Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Honey Almond Squares

Honey, a naturally sweet liquid made from the nectar of flowers and collected by honey bees, is a key part of this recipe, so what you use has a direct effect on the flavor. If you use something very light (such as clover, orange blossom or acacia honey) the delicate flavor can get lost amidst the other ingredients. However, if you go for a dark honey with a very pronounced aroma and flavor (such as forest, buckwheat, thyme or chestnut honey) this will carry through to the cookies too.

Honey varies greatly in color and flavor, depending on what the bees are eating. Flavor, color and degree of sweetness depend upon which type of flower the honey was collected from. In general, floral honey is lighter in color and comes from flower-eating bees in the spring. Forest honey is collected later in the summer and comes from bees who eat forest leaves and flowers. Depending upon which area you live in, honey is classified with different labels. So-called ‚everyday honey‘ might be a mixture of what is least expensive from several countries. Then there sometimes is a ‚standard honey‘ that might be heat-processed and filtered, making it liquid, or it could be purposely cristallized and sold as ‚set honey‘, the kind that you spread with a knife.

Of course, you should use honey from your neighbourhood if you can get your hands on it and thereby support a local beekeeper. And you should taste it before you start cooking or baking with it. It is also helpful to know whether heat will affect the flavor. So, for this recipe I recommend to use a really good local honey with a taste and flavor that you appreciate, perhaps a floral honey. 

The honey I used for these cookie squares is a light organic honey from the Rhineland - floral notes, runny and golden colored, my kind of honey. I also used it for one of my present favorite sweet and savory appetizers - puff pastry squares with brie, pears, garden thyme and honey.

Honey Almond Squares

(makes 32 cookies depending on the size you cut them; adapted from The French Kitchen Cookbook by Patricia Wells)


For the Crust
  • 1/2 cup (50g) almond flour
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (120g) AP (plain) flour
  • 3 tbsp superfine (baking) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 6 tbsp (90g) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed (plus some for the baking pan)
  • 1 egg (L), free-range or organic
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar OR 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the Almond Topping
  • 4 tbsp (60g) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup (65g) superfine (baking) sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey (local if possible)
  • zest of 1 orange (organic and/or untreated)
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar OR 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt 
  • 1 cup (80g) sliced almonds, preferably blanched

  1. Preheat your oven to 200°C (400ºF).
  2. Butter a 23cm (9in) square baking pan (such as a brwonie pan) and line with baking parchment. Lightly butter the parchement.
  3. To make the crust: add the almond flour, AP flour, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times, then add the 6 tablespoons (90g) of cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles very coarse cornmeal. Add the egg yolk, water, and vanilla and process until the dough comes together. OR Make the dough by hand, cutting the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or a fork.
  4. Press the dough into the pan so it covers the bottom evenly. Bake the dough until the top is golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. 
  5. In the meantime and while the dough is baking, make the topping by melting the 4 tablespoons (60g) butter in a small saucepan. Once it has melted, add the sugar, honey, orange zest, vanilla, and salt, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and add the sliced almonds, stirring until they Are completely coated with the butter-honey mixture.
  6. Scrape the almond mixture onto the still warm baked crust and spread it evenly over the top. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes more, or until the almond topping is nicely bronzed. Let cool. Remove from the pan by lifting out the foil. Cut into squares or rectangles: NOTE: squares are best the day they are made, although they will keep for up to three days in an airtight container at room temperature.

I have made these squares on many different occasions - they are buttery, almondy, sweet and extremly easy to put together. You can taste the almonds and the orange zest and, depending on the variety you used, you will also taste the honey. A bit like a Florentine cookie but without the dark chocolate and a kind of vanilla cookie base instead.

In general, it is easy to incorporate honey in my everyday schedule. I love adding it to desserts or slathering it on my brioche bread on Sunday mornings. Cooking or baking with honey is wonderful, you can use it for sweet as well as savory dishes. When doing so, I always try to make sure to buy honey from a local beekeeper and to taste the different varities one more time before I incorporate them into my dishes such as the Cheese and Rosemary Honey Kadaif (Shredded Sweet and Savory Pastry Pie) HERE, the Honey-Gingerbread Cutouts (Honig-Lebkuchen-Pferde) HERE, or the Lime Honey Beet Salad HERE - to name but a few.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Swiss Three Kings Cake - Dreikönigskuchen - Gâteau des Rois - Torta dei Re Magi

January 6th is called 'Dreikönigstag' which simply translates to 'Three Kings Day', also known as 'Epiphany'. This day is widely celebrated in German-speaking countries, including Switzerland, but of course also in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, to name but a few. According to Christian tradition, this was the day the Three Kings (Heilige Drei Könige) or Wise Men (Die Weisen) went to visit baby Jesus in Bethlehem and brought him precious gifts. Today, there are many special events honouring this visit.

Three Kings Day is also about the traditional Three Kings Cake (Dreikönigskuchen), that everyone, particularly in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland (and, nowadays, also part of Bavaria) eats on that day.

Epiphany takes place every year on 6th January. In many places, the so-called Sternsinger (Star Singers) wander through the towns and villages to bless the houses. House doors are traditionally adorned with the letters C+M+B. Many believe that these letters stand for the names of the Three Kings, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. However, this is not quite true, they stand for the Latin phrase ‚Christus mansionem benedicat‘ which translates to ‚Christ bless this house‘; most towns also hold special masses where the the story of the Three Wise Men is reenacted.

Whether you celebrate this holiday or not, one Swiss speciality certainly stands out, the so-called  ‚Dreikönigskuchen‘ (Three Kings Cake). Three Kings Cake is actually much like a ,Zopf‘ (Sweet Braided Loaf) that Swiss people traditionally enjoy on Sundays with fresh butter jam, or honey. Therefore, the shape of the cake attracts even more attention than the well-known taste of this festive bake.

Three Kings Cake is more of a sweet bread rather than a cake made from small rounds of dough that are set together in the shape of a crown, to a bigger central round of dough and then baked into one piece.

Before baking, a charm is hidden in one of the pieces. This charm is typically a small plastic or ceramic king to symbolize the three wise men who visited Jesus on the twelfth day after his birth. Along with the traditional king figurines, bakers sometimes add a more modern image, like a cartoon characters. In Suisse-Romande, this is referred to as a fève, which translates to broad bean or fava bean, as a long time ago a small bean was used as the charm. The fortunate person who finds the charm within the cake is crowned king or queen for a day. Usually, the king (or queen) receives a paper crown and certain privileges for the day. It's actually a fun tradition, after all, who does not want to be queen or king for a day.

It would seem as if the Three Kings Cake had an ancient history, but surprisingly, it has only been baked in Switzerland since 1952 when it was launched to drive sales for special baked goods. The recipe as we know it today was developed on the initiative of Max Währen (a bread researcher from Bern) at the Academy for Baking & Pastry Arts in Richemont, Switzerland. From an initial production of 50.000 cakes, it is estimated that more than 1.5 million cakes are sold today - in a single day. That's quite an achievement, and it does not even include all those Dreikönigskuchen which are baked at home.

Three Kings Cake – Dreikönigskuchen - Gâteau des Rois  - Torta dei Re Magi 

  • 500g AP (plain) flour
  • 100g superfine (baking) sugar
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 225ml milk, lukewarm (I recommend full fat; I use 3.5%)
  • 20g (dry) yeast
  • 1 charm (almond, hazelnut, dry bean or porcelain figure)

  • 1 egg yolk (M), organic free-range
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • sliced almonds
  • pearl sugar

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, mix together the flour, salt and sugar.
  2. Create a well in the center of the mix.
  3. Melt the butter, then add the milk and yeast.
  4. Stir well and add to the well in your dry mix.
  5. Knead on low for about 8 minutes (stand mixer about 8 minutes; by hand for abour 10 to 15 minutes).
  6. Place dough in a large bowl and cover with a warm damp cloth. Leave it to rise in a warm and draft-free place for an hour OR until  it doubles in size. It is best to place it back in the bowl and cover it with a kitchen towel.
  7. Separate the dough into eight smaller pieces and one larger piece. NOTE: place your charm/bean/nut  in one of the smaller pieces.
  8. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and place eight rounds balls around the biggest round. Remember to leave about some room (about 2.5 cm/1 in) between the rounds. The dough will rise some more and join together.  Cover dough again with a damp cloth and leave to rise for another hour.
  9. Mix the egg yolk with the milk and glaze your cake, than sprinkle it with the almond slices and/or pearl sugar.
  10. Preheat your oven to 190°C (375° F).
  11. Bake on the bottom rack for about 25 to 30 minutes. Enjoy freshly baked with butter and local honey or jam for breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea. NOTE: The Dreikönigskuchen is best eaten the day it was made but, theoretically, keeps for up to two days.

While the Dreikönigskuchen with a yeast dough is made mostly in the German speaking cantons throughout Switzerland, the Galette des Rois or Pithiviers (French) is another form of a Three Kings Cake. It is a puff pastry pie filled with frangipane. The top of the crust usually has an elegant design cut into the pastry, and it can also feature fluted edges. These cakes are more popular in French-speaking Switzerland (as well as in France and Belgium). The fève in these cakes will be hidden in the frangipane filling.

My recipe for the Classic Galette des Rois with Fangipane and much more historical fun facts and pics can be found HERE

And my recipe for a Galette des Rois Citron et Pavot (Lemon & Poppy Seed Galette des Rois) can be looked at HERE

Wishing you a wonderful Dreikönigstag – no matter which way you are celebrating.