Tag Archives: chocolate

{11} Bauernbrötchen

We’ve already had one culinary jaunt to Austria this year with our pumpkin seed crescent cookies, and we’re going back for our penultimate recipe: Bauernbrötchen which translates as “farmers rolls”. But plain and rustic little breads these certainly are not!

At first glance, these seem to be chocolate crinkle cookies. They look like they contain chocolate, they are white and have that distinctive cracked appearance. Have I just made some of those and called them Austrian?

Of course not! But maybe these are their ancestors from the old country? I did look to see if I could find out more about how these cookies got their name, but drew a blank. My first guess was that it is something to do with the fact they use a lot of nuts, and that nuts were prevalent on farms. Of course this theory fall down quickly – the recipe uses a lot of chocolate, which is historically a luxury ingredient. My second guess, which seems more likely, is that they have more than a passing resemblance to large loaves of Austrian rye bread which is coated in flour with decorative cuts. Which theory do you think is right? It’s got the be the second, right?

Anyway, the method and ingredients  for making these is very different from crinkle cookies. They are made mostly with ground nuts and grated dark chocolate, with just a little flour to hold everything together. So in my book, that makes them even better than crinkle cookies. They are rich but also substantial and taste very, very festive. They also skip spices or citrus flavours, so provide something different on a holiday cookie plate too. I also really like the random cracked appearance which is a real contrast to perfectly identical cookies.

For the nuts, I have used walnuts. These seem to be common in many recipes, and in my mind this is also a very Austrian ingredient. It features in Austrian baking, but there is also a giant walnut tree growing in the garden of the parents of an Austrian friend down near the Slovenian border. So in my head, they make a lot of stuff with walnuts there, and that was what I would do.

However, you can make some adjustments if you want (or depending on what you have to hand). Almonds, hazelnuts, cashews or pecans would all make fine substitutes, either on their own or in combination. I would steer clear of pistachios and pine nuts simply because their flavour would vanish in these cookies and they are are at the pricier end of the nut world.

There are also recipes (including on the Dr Oetker website) which use coconut. If you’re a coconut fan then I am sure this would work, but you may wish to use a mixture of coconut flour and coconut flakes as I can see the recipe remaining too moist otherwise. I’ve had past experience using using coconut flakes when I should have been using coconut flour. So take this with a warning that I have not tested this – if you want to have a go with coconut, do let me know how it works out.

You will see that some of the cookies have a lovely white appearance, while others are more mottled. This was due to oil from the nuts and chocolate coming to the surface during baking. It does not affect the taste in any way, but the easy way to fix this is double rolling. When you shape the cookies, you roll them into a ball, then roll them in icing sugar. Fill the whole tray, then roll each one again in icing sugar. This created a slightly thicker coating, and gives you that picture-perfect crinkle look.

I was pleased with how these turned out – they are pretty easy to make, and the only pain was grating the dark chocolate. With hindsight I might have done this in a food processor. I did it by hand, and chocolate on a grater goes crazy. It creates lots of static, with small pieces of chocolate flying everywhere. I’m not sure there is really anything you can to prevent this, but it is just useful to know so that you’re not wearing your best white clothes as you do this, and at least you are prepared for the mess. Good luck!

And finally, the taste test. The flavour is really good – in spite of containing a fair amount of sugar and chocolate, they are not particularly sweet. The flavour is delicious, rich and nutty. The combination of lots of walnuts with chocolate gives them what I think of as a very “central European flavour”. They also keep very well when stored in a tin. Indeed, I think they actually improve over a couple of days, which is helpful when the recipe makes 50!

To make Bauernbrötchen (makes around 50)

For the dough

• 3 medium eggs, separated
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 150g white caster sugar
• 250g ground nuts (traditionally walnuts)
• 160g grated dark chocolate
• 60g plain flour

To decorate

• icing sugar

1. Put the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla into a large bowl. Whisk until light and thick (around 3-4 minutes).

2. Fold in the ground nuts and grated chocolate. The mixture will seem very thick and dry.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until you reach soft peaks. Vigorously mix the egg whites into the main mixture until evenly combined. Finally stir in the flour – the mixture should be soft and slightly sticky. Cover and leave to rest overnight.

4. The next day, preheat the oven to 175°C (345°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

5. Take generous teaspoons of the mixture (around 25g) and form into a ball. Roll in the icing sugar, then transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat until the tray is filled, leaving 5cm between each cookie to allow for spreading. At this point, you can re-roll each ball in icing sugar to get a good, even, thick coating.

6. Bake the cookies for 14 minutes, turning the tray half-way to get an even bake. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a moment (they are very soft when hot), then transfer to a cooking rack.

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{9} Kürbiskernkipferl

You missed me? I normally try to get all my festive baking done before Christmas day so that I can then relax and enjoy my bounty over the holidays. However this year was busy (plus I started late!) and I figured that it made sense to take a little break rather than rushing to complete everything by a self-imposed deadline. Was it the right thing to do? Of course! Less stress for me in the kitchen, and now I’m feeling a renewed sense of enthusiasm after my mini-hiatus.

So here is the final tranche of festive recipes. Today we have Kipferl. These are traditional shortbread cookies that appear across Germany, Austria and Hungary (plus other countries – borders and culinary traditions rarely match easily). They are shaped into crescents, baked and then, while still warm, coated in vanilla-flavoured icing sugar.

Kipferl are traditionally made with ground walnuts, but other flavours also work well. I’ve made these before with cardamom and pistachio, but this year I decided to add a twist by using a quintessentially Austrian ingredient – these cookies are Kürbiskernkipferl, or pumpkin seed crescents. Green pumpkin seeds are used in Austrian cooking and baking, sprinkled on breads and salads, and most famously, turned into oil.

Pumpkin oil is a speciality of the southern Austrian region of Styria. I’ve been on holiday there, and seen fields and fields of the things. I assumed they were grown for their flesh, but no – the prize is those seeds. They are pressed to extract their oil, which is deep green and has a delicious nutty flavour. Indeed, it is so valued that it is referred to as “green gold”.

I’ve also been warned by two separate Austrians that if you are travelling by plane with the stuff, you need to keep it in your hand luggage, and then open it mid-flight to release a build-up of pressure, otherwise the container with shatter and ensure that everything nearby is coated with a deep green oily stain that can never be removed.

Thankfully, you can also buy pumpkin oil it in delicatessens. And if you see it, buy it! It is wonderful in dips, and drizzled on salads, risotto or even ice cream.

You might be looking at the pictures and wondering whether these cookies really are that green? I thought the same thing. I assumed other bakers had added green food colouring to get the bright shade. This assumption appeared to be validated when I ground down some pumpkin seeds, as the mixture looked rather grey. Even when the dough the colour was still rather muted. But during baking, I was proved wrong. The colour appeared and I can only assume that the oil is released and that is what gives you this pretty shade of green.

One important thing to know when making this recipe is that the dough will seem quite dry. This is because I have added cornflour to help the cookie keep their shape and to give them a crumbly texture once baked. For this reason, when shaping the cookies you just need to form the dough into balls and then press them into a crescent shape with your fingers. The traditional way to do it is the roll the dough out between your hands and form a horseshoe shape, but this dough is too fragile for that. Just make sure you avoid adding any water to the dough – it will completely change the consistency and they won’t bake properly.

Once you have shaped, baked and witnessed the miraculous colour change, you need to finish your Kipferl. Traditionally this is by dipping them in vanilla-perfumed icing sugar. In fact, you want to dip them twice. The first time when they are warm, which means that the butter in the cookies mingles with some of the icing sugar to form a sweet coating. Once they are cool and you are ready to serve them, roll them again briefly so they look snowy-white and pristine. This is also a good way to disguise any cracked cookies, so if they come out of the oven and look less than perfect, icing sugar is going to cover it all up.

However, there is also an alternative. Show off that green colour by just dipping the ends into dark chocolate. They taste great, look pretty and have more than a passing resemblance to Swedish cakes that look like vacuum cleaners (really!).

To make Kürbiskernkipferl (makes around 20):

For the dough

• 60g pumpkin seeds
• 100g plain flour
• 25g cornflour
• 80g butter
• 50g white caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• generous pinch of salt
• 1 egg yolk

To finish

• icing sugar or dark chocolate

1. Put the pumpkin seeds into a food processor and grind to a fine powder. Mix with the flour and cornflour, and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until smooth. Mix in the egg yolk, then fold in the flour/pumpkin seed mixture. Mix to form a dough. It should be firm and seem quite dry. Wrap in cling film and chill for an hour in the fridge.

3. Preheat the oven to 175°C (345°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

4. Remove the dough from the fridge. Divide into 20 pieces – each is around 15g – and roll briefly into a ball. Place on the baking sheet, then use your fingers to form into a crescent shape.

5. Bake the crescents for around 15 minutes until lightly golden (turn the tray around half-way to get an even colour and bake).

If coating in icing sugar…

6. Put icing sugar into a wide bowl.

7. Remove the cookies from the own. Allow to cool for a moment, then transfer a few of the hot cookies at into the icing sugar, ensuring each is completely covered. Remove when coated, then leave on a wire rack to cool completely. Keep going until all cookies are covered in sugar.

8. Re-dip the cookies in icing sugar just before serving.

If dipping in chocolate…

9. Let the cookies cool completely.

10. Melt and temper your chocolate (BBC Good Food will explain all).

11. Dip one end of a cookie in chocolate, allow the excess to drip off, then dip the other. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat until all cookies are done. Leave to set.

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{7} Hausfreunde

It is nearly Christmas, so we really need to have something with chocolate. On today’s cookie platter we have Hausfreunde, which are little German cookies made of shortbread, filled with apricot jam and marzipan, and topped with dark chocolate and walnuts.

I also find the name to be is utterly charming. Or I did. I translated it as “friend of the house” or “family friend”, but thought it might be good to double-check in case my German is rusty. According to the website of the Langenscheidt dictionary (which I spent hours leafing through in paper form when learning German all those years ago, and hence now have no need for Google Translate) it can also mean “lover”. So I was sitting there thinking that these were adorable, and the name reflected that they are wholesome and traditional and familiar at the most magical time of the year. Certainly I found the flavour to be very traditional, if anything on the less sweet side, and that felt like a nod back to times past. But now I am left wondering if they are a nod to forbidden fruit, and a platter of these little guys is more about irresistible temptation? I may, perhaps, be over-thinking this.

They certainly look impressive, and you might think they are difficult to make. Certainly there are a number of steps, but each is individually fairly easy and the recipe lends itself to being made over a couple of days.

But, of course, I did decide to make life a little harder than it has to be. This is mainly because in London we’re kind of not really going anywhere indoors at the moment, and I’ve had my fill of multiple trips to the local funfair in the freezing cold. Yes, once again socialising means lots of standing outside in the cold, or being harassed to hold yet another online game of bingo for a bunch of 6 year olds on Zoom. You can see why pottering (hiding?) in the kitchen is so appealing.

So what did I do? It was the marzipan. I could have used the perfectly good and high-quality marzipan I already had in the baking cupboard. But no, I decided to have a go at making it myself. I’d already done it with my Goan Marzipan sweets, so when on a roll keep rolling.

For these cookies, I used this recipe from Anna Olsen, and it is pretty straightforward. You make a syrup of white sugar and acacia honey, then pour the hot mixture onto almonds and mix it well. The flavour is good, so it is nice to know that it is very easy if you want to make marzipan with other nuts: pistachio, hazelnut and walnut are all options to explore. I get the creeping feeling we’ll get a lot of time to practice things in the kitchen come the new year…

The flavour of these cookies really is excellent. The combination of shortbread, apricot, marzipan and chocolate really is a winner. They have that “central European Christmas” flavour vibe and I’m here for it. I started out wondering whether such a labour of love was worth the effort, but I was pleased to discover that it was. They are surprisingly not particularly sweet and seem all the more sophisticated for it.

Now, are there any tips I can share with avid bakers keen to embark on a grand project? Really, it is just about the chocolate. It is best if you temper the chocolate so that it looks shiny and has a pleasing crack when you bite into the cookies. The easiest way I have found is to put chocolate in a bowl, and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Another 30 seconds. Stir. Another 30 seconds. Now the chocolate should be starting to melt. Now microwave in 10 second bursts, stirring after each. The key is you want to just melt it but to keep the temperature as low as possible. Basically chocolate in bars has been tempered, and it will return to that state if you melt it only slightly. But if you’re keen to get more scientific, then BBC Good Food will explain all!

Speaking of chocolate, I’ve suggested melting 300g (about two bars) of dark chocolate for dipping. This seems (and is) a lot, and you won’t use anywhere near all of it. But it makes it much easier for the dipping stage. Once I’m done, I just spread it onto a sheet of greaseproof paper and let it set. Then just break it up and use it in another recipe (unless someone else in the house finds it first and eats it).

So, Liebe Leute – we’ve passed the half-way mark in the 2021 edition of the Twelve Bakes of Christmas. I hope you’re enjoying them, and that they may even have provided a little inspiration. And I promise there is more chocolate to come!

To make Hausfreunde (makes 24)

For the dough

• 225g flour
• 25g cornflour
• 75g icing sugar
• 165g butter
• zest of 1/2 lemon

• 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extraxt
• 1 medium egg, beaten

For the marzipan

• 125g ground almonds
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
• 100g caster sugar
• 45g acacia honey
• 1 tablespoon water

To assemble

• 200g apricot jam

To finish

• 300g dark chocolate
• 24 walnut halves, lightly toasted

Make the cookies

1. Put the flour, cornflour and icing sugar in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.

2. In another large bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Stir in the lemon zest and vanilla. Add in the dry ingredients. Stir in the beaten egg until you have a soft dough – if it is sticky add a little more flour.

3. Wrap the dough and chill for an hour, or overnight.

4. Time to bake. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

5. Roll the dough out to around 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) and cut out circles (5m diameter). Keep going until you have 48 discs. You will need to bake them in batches.

6. Transfer the cookies the baking sheet. Bake for around 10-12 minutes, turning half-way for an even colour. The cookies should be lightly golden when done. Leave to cool.

Make the marzipan

7. In a heatproof bowl, mix the ground almonds and almond extract.

8. Put the sugar, honey and water into a pan, and heat until the sugar dissolves. As soon as it comes to a rolling boil, pour the syrup onto the almonds and work to a paste with a silicone spatula. When smooth, wrap in greaseproof paper and leave to cool at room temperature.

Assemble the cookies.

9. Match the cookies in pairs by size (there is always some variation in size no matter how careful you are).

10. Warm the jam in a saucepan. Sieve if you want (you don’t have to), then add a teaspoon of apricot jam to each base (keep some jam back for the tops of the cookies). Gently place the partner cookie on top, and leave for a moment so the jam can set.

11. Marzipan time! Knead your marzipan (if it is very stiff, you can add a few drops of water to soften it). Sprinkle a worktop with icing sugar, and roll the marzipan out to around 4mm. Cut out marzipan circles using the same cutter as you did for the cookies (5cm diameter). Brush the top of each cookie with the remaining jam, then place a disc of marzipan on top. Press down gently.

Time to dip in chocolate!

12. Melt and temper your chocolate (BBC Good Food will explain all).

13. Dip the top of each cookie into the chocolate so that the marzipan is covered, but the sides of the cookies are left exposed. Let any excess drip off, then flip back the right way up. Immediately place a walnut half on top of the cookie. Repeat until all cookies are done. Leave to set.

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{11} Italian Rainbow Cookies

My previous festive baking post offered simplicity, so it was only inevitable that today we’d go back to complexity. And as it is New Year’s Eve, albeit the low-cal and less exciting version, it is only fitting that we do something that is colourful and has a bit of panache to it.

Earlier in this year’s baking extravaganza I posted some cookies from the Philippines and mused that I had not made many recipes from outside of the gingerbread-spice world of Western Europe. Then I got a suggestion from a helpful reader, Jamie, who suggested I have a go at Italian Rainbow Cookies. In spite of the name, they are a staple of American Christmas baking, particularly amoung the Italian-American community, so would tick the box of stepping beyond Europe for holiday inspiration. So…I did just that. I did actually have another recipe in mind for the No 11 slot this year, but for better or worse it has been bumped. Maybe it will make the cut for the 2021 edition?

Truth be told, I’ve seen these before, but I’ve been put off from making them as they look complicated. However what with lockdowns and the like, I’ve got plenty of time on my hands (i.e. my excuse has gone), so we were all set for some lurid rainbow cookies. All fabulous seven layers of them. And here is what I made!

I’m beyond thrilled with how they worked out. Seeing them all laid out neatly like this I have the vague feeling that I’ve made some sort of edible interactive Tetris set. I originally arranged them in neat lines all in the same way but it looked too orderly. Hence the more random arrangement. It’s chaos within order.

These little guys are also called Seven-Layer Cookies, and it’s easy to see why. There are three layers of almond-flavoured sponge, sandwiched together with jam, and then the top and bottom have a layer of dark chocolate. They are made as one giant sheet, then cut into individual bite-sized cubes.

I find them both cute and oddly extravagant. But are they Italian? Are they a rainbow? And are they really cookies? The last two are easy. You could go with any colour you wanted, but the red/white/green tricolore seems to be pretty ubiquitous. The tricky thing is to get more of a rainbow, you need more layers, which makes them more complex, and the size would become impractical. I also think it is wise to go with colours that could be natural as opposed to blues and purples. So they’re not a real rainbow, but I think the three colours do work well together.

Are they cookies? Well, not in the sense of something that is made from dough that has been rolled out and shaped or cut. But neither are they cookies made from balls of dough, or drops of batter. While the term “cookie” is pretty flexible, these guys are really are more like little cakes. The closest I can think of are petit fours, those fancy little bite-sized French cakes you might get with afternoon tea or after a special dinner.

So, they’re at least Italian, right? This is where things get more mixed. Some think they’re not Italian at all, while others think they must have at least a tenuous link to the old country. Other sources suggest the recipe was developed within the Jewish community that lived alongside Italians in American cities. Whatever the true origin, they have acquired the “Italian” moniker and they seem to be a key part of an Italian nonna’s festive baking repertoire, and given that it’s probably best not to argue.

But where to start with baking them? Jaime pointed me in the direction of the Smitten Kitchen recipe from Deb Perelman. I’ve followed some of Deb’s recipes in the past, and been pleased with the results. In a pretty crowded online recipe world, and with what seem like dozens of YouTube videos of those nonnas making these things, I decided to go with a recipe that I was pretty confident would work. She also writes with candour about how she found the process and offers tips for getting it right, which is something I always like to see. A tricky recipe being described as “easy” or “a breeze” does no service to the reader and it underplays the work of the baker too.

I planned to do this over two days, as they baked cake part needs to chill for at least 8 hours with a weight on it. I think the idea is that this helps to ensure the cookies are perfectly flat, the layers bond to each other, and I think it helps with the texture too. I figured I could do all the baking and assembly one day, then do the chocolate and the chopping the next. I recommend doing it in this way as it helps keep you sane. The kitchen does end up covered in a fair few bowls coated in many different colours.

But was the whole process a breeze? I did have one major wobble. Once I’d done the baking, assembling and chilling, I removed the tray from the fridge to start doing the chocolate layers. I trimmed the sides, partly to neaten it all up, and partly to have some offcuts to eat. With a nice sharp knife it was a dream to cut. Then I was frankly horrified upon doing a sneaky taste – the cakes seems dry and hard. I panicked. Had they been over-baked? Had I wasted my time? In fact, they were just cold. As they came up to temperature, they softened and that delicious jammy almond flavour emerged. So yeah, just note that this happens!

The chocolate layer was the bit that worried me. You need to do the top and the bottom. Now, I can temper chocolate, but it takes time and patience. Plus it is about 1 degree (centigrade) outside, so our old London brick house is freezing which makes it all the more tricky to get chocolate to a precise temperature – not too hot, not too cold. This was a problem that the Smitten Kitchen recipe had too. Well, it turns out the answer was actually mercifully simple – you just add a little unsalted butter to the melted chocolate. No tempering, and this also means the chocolate has a bit of “give” so that it becomes easier to cut.

And what’s the verdict? Well this comes in two parts. How much work were they, and how do they taste.

In terms of effort, they are a lot less work than I thought. I probably spent one hour doing all the baking, and that was alongside keeping an eye on my son, who also tried to help (and promptly made a mess). Then maybe 20 minutes assembling it all before leaving to chill overnight. The chocolate was the job for the second day. Splitting it up in this way makes it quite easy. Manageable mess, and you don’t end up going doolally from it all. Italian Rainbow Cookies are also quite fun to make them if you’re slightly obsessive about precision in your baking. For indeed, my much-treasured Japanese steel metal ruler helped get those sharp lines and equal cuts.

In terms of how they taste, I love them. They have an intense almond flavour and lovely fruitiness from the jam (which I boosted with a little amaretto and some cherry liqueur). This is all balanced by the dark chocolate. I’d even go so far as to say that they taste much better than they look. While I’m all up for a bit of whimsy in the baking, the red/white/green colour scheme is a touch lurid for my tastes. But then, it is iconic, and I wonder if anything else really would do? Plus, where else are you going to find cookies that can symbolise the flags of Italy, Hungary, Ghana and Mali depending on how you place them? They are certainly some of the most striking things I’ve ever made in terms of the looks department.

So there we have it – my efforts in accepting one reader’s challenge. I’ll wrap up by sharing a tip of my own for recipes like this one where you have to divide the batter and the jam into equal portions. Get some electric scales, and weigh your bowls before using them. This makes it really easy to work out by weight how much batter or jam should be in each portion. I happen to know my main mixing bowl is 580g. Believe me, it saves a lot of guessing, eyeballing and general culinary angst. And it does help get even layers when making something like Italian Rainbow Cookies where you want to be precise to show off just how fancy you can get with your baking.

To make Italian Rainbow Cookies (recipe from Smitten Kitchen, with some tweaks)

For the batter

• 4 large eggs, separated
• 200g white caster sugar
• 200g almond paste (see note)
• 285g unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 260g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• red food colouring
• green food colouring

To fill

• 1 x 340g jar apricot jam
• 4 tablespoons water or amaretto and cherry liqueur (I used Luxardo Maraschino)

To finish

• 200g dark chocolate
• 20g unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Prepare 3 sheets of greaseproof paper to fit a 33 x 23cm (13 x 9 inch) baking pan.

2. Put the egg whites into a large bowl. Beat until you have soft peaks, then add 50g of caster sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until it forms stiff peaks – it should look like a meringue.

3. In a separate bowl, grate the almond paste. Work with your hands so that it gets soft, then add the remaining 150g caster sugar and the butter. Beat until pale, fluffy and everything is combined. Add the yolks, almond extract and vanilla extract, and keep beating on high speed. If you can still see a lot of flecks of almond paste, keep beating to get it super-smooth. When done, fold in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.

4. Add half the meringue mixture to the other bowl, and fold in to lighten the batter. Then add the rest of the meringue mixture and fold that in.

5. Split the batter between 3 bowls. Add red food colouring to one, and green food colouring to another. Put the green batter into the fridge, and put the white batter to one side. Pour the red batter into the prepared baking tray, and spread as evenly as you can. Don’t worry if the batter does not seem very deep – it is supposed to be just under 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) deep.

6. Bake the red layer for around 10 minutes. It will still look a bit wet on top, but a cocktail stick should come out clean. You don’t want more than the lightest of browning at the edges. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack.

7. Remove the green batter from the fridge to bring it up to temperature. Set aside. Now prepare the baking tray again, and bake the white layer. When that’s done, repeat for the green later.

8. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the jam. Put it into a saucepan, add 4 tablespoons or water or a mixture of amaretto and cherry liqueur, and bring to the boil. Pass through a sieve, and set aside to cool.

9. Once all the layers are completely cool, prepare a shopping board or tray by lining with a sheet of greaseproof paper. Flip the green layer onto the paper. Spread with half the cooled jam mixture, getting it as even as you can. Then flip the white layer onto the green layer, and spread with the rest of the jam. Finally, flip the red layer and place on top. Wrap the whole lot in cling film, place in the fridge, then put a heaving baking tray on top and add a few jars to weigh it all down. Leave to chill overnight.

10. Time to finish it off. Remove the tray from the fridge. Use a clean straight knife to trim the edges. You’ll notice that they seem quite firm and dry – this is normal.

11. Prepare the chocolate. Put 100g chocolate in a bowl, and microwave in 30 second bursts until it is melted. Add 10g of unsalted butter, and mix well. Spread evenly on the red layer, getting it as smooth as you can. Place in the fridge for a few minutes to set.

12. Remove the tray from the fridge, and flip it onto another tray (so now the chocolate is at the bottom, and you have a green sheet of cookie facing you. Melt the rest of the chocolate, then add the rest of the butter. Spread on top, and put it back to the fridge for 5 minutes to set.

13. Use a serrated knife to score lines on top of the chocolate, marking first vertical, then horizontal Go back over the vertical lines to cut through the layer of chocolate. Then switch to a clean straight-edged knife to cut through the cake layers, and swap back to the serrated knife to cut through the bottom lawyer of the chocolate. You should have long strips of rainbow cookies.

14. Take each strip and place on its side do you can see the pattern facing you. Use a small sharp knife to cut into individual pieces in a swift downwards motion. Keep going until all the cookies have been done. Store in an airtight container in the fridge, but allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Note: this recipe calls for almond paste (which is 50/50 almonds and sugar). The brand I used was Odense Mandelmassa that I panic-bought earlier in the year. The stuff you find in British supermarkets called marzipan is usually 75% sugar, 25% almonds. It’s great for decorating, but it’s not right for this as the sugar content is too high.


Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{6} Pulsnitzer Pfefferkuchen

If it’s Christmas, there has to be gingerbread. Given my penchant for finding obscure recipes, clearly I had to come up with something that comes from a specific place and has a backstory. Today, it’s all about German Pulsnitzer Pfefferkuchen (pepper cake from Pulsnitz).

These gingerbread slices hail, unsurprisingly, from the town of Pulsnitz near Dresden in eastern Germany. They have been baking their Pfefferkuchen there since 1558. Indeed they love their gingerbread so strong that they even have a museum on the main square devoted to its history, complete with machines, moulds, tins and cutters. If you’re lucky (and in a post-pandemic world) you can even try your hand at making them there in a baking class. If I’m ever passing, I’ll be sure to drop in. But for 2020, I’ve had to be content with making my own at home.

In my research I read that this is considered by some to be a more “basic” type of gingerbread. Having made it, it isn’t exactly easy, and it takes quite some time. However, it does not contain all the richness of some other types of German Christmas cookies. Things like Nürnberger Lebkuchen need to contain a high level of nuts and no flour to pass quality standards and legally be sold as such. In contrast, Pfefferkuchen starts off as a mixture of flour (wheat and rye) and honey, which is then enriched with spices. It’s the spices that give it the Pfeffer (pepper) in its name – whereas we now think of black pepper, this was formerly a term for all sorts of spices.

When I read this description, I thought calling it “simple” was rather unfair, as the resulting gingerbread is really delicious. I thought about it and my guess is that the gingerbread you find in a given area depends on what is typical of the area. So a city that was a medieval trading hub would be likely to have more by way of nuts, spices and citrus fruits, whereas a more agricultural area is going to use wheat and honey for its treats. I think it is also easy to forget just how special a lot of what we now see as standard Christmas fare would have seemed to normal folk hundreds of years ago. Cookies, sweets, honey. Those were true luxuries. So eating a piece of spiced honey cake, possibly glazed with sugar, would really have been quite something.

Anyway, I decided to make this thing. And I’m clearly not posting this recipe today in any expectation that it will be made for Christmas this year! The reason is it takes time.

A typical feature of the dough is that it should rest a lot to allow it to mature before it is baked. In the recipe I used, the suggestion was that this should be for at least two weeks. In the end mine sat undisturbed in a cool corner of our kitchen for about three weeks. If I were being scientific, I would have made detailed observations and perhaps filmed the mixture to check the texture before and after. But I did not do that. From my fairly basic analysis (I looked at it and tried to remember what it had looked like three weeks before) it seemed to me that the dough had become softer and smoother during the resting period. I remember reading that there are enzymes in honey that will break down some of the proteins in flour, affecting flavour and taste. And hey, we’re stuck indoors for most the day at the moment, so it’s not as if I’ve been short of time to plan these bakes this year!

Once the dough has rested, you add in spices, cocoa powder and raising agents. This is the bit where it gets fiddly. I used two “authentic” (i.e. obscure) raising agents – pottasche and baker’s ammonia. Originally, one would have been extracted from wood ash, the other from ground-up deer antler. Mercifully today you can buy them online and avoid harming any animals or picking over a bonfire. The reason to use them is that they give a great raise and very light texture, much more than you will get with baking soda or baking powder. Note that I have not tested this recipe with traditional raising agents, so I can’t vouch for your results. If you give it a go, let me know and best of luck!

My dough ended up being pretty soft, but I was still able to work with it. I did this deliberately in the hope of keeping the resulting gingerbread as moist as possible. The good thing is that there is no elaborate shaping involved. You really just form a long strip, bake it, then cut it while warm in a similar way to biscotti.

Once you’ve started cutting, you can finally taste the dough (you can’t eat it raw due the pottasche and the baker’s ammonia). I thought I’d actually made a failure as it was not very sweet. Darn. But there was magic to come…the glazes ended up making all the difference.

I used three different ways to finish the cookies. The first was a simple sugar glaze. It starts off white, then it sets and slowly you get frost-like patterns appearing on it. It will darken due to the gingerbread, so if you want a sparkling white finish, you can add some white colouring to the icing, but it tastes just fine as it is.

The second was a spiced chocolate glaze. This was the same one I used a couple of years ago when making Swiss Magenbrot. This one starts of looking dark and shiny, and stays that way, so I think it wins for the combination of being easy to do, tasting great and looking good.

The third way was to dip pieces into dark chocolate. I was a little dubious as this was not going to add any additional moisture to the gingerbread, but I did not have to worry. It was utterly delicious. It’s a morsel of Christmas between your fingers. If you’re lazy, busy, or occupied with pets and small children, you can just melt and dip. But as you’ve come all this way, you might as well get it perfect and ensure the chocolate has been tempered. It’s fairly easy to do with a microwave and a food thermometer, plus your friends (remember them?) will be impressed you made something look so professional.

Of the three finishes, the dark chocolate was my favourite. The chocolate melts in your mouth, and the flavour is sublime. I’ve given all three below, but remember I divided my batch into 3. If you want to do them all the same, you need to make more glaze.

Now, a confession. I’m not massively confident that the recipe I’ve used is totally authentic. The traditional makers of Pulsnitzer Pfefferkuchen guard their recipes closely, so there were very few recipes out there and those that exist have no pictures. So I was forced to just muddle through. The result is delicious (if a bit of a faff) and I think the fact it is mostly rye-and-wheat flour bound with honey and some spices makes me think I’m somewhere in the right area. But 100% authentic? Not so sure. I might just keep my head down if I do ever make it to that gingerbread museum near Dresden.

So there you have it! My sort-of-Pulsnitzer Pfefferkuchen. Now I’ll just have to sit here and wait to be contacted by people who make the real thing to tell me I got it wrong…

To make Pulznitzer Pfefferkuchen (makes around 100 pieces):

For the basic dough

• 500g strong honey
• 400g plain flour
• 200g light rye flour
• 125ml water

Additional dough ingredients

• 75g ground almonds
• 30g cocoa powder
• 3 teaspoons mixed gingerbread spices
• 2 teaspoons baker’s ammonia
• 1 teaspoon potash

Chocolate glaze (to cover 30-35 pieces)

• 40g dark chocolate
• 10g butter
• 50ml water
• 200g icing sugar
• 1 pinch ground cinnamon
• 1 pinch ground cloves
• 1 pinch ground nutmeg

Sugar glaze (to cover 30-35 pieces)

• 300g icing sugar
• 6 tablespoons boiling water
• White food colour (titanium dioxide powder), optional

Chocolate coating (to cover 30-35 pieces)

• 300g dark chocolate

1. Start by making the basic dough. Put the honey and water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then let it cool to lukewarm. Mix with the plain flour and rye flour until you have a sticky dough. Cover with cling film and leave to rest at room temperature – two weeks is recommended, but you can leave it overnight.

2. Time to finish the dough. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

3. Take pieces of the honey dough and knead briefly to make them soft (this will fix any drier bits that are near to surface). Be warned – it’s a workout for your hands.

4. Put the baker’s ammonia and potash into two separate dishes. Add just enough warm water to get them to dissolve. Then add them to the main bowl, plus the ground almonds, cocoa powder and spices. Knead until everything is well-combined and you have an even colour. Note the dough will be quite sticky, but if you find it too soft and sticky, add a bit more plain flour.

5. Sprinkle the worktop with flour. Roll/press the dough to 1cm thick and 20cm wide (the length does not matter, but it should be around 50cm). Cut the dough into strips of around 5cm. Place 3-4 on the baking sheet at a time, leaving plenty of space for them to expand. Bake for around 15 minutes until the logs are puffed and slightly firm when lightly pressed. Remove from the oven and immediately brush them with cold water to help keep them soft. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool slightly. Repeat until all the dough is baked.

6. Use a serrated knife to cut the logs diagonally into slices.

7. Coat the individual pieces in either sugar glaze, chocolate glaze or melted dark chocolate. Leave to set.

To coat with sugar glaze:

a. Sift the icing sugar and put in a bowl.

b. Add the boiling water and mix to a smooth icing – it should flow but not be watery. If too thin, add more icing sugar.

c. Dip each piece into the glaze, shake off any excess, then transfer to a wire rack to dry.

If you want a perfectly white finish, mix in some white food colour (titanium dioxide powder). Mix this with water first to get a smooth paste for a more even colour.

To coat with chocolate glaze

a. Put the butter, chocolate and water in a saucepan and heat very gently until everything is just melted. Stir to combine, then add the icing sugar and spices. It should flow easily but not be watery. If too thin, add more icing sugar.

b. Dip each piece into the glaze, shake off any excess, then transfer to a wire rack to dry.

To coat with dark chocolate

a. Prepare the chocolate – eithe just melt it, or temper the chocolate.

b. Dip each piece into the chocolate, shake off any excess, then transfer to a wire rack to set.

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{11} Baci di Dama

For my eleventh post this year, I decided that I had to make something with chocolate. When I look back at my bakes so far in the 2019 edition of the 12 Bakes of Christmas, I was struck by the fact I’ve only used chocolate once, and I’m not sure that the other recipe with just cocoa really counts.

To rectify this I decided to attempt baci di dama – these are two little hazelnut biscuits sandwiched together with a little dark chocolate. Their name means “lady’s kisses” as they resemble a pair of plump puckered lips ready to lavish romance on someone fortunate. I’ve seen these cookies described as a symbol of sensuality.

Something I am also very curious about is what you think of the pictures I took of these cookies. I tried a few different setups to set a festive mood, some using tinsel, some using ribbon and some with a textured cloth. But none of them quite hit the mark for me, and I felt that I was going to have to resign myself to using shots I was not completely in love with. Then, as I was packing up, I noticed how they were reflected on the white surface and I thought that was the way to capture how they look – a sort of stripped-back, wintery look as if they are reflected in ice. Lady’s kisses, but that lady happens to be the White Queen of Narnia!

I have to be honest and declare that these are not really Christmas cookies per se, it just happens that they look adorable and they have flavours that seem very festive. They were created around a century ago in the city of Tortona in Piedmont, an area famed for its hazelnuts. One story says that they were the creation of a pastry chef in the employ of the House of Savoy, who was asked by Prince Vittorio Emanuele II to create something new. The chef could only use what he had to hand – nuts, sugar, butter and chocolate – and so baci were born. The other story is that they were born of fierce competition between two pastry chefs in Tortona. One created a version using hazelnuts and the other using almonds, and they both sought to obtain protection for their own special creations. Passion and rivalry seem somehow fitting for a cookie symbolising sensuality, not?

I started to do a little bit of digging for the “authentic” way to make these, and they all seem to be a bit of a variation on a theme – ground nuts, butter, flour and sugar in various quantities. But the recipe that really piqued my interest was this recipe from David Leibowitz using rice flour, and I decided to stop there and try that recipe. I liked the idea of using the rice flour as I expected it to provide a particular crispness and slight crunch to the cookies after baking in a way that plain old flour would not.

In following his recipe, I did find that the dough does seem to be very dry when you’re working it. He does recognise this and suggests you just keep working it until it does come together. I kept going and while I definitely noticed that the heat from my hands did help the mixture become more cohesive as I kept kneading, I also knew that I had gone way past the point I would have gone with a recipe using just flour. Ultimately I gave in and added tiny extra amounts of butter to get the dough to form. I didn’t need much, so when I say tiny, I mean tiny. The other option he suggests is adding a tiny amount of water, but this one I was really dubious about. That approach might work if you didn’t need to do too much with the dough, but I was concerned that given all the shaping and rolling of lots of small cookies that the rice flour would absorb the water and the texture would be affected (and that the dough would probably turn crumbly again and be impossible to work when you’re rolling the last of the cookies). The choice is yours, but this is basically a nutty shortbread. I’m Scottish, we’re shortbread experts, and would never add water when making shortbread!

For the hazelnuts, you have a few choices. You can use whole hazelnuts, and gently toast them in the oven until the skins start to come off. You then remove them from the oven, roll them in a teatowel, then carefully pick out the nuts as you try to avoid spreading the pieces of nut skin around your kitchen like brown confetti. I mean it – keep doors closed, as otherwise the slightest puff of wind and you’ll be finding bits of hazelnut skin for months. Otherwise you can use the cheat’s method and use ground hazelnuts, and just spread them on a piece of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet – bake at around 150°C (300°F), checking every few minutes until they are toasted. While less rustic than grinding your own hazelnuts, it does make life a lot simpler!

You don’t need to limit yourself to hazelnuts, although the flavour is delicious and combines wonderfully with the dark chocolate – the success of Nutella alone testifies to a winning combination. However, I think toasted ground almonds would also be good perhaps paired with some milk chocolate, and you could get very creative and use ground pistachios and white chocolate to create a little festive selection.

And in case you’re wondering, what does that rice flour do? It means when they come out of the oven the cookies are utterly fragile – I accidentally brushed against one and it collapsed. But they do firm up and go hard if you leave them, so patience if useful here. The texture is very crisp, and the rice flour and the hazelnuts give them an almost gritty texture (think breadstick rolled in polenta). I really liked it makes for a more interesting biscuit. However, in the interests of science, I also made a few using plain flour. The texture is closer to what you would expect from a nutty shortbread, so if you prefer to keep them classical, go with that. They are both, of course, delicious and they’ve been one of the most popular cookies I’ve made this year. They are wonderful with coffee, and their dainty size means you can easily nibble your way through a few of them without the feeling that you have over-indulged. I mean, you probably have, but you just don’t feel that way!

To make Baci di Dama (makes 40-50) – recipe by David Leibowitz (here)

For the dough

• 140g ground toasted hazelnuts
• 140g rice flour
• 100g unsalted butter, plus more if needed
• 100g white caster sugar
• pinch of salt

For the filling

• 60g dark chocolate

1. Put the ground hazelnuts, rice flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and use your hands to work it until you have a dough. Keep kneading it as the heat from your hands will soften the butter. If you find you’re really struggling to get it to come together, add a tiny amound more butter and keep going.

2. Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

3. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Take the first piece and roll to a long sausage – I did mine 22cm, as I worked out that this would give me pieces of 5g each. Then use a knife and cut into equal pieces. I lined my dough up against the ruler and cut into 1cm pieces – they came out very even.

4. Take each piece of dough and roll into a ball. I found it easiest to press the dough into as round as shape as possible, then to work the dough quickly between my palms to get a perfect sphere. Place each ball on the baking sheet, leaving some room for them to expand. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough. Do the same with the remaining 3 chunks of dough.

5. Bake the cookies for around 12-14 minutes until they look slightly golden – they will have puffed up ever so slightly, formed little dome shapes, and have slight cracking. Remove from the oven and allow to cool – they are extremely fragile when they come out of the oven, but they will become firm when cool. When they have stabilised, transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

6. Once the cookies are completely cool, match them up in pairs of the same size. I recommend you then line them up in rows, one row with the base facing upwards, and its partner immediately above it.

7. Melt and temper the chocolate (the easy way – finely chop all the chocolate. Melt 1/3 in the microwave, then add the next 1/3 and stir until melted, then add the final 1/3 and stir until smooth, and reheat in the microwave for 5 seconds on full power). Put the chocolate in a piping bag, then put a little chocolate, the size of a chocolate chip, onto the base of a cookie, and gently place its partner on top – you want chocolate peeking out of the edges. Keep going until they are all done, and leave to set completely.


Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{2} Mandelhörnchen

Today we’re going to celebrate two of the most traditional flavours – chocolate and almonds! I think they are both delicious, so when I saw these nutty marzipan crescents, I knew I had to give them a go. Not only that, but they were also going to be my entry for our Festive Bake-Off at work (well, assuming that they worked!).

As with my Icelandic jólakaka I don’t really have much history to write about these little treats, other than they are very German and part of the wide range of Christmas baking from that part of the world.

This is a remarkably easy recipe, and I think you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck in terms of amount of effort as compared to the end result. The dough is just a simple marzipan, and you don’t even need to worry about letting it rest for hours in the fridge, which makes this a good recipe if you don’t have masses of time to wait.

But let’s be honest, you’re probably still something of an obsessive perfectionist given you’re in the realm of home-made cookies which involve playing around with a thermometer to temper the chocolate for that perfect shine? On that note, if you’re at a loss as to what to get from Father Christmas in your stocking, ask for a digital food thermometer – it’s brilliant for recipes that need a precise temperature. I used to just guess and hope for the best, which led to variable results, and it makes it easier when working with chocolate or making sweets.

So how did I get on in the competitive baking challenge? I submitted them into the “12 Identical Christmas Bakes” category, and I got good feedback, but did lose out to a colleague’s cranberry and orange spiced cupcakes, which frankly were really good. I guess that’s the thing with marzipan – it is often something people really love or really don’t care for. Hey ho…there is always next year!

If you are minded to give these a try, there is one tip I can share with you. It’s about the flaked almond decoration. Lots of pictures online show perfect cookies with whole flaked almonds on them, and I thought I would try to go for that too, but it ended up being a a complete pain to get them to stick to the marzipan after shaping without falling off. It was a case of each movement or slight puff of wind making yet more of them give up. It turns out that it really is a lot easier to roughly chop the flaked almonds. Then when you roll the marzipan in the nuts the adhere perfectly. I think if you went for smaller, fatter crescents then you would find it easier to get larger pieces of almond to stay put, but I had decided on the shape I wanted, and no bag of nuts was going to determine what I did!

One final thing to watch out for is that these cookies can dry out easily if you don’t keep them stored in a sealed container, which is not brilliant when you really want that tender marzipan texture. However, you can easily fix this by storing them in an airtight container with a slice of bread, which is basically magic and makes them soften up after a day or so, which is helpful if you want to make them in advance. Perhaps for a work baking challenge that you don’t win….!

To make Mandelhörnchen (makes around 20)

For the marzipan:

• 250g icing sugar
• 250g ground almonds
• 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
• 1 teaspoon almond extract

To decorate:

• 150g flaked almonds, roughly chopped
• 1 egg white, beaten

To finish:

• 150g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the even to 160C. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Make the marzipan. Put the ground almonds and icing sugar in a large bowl. Add the almond extract and mix well. Add about two-thirds of the egg white, and mix well. The marzipan will seem dry and crumble, but keep adding more of the egg white until you get a soft marzipan which holds is shape but is not too sticky. If it gets sticky, just add equal amounts of icing sugar and almonds to get the right consistency.

3. Shape the cookies. Take pieces of dough, around 20-25g (yes, I used my electric scales to get exact pieces) and roll into a ball. Roll on a worktop to form a sausage – mine were 15cm. Brush some egg white on a plate, and roll the marzipan on it to get a thin, even coating, then roll it into the chopped flaked almonds. Transfer the baking sheet and form into a crescent shape.

4. Bake the Mandelhörnchen for around 12 minutes until just turning golden. Turn the baking sheet half-way to get an even colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely – they get firmer as they cool.

5. Melt and temper the chocolate. Dip each end of the cookies in the chocolate, transfer to a sheet of greaseproof paper and leave to set.

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{1} Jólakaka

Hello, we’re back for the 12 Days of Festive Baking, 2019 edition! It’s time for another selection of seasonal delights from around the world.

I’ve decided to start with something at the easier end of the spectrum. I’d love to say that this is all down to me experiencing some sort of epiphany and embracing a new ethos of cooking and living simply and in the moment. In reality, I’ve had an extremely busy November and have just survived hosting a Christmas party for ten 4-year-olds, and I thought I would take the chance to avoid making things more complex than they need to be for the next couple of days. So, ladies and gentlemen, here is a festive loaf cake all the way from Iceland – the jólakaka.

Bizarrely, as I write this it is colder in London than it is in the Icelandic capital. 0°C degrees here, and a positively tropical 7°C degrees in Reykjavík. We’re in the middle of a cold snap, so it feels very much like the festive season has started properly. Personally I love it!

And so to our cake. The jólakaka is an Icelandic classic, and the name literally means Christmas cake, although it is apparently eaten all year round. While it has raisins in it like a British Christmas cake, any similarities pretty much end there. It is similar to a pound cake and in my case I’ve flavoured it with cardamom and vanilla. I’ve found some variation in recipes, some with just vanilla, some with lemon zest, others with just cardamom, so it seems there is not one right way to do it, apart from (I would imagine) the way someone’s grandmother on the far side of Iceland near the Eyjafjallajökull volcano makes it. I’m also pretty sure that none of these things are native to Iceland? Flavours aside, raisins seem pretty ubiquitous, so I would add those, but I have also some people using dark chocolate chips too, so if you want to do that, throw in a handful. And if you’re planning to put this anywhere near small children, I would skip dried fruit altogether and embrace chocolate and vanilla and accept your lot. So in short, use this recipe as just a guide, change it as you want, and to each their own!

The texture is fairly dense and the cake is on the “dry” side. It reminded me of a madeira cake. I mean that in the sense that it is firm and has a close crumb and it is definitely not moist and soft like a banana loaf. This is a robust cake, as you’ve expect from the land of ice and massive volcanos. It’s the sort of thing I would like to eat with tea or coffee, and I did find that it was better the day after baking, so I recommend baking it, letting it cool slightly, then wrapping it in cling film. This will keep moisture in the cake, and I think lets any spices develop their flavour a little.

I’d love to be able to say that I have stories about the history of this cake, but I’ve not been able to find out much at all about it. If you do know anything about its origins, then do share! The nearest I got was finding a fun fact – the Icelandic word for baking powder is the cute-sounding lyftiduft which I am guessing is pronounced “looft-ee-dooft” and translates literally as air powder. And if you’re wondering…yes, our house was completely turned upside-down after the party, and we’re still clearing up. That’s the price of creating those precious memories!

To make a Jólakaka (makes 1 loaf cake)

• 150g butter
• 150g caster sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• pinch of salt
• 250g plain flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 150ml whole milk
• 100g raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl, and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each, until well combined. Stir in the lemon juice, cardamom, vanilla and salt and mix.

3. Fold in the flour and baking powder, then add the milk and mix to a smooth batter. You might find you don’t need all the milk.

4. Finally, fold in the raisins (or chocolate chips if you’re being rock’n’roll).

5. Gently pour the batter into the baking tin. Smooth the top and bake for around 45 minutes until done – an inserted skewer should come out clean. If the top of the cake looks like it is browning too quickly, cover the top loosely with tin foil.

6. When the cake is done, remove from the oven and leave to sit for 10 minutes before removing the cake from the tin. When cake is lukewarm, wrap in cling film, then allow to cool completely overnight.


Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{11} Brabanzerl

I’ve always assumed there must be lots and lots of delicious biscuits, cakes and sweets in Austria around Christmas and New Year. I think of those beautiful squares, twinkling with lights and lined with markets. But I must have been doing my research in the wrong way, as for such a long time I just kept finding recipes for crescent-shaped Kipferl  or jam-filled Linzer Augen. They are delicious, but surely there was more?

Well, finally I have managed to find some other sources of inspiration! I came across (and swiftly bought) a German book called Weihnachtsplätzchen by Angelika Schwalber. She features a recipe for Brabanzerl. I would love to be able to say that there is some sort of fascinating history behind them, and there may well be, but I was not able to find out anything. But it does seem that people love them.

These are two pieces of hazelnut and chocolate shortbread, filled with fruity redcurrant jelly, and coated in chocolate. They looked a little complex, but I remembered that I had some jars of redcurrant jelly in the jam drawer that I had made from fruit I grew in the garden. Clearly this was a sign I had to make them! For making jam from your own fruit in central London is rather a big deal, since gardens are generally the size of a postage stamp. The little lad and I were very pleased we managed to get five pounds of fruit from a single bush, and we got five decent jars of ruby-red jelly as our reward.

I will be totally honest – these biscuits are a labour of love. You need to make the dough, which is very soft. It is unusually made with melted chocolate, and it then needs to be chilled so you can work with it, so that means lots of getting to know your fridge really well. Once you’ve made the very fragile shortbread, you fill it with jelly, and then you need to coat them in chocolate. And that chocolate needs to be tempered to get a good snap and that appealing sheen. The recipe I was following suggested dipping them in dark chocolate, then using milk chocolate for decoration, so that means two lots of tempering. I can do it, but it is a bit of a palaver in the kitchen, although I do get a thrill when it works out right. As a testament to how much work they are, I styled a picture of the cookies on a fancy gold plate, with some dried thistles and pine cones I collected in holiday this year in Scotland. I don’t normally add props, but Brabanzerl seem like the sort of festive cookie that deserve some special treatment.

If you are going to make these, I would recommend doing it over several days. I did this and the result was great, and it really would be enough to drive most people to distraction to try to do it all in one go. But they really were worth the effort. The shortbread is soft and crumbly, flavoured beautifully with the hazelnuts and chocolate. Then you have the jammy filling, and here you want a good jam or jelly with a strong, tart flavour. I used redcurrant jelly, but you could also use high-fruit raspberry or blackcurrant jam, or even a tangy marmalade. Apricot might also work it you want a nod to the traditional flavours of the famous Austrian Sachertorte. This fruity filling balances the dark chocolate, and the result is sublime. They look elegant, and taste refined.

I decorated them by doing a series of lines in milk chocolate. For variation, I also tried some swirls which I think looked fine, but the lines definitely look more polished. It was quite an effort. A lot of effort. But these little morsels of festive deliciousness could well have become one of my new festive favourites. Way to go Austria!

To make Brabenzerl (makes around 25)

For the dough

• 50g dark chocolate
• 150g flour
• 50g icing sugar
• salt
• 50g ground hazelnuts
• 150g butter
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling

• 150g redcurrant jelly, or another tangy jelly or jam*

For the decoration

• 300g dark chocolate
• around 25 blanched almonds
100g milk chocolate

1. Make the dough. Gently melt the chocolate (use a double boiler or the microwave), then put in a bowl with the other ingredients and quickly knead to a soft dough. It will be very soft and slightly sticky. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest overnight in the fridge.

2. The next day, preheat the oven to 170°C (335°F). Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of greaseproof paper to around 3-4mm. Form the cookies using a scalloped cutter (around 4cm diameter), and transfer to the baking sheets. The will spread slightly, so leave enough space between them. Gather the scraps and chill again in the fridge. Put the cookie trays in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes before baking.

4. Bake the cookies for 8 minutes, turning half-way to get even bake. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before transferring to a wire rack – they are very fragile when warm, but will firm up as they cool.

5. Now it is time to fill the Brabanzerl! Melt the redcurrant jelly (or jam) in a saucepan – if using something with seeds, then strain to remove them. Leave to cool slightly so it starts to thicken, then coat half of the biscuits. Sandwich together.

6. Dipping time! Melt and temper the dark chocolate. Dip the top and sides of the Brabanzerl in the chocolate. Transfer to a sheet of greaseproof paper. Press a whole almond into the centre. Next (if you want to and have time) melt and temper the milk chocolate and use this to pipe decorative lines or swirls on the edges of the cookies.

(*) If you are using jam or marmalade rather than jelly, you need 150g after you have removed any seeds and skins. Just melt the jam in a saucepan, then pass through a sieve.


Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{9} Parrozzo

A couple of years ago, I made Marquesas de Navidad, some little Spanish Christmas cakes which at first I thought had some ancient pedigree, but which were actually created in the early part of the 20th century. Traditional recipes and classic bakes are great, but I also think it is nice that new things still appear from time to time.

And today is another fairly new kid on the block. This cake is called a Parrozzo. It was created in 1920 by an Italian gentlemen called Luigi d’Amico, who ran a pastry shop in Pescara in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

However Luigi’s idea was actually a modern take on a traditional local recipe called pane rozzo which means “rough bread”. This loaf had a domed shape and a dark colour due to being baked in a hot wood-fired oven. So his sweet Parrozzo kept the domed shape in homage to the source of his inspiration, and the chocolate glaze imitated the dark colour the bread would have gained during baking.

The Parrozzo is actually an almond sponge. It is traditionally flavoured by the judicious use of a few bitter almonds to provide the distinctive flavour. I’ve written already this year about how these can be risky if eaten in quantity, but I’ve taken the lazier route of using normal (sweet) almonds and added some almond extract. Some recipes also use lemon zest, which I’ve opted to use as I think it works very well with almonds, and lifts the flavour of the cake. You could miss out the lemon, or swap it for orange zest if you fancy something a little punchier.

The cake is finished with a simple chocolate glaze, but fret not – you don’t need to worry about tempering chocolate to get a nice sheet, you just melt chocolate with butter, and forget about the science of tempering and getting the right sort of chocolate crystals for a set. It’s Christmas and we’ve all got too many things to get done! You just melt, add butter, stir and pour. Job done!

This makes a fairly large cake, and it looks quite impressive as a centrepiece. I think it benefits from being made a couple of days in advance. The texture is light but not too fluffy, cuts well, and stays moist thanks to the butter, eggs and almonds in the batter. We really enjoyed this one – it tastes festive, but is very different to the fruit and spices of a British Christmas cake.

And as if a chocolate-covered dome cake that is impersonating a loaf of peasant bread is not exciting enough, this cake even has its own song: La Canzone del Parrozzo (the Song of the Parrozzo) written by poet and politician Gabriele D’Annunzio. It is a tango, and reminds me a little of the Italian socialist classic Ciao Bella.

To make a Parrozzo:

For the cake:

• 150g plain flour
• 150g ground almonds (skin on)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 6 large eggs
• 50g butter, melted and cooled
• 250g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons almond extract
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• zest of 1/2 lemon

For the glaze

• 200g dark chocolate
• 50g unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Prepare the cake mould (I used  20cm /8 inch hemispherical tin). Rub the inside really well with butter then dust liberally with flour. Shake out the excess.

2. Mix the flour, almonds and baking powder. Set aside.

3. Separate the eggs.

4. Beat the egg yolks, sugar, melted butter, almond extract, lemon zest and lemon juice for about 5 minutes until pale, thick and creamy.

5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, around 4-5 minutes.

6. Folk the yolk mixture into the egg whites.

7. Fold in the flour mixture in 3 batches, as gently as you can until just combined.

8. Carefully pour the batter into a cake tin and bake for around an hour until an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the top looks like it is getting too dark cover it loosely with tin foil. When it is ready, remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes, then turn the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.

9. Finish with the chocolate glaze. Melt the chocolate in a microwave (or use a bowl over a pan of barely-simmering water) then add the chocolate butter and stir until completely smooth. Pour the glaze over the cold cake, and either try to get it as smooth as possible, or make life easy and aim for generous swirls.


Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things