online.

Please note that the recipe book has been included in the Observer - Guardian's Best Food Books of 2016 - see Guardian (UK).

Monday, December 12, 2016

Impressions from my favorite Christmas Market

As Christmas Markets go, I rather have less than more, a bit less of everything. These days, when life is so busy  and I am faced with many a butter-flour-sugar issue in my tiny kitchen, I seek the simple, the more quiet things in life, to calm my nerves and take a breather from the hectic pre-Christmas December rush.

And, as always, I was looking forward to our visit to the one-day Christmas event at our favorite open-air museum. So, I put together a small post with a few of my favorite impressions from yesterday´s visit.

An open-air museum is a type of museum that exhibits collections of buildings and artifacts out-of-doors. The concept of an open-air museum is said to have originated in Scandinavia in the late 19th century. These kinds of museums showcase often forgotten ways of life and household tasks to present day visitors. These tasks include cooking on a cast-iron stove, baking in a wood-fired oven, dyeing cloth with plant colors, drying veggies for storage, jaming, pickling, gardening, farming, breeding cattle, weaving, rope making, and forging.

And I was not disappointed with yesterday´s visit – looking at the charming, yet simple decorations around the various timber-framed houses, was pure joy.

These vintage linen shirts were hung out to dry on a clothline adorned with wooden cloth pins and were part of a charming display that explained the use of blue dyeing plants.

It was no surprise that I was totally charmed by the simple straw star decorations ("Strohsterne") on the Christmas trees on display  –  did you know that the first written account of a “Christmas tree” appeared in the year 1605. German citizens used to decorate the trees with roses cut out of colored paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, and sweets. More than 100 years later,  people started to decorate trees and homes with candles. By the early 1900s offering gifts became an integral part of Christmas celebrations along with the Christmas tree decorations.

Straw stars ornaments are a traditional German decoration. Stars made out of straw go back to times when people couldn't afford decorations at Christmas and therefore used a material that was common in most households: straw. Straw was not only inexpensive, it is also easy to bend and cut. For many, however, straw decorations are a reminder of the baby Jesus, lying in his straw-filled crib in Bethlehem.

Sand. Soap. Soda. Vintage enamel vessels for those cleaning necessities - even during the holidays.

German kitchens used to have a decorative shelf with a set of pots, neat and tidy, filled with three essentials for a clean home: soap, sand, and soda. Although English-speaking countries never had a special storage unit like this, and didn’t think of the “three esses” as a trio, they also made much use of sandsoda and soap. Soda in the late 19th century was factory-made and quite affordable.  Among other things, it helps with laundry and with taking out stains. Soap, like soda, was quite plentiful by 1900, not too expensive, and was available in powder or flakes suitable for filling a nice enamel pots. And sand had been a basic cleaning agent for centuries - for scrubbing floors, scouring iron cooking pots, and much more.

Ah, those half-timbered houses. And the adorable seasonal decorations - traditional colors are red and green.

Evergreen plants, like fir branches, holly, ivy and mistletoe have been used for thousands of years to decorate and brighten up buildings during the long dark winter. They also reminded people that spring would come and that winter wouldn't last forever. An early use of red at Christmas were the apples on the paradise tree. Red is also the color of Holly berries, which are said to represent the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross, red is also the color of Bishops robes

Below is the picture I took in the ropeyard. There you can watch a ropemaker while he makes ropes, demonstrates rope knots and explains all about his amazing craft.

I love those wicker baskets that were used for collecting rags "to feed" the 100-year-old rag shredder - all on display in one of the historic buildings.

Collectibles. Vintage wooden Christmas ornaments for sale. I definitely have a soft spot for wooden ornaments in my heart. They remind me of my grandmother’s Christmas tree and amy childhood. There are a few that I seriously want to add to my collection this year!

Mini cake pans, a miniature doll sewing machine and red and white checkered linen napkins with tiny cutlery for sale. Wouldn´t you just love to receive those as a gift?!

And, of course, these wooden kitchen tools caught my attention – loved the rolling pin, meat tenderizing mallet, beater, and butter churn.

So, there, I took a brief moment and indulged in a few impressons from the things I treasure the most these days.Now, I believe, it is time to get back into the kitchen to bake a few of our beloved Christmas treats and plunge head first into the hustle and bustle of December.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent - A Recipe for Marzipan Stollen Muffins and Stollen Spice Mix

As far as the classic German Christmas cake called Stollen, Christmas Stollen (or Weihnachtsstollen), is concerned, it comes in many different shapes and sizes these days – traditionally this is a rich, yeasted loaf enriched with fruit, cherries, nuts and citrus peel. When it comes out of the oven, it is brushed with tons melted butter, then covered thickly in icing sugar. Don´t get me wrong, we enjoy the classic German Stollen – if you are looking for a more traditional Christmas Stollen, you can visit my blog, I posted a wonderful recipe here – but this year, which seems to be busier than ever, I thought I'd transform a true classic into muffins for a quicker result with just as much flavor!

Stollen recipes also have a lot of symbolism and history. There are records and recipes in Germany as far back as the 1300s, and the marzipan wrapped in the dough symbolises the infant swaddled in cloth. I really like this idea of symbolism, and it is nice that these traditions are still with us, all these years later.

Marzipan Stollen Muffins
(Author: The Kitchen Lioness)

Ingredients for the Muffins
  • 150g butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 100g superfine (caster) baking sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla sugar (Bourbon Vanille Zucker)
  • 2 eggs (M), free-range or organic
  • 200g AP (plain) flour 
  • 2 tsp baking powder (Weinsteinbackpulver)
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 ¼  tsp Stollen Spice Mix* (or you can substitute ½  tsp Mixed Spice**  with ½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon, and ¼  tsp freshly grated nutmeg)
  • 100ml milk, room temperature (I use 3.5 %)
  • 75g dried cranberries, chopped roughly if too large (you can use raisins, sultanas aka golden raisins, or dried cherries instead)
  • 75g dried figs, chopped (you can use Mixed Peel aka candied lemon and orange peel instead)
  • 60g Marzipan, diced (I use Lübecker Marzipan)
  • 60g blanched whole almonds, finely chopped

Ingredients for the Butter-Sugar Topping
  • 25 grams, butter, unsalted, melted
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar

In Addition
  • a 12-cup capacity muffin pan
  • 12 festive paper liners or silicone molds
  • pastry brush
  • sieve

Preparation of the Stollen Muffins
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C (356°F).
  2. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with muffin papers or silicone inserts (I used festive red tulip paper liners).
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla sugar until light and fluffy (3 to 5 minutes).
  4. Add eggs to the creamed butter mixture, one at a time, making sure to cream well after each addition (about a minute for each egg).
  5. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, spice mix (or spices).
  6. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, beating just until combined after each addition.
  7. With a light touch, fold the dried fruit, marzipan and almonds into the batter.
  8. Divide the muffin batter among the 12 muffin cases (I use my 5 cm ice cream scoop here but you can also use tablespoons).
  9. Bake the Stollen Muffins for approximately 20 to 25 minutes or untli slightly risen and golden brown on top.
  10. Remove the muffin pan from the oven.
  11. When the muffins have cooled a little and are firm enough to handle, lift them out of the muffin pan and transfer onto a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes.
  12. While the muffins are cooling, melt the butter, and use it to brush the warm muffins.
  13. Using a fine sieve, immediately dust the muffins with the icing sugar, and add another dusing of icing sugar just before serving. NOTE: Although these are best served warm or at room temperature, they will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container. If you keep them for a few days, make sure to re-heat slightly before eating (microwave) and enjoy them either plain or broken up and slathered with unsalted butter and honey or marmalade.

Stollen Spice Mix / Stollengewürz
(feel free to double or triple the quantities, as needed)

Ingredients for the Stollen Spice Mix (*)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon (I always use Ceylon cinnamon)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground mace

Preparation of the Stollen Spice Mix
  1. Carefully measure out the spices.
  2. Mix all spices well.
  3. Scoop the mix into a spice jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  4. Label the jar (with date and contents).
  5. Use this mixture in recipes that call for Stollen Spice Mix
  6. Discard any leftovers after four months.
(**) Mixed Spice: British blend of sweet spices, similar to the Pumpkin Pie Spice used in the United States

These festive muffins capture the essence of a classic German Stollen with their cake like interior, delightful pockets of gooey almondy marzipan, a bit of crunch from the almonds as well as wonderful fruity flavors from the dried fuits as well as a must-have sugar-coated exterior. Flavored with warm Christmassy spices, they take on the feel of Advent season and Christmas.

We were really pleased how they turned out. They are ideal as Advent teatime treats but if you're planning to serve them on Christmas morning or for breakfast, you can cut down on prep time by weighing and mixing all your dry ingredients and lining your muffin tray on Christmas Eve or the night before. Then all that is left to do is a bit of creaming and baking which will fill your kitchen and house with wonderful seasonal aromas.

Wishing all of you a peaceful and delicious Advent season!