Part two of what I am envisaging as a “Twelve Days of Christmas Baking” series. Whether I make it to twelve recipes is not yet clear, but you can be sure that spices, citrus and nuts will be featuring rather a lot in the coming weeks…
Previously we were in Germany, and today we cross the Alps to Switzerland for a sweet called Basler Läckerli, which I have rather badly translated as “Basel Treat”. And it look like this:
This is basically a traybake, glazed for that festive wintry “frosty” look, then left somewhere for a couple of days to soften slightly. The result is spicy, sweet and chewy, and rather unfortunately, very more-ish. The Swiss are very proud of this little confection, which traces its origins back to the Basel Council of 1431 to 1449 to keep the great and the good going for the duration. You don’t keep making it for 600 years if it isn’t tasty.
This is not a true Lebkuchen that you see at Christmas, but it is similar enough to feature in this year’s Christmas bake-fest. It is a tasty treat made with lots of honey, nuts, candied citrus and spices, and it is also relatively quick and simple, sort of a pour-in-a-tray-then-bake-and-slice sort of thing. It’s also great fun to make. Melt the sugar and the honey, then add things little by little, making a great, big, sticky mass.
I also used this as a chance to use up some of the different types of honey that were lingering in the back of the baking cupboard. For the honey, I searched similar recipes online, and these suggested trying a more robust, flavourful honey, ideally one that was over a year old. So it was a toss-up between light acacia honey, or the odd amounts of random things in the cupboard. Well, random won out. I had some thyme honey from Crete, whose flavour was too strong when I bought it a couple of years ago. Well, after all that time in a dark corner of the kitchen, it had mellowed into something altogether smoother, and really quite tasty too (*). In it went. I made up the remainder with a mixture of Scottish heather honey and orange blossom honey.
I also kept the spices rather modest here. I have a lot (a lot) of Christmas cookies, and there is a point at which too much spice can be a bad thing for some people. In the interests of friends who are not the cinnamon fiend that I am, I went easy and ended up with cookies that are more nutty-citrus than some of the other festive bakes.
Just a little note about the recipe: it looks tricky, but actually it is quite easy, just adding things to the pot in the right order and stirring. The golden rule is that once you’re trying to work with the dough, just forget trying to roll it out. There is not enough flour to make it workable. Instead, be sure to use slightly oiled hands, which will magically stop all the stickiness. I also found this time that a metal tray worked better than a silpat sheet. Just my luck!
And finally…once you have baked, glazed, sliced and allowed the Läckerli to cool, you might notice the edges get hard very quickly. Easy to fix – pop everything in a tupperware box for a couple of days once cool, which will allow the aromas to develop, and the Läckerli will become soft and utterly yummy!
To make Basler Läckerli (for 2 trays, 35-40 pieces):
For the dough:
• 450g honey
• 300g white sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon(*)
• pinch ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 100g candied orange peel, finely chopped
• 100g candied lemon peel, finely chopped
• 100g almonds, roughly chopped
• 100g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
• zest of 1 lemon
• 100ml kirsch (or water)
• 600g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
For the glaze
• 150g icing sugar
• 3 tablespoons kirsch (or water)
Prepare two baking sheets with a little vegetable oil or non-stick spray, and sprinkle with a little flour.
Place the honey, sugar and spices in a large pan. Heat gently until the sugar melts, and remove from the heat. Add the candied citrus peel, the nuts and the lemon zest and stir well.
Next, add the kirsch and stir to soften the mixture. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well until you have a smooth dough. It will be thick, but still very sticky.
Place half of the warm dough on each baking sheet. Rub your hands with a little oil or non-stick spray, then press the dough out to just less than 1 cm thick. It is not essential to go right to the edges, and leaving a gap will make it easier to cut the Läckerli later. Finally, use a very lightly oiled rolling-pin or glass to smooth the top of the dough.
Leave the dough to rest for several hours, or overnight. The next day, bake the Läckerli in a preheated oven at 220 °C (430 °F) for 15 minutes. The Läckerli will be slightly puffy and golden.
While the dough is baking, prepare the icing. Mix the icing sugar and kirsch/water until smooth, and once the Läckerli is cooked, brush with the icing. Straight away, cut off the rough edges, and slice the Läckerli into rectangles (aim for 3 x 5cm). Remove from the baking sheets and leave to cool. The icing should dry and turn a little “frosty”.
Store in an airtight container for a couple of days to soften and allow the flavours to develop before eating.
(*) This is not the first time that I have left honey that had a strange taste to sit, only to return more than a year later to find the flavour mellowed and much improved. Not that the flavour gets weaker, it does develop.
(**) If you like more cinnamon, feel free to add an extra teaspoon. I didn’t want a very strong taste this time, so kept it purposely low.