Saturday, November 18, 2017

Pain d'épices - Spice Bread

Pain d'épices (French for "spice bread") is a classic moist French cake or quick bread, a kind of cross between a cake and a bread, or as I like to refer to it a „breakfast cake“. There is no butter in this recipe, just milk to bind the ingredients and there is some rye flour in there. Which means that it’s actually rather well-suited to being spread with fresh butter and topped with jam or honey (my favorite).

This cake is something that people tend to buy rather than make these days. However, given how simple the recipe is, there is no reason not to give it a try.

The only prep involved here is scalding of the milk and then letting it cool before mixing the batter. And maybe whipping the egg whites but other than that, this recipe only requires you to just mix everything together until you have a smooth – but still thick – batter, scrape it into your baking pan and bake. Then you will be rewarded by a rich, spicy aroma during baking, and that aroma will linger in your kitchen for a while.

While this cake can be eaten the same day it was made, if you have the time and patience to store it for a day or two, the texture of the loaf will be denser, the loaf will be slightly sticky on top, but it will also cut more easily, making it perfectly suited as something to nibble on during the week for breakfast, but it’s also tasty enough on its own to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee as an afternoon snack. Or do as the French do and cut thin slices to serve under slabs of foie gras. Or do as the Belgians do and add toasted cubes to a wintry Carbonnade flamande (A Flemish Beef and Beer Stew).

In this recipe I use a rather traditional French spice mixture „Quatre épices“. However, you can tweak the recipe and use a gingerbread spice mix or perhaps a Belgian spice mixture like speculooskruiden used in traditional biscuits (the Dutch call it speculaaskruiden). You can also add nuts, dried fruit such as golden raisins or chopped apricots or even preserved ginger. I like it more on the plain side and sometimes add some coarse sugar (from Belgium) as a topping.

Pain d'épices – Spice Bread

  • 125g plain (AP) flour
  • 125g rye flour (I used rye flour "Type 1150" as it is called around here, which is not the whole grain kind. Pls note that rye flour has to be mixed with regular flour for this recipe)
  • 8g baking powder 
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 250g runny (liquid) honey PLUS some honey for brushing the warm cake (optional) NOTE:  if you are looking for a more pronounced honey taste, you can opt for buckwheat honey for example OR go with your favorite local honey, if possible
  • 100 ml milk (I use 3.5%)
  • 2 eggs (M) organic or free range
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1 ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4  tsp spice mix „Quatre épices“  (a spice mix used mainly in French cuisine, the name means "four spices" in French and it contains ground pepper, cloves, nutmeg and anise) OR (1/4 tsp each grated nutmeg, ground cloves, freshly-ground black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon anise)
  • chopped nuts, dried fruits or candied ginger, orange or citrus peel (entirely optional)

  1. Grease a loaf pan (23 cm or 9 inch) with butter and line with baking parchment.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
  3. Put the flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, spices and salt in a bowl. Mix well.
  4. In a small saucepan bring the milk to a boil, then let it cool and add the honey to it, stir until dissolved. Cool completely.
  5. Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, spices and salt in a bowl. 
  6. Add the flour mixture to the milk mixture, add the egg yolks and stir well until you have a smooth batter.
  7. In another bowl whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until firm. If using: add any dried fruit, nuts, ginger etc. 
  8. Fold the egg whites into the batter – do this carefully.
  9. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  10. Cool 10 minutes, then tip the cake out of the loaf pan OR let cool for a few minutes, brush the warm cake with honey (optional), wait another few minutes until the honey has been absorbed a bit into the cakem, then tip the cake out of the loaf pan and transfer to a cooling rack. 
  11. Let cool completely and when cool, wrap in food wrap OR enjoy on the same day.
  12. Personally, I prefer to let the cake rest for a day. To serve cut into slices and eat as is OR toast and slather with fresh butter and jam, marmelade, cream cheese or whatever strikes your fancy. NOTE: The Pain d’épices can be wrapped in plastic and stored for at least a week, during which time the flavors will meld and the texture will become denser. 

This is a nice, easy recipe that gives you a lovely spicy cake. This is also a good one to make with kids, as the recipe is quite easy. And a rather nice way to start my seasonal baking frenzy...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Yeast Luther Roses with Raisins & Cherry Jam to Celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

To celebrate Reformation Day in a kind of sweet way, I baked these lovely treats and called them Yeast Luther Roses. Reformation Day always falls on October 31st, and, this year, was pronounced a public holiday in all of Germany to mark the 500th anniversary of the posting of Martin Luther's 95 "theses". Public holiday meant no school, no office, shops closed and lots of rememberance events. And some peace and quiet - perfect time to bake if you ask me.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther published his 95 theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. Luther’s famous posting of his theses on the door of the Wittenberg castle church were the prelude to the Reformation, one of the central events in European history. The Reformation encouraged the development of an image of humanity that was based on a new Christian concept of freedom. Therefore the formation of autonomy and the question of conscience for each individual person gained center stage.

The Reformation crucially influenced enlightenment and basic human rights, just like modern democracy. Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was essential for the growth of a uniform written German language and opened a door to education for a vast part of population that had had no access to it before. There is hardly any sphere of life that wasn’t touched by the Reformation.

The Luther Rose (or Seal) is one of the best known symbols of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. It dates back to the reformer and can still be found today in the coat of arms of numerous towns. Martin Luther used the symbol named after him to mark his letters and writings. To this end he got a rose cut in wood as a cylindrical image and printed it under his writings to identify them as original printouts and prevent them from being copied.

Yeast Luther Roses with Raisins & Cherry Jam
(yield: makes eight buns)

Ingredients for the Yeast Dough
  • 500 g strong flour (strong flour has a higher gluten content than regular plain/all purpose flour and is ideal for making yeast dough. Around here we call it "Type 505")
  • 30g (1 ounce) fresh yeast OR you can use 15g (1/2 ounce) active dry yeast or 7g (1/4 ounce) instant yeast instead (adjust the preparation accordingly if you use instant yeast)
  • 180 ml lukewarm milk (I use 3.5%)
  • 80 grams superfine (caster) sugar
  • 60 grams unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1 egg (L), free-range or organic
  • 1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla sugar (OR 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract)
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest (organic)
  • one pinch fine sea salt
  • 50 grams raisins (I like to "plump up" my raisins before I start baking by soaking them in hot black tea for a good 30 minutes, then drain them before using (discard the tea and do not add )

Ingredients for the Glaze
  • 1 egg yolk (L), free-range or organic
  • 1 tbsp milk, room temperature (I use 3.5%)

  • cherry jam (preferably homemade) OR use jam or jelly of your choice

Special Equipment needed
  • 2 baking sheets
  • 2 sheets of baking parchment
  • soft brush

Preparation of the Yeast Dough
  1. Put the flour in a large bowl, make a well in the center of the flour.
  2. To a small bowl, add the fresh yeast (crumbled) and a bit of the sugar to the warm milk, then stir well to dissolve, pour the yeast mixture into the well, cover with some of the flour.
  3. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave the starter for about 10 to 15 minutes (until you see bubbles).
  4. After 15 minutes add the remaining sugar, butter, egg, vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract), lemon zest, salt and (drained) raisins to the flour mixture. Mix all the ingredients together (using the dough hook) and knead until the dough comes together.
  5. Butter a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl.
  6. Cover the bowl and leave to rise in a warm spot for about 60 minutes or until it has doubled in volume.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface.
  8. Divide the dough into 8 portions. Roll each portion into a ball shape, then flatten into rounds.
  9. Make five small diagonal cuts about one-third towards the center of the rounds from each but do not go all the way - you want to get "rose petals", so make sure to leave the middle of the rounds intact.
  10. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
  11. Place the pastries onto the prepared baking sheets, place a geneous dollop of jam in the middle of each pastry. Cover loosely with food wrap and leave to rise again for 10 minutes.
  12. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk with the milk.
  13. Brush each pastry with the egg wash.
  14. Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes until they have a rich golden color
  15. When done, remove from the oven, and leave to cool for a few minutes on the paper. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

While these lovely pastries are a nice sweet way to celebrate a national public holiday - they are most certainly worth making just because...they are pretty and delicious and fun to make and they come with a nice dollop of jam - all you need to make things even more delightful is to serve some good quality butter with them and a big pot of tea or coffee.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Early November Teatime Treat - Spiced Pear Cake with Quark (Fresh Cheese) & Almonds

November is a good time to be baking away in the kitchen and a perfect time to enjoy ingredients of the season. Eat fresh chestnuts while you can, enjoy a wide range of root vegetables, cabbage and pumpkins and squashes. And make the most of the fruits of fall. One of autumn's many bounties, pears are endless in their uses. I like them in savory dishes such as quiches, or in salads, as part of a bruschetta topping, and in soups – then there are the sweet treats such as pear tarts and crumbles, poached pears, and many more. Pears are wonderful just plain, on their own, but they also pair particularly well with warm spices such as cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. And I love the combination of pears and ginger.

So this lovely no-fuss, mid-week, treat of a cake combines my favorite autumn fruit with my favorite warm spices and flavors – vanilla, ginger and a hint of cinnamon. Plus the addition of a bit of Quark (fresh cheese) adds just enough tang to balance out the sweetness of the fruit. While almonds add a nice final touch and their natural sweetness compliments this cake beautifully.

Spiced Pear Cake with Quark

Ingredients for the Cake Batter
  • 200 grams unsalted butter (room temperature), plus extra for greasing the baking pan
  • 200 grams superfine (caster) sugar
  • 8 grams vanilla sugar*
  • 3 eggs (M) organic or free range
  • 200 grams wheat (AP) flour
  • 10 grams baking powder
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • 3 tbsps Quark (fresh cheese) or use Greek yogurt (room temperature

For the Pears
  • 3 pears (baking variety, fragrant and ripe but still a bit firm) 
  • a good squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp superfine (caster) sugar OR use regular sugar
For the Topping
  • slivered almonds
  • 1 tbsp superfine (caster) sugar

  1. Lightly butter a retangular baking pan (33 cm x 22 cm or 13 x 9 inches), line the base and sides with baking parchment. Set aside.
  2. For the pears: peel, core, and halve the pears. Thinly slice each half lengthwise without cutting all the way through to the core side, leaving the halves hinged together. Carefully place the prepared pears in a glass bowl, add lemon juice and sugar to bowl and let the pear halves macerate while preparing the cake batter.
  3. Pre-heat your oven to 180 ° C (375°F).
  4. For the cake batter: mix, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla sugar together until pale, then gradually mix in eggs (one by one).
  5. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger and cinnamon.
  6. Fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
  7. Gently fold the Quark into the cake batter, making sure not to overmix the batter.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, smooth the surface, then place the prepared pear halves on top of the batter.
  9. Top with slivered almonds and sugar.
  10. Bake for 50 to 55  minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Allow to cool in the baking pan.
  12. Dust lightly with confectioners sugar just before serving (optional).
* If vanilla sugar isn't available in your local grocery store, you can make your own. Split one or two vanilla beans to expose the seeds. Bury the split beans in a 2-cup canister of white sugar and seal it. Shake the canister daily for one week or longer if you prefer a stronger flavor. If you need vanilla sugar right away, you can scrape the seeds from a vanilla pod into a cup of white sugar. Pulse the sugar and vanilla in your food processor until they are combined. Let the mixture sit for two hours to infuse.

This Spiced Pear Cake with Quark makes a lovely teatime treat or even breakfast cake (after all there is fruit and Quark in there). Simply serve as is or perhaps with softly whipped cream.

This cake also works well with apples and just cinnamon and the cake keeps well, for a good day or two, wrapped in food wrap (clingfilm).

If you ask me, autumn baking truly is the best  – before all the hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season is upon us, it is always a good idea to get some easy, delicious baking done to enjoy all by yourself, with family and friends…and don`t forget to serve your favorite tea or coffee alongside.