{3} Berliner Brot

I’ve teased you with aniseed and shortbread so far this year, but of course it wouldn’t be Christmas baking without chocolate and spice. So today we’re doing just that and having a go at Berliner Brot.

The name means “Berlin Bread” but this is a spiced cake that comes not from Berlin but from the Bergisches Land region in north-west Germany. It is rather like a brownie, with a cake-like texture rather than being soft and fudgy. It contains lots of nuts, dark chocolate and cocoa, and it relies on a surprise ingredient to obtain a unique flavour. You know me and baking with odd ingredients!


Berliner Brot is made with Apfelkraut. This is a type of apple butter, which originated in the border area between German, Belgium and the Netherlands. It was developed in medieval monasteries to preserve fruit from their orchards. Of course it is hard to find in Britain, so I had to trek off to the specialist German supermarket to see if they had any. Luckily they did!

Apfelkraut is a really odd ingredient, and I am not sure there really is any sort of substitute for it beyond apple butter if you can get hold of that. It looks how apple sauce might look like if you cooked it for a long, long, long time until it turns very dark and thick. This stuff looks like treacle or molasses, and the flavour is sweet and tangy. The texture is a bit like a very firm jam rather than just a thick syrup, which I think must be due to using apple puree and the pectin causing it to set.


This is an easy recipe to make, provided you’ve got the Apfelkraut. I’ve seen some recipes suggesting that you could swap it for molasses or honey, but I am not sure that would actually work. Being completely honest, this is a very rich and very sweet recipe. It contains sugar, and then there is more sweetness from the Apfelkraut. In fact, as I was making this, I really did start to wonder if this would be edible in the end, or if this would just end up being a sugar-fest.

In fact, it was delicious. But the reason it works is the reason I think you can’t swap out the Apfelkraut. It brings not only sweetness, but also sharpness and a fruity tang which balances the overall flavour. Honey or syrup would just be too sweet in this recipe. So if you’re tempted to have a go, like me, you’re going to have to go on the hunt for Apfelkraut!

If you do, best of luck!

To make Berliner Brot (makes 35 pieces):

For the dough:

• 2 large eggs
• 150g sugar
• 200g Apfelkraut
• 1 tablespoon dark rum
• 2 tablespoons water
• 250g flour

• 100g dark chocolate, finely chopped
• 2 teaspoons mixed spice
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 15g cocoa powder
• 200g whole hazelnuts and/or almonds

For the glaze:

100g icing sugar
2-3 tablespoons water

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line a 9 x 13 inch tray with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. Whisk until pale and thick.

3. Mix the Apfelkraut, water and rum, and pour into the egg mixture. Add all the remaining ingredients except the nuts and mix to a smooth, thick batter. Finally fold in the nuts.

4. Pour the mixture onto the baking sheet. Smooth as best you can using the back of a metal spoon, and bake for 30 minutes (turn half-way to get an even bake).

5. In the meantime, make the glaze – mix the icing sugar with enough water to make a thick paste which just flows. When the dough is baked, remove from the oven and brush with the glaze. The glaze should set on the warm bread, and develop a “frosty” appearance.

6. Leave to cool completely. Trim the edges, and cut into 4 x 4cm pieces.

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{2} Finska Pinnar

As much as I love mince pies and things coated in chocolate, I also like more simple cookies, so that’s what we’ve got today.


These are Swedish butter biscuits called finska pinnar. The name translates cryptically as “Finnish pins”. I’ve tried to find out why they are called this but with no success. I did find an article on the website of the august Swedish Newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and even they don’t know the origin of the name. A mystery for the ages.

These are very quick and easy cookies to make – there is no elaborate rolling and shaping of cookies. You just roll it out, flatten with your hands, and cut into pieces, so this is a good one to make with children where you want to keep it easy. There is also no need to leave the dough to chill before you shape it, which is good when willing but impatient elves are keen to get going!


The dough itself is not that sweet, so you are relying a generous topping of chopped almonds and pearl sugar. You need an egg yolk for the dough, and then you use the egg white to glaze the tops. The art is then to get as much chopped almonds and pearl sugar on top, so you’ve got extra sweetness and some crunch to contrast with the buttery shortbread.

Of course, it would not by my Christmas basking selection if there was not some sort of random ingredient in here. Many recipes I looked at call for a bitter almonds to give finska pinnar their almond flavour. That’s the way to go if you’re keen on a bit of drama and some danger in your life, as apparently you need to be careful just how many you use. They contain cyanide and can be toxic if you eat too much! In the end I went for the easier option and just added a dash of almond extract to get all the flavour without the danger. Okay, so I might be exaggerating just a touch for dramatic effect…

To make Finska Pinnar (makes around 40)

For the dough

• 375g plain flour
• 250g unsalted butter
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 125g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 1 egg yolk

To decorate

1 egg white
40g whole almonds, roughly chopped
pearl sugar or granulated sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Prepare three sheets of greaseproof paper.

2. Put the flour, butter, salt, sugar and almond extract into a bowl. Rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and quickly mix to a soft dough.

3. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each into a long rope, about finger thickness. Press them lightly to around 1/2 cm thickness. Cut into 4cm slices.

4. Transfer the cookies to the greaseproof paper. Brush lightly with the beaten egg white, then sprinkle generously with chopped almonds and pearl sugar. Put on a tray, and chill in the fridge for a few minutes.

5. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden, turning half-way to get an even colour. Remove from the oven, allow to rest for a moment, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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{1} Chräbeli

Feel like you’ve been missing out on the annual festive cheer? Well, don’t worry, I’m back with this years installation of the Twelve Days of Festive Baking. It does seem like Im becoming a Christmas-only blog, but thats something to tackle next year. In the meantime I hope you enjoy what Ive had a go at this year!

To kick things off, we’re taking a culinary trip to the Alps. Switzerland has lots of traditional festive goodies, and I’ve made a few things from there in previous years (including this favourite of mine). This time Ive made these funny little cookies called Chräbeli which are flavoured with aniseed.


In a world of intricately-shaped and elaborately iced cookies, Chräbeli stand out. They look a little bit like branches from a twisted tree in winter. A tree that has had a heavy fall of snow overnight.

Im someone that loves a cookie that gets its shape from how you make it. This is mainly because I am a bit lazy and dont have the patience to carefully ice a tray of sugar cookies to get them all identical. I wish I did, and find watching that very thing on YouTube fascinating, but I’m just not able to sit still for that long. Maybe something to practice for next year?


In spite of their unusual appearance, this is a very simple recipe – whisk eggs, sugar and aniseeds, then fold in the flour. The resulting dough is soft, and you need to develop the knack to form it into ropes, then cut and shape it. Then you do “the odd bit”. You leave them, uncovered, for a whole day. This is nothing about letting them rise, but it means that the outside of the cookies will dry and turn white. But the base doesn’t dry, and so when you pop them in the oven, you get culinary lift-off!

This really is the cool bit about making these cookies. The interiors of the Chräbeli expand and they develop little “feet” (Füsschen) underneath, a little like you expect if you make macarons. They were very crisp just after baking, but I let them sit in the open for a day, and they softened and I think were even more delicious. The aniseed flavour was definitely more pronounced a few days later, so letting them sit is worth it.


I loved just how aromatic these cookies are, with that distinctive liquorice-like aroma from the aniseed. I had planned to add some anise extract to boost the flavour, but found I had run out and just used seeds on their own. I need not have worried, as the flavour is very definitely there. If aniseed isn’t your thing, you could just use vanilla or lemon zest instead. However I think aniseed is delicious and a nice change from more common flavours at this time of year. They remind me of Springerle, albeit they lack the intricate patterns and are a lot easier to make. But we’ve got tree branches here people, and for that we can be grateful. If you wanted to get all whimsical, you could always attach a little icing squirrel or bird to keep the twig theme going.


If you want to try something that is easy, looks interesting and really, really tastes of aniseed, then have a go at Chräbeli. I’m just a little bit addicted to them at the moment.

So as they say in Switzerland’s four (!) official languagesSchöni Wiehnachte, Joyeux Noël, Buon Natale and Bellas festas da Nadal! 

To make Chrabeli (makes around 40)

• 2 large eggs
• 225g icing sugar
• pinch of salt
• 1 tablespoon aniseeds
• 1 tablespoon Kirsch or plum Schnapps
• 300g plain flour (plus extra for rolling)

1. Prepare 3 sheets of greaseproof paper and rub each lightly with a little vegetable oil.

2. Put the eggs, icing sugar, salt, aniseed and Kirsch/Schnapps in a large bowl. Beat with an electric whisk until thick and creamy, around 5 minutes.

3. Mix in enough flour to make a dough (I added 275g first, then the rest) – it will be soft but hold its shape and not be wet.

4. Divide the dough into four pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a long rope, around 1.5cm thick. Cut into pieces of around 6 cm. Make 3 slashes in the dough (either straight or at an angle), and form into a slight crescent shape. Transfer to a baking sheet and leave somewhere cool (away from a draught) to dry for 24 hours.

5. The next day, check on your Chräbeli. They should be dry and look pale. Preheat the oven to 140°C (285°F). Bake the Chräbeli for around 25 minutes, turning the baking sheet half-way to get an even bake (note the Chräbeli should colour only very slightly – you want them to stay pale).

6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Allow to stand for a day on a wire tray so that the Chräbeli get slightly soft, then store in an airtight container.

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Lamingtons

In years gone by I had traditionally written about something from Scotland in honour of Burns Night which falls on 25 January. This year I thought I’d do things a little differently. As Australia Day falls on 26 January, how about something Antipodean instead?

If we’re doing Australian, it just has to be lamingtons. This is not a cake that I see very often, even in a city like London with a decent Aussie population, but I do remember seeing them on Neighbours when I was young and being introduced to the concept of the “lamington drive”. This involved making and then selling lots of these little cakes, and it was pretty much the way of raising money for a good cause. From what I knew, they were pieces of sponge, dipped in chocolate icing and coated in coconut.

They were apparently named either for Lord Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901, or after his wife, the surprisingly named Lady Lamington. You can understand why they used his title when looking for a cake name, as his full name (Charles Wallace Alexander Napier Cochrane-Baillie) didn’t really trip of the tongue.


So I set about making a batch of lamingtons. First question: is there some single authentic recipe for making them? It would seem not. There are various different recipes for the sponge (such as genoise, Victoria or pound cake) and chocolate glaze ideas range from a smooth proper ganache to something sweeter and more obviously icing-like. I ignored suggestions to use pink icing on the basis I never saw the Robinson household or anyone else in Ramsay Street making them that way.

I settled on genoise, but then had to decide if I would try to make a deep cake and cut it into pieces, or would I try to include some jam element? Again, I don’t remember seeing jam on Neighbours but I think the right tangy, fruity jam is a good complement to sweet chocolate icing. I decided to make one large thin sheet of cake, which I would cut in two and sandwich the pieces together with apricot jam. That decision was based on what I had in the cupboard, but I think anything that has some sharpness to it would work well, such as raspberry or blackcurrant jam. Something more muted like strawberry would just add more sweetness but no contrast, but if that’s what you like, then go for it.


Many of the recipes that I did see suggested not using cake which was very fresh – you want the cake to be ever so slightly stale (whatever that means) and apparently this was best done but wrapping the cake in cling film and letting it sit in the fridge overnight. I’m not sure whether this really made a difference, or just ensured that the cake really was properly cooled, but it did cut neatly and cleanly into pieces. Given you will be glazing these guys and rolling them in coconut, neat slicing is not really that important as icing can cover a multitude of sins, but I was happy that the pieces didn’t just start falling apart. I took this as a good sign for when I was going to ice them.


For the glaze, I quickly discounted the idea of a ganache. While I have not been to Australia (yet), it is fair to assume it is a warm place for most of the time, and so it would be rather daft to make a cake with an icing that would melt easily in warm weather. So the icing I came up with is made from a warm mixture of milk, butter, dark chocolate and cocoa powder to which you add the icing sugar, then keep the lot warm over a pan of hot water. This keeps the icing smooth and makes it easier to coat the cakes, but then it will set fairly quickly after you’ve rolled the cakes in coconut. While most recipes use just cocoa powder, I also added some dark chocolate to the icing which seemed to help get a good colour and flavour.

The actual glazing process was quite fun – not something I would want to attempt in a hurry, and the first couple of lamingtons took a bit of time to get right. I found it easiest to gently drop one into the icing, then used a spoon to pour glaze over the cake. Once it is coated, you just slip a fork underneath, then allow the extra icing to drizzle off the cake. Then comes the fun part – you need to quickly transfer the cake onto the desiccated coconut, which you have on a large plate right next to you. Then you have to use your hands to form a coconut mountain around the cake, and press it a bit so the coconut sticks to the glaze. Then you need to flip the lamington over, so that all sizes are covered, and then move it to a wire rack. And all the while, the glaze is a bit soft, so you will probably have to fix the shape a bit with your fingers so it looks presentable. After you have done a few of them, you’ll defiantely develop a “lamington technique”.


And speaking of coconut…I was not sure if I should use plain or sweetened coconut for this recipe, so I bought both types. As this is a traditional recipe, I thought it might be made with the sweeter stuff, but to be sure, I tested them both before using them, and this taste test told me that the sweetened coconut was not right. Yes, it was softer and seemed more tender, but it had a rather peculiar aftertaste that I did not like at all – and then I checked the ingredients, it turned out it was just 65% coconut. All that apparent “tenderness” was coming from propylene glycol. I’m not a Luddite, and looked into what this was – it’s safe for food (which I would hope, since it was in that coconut!) but the impact on the flavour meant it was going nowhere near my lamingtons, but straight in the bin. Back to good old-fashioned unsweetened desiccated coconut we went! If you want to try something a bit different, you could toast the coconut, but that’s as far as I would go. You could use chopped nuts if you’re not a coconut fan, but then I think you’re veering away from what a true lamington is.

Finally, I should say that my recipe basically recommends you have a whole packet of coconut on a plate for dipping, but you won’t use all of it. I just think that you’ll struggle to get a good finish if you try to use less, so don’t be puzzled if you have lots left over after your icing escapades.

And how were they? I was all prepared for them to be a bit naff, but I must confess I really liked them. The cake, the set-but-soft icing, the coconut and the jam come together into a really lovely cake. They also looked great piled up high on a plate, so I will definitely be making these again. And not just for 26 January!

To make Lamingtons (makes 16)

For the sponge:

• 2 large eggs
• 100g white caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 100g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 60g butter, melted and cooled
• 130g tangy jam (apricot, raspberry, blackcurrant…)

For the icing

• 120ml whole milk
• 30g unsalted butter
• 50g dark chocolate

• 50g cocoa powder
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• generous pinch of salt
• 450g icing sugar
• extra milk, to thin the icing

To finish

• 250g desiccated coconut

1. Start wit the sponge. Preheat the oven to 180˚C (350˚F). Line a 20 x 30cm tray with greaseproof paper.

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. Put to one side to cool. In a bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and mix well. Set aside.

3. Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla into a large bowl. Beat with an electric whisk until pale, thick and fluffy (around 3-4 minutes). Gently fold in the flour mixture using a spatula. Finally add the melted butter and gently fold it into the mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and gently level off the mixture as best you can.

4. Bake the cake for 15-20 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cover with a tea towel. Allow to cool completely, then cover with film and refrigerate overnight.

5. The next day, time to prepare the sponge. Cut the cooled cake sheet in half. Spread one piece with jam, then place the other piece on tip. Leave to rest for an hour so that the jam holds the two layers together.

6. Cut the cake into pieces – trim the edges with a sharp knife to get good, clean edges. Now cut into 4 equal strips, and cut each strip into 4 pieces. They should end up roughly cube shaped.

7. Make the icing. Put the milk, butter, chocolate, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt into a medium saucepan, and heat gently until the butter and chocolate have melted. It will become very thick. Add the icing sugar, and beat vigorously until smooth.

8. Transfer the icing to a bowl, and balance it above a pan of warm water (this will keep the icing warm, and it should set more quickly when coating the lamingtons). Now check the icing consistency – you will need to add more milk to get it to a smooth but thick icing which pours easily – you don’t need much though, I only added a further 3 teaspoons of milk.

9. Tip the coconut onto a large plate.

10. Time to decorate. Drop a piece of the sponge into the icing, then use a spoon to coat it with the glaze. When done, put a fork underneath, lift it up and allow excess icing to drop off. Wipe the base of the cake on the edge of the bowl, then transfer it into the coconut. Coat it in the coconut, then transfer to a wire rack and leave to set (allow 30 minutes).

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Of lemons and olive oil…

It’s Blue Monday. Apparently it is the most depressing day of the year as Christmas is over, the decorations are down and the reality of an empty bank account sinks in. We’ll ignore that this was first cooked up as a marketing promotion a few years ago to encourage the population to start booking sunny summer holidays when it was cold and wet outside, and use this as an excuse to make something that brings us some flavours of the Mediterranean when the skies are heavy and grey.

To do this, I’ve decided to revamp my take on Spanish magdalenas (and you can read the original post here for all the background and history). These are lovely little cakes made with lemon and olive oil, just the sort of thing to have at breakfast with a cortado or a café con leche. I mean, perhaps this is not how Spanish people eat them, but I’ve eaten them on holiday in Spain, and when you’re on holiday, it is completely legitimate to eat cake for (or at least with) breakfast.


But why a revamp? Am I not a fount of new ideas? Generally I like to look around for inspiration to try new things – it might be discovering a novel ingredient, going on holiday, or acquiring an unusual kitchen implement, all of which are usually pretty good ways to come up with ideas. I’m generally not one for making the same recipe over and over with a different flavour or icing on top. However, I recently started to look back at some of my very early posts and it got me thinking…has the time come to look back at some old recipes, make some adjustments and post them again in their new and improved form? I’m a better cook and baker these days, so it’s quite a fun way to see how far I’ve come and what I’ve learned. So you can probably expect to see quite a few more of those to come over the course of this year.

Ah, those early posts. Back from when I first dipped my toe into the blogging world. You can tell those posts. The writing is enthusiastic, but more tellingly the pictures are not quite as polished, and in particular I had not yet discovered the “flat lay”. It sounds positively risqué, but this is apparently just the technical name for setting things out on a table and then photographing them from above. You’ll probably know it as the look that is so beloved of Instagram influencers who probably spent ages making things look as if they have been effortlessly thrown onto a table. And back in the day, I was also muddling through with a more basic selection of kitchen equipment, so whatever I came up with was inevitably a little more simplistic. Put another way…I was not buying new pans, trays and moulds on a whim, and I didn’t spend as much time hunting down quirky ingredients.


These cakes were actually inspired by a visit last year to visit some friends in Estepona on the Costa del Sol. They had a lovely garden overlooking the sea, but the real highlight for me was the orchard. Avocados, mandarins, lemons, kumquats…all ready for the picking. It rather puts my solitary redcurrant bush to shame, although my garden did come good last summer with enough fruit for two small jars of jelly. But I managed to come home with a large back of kumquats and mandarins which were turned into marmalade, and we finally got to enjoy the last jar over the festive period. It got me thinking that I really do like citrus flavours, and I wanted to have another go at magdalenas.

My previous attempt at magdalenas was way back in 2010. What were you doing back then? It is just crazy to think how much things have changed over that time. Anyway, that old recipe was based on equal weights of eggs, sugar, flour and olive oil. This time I’ve adjusted the recipe slightly – I’ve used large eggs, and added a little more flour and some baking powder to get some extra lift in the batter. I’ve also added a little milk to make the batter smoother, with the hope that the magdalenas will be a little more airy. Finally, I also made two flavour tweaks. First, the lemon zest is enhanced by a little vanilla extract. Second, I have used mostly ordinary (non-virgin) olive oil, with a couple of spoonfuls of extra-virgin oil for flavour. I find that on its own, the extra-virgin stuff can make cakes a little bitter and grassy.


Of course the other big change this time was that I was able to bake my magdalenas in a square shape, like they often do in Spain! Luckily I just happened to have a square muffin pan that I bought a couple of Christmases ago to make another Spanish delight, the almond-flavoured marquesas de navidad. When the tray appeared in the kitchen, I was promptly chastised for shelling out cash for yet another piece of single-use kitchen kit. This batch of magdalenas clearly vindicates my impulse purchase, and I really love the different shape. Does it add to the flavour? Absolutely. It makes them look very pretty on a plate, thereby enhancing the eating experience.


The end result is a great little cake. They have a  lovely light  texture, so the extra baking powder and milk does the trick, and they stay wonderfully moist thanks to the olive oil. Finally, do be generous when sprinkling them with sugar – I think that slightly crisp topping is a fundamental part of them.

If you were to go back to some old recipes, which ones would you want to re-make? If you have any suggestions from my back catalogue, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

To make 12 magdalenas:

• 2 large eggs
• 115g caster sugar
• zest of one large lemon
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• pinch of salt
• 125g self-raising flour
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 115g olive oil (including 2 tablespoons of extra virgin)
• 2 tablespoons milk
• granulated sugar, to sprinkle

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Place 12 paper cases in a muffin tray (square or round).

2. Put the eggs, caster sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and salt in a bowl.  Whisk with an electric beater until light and thick (2 minutes).

3. Gently fold the flour and baking powder into the mixture using a spatula.

4. Add the olive oil and fold into the mixture (do this gently but keep going – it will come together). Finally fold in the two tablespoons of milk. You should have a smooth, soft, emulsified batter-like mixture.

5. Divide the mixture between the paper cases. Sprinkle each generously with granulated sugar. Bake for around 18-20 minutes until the cakes are risen and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

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Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Today is Epiphany, so I wanted to make something traditional to go with the day. I made a (delicious) French galette du roi last year, but this year I was after something a bit more colourful than brown puff pastry when it is so grey and cold outside. Don’t get me wrong – I love a galette. We even shared one at work yesterday (news flash: I didn’t find the hidden figure, so I didn’t win the golden crown this year…) but there’s a limit to how exciting it is ever going to look.

And that’s where Louisiana’s King Cake comes in. You want colour? This guy is going to give it to your in full green, gold and purple Technicolor glory!

The King Cake is associated with the New Orleans tradition of Mardi Gras. From 6 January, folk will get together for parties and serve up a King Cake. A key tradition if you want to be authentic is to get hold of a small plastic toy baby. Said baby should be baked into the cake, and then you invite your friends round to share it (hence the party).

The person that gets the slide with the baby will receive good fortune, and he or she will host the party next year. If you’re worried about plastic melting in the cake during baking, you could just push the toy inside the cake once it has cooled and before you ice it.

And if you are terrified about the choking hazard that said baby could present and you’re worried about serving up a deathtrap cake, you could instead hid a whole pecan or hazelnut in the cake. All of the fun, and actually a whole lot less risky.

The sugar on top is really important. Those colours matter – they are the official colours of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They appear in beads, costumes, body art (!), decorations and, of course, on top of King Cakes. The history of Mardi Gras suggests that this colour palette can be traced back to 1872, when the King of the Carnival selected them. The gold symbolises power (rather than the more common association with wealth). Purple stands for justice, in terms of what is the right thing to do. And finally we have green, standing for faith.


Rather than going to the hassle of buying fancy coloured sanding sugar, I made my coloured sugar by putting a few spoonfuls of granulated sugar in a jam jar, then adding some gel food colouring I had diluted with a little vodka (you could use water). Put the top on the jar and shake it like crazy – and voilà, you have evenly-coloured sugar. I repeated the process with some pearl sugar to get some bigger chunks, and I think they worked out pretty well. For the gold, I added some strong yellow colour, but also some edible gold lustre powder, so it really does sparkle. Afterwards just spread the (damp) sugar on a plate and leave it somewhere warm to dry, then crumble it with your hands. It’s easy but probably worth doing the night before so you’re all set to go when you want to actually decorate the cake with lavish sprinkles of jolly colours. If you’re fed up with the cold and grey, massing about with rainbow sugar will cheery you up.

If you’re wondering about that sugar and thinking you might just skip it, don’t! The cake itself looks fairly ordinary, even with the white icing, but once all that sugar is on top….well, the whole thing is just transformed in an instant into a dazzling riot of colour and sparkle. It certainly brightened up my morning!

I made this cake using an adapted cinnamon bun recipe, so the dough is made with scalded milk to which I added butter, then left that to cool down. I then made the dough, swapping out cardamom for ground nutmeg, and filled the cake with a buttery cinnamon-brown sugar mixture. I’ve seen some suggestions about using chopped pecan nuts and even sultanas, so if those are your thing add them – they will taste great. I’ve also used a basic water icing for the glaze. You can make it richer with some cream, or even work cream cheese into the icing (or go more extreme and work cream cheese into the filling as well). This is a celebratory cake – you should be able to go fairly crazy with it. Just be sure to use those three colours!

I’m sure there is endless variety in terms of exactly how this cake should be made, and of course there must be people who swear that their recipe and no other is the real deal. Great, but my version tastes good and still looks very jolly, so I am happy with it.

And how does this lot taste? It’s delicious. In fact, it’s just like a giant cinnamon bun!

To make a King Cake:

Note: you can see how to shape the cake in this video, but I used my own recipe not the one listed there.

For the dough:

• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 60g butter
• 1 large egg
• 350g strong white flour
• 50g white sugar
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• milk, to brush before baking

For the cinnamon filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar

• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• optional – chopped pecans or sultanas

To finish

• 1 small toy plastic baby or ceramic figure (optional)
• 150g icing sugar

• a few spoonfuls of water or double cream, to bind
• green, purple and golden granulated sugar, to sprinkle

1. Put the milk in a pan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the butter, stir until it has melted, then leave to cool until lukewarm. Once cooled, add the egg and beat well.

2a. If using a bread machine: Throw the milk mixture and the rest of the dough ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

2b. If making by hand: put the dry dough ingredients into a large bowl. Add the milk mixture. Stir with a spoon at first, then transfer to a floured worktop and knead until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (this could take up to 10 minutes). Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with cling film, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. When done, remove the cover and knock back the dough.

3. Make the cinnamon butter – put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth.

4. Time to assemble the cake. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle of around 30 x 50cm. Spread with the cinnamon butter. If you’re using nuts and/or sultanas, sprinkle them on top. Roll from the long side into a tight sausage (the sausage should be 50cm long).

5. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper. Transfer the sausage to the tray, and form into a ring. Join the ends as best you can – you can cover the join with icing later, but try to ensure there is a decent join, and moisten the overlap with some milk to stop the filling leaking out during baking.

6. Take some kitchen scissors. Start to snip into the outside of the ring at regular spaces – you want to go in about 1/3 of the way. Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film or place in a large plastic bag, and leave to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

7. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Brush the loaf with the milk and bake for around 25 minutes until puffed up and golden but not too dark. I recommend turning the tray after about 10 minutes to get an even rise and colour. You might want to lower the temperature towards the end of baking if the colour looks ready after about 20 minutes. When baked, remove from the oven and cover with a clean teatowel – this will trap steam and keep the cake soft. Leave to cool. If using a plastic baby, a ceramic figure or a pecan nut – press this through the base of the cooled cake.

8. Make the icing. Put the icing sugar in a bowl, and add two tablespoons of water or cream. Mix well, then keep adding a little more water or cream until the icing is still thick but will flow slowly. Spread the icing on top of the cake, then sprinkle straight away with the coloured sugar.

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And the decorations come down…

We’re into the New Year, and have reached Twelfth Night. It’s time to take down the decorations and pack them away (apparently it is bad luck to keep them up longer). We always do this in our house on New Year’s Day, and it leaves the place feeling big and empty as all the red and gold decorations suddenly vanish. Of course it also symbolises the fresh start of a new year and all that is to come. And it is is just over ten months before it all comes out again…

We even decorated our office this year too for the first time, and it had an equally sombre look to it this week after it was shorn of the red-and-silver candy cane fantasy we had achieved with tinsel and baubles. The tasteful décor was intended to create a festive atmosphere for our Christmas bake-off. We got a mighty twelve entries, including me, but in the end I didn’t win. I made my Nadalin de Verona which gathered a lot of praise (and it all got eaten) but it lost out to a batch of traditional Swiss cinnamon star cookies. Such is life, but I tried those cookies, and my colleague was a worthy winner!

I also enjoyed the “proper” Festive Bake-Off on TV this year. Good challenges, but I do think asking the bakers to make sugar glass domes was a bit too much! I’m all for playing around and bringing a bit of science and funky ingredients to my baking, but I don’t think that was a challenge I would have enjoyed. I watched it cringing, feeling every breakage with them. But seeing Sandy, Noel, Prue and Paul do their take on East 17’s Stay Another Day made up for it!

Back to my baking. This year I finished my seventh instalment of what has become something of a Christmas tradition. I reckon I must have made more than 2,000 cookies over the course of this series! I’ve had a look back at what I wrote after my festive baking in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 and I recognise all the usual pledges that I made. To be more organised. To be more realistic about my ability to do complex baking against the clock. The avoid spending money on single-function kitchen gadgets. Well this year, I’m going to say I just don’t care. It is fun, I love doing it. I’ll do it again (just not immediately, obviously).

So here’s to my 2017 edition of the Twelve Bakes of Christmas! I have to admit that with each passing year, I have to hunt more and more for different traditional recipes as I think I’ve covered off a lot of the more obvious and familiar Christmas bakes. However that is half the fun. It is still surprising to me each year that there are new things I’ve never heard of before, and the sheer variety you can get from combinations of butter, sugar, eggs, spices and nuts or chocolate in varying quantities.


Just as a final bit of fun, here are the original lyrics to the Twelve Days of Christmas with each of my recipes next to them. As has been the case in past years, there is absolutely no correlation. Not a jot. But did you know that if you were to receive the original gifts listed in the song from your beloved, you would end up with 184 birds, 140 people, 40 gold rings and 12 pear trees cluttering up your home? Given that, I don’t feel so bad with lots and lots of tins of cookies and sweets lining the kitchen shelves.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

…twelve Drummers Drumming (Italian Torrone di Natale)…
…eleven Pipers Piping (Finnish Vihreitä Kuulia)…
…ten Lords-a-Leaping (Eastern European Kolachky)…
…nine Ladies Dancing (American Snickerdoodles)…
…eight Maids-a-Milking (Swedish Knäck)…
…seven Swans-a-Swimming (American Bizcochitos)…
…six Geese-a-Laying (Italian Panpepato)…
…five Gold Rings (Swiss Biberle)…
…four Colly Birds (Swiss Magenbrot)…
…three French Hens (Norwegian Berlinerkranser)…
…two Turtle Doves (Maltese Biskuttini tal-Lewz)…
…and a Partridge in a Pear Tree (Danish Fedtebrød)!

So that is it for 2017. I hope you’ve enjoyed this selection. Judging by what people on Instagram think, the favourites are Torrone di Natale, the Finnish green marble sweets and Swiss marzipan-filled Biberle. My personal favourite was the Panpepato which tasted beautiful – rich, spicy and properly festive.

There will be more Christmas baking in 2018. If fact, I’ve tracked down a few recipes which might be making an appearance. So if you have any traditional recipes that you would like to see on here then please get in touch! Bonus points it they have quirky stories or an interesting story behind them.

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{12} Torrone di Natale

We’ve reached the end of another installment of the Twelve Bakes of Christmas!

I normally aim to finish this all before Christmas Day, but this year a combination of factors (toddler, lack of sufficient daylight for decent pictures, toddler) has pushed me beyond the big day. It has been fun to try a few new techniques, and of course I’m more than a little relieved that I can ease off the baking for a while now that I’m done for this year. Life will also be easier now that I’m not trying to hide tins of cookies and sweets from said toddler. Inevitably, he has taken to tucking into my Christmas baking…

I’m wrapping up this year’s series with another sweet rather than a bake. This is Italian torrone di natale. It includes lots of my favourite things – toasted almonds and hazelnuts, pistachios, honey and candied peel – which means it has a wonderful festive flavour.


If torrone looks familiar, you are right – this is a type of white nougat. Similar honey-and-nut confections (made with or without egg whites) appear across the south of Europe, including Spanish turrón and French nougat de Montélimar.

The flavours vary depending on the region, so I have kept things Italian with candied orange peel and pistachios. I did toy with the idea of adding some glacé cherries, so there would be a red-white-green effect similar to the Italian flag, but I decided not to – I did not want to add more sweetness without it also adding flavour, and I did not have time to get hold of cherries that had a decent flavour for making my torrone.


As with all good Italian sweets, there is a legend about how it came to be. It is reputed to have been created in the northern Italian city of Cremona in 1441, to celebrate the marriage of Francesco Sforza (founder of the Sforza dynasty and later Duke of Milan) and Bianca Maria Visconti. The torrone served at the nuptials was said to have been shaped into the form of the Torrazzo (the city of Cremona’s bell tower) and this is what gave torrone its name. Such is the love for torrone in its home town that Cremona celebrates it every year with (you guessed it) la festa del torrone.

While somewhat romantic (we’ll ignore the 24-year age gap between Francesco and the 16-year old Bianca…), this tale overlooks two little facts. The first written record of torrone in Cremona comes over a hundred years later, in 1543. And second, the name is more likely to have a Latin origin from the word torrere (to toast), referencing the nuts used in making this confection.


I’ve always imagined that nougat-style sweets are really hard to make. However, making this torrone was surprisingly easy. You just have to get everything prepared before you start. This is not my natural state of affairs, as I often just get going, and grab things from the store cupboard as needed (and on occasions, find I have run out of what I need). But for this recipe, you do need to prepare all the ingredients properly.

Oh, and have the right equipment! Making torrone will be much easier if you have digital scales to precisely measure the ingredients, a sugar thermometer to cook the honey and syrup to the right temperature, and an electric whisk to do all the hard beating for you. Just how this was made hundreds of years ago in a manual world is actually something of a marvel. The Italian confectioners of history must have developed good instincts for when things were done, as well as strong arm muscles!

When it comes to making torrone, you can play around with the flavours as much as you want. Include your favourite nuts, change around the candied peel, and add other dried fruits according to what you like – mango, papaya, sultanas or cherries. If you go very tropical and find yourself with candied pineapple and macadamia nuts, it might be a little far from the original, but I’m sure it will still be delicious.

To make Torrone di Natale (makes around 50 pieces)

• 200g blanched almonds
• 100g skinned hazelnuts
• 50g pistachios
• 220g granulated sugar
• 20g liquid glucose
• 80ml water
• 140g honey (I used 50/50 orange blossom and wildflower)
• 30g egg white
• 20g white caster sugar
• 60g candied orange peel, chopped
• 2 sheets rice paper (A4 size)

1. Rub a piece of greaseproof paper with a little vegetable oil. Use to line a large baking tray. Line again with one sheet of rice paper. Rub some neutral oil onto a rubber spatula.

2. Toast the nuts. Heat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Put the nuts on three trays and toast until fragrant but not dark. Use separate trays as the different nuts can be ready at different times. When all the nuts are ready, turn off the heat, open the door for a moment and let some of the heat out. Put all the nuts into one tray, and put it back in the oven so they stay warm.

3. Make a sugar syrup. Put the 220g granulated sugar, glucose and water into a small pan. Place over a medium heat. As the syrup is warming, put the honey in a separate small saucepan.

4. In the meantime, put the egg white in a bowl. Whisk to soft peaks, then add the caster sugar, and whisk to stiff peaks.

5. Now the fun starts – working with hot syrup!

5a: heat the sugar syrup until it reaches 116°C (240°F), then start to heat the honey.

5b: when the honey reaches 125°C (257°F), pour it to the whisked egg whites in a thin stream, beating all the time. The egg whites will increase in volume and have a beige colour.

5c: now check the sugar syrup. Once it reaches 150°C (302°F), pour it into the whisked egg whites in a thin stream, beating all the time. The mixture will become white, voluminous and thick. Beat well so everything is properly combined.

6. Add the warm nuts from the oven and any candied fruit to the mixture. Mix quickly with a wooden spoon, then transfer to the pan lined with rice paper.

7. Flatten the mixture with the prepared oiled spatula – it will be very sticky, so do the best you can. Add another layer of rice paper in to of the torrone and use something flat such as a baking tray to press it flat and get an even surface.

8. Leave to cool, then cut into pieces with a very sharp lightly oiled knife. I cut mine into pieces 2 x 4cm.

If storing, you can keep the torrone in a block, or cut into pieces and roll each piece in a 50:50 mixture of cornflour and icing sugar.

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{11} Vihreitä Kuulia

Today’s recipe is a departure from the world of Christmas cookies. It’s time for some festive sweets!

These are called vihreitä kuulia, which translates as “green marbles”. The idea to make these came from my Finnish colleague, who explained they are an intrinsic part of the festive period in Finland. They are fruit jellies made by the iconic Finnish chocolate company Fazer.


Never one to shy away from a challenge, I looked into them a bit more. They these are essentially pâte de fruit that is made in hemispherical moulds. Two pieces are put together to form a sphere, rolled in sugar and voila we have ourselves some green marbles. They looked pretty cool, so I thought I would have a go. The fact I needed to buy a new mould, glucose, pectin powder and tartaric acid? Pffff, easy!

The traditional flavour is pear, and in fact they used to be known by the name päärynäkuulat (“pear balls”). But…pear?…this presented a bit of a challenge. I wanted to stay authentic, but I didn’t want to use pear flavouring. If you’ve ever had pear drop sweets, you’ll know that really strong overpowering flavour and I wanted to avoid that. So what could I do? I bought a few comice pears, and let them get really, really, really ripe. They ended up really soft and fragrant, which seemed hopeful. In fact, they were so soft that peeling and coring them was a bit tricky, but it meant that they were very easy to purée.


So I got my pear purée, but it quickly started to oxidise and go brown. I cooked it briefly to try and stabilise it, then let it cool. At this point, it was a pale brown colour, which left me thinking this was not going to work. But I persisted – I threw in the other ingredients and added a little green colouring. I would love to say that I’ve used something wonderfully natural, but I didn’t. It was a gel colouring, as I wanted to get a vibrant, intense green colour. I know, I know, a massive contradiction to be obsessed about the natural flavour and then achieve the green with some fakery! But look – no more brown, and we got the green marble look.

I boiled the lot, got to the magic 107°C, and added some tartaric acid to get the mixture to set, and a little spiced pear liqueur for a flavour boost. It was then a simple case of pouring the mixture carefully moulds, and the rest went into a lined pan to set so that I could cut it into squares like classic pate de fruit. I did have to work quickly, as the mixture started to gel really quickly – I just managed to pour 24 hemispheres, and by the time I poured the remainder into a tray, it was properly starting to set. I thought it would take longer for the pectin to start setting, so you really do need to have everything ready. Part of the dubious joy of pâte de fruit is working with pectin and all the science that goes with it, but it does mean these sweets are vegan, so a useful recipe to know if you’re trying to make jelly-type sweets that avoid gelatin.


As you can see, this worked! The pear paste set to a very firm jelly which popped right out of the moulds. I then took two pieces, pressed them together, and rolled them in sugar. The result was a collection of really pretty green spheres. And the flavour? Yes, we got pear. We got natural pear! This worked better than I hoped, and I think part of the secret to success here is that the mixture was not cooked for any longer than was necessary. I probably spent only 5 minutes cooking it on the stove.

Now, I mentioned that this recipe did require me to buy a few specialist items. I had to find pectin powder, tartaric acid, glucose and a special silicone mould. Once I had amassed all these goodies, I was bitten by the pâte de fruit bug and decided to have a go at something else. I also saw that Fazer makes a range of these coloured fruit “marbles”. And I had a bowl of plums on the sideboard, so I decided to used the same technique to make my version of sugarplums, except I chopped the plums and cooked them with a little water until they were soft and pulpy, and added cinnamon and mixed spices to the mixture. I’ve made a traditional version before using a mixture of ground dried fruit and nuts flavoured with spices, but I liked the idea of a spiced plum candy, ruby-red and glittering with sugar crystals. As you can see below, they worked and taste absolutely delicious. Fit for the sugar plum fairy herself!

To make Vihreitä Kuulia / (makes around 50 half-spheres)*

• 250g pear purée (3-4 large and very ripe pears)
• 75g glucose
• 1 heaped tablespoon yellow pectin
• 400g sugar
• green food colour
• 1 teaspoon water
• 1 slightly rounded teaspoon acid crystals
• 1 teaspoon pear liqueur or pear eau de vie

1. Make the purée. Peel and core the pears. Chop and put them in a food processor and blitz to a purée. Pass through a sieve to remove any remaining bits, and tip the purée into a saucepan and cook briefly. Leave to cool to lukewarm.

2. In the meantime, put the sugar and pectin powder in a bowl and mix well – you want to get rid of any lumps of pectin.

3. In a small bowl mix the water and tartaric acid crystals. Add the pear liqueur or eau de vie.

4. Measure 250g of the pear purée and put in a saucepan. Add the glucose and sugar mixture. Stir well – it should turn syrupy. Add the green colouring and mix well.

5. Heat the mixture – it will come to a boil, and keep going until it reaches 107°C (225°F), stirring from time to time to prevent sticking.

6. Pour the cooked mixture into individual moulds or into a lined tray. Leave for several hours until completely cool and set.

7a. If making spheres: take two pieces of the fruit paste and sandwich together to make a ball. Roll in granulated sugar before serving.

7b. If using a tray: cut the set fruit paste into squares, or use cutters to make different shapes. Coat in granulated sugar before serving.

* I filled one tray of 24 hemispheres, and the rest want into a pan of 10cm x 20cm, and I got a block of pâte de fruit about 1cm deep.

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{10} Kolachky

I realised that my baking this year has been pretty heavy on nuts and spices, so today’s recipe restores a little balance with some fruity flavours.

Here are some delightful little festive bites called kolachky which are a bit like a pastry and a bit like a cookie. They are reminiscent of miniature Danish pastries, except they are made with a cream cheese dough rather than puff pastry. And they are just the right size to have one, then another, then another….you get the picture!


These cookies are one of those recipes that seems to pop up in lots of places. I’ve seen references to kolachky as coming from various places across Eastern Europe such as Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary. They appear with different fillings, including fruit, poppyseed and cream cheese. And sometimes they are not shaped like little parcels at all, but they are rounds of pastry with a sweet filling. The round version also seems to be quite a big thing in Texas (but hey, everything’s bigger in Texas), apparently due to Czechs moving there and brining their baking traditions with them.

When I first saw pictures of kolachky I assumed that they would be complicated to make. Happily, they are actually really simple. I have used a cream cheese dough, which just involves whipping butter with cream cheese, then mixing in flour with a bit of baking powder. It starts off very soft, but you chill it and it becomes easy to work with. Then it is just a case of cutting out the squares, adding the filling, and baking them. This means that when they bake, the pastry is buttery, flaky and tender.

When I was rolling and shaping, my inclination was to start with big squares of pastry, as they do look like something that belongs to a breakfast spread. But remember these should be more like cookies, so go with small squares. Your mind will be telling you this isn’t right, but trust me! Otherwise you’re going to end up with truly giant kolachky and you will have a low jam-to-pastry ratio, and that would just not do!


I have seen a few different ways to make the filling for these little pastries. Some suggest a filling made from chopped dried apricots and sugar that you cook until it is thick. If that’s what you want to do, go for it. However, I’ve taken a slightly lazier approach and just used jam. Not only is this quick, but it also means you can easily make a few different flavours. I went for apricot, sour cherry and blueberry to get some flavour and colour variety. As you can see there is such a difference between cherry and blueberry!

In the interests of science, also I tried a little experiment. I used some normal jam, as well as a jar of apricot jam that I had made over the summer which had a little too much pectin in it, and as a consequence it had a very firm set to it. As in, a very firm set.


As expected, the normal jam melted and some ran out during baking. Enough stayed in the pastries for this not to be a problem, so it was fine. However, my very firm jam stayed put perfectly. If you make these, don’t stress about seeking out a specialist jam for this, but if you do happen to have a jar of something that has set rather more firmly than expected, this is a good thing to use it in.

When it came to baking these guys, I didn’t bother with a glaze, egg wash or anything like that. However, I did see one suggesting to sprinkle granulated sugar on the tray first. I thought I would give this a try, as there is no sugar in the dough and so it was unlikely they would end up being too sweet. In fact, it worked great, as the base is a little crisp and caramelised. You can by all means skip this, but I like it.

So there you go – delicious little bite-sized pastries. They will last a few days in a sealed container, but I think they are best when still very fresh, so they would be an excellent thing to make in the evening, then bake then in the morning as part of your Christmas breakfast. Because that’s what we will be doing!

To make Kolachky (makes around 30):

For the pastry:

• 200g butter
• 200g cream cheese
• 250g strong white flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• pinch of salt

For the filling:

• jam, with a good firm set

1. Make the pastry – cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the other ingredients and mix to a dough. It will be very soft and quite sticky. Wrap in cling film and form into a flat square. Chill in the fridge overnight.

2. The next day, sprinkle a worktop with flour. Cut the dough into two equal rectangles, and put one back in the fridge. Take the other and roll out to a square 30cm x 30cm. Trim the edges and cut into squares of 7cm x 7cm. You will have 16 squares.

3. Add a teaspoonful of jam in the centre of each square. Gently fold one corner into the middle, then put a little water or milk on the opposite corner, and fold it on top and press lightly.

4. Sprinkle the baking sheet with some granulated sugar. Put the  kolachky on top. I did this in batches of 8.

5. Bake the kolachky for around 10-12 minutes until they look puffed and are starting to go golden. Remove from the oven, let them cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and dust lightly with icing sugar.

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