Tag Archives: printen

{1} Aachener Printen

Why does this post start with a number?

Well, it has reached that time of year again…Christmas is around the corner, and this year I’ve decided to take on the challenge of making the “12 goodies of Christmas”. I’ve veered away from just doing cookies as there is a lot more festive fare out there. I’ll leave it at that, but there are a few interesting things in the offing in the coming weeks!

That said, for the first post, I am actually revisiting something that I made last year, the famous Aachener Printen.

Printen are traditional German biscuits which originate from the town of Aachen, near the border with the Netherlands. They are made from honey, citrus, spices and flour, but no egg or milk (so good if you don’t/can’t eat dairy, and you can substitute the honey for beet or other syrup if you want a vegan cookie). Traditionally, all those spices made them expensive and they were considered to be health-giving, so they were sold in pharmacies. Mercifully, spices are now available to all of us, and while I make no health claims, but I can confirm they are really very tasty.

This is not, however, a carbon copy of last year’s attempt. I’ve made one seemingly small but fundamental change. The secret is the raising agent. Last time, I used baking powder. This year, I have been pounding London’s pavements in search of a magic ingredient.  After much searching, I managed to track down the thing that the Germans traditionally use – Pottasche, or potassium carbonate. This both gives the dough a “lift” but also causes it to keep absorbing moisture after baking, so the biscuits will become softer with time. As the Printen have sugar crystals in them, this makes for a nice texture contrast too.

That’s the theory. But does it work and was it worth it?

Well, the difference using the potassium carbonate was clear almost right away. The biscuits puffed up much more than last time, and they are softer from the out. Last year, I was left with some rather hard cookies that took a long, long time to soften. No need to wait this time. But if you can leave them, they do get better with time. In short – if you are able, I really, really recommend trying to get your hands on this magic powder!

Another quite nifty little thing about making Printen is that they lend themselves to being made when you have a spare few minutes. You make the dough ahead of time, let it sit for a few days so that the aroma of the spices can develop, then shape and bake them a few days later.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can also dip them in dark chocolate. The soft, spicy gingerbread, crunch sugar crystals and smooth, dark chocolate is quite a revelation. Enjoy!

To get potassium carbonate in London, you can buy this from the German Deli at Borough Market (3 Park Street, London SE1 9AB), tel: 020 7378 0000. Tube: London Bridge.

To make the Printen (makes around 20 large or 40 small biscuits):

• 250g honey(*)
• 25g sugar
• 250g plain flour
• pinch of salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground aniseed or star anise
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 50g candied orange peel
• 1 teaspoon potassium carbonate (“Pottasche”)
• 1 tablespoon water or orange blossom water
• 50g candy sugar (the large crystals for coffee)

Stage 1: The dough

Chop the orange peel very finely. Either do this by hand, or pulverise in a food processor.

Put the honey and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and put the pan to one side.

Add the flour to a bowl with the salt, cinnamon, aniseed/star anise, cloves and nutmeg.

Add the orange peel and the warm honey to the flour. Mix until the ingredients are well combined. The dough will be soft initially, but will start to become very firm as it cools.

Place the dough in a plastic container, seal, and leave at room temperature for at least two days. I’ve left it for up to two weeks with no ill effects.

Stage 2: baking the cookies

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Lightly grease a sheet of greaseproof paper.

Mix the Pottasche and the water (or orange blossom water) in a cup until the powder dissolves. Add to the dough and mix until smooth. It doesn’t seem like much, but it turns from being very stiff to quite pliable.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/2 or 3/4 cm thickness. Sprinkle with the candy sugar(**) and pass the rolling pin lightly over to press the sugar crystals into the dough.

Cut the dough into pieces of 4 x 8 cm (large cookies) or 4 x 4cm (smaller cookies). Place on the baking sheet, and bake for around 12 minutes until risen and brown. Turn the baking sheet half way through.

If you like your cookies to have a nice shine, when they come out of the oven, brush with a simple sugar syrup made with 100g white sugar dissolved in 100ml water (heat in a pan until the sugar dissolves). Store the cookies in an airtight tin – they will keep for several months.

(*) If you want to make a vegan version of Printen, replace the honey with the syrup of your choice, such as beet syrup or dark corn syrup. Aim for something that has the consistency of thick runny honey.

(**) You might have to crush the sugar crystals to make them smaller. The ones I bought were about 1cm long, so I used a mortar and pestle to break them down into pieces of 2-3mm.

Worth making? The ones I made with baking powder last year tasted nice, but these are sensational. If you can get hold of the Pottasche, then these are straightforward and delicious, with the real “taste of Christmas”.

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

Aachener Printen

Update: I’ve made another (better) version of these which you can see here.

Take a deep breath. This one is a bit fiddly.

If you know what Aachener Printen are, you are probably thinking right now that I am mad. Why on earth would I be making these in the middle of summer? A good question, and one which might make sense by the them you reach the end of this post.

The potential insanity stems from the fact that Aachener Printen are…Christmas biscuits. They are a variety of the German Lebkuchen (lit. “cake of life”), which are made with honey, flour and a variety of spices. Back in the day, spices were a precious commodity, and so these biscuits would be used medicinally, and were originally sold in pharmacies.

So yes, it’s still swinging between baking hot and warm and muggy, while I am making a start on stuff that we won’t eat until December. So why start now? Well, when you make these things, they are rock hard, and take a while to soften. While this is going on, the flavour of the spices will develop, and basically the longer you keep them, the better they should taste. That’s the theory.

Another reason to make them well ahead of time is that you allow the spices to do their thing, then some time in late November, you can add a bit of apple to the biscuit box to allow them to start softening. You see, while these biscuits are hard, they don’t dip very well. You can try sticking them into tea (or coffee/hot chocolate/mulled wine), but they turn to mush. So the trick is, they need to soften slowly. I made these last year at the start of December, and by Christmas Day, you could just about eat them, provided you had all your own teeth, no dentures and a spare half hour for what turned out to be a real lower jaw workout.

Making them is quite easy, but you need a bit of time. The dough is really just sugar, honey, flour, chopped candied peel and some spices. You allow it to sit for a few days (so the flavours begin to develop), then add a little water and raising agent. Then roll out, sprinkle with crushed candy sugar, cut into slices and bake. The end result is a rich, aromatic biscuit which has all the festive aromas of Christmas. I just have they joy of these smells in the middle of a heatwave. Odd, most odd.

To wrap up this fit of non-seasonal festive insanity, I should point out that the name “Aachener Printen” is a protected designation of origin. That means that you can only call them by this name if they are made in or around the city of Aachen. So just be careful if you plan to hold a bakesale – you don’t want to be arrested!

To make the Printen (makes around 20):

• 250g honey
• 25g sugar
• 250g plain flour
• pinch of salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground aniseed or star anise
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 50g candied orange peel
• 1 tablespoon cold water
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 50g candy sugar (the large crystals for coffee)

Stage 1: The dough

Chop the orange peel very finely. Either do this by hand, or pulverise in a food processor.

Put the honey and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and put the pan to one side.

Add the flour to a bowl with the salt, cinnamon, aniseed/star anise, cloves and nutmeg.

Add the orange peel and the honey to the flour, and mix until the ingredients are well combined. At this stage, the dough will be very firm.

Place the dough in a plastic container, seal, and leave at room temperature for at least two days. I got a bit busy, and left it to sit for two weeks with no adverse effects.

Stage 2: baking the cookies

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Lightly grease a sheet of greaseproof paper.

Combine the baking powder and water in a cup. Combine the baking powder mixture and the dough in a bowl until it is smooth.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/2 or 3/4 cm thickness. Sprinkle with the candy sugar(*) and pass the rolling pin over to press the sugar crystals into the dough.

Cut the dough into pieces of 4 x 12 cm. Place on the baking sheet, and bake for 12 minutes.

If you like your cookies to have a nice shine, when they come out of the oven, brush with a simple sugar syrup made with 100g white sugar dissolved in 100ml water (heat in a pan until the sugar dissolves).

(*) You might have to crush the sugar crystal to make them smaller. The ones I bought were about 1cm long, so I used a mortar and pestle to break them down into pieces of 2-3mm.

Worth making? Well, not sure yet! The ones I made last year tasted nice, but were a bit difficult to eat. I should be able to report back in December on just how they taste. If they’re good, I’ll be the envy of every Bavarian Hausfrau.

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things