Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Celebrate the Season with a Green Spring Tart

The sun is coming out and with it comes a harvest of tasty spring vegetables and this vibrant Green Spring Tart is a delicious way to enjoy seasonal veggies that are available now, in this fabulous month of April.

This tart is a wonderful light lunch or dinner of all butter puff pastry topped with delicious green asparagus, to which I added a few stalks of leftover white asparagus from the previous day (this is optional, of course), green peas, wild garlic leaves from our garden and farm fresh eggs – all of which sit on a bed of creamy soft cheese enhanced with soft herbs such as Italian parsley, basil, tarragon and/or chives, best to go with what you have on hand, which is probaly what you enjoy the most. The tart is simply bursting with the fresh flavors of spring, and, if you ask me, spring just couldn't be more tasty than this.

Green Spring Tart

  • 375g pack ready-rolled all butter puff pastry (of course, feel free to use a homemade puff pastry, a rough puff pastry works very well here)
  • 1 egg yolk (M), free-range and farm fresh or organic (if possible)
  • 150g pack soft cheese
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • zest from 1/2 lemon, finely grated (organic and/or untreated)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh soft herbs such as Italian parsley, chives, basil and tarragon
  • 1 bunch green asparagus, peeled where necessary, woody bottoms trimmed off, blanched* (for about 2 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus), halved lengthwise NOTE: I added a few stalks of white asparagus here, for looks and because I happened to have them on hand
  • a handful of peas (from fresh or frozen), blanched* as well 
  • a few leaves of wild garlic (optional)
  • 4 eggs (M or L), free-range or organic
  • olive oil
For Garnish (optional)
  • pink radish cress and garden cress (purslane instead of cress is also a good option here)
  • freshly ground black pepper and coarse sea salt
  • some good quality, cold pressed (extra virgin) olive oil

'Blanching' means to plunge a fruit or vegetable into boiling water for a short amount of time before transferring it to an ice bath, which quickly stops the cooking.

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200° C. Unroll the pastry sheet onto a large baking sheet/tray that you covered with parchment paper. If the edges are not straight, trim them with a sharp knife. Score a border, about 1cm in from the edge. Prick the middle area with a fork all over or score a criss-cross pattern over the central piece of pastry (this will prevent it from rising too much). Glaze the border with the egg yolk. Bake for 15 minutes. The pastry should be almost cooked, puffed and starting to color. Take the pastry out of the oven and flatten the middle area with the back of a spoon.
  2. Meanwhile, season the soft cheese with salt, pepper and lemon zest, taste, then fold in the herbs.
  3. Spread the soft cheese mix over the pastry to within the borders to the edges.
  4. Carefully toss the asparagus, the peas (and the wild garlic leaves, if using) with the olive oil in a bowl. Season wih salt and pepper to taste. Lay the  asparagus in a reasonably neat row across the surface of the tart so the tips meet the edge. Then add the peas and the wild garlic leaves.
  5. Bake the tart for about 10 minutes, then add the eggs – you can either crack the eggs directly onto the tart (nestled between the veggies) OR pre-cook them briefly and THEN place them on top of the tart.
  6. Finish baking until the border of the tart is deep golden and the topping is lightly spotted golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes more OR 20 to 25 minutes total (that is, if you go without the eggs).
  7. Let the tart cool for 5 minutes, garnish with pink radish cress and garden cress, grind black pepper over the tart, sprinkle with a bit of sea salt, add a few drops of olive oil and serve. 
  8. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy this rustic and simple tart of crisp and flaky puff pastry topped with creamy cheese and the most delicious of green spring veggies and herbs. Complete with a few eggs if you like and then finish it all off with different types of fresh, peppery cress, such as pink radish and garden cress, herb blossoms (for the looks) and maybe a few drops of really good extra virgin olive oil.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter Lamb & Easter Bunny Cakes

Lamb & Bunny Cakes (Osterlamm & Osterhasen Kuchen) are traditional German Easter desserts. Around here, these cakes are the centerpiece and dessert on many tables at Easter. The sweet lamb, representing the Lamb of God, is baked in a special lamb shaped mold then served as is or decorated with either a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar, or in some homes, with frosting. Same holds true for the Bunny Cake. 

Pound cake is the best candidate for a mold because of its close crumb. Mine is flavored with ground almonds, cinnamon and vanilla plus I used white spelt flour  – you just need the right molds to get started.

As far as the molds are concerned, they are basically two types, cast-iron ones that are often considered family treasures passed down to other keen bakers through the years, usually more pricey and harder to find than the regular light-weight aluminum ones that, come Easter, are readily availble at kitchenware stores or online.

Easter Lamb & Bunny Cakes
(each serves 6; prep 25 min; bake 30 to 40 minutes)

  • 150g unsalted butter, room temperature, plus some for greasing the molds
  • 100g superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 pkg. (8g) pure vanilla sugar
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 eggs (M), free range or organic
  • 150g white spelt flour, plus some for the molds (OR use AP flour)
  • 75g almond meal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 50ml milk, room temperature (I use 3.5%)
  • 15 ml Amaretto (or rum)
  • powdered sugar for dusting both cakes (optional)

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F) and place a baking sheet that you covered with baking parchment (to catch any drips) in the bottom rack of the oven.
  2. Using a pastry brush, coat the interior surfaces of both halves of one bunny and one lamb cake mold with melted butter, making sure you get into all the crevices. Dust the molds carefully with flour, shake off the excess flour and put the molds together using the clips and/or lttle ‚feet‘ that come with the molds.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the butter until light and creamy. Add sugar, vanilla sugar and salt. Beat until light and creamy.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the milk with the Amaretto (if using) – you can use 65 ml of milk instead.
  5. Add the eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time and beat each egg for 1 minute before you add the next.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, the baking powder and the cinnamon.
  7. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk mixture, and beat just until combined.
  8. Fill the dough into both molds but don’t fill them completely otherwise they might overflow in the baking process.
  9. Place in oven and bake about 30 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the bunny and lamb comes out clean (30 minutes for the bunny; 40 minutes for the lamb).
  10. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack for 10 minutes.
  11. Make sure to let baked lamb and bunny sit in the pans for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove the sides of each pan before you place the cakes on cooling racks.
  12. Serve plain or dust with powdered sugar; you can also frost the cooled cakes.

If you wish, surround the Easter Lamb & Bunny Cakes with colored eggs and display as a beautiful centerpiece on the table in the days leading up to Easter. You'll definitely want to enjoy looking at them for a while before you eat them. The cakes won't go bad, although they obviously won't be quite as delicious as the day you baked them.

The Easter Lamb Cake is sometimes decorated with a bow around its neck and the Resurrection flag, as is the tradition. I like to serve my lambs with different colored flags and this year I finally managed to get a traditional hand-stichted flag for some of my lamb cakes.

  • for my Coconut Easter Lamb Cake recipe, pls go here
  • for my Vanilla Bean Easter Bunny Cake recipe and a pic of the cast-iron cake mold, pls take a look here

Wishing all of my readsers, their families and friends a Very Happpy Easter!

Ich wünsche allen meinen Lesern, ihren Familien und Freunden ein Frohes Osterfest!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hot Cross Buns - Half for You and Half for Me

Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be‘ - this an old Irish rhyme on the sweet bun that many of us know as a Hot Cross Bun, a real seasonal food, associated with the end of Lent (Fastenzeit), traditionally eaten and baked only on Good Friday (Karfreitag), now eaten around the Easter season, especially the week before Easter, the Holy Week (Karwoche). It's known and beloved in many countries including England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These lovelies have also been called 'one of the British Commonwealth's most loved and literal foods'.

A traditional hot cross bun is a yeasted and spiced sweet bun. It's filled with dried fruits such as raisins, currants, or sultanas and sometimes mixed peel, then marked on top with a cross that's either piped on or etched into the dough. According to the Oxford Companion to Food ,they're made from a ‚rich yeast dough of flour, milk, sugar, butter, eggs, currants and spices‘.

There is a rather definite explanation for why they appear around Easter. Of course there’s some pretty obvious Christian symbolism - bread (for communion), cross (for the crucifixion of Jesus), and spices (for the seven spices used by Joseph of Arimathea to embalm Christ’s body). Because they have a long history, there are also several stories, or tall tales, about them. And the legends and superstitions have grown considerably, over time.

One story has hot cross buns going back as far as the 12th century. It is said that a monk baked the buns and marked them with a cross, in honor of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and became a symbol of Easter weekend.

Back in the days, Elizabeth I decreed they could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials - too special to be eaten any other day, or too many superstitions. People believed the buns carried medicinal or magical powers, and feared them being abused. To beat the law, people baked the buns in their own kitchens.  If caught, they had to give up all their illegal buns to the poor.

Another tale is that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday, and hung from the kitchen rafters, ward off evil spirits for the next year. They're also said to prevent kitchen fires from breaking out.  Better still, this will ensure that all breads baked that year will turn out perfectly. Yet another tale is that taking the buns on sea travels protects the boat from shipwreck.

And, my personal favorite belief or call it superstition, is the one that those who share a hot cross bun will enjoy a strong friendship for the next year.  As mentioned above, there is this old Irish rhyme that sums this one up - 'Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be.'

And, apart form all those lovely tales and stories and the strong sybolism, they’re utterly delicious (that is if you are into that sort of baked goods, and who isn't), plus they're pretty fun to make too, just taking a bit of time for that yeast to do its thing and rise.

Hot Cross Buns
(makes 12; prep 3.5 to 4 hrs; bake 20 minutes)

Ingredients for the Buns
  • 500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting (around here that’s ‚Type 550‘)
  • 10g fine sea salt
  • 75g superfine (caster) sugar
  • 10g instant yeast
  • 40g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs, (M), free range or organic, beaten
  • 120ml warm full-fat milk (I use 3.5%)
  • 120ml cool water
  • 150g sultanas (feel free to soak them in warm tea or apple juice for about 30 minutes prior to adding them to the yeast dough; strain well before using)
  • 80g raisins
  • finely grated zest of 2 oranges (organic and/or untreated peel)
  • 1 baking apple, cored and diced, peel on (I like to use ‚Elstar‘)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon (I like to use 'Ceylon cinnamon')
  • 1 tsp‚Mixed Spice‘*

For the crosses
  • 75g plain flour
  • 75ml water

For the glaze
  • 75g apricot jam

Mixed Spice

Mixed spice is a British blend of sweet spices, similar to the pumpkin pie spice used in the US and the Dutch spice mix called speculaaskruiden, used mainly to spice food associated with the Dutch Sinterklaas celebration on Decemeber 6.  It is often used in baking, or to complement fruits or other sweet foods. The term 'mixed spice' has been used for this blend of spices in cookbooks at least as far back as 1828.  
  • 6 tsp ground coriander
  • 6 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 6 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cloves
Mix all spices toghether and keep in a glass spice jar for up to 4 months. Feel free to half the recipe and/or prepare smaller quantities. Left over spice mix is wonderful in fruit compotes, waffles and shortbread - no limits really.

Preparation of the Buns
  1. Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the butter, eggs, milk and half the water and turn the mixture round with your fingers. Continue to add the water, a little at a time, until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more – you want dough that is soft, but not soggy. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until the mixture forms a rough dough.
  2. Tip the dough onto your lightly floured surface and begin to knead. Keep kneading for 5-10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft, smooth skin.
  3. When your dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm spot until at least doubled in size – at least 1 hour, but it’s fine to leave it for 2 or even 3 hours.
  4. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and scatter the sultanas, raisins, orange zest, apple, cinnamon and mixed spice on top. Knead in until evenly incorporated. Cover and leave to rise in a warm spot for 1 more hour.
  5. Fold the dough inwards repeatedly until all the air is knocked out. Divide into 12 pieces (of roughly the same weight) and roll into balls. Place, fairly close together, on 1 or 2 baking trays lined with baking parchment or silicone paper.
  6. Cover each tray very loosely with cling film (kitchen wrap) and leave to rest for 1 more hour, or until the dough is at least doubled in size and springs back quickly when lightly prodded with your finger. 
  7. Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 200°C (395°F).
  8. For the crosses, in a small bowl, mix the flour and water to a paste. Using a piping bag fitted with a fine nozzle (or fill a freezer bag and snip off a small corner) pipe crosses on the buns. 
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. 
  10. Warm the apricot jam with a bit of water, sieve and brush over the tops of the warm buns to glaze. 
  11. Cool the buns on a wire rack BUT serve warm (best!) or at room temperature. You can eat them as they are or halvedm slathered with butter and maybe some local honey, homemade or marmelade.

In this recipe, the addition of one apple to the dough enhances the taste and lends a lovely, moist texture, you can leave the apple out and substitute mixed peel if that's what you prefer.

Hot-cross Buns!

Hot-cross buns!
Hot-cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons;
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!

Source: This is the most common version of the Hot Cross Buns, an English language nursery rhyme, Easter song, and street cry referring to the spiced English bun known as a hot cross bun. The earliest record of the rhyme was published in London in 1798; earlier references to the rhyme as a street cry in London, 1733, noted:

Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs.
With one or two a penny hot cross buns.

Both the nursery rhyme and the street cry refer to the fact that you could either get two small buns OR one regular bun for one penny!

If dried fruits aren’t your thing you might want to try one of the many new variations on the traditional recipe, such as toffee, orange-cranberry, chocolate chip and coffee.  But make sure to mark your buns with a cross and to use the same mixture of spices though, as ‚spice' and 'the cross' are important things in all hot cross buns‘ (Dorothy Hartley's, Food in England, published in 1954).

(Ad/Werbung): my recipe for Hot Cross Buns is part of my series for a 'local' (meaning across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia) radio station, where, throughout the year, I talk about 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), 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 St Martin's Day (Martinsfest) the cheerful Sweet Dough Men (Weckmänner) (HERE)
  • for St Andrew's Day (Andreastag) a classic Petticoat Tails Shortbread (HERE)
  • for Christmas Day (Weihnachten) these Traditional German Gingerbread (Elisenlebkuchen) (HERE
  • for New Year's Eve New Year's Eve Pretzel (Neujahrsbretzel)
  • for Candelmas Day (Mariä Lichtmess) some delightful Navettes de Saint Victor (HERE)
  • for Carnival Season (Karneval) these lovely Carnival Doughnuts (Karnevals-Krapfen) (HERE
  • for St Patrick's Day a traditional Irish Brown Soda Bread (Irisches Sodabrot)(HERE
  • for St Joseph's Day a long-forgotten but thankfully re-discovered Sweet Cotton Bread (Baumwollbrot)(HERE
  • for Palm Sunday (Palmsonntag) these very pretty Palm Pretzels (Palmbrezel) (HERE)
  • for Easter Sunday (Ostersonntag) an Easter Brunch at Home with Tarte Flambée (Flammkuchen) (HERE)
  • for the Month of May (Marienmonat Mai) these elegant Visitandines de Nancy (HERE
  • for Pentecost/Whitsun these festive Beignets (Heiliggeistkrapfen) (HERE) - more delicious treats to come very soon.