1. Advent

First Sunday of Advent. The first candle on the Advent wreath is lit.

IMG_2959.JPG

We had the first samples of our Christmas bakeathon with coffee after lunch. The kids had been asking to have gingerbread people for days now…

IMG_2960.JPG

The cookies you don’t recognise from my previous posts are my mum’s. She’s made traditional gingerbread after my paternal grandma’s recipe, Kokoskipferln (literally, “coconut peaks” – egg white, sugar and desiccated coconut), and Walnut and Date Buns, allegedly an English recipe.

We’ve had first Sundays of Advent before when there were no cookies whatsoever – we may have overcompensated this year….

This evening the advent calendar for the kids has been put in place. I’ve spent a fair few evenings this past week wrapping and tying those little presents. In case you’re wondering, yes, there’s only one calendar for two kids, and, yes, there are no numbers. They will have to come to an agreement each day which bundle will be opened… At least they’ll get one present each, I’m not that mean…

IMG_2961.JPG

Gewürzplätzchen- Christmas Baking, part 3

I don’t think I’ve ever been that early with my Christmas cookies. It’s not even the first Sunday of Advent yet and I’ve made three different types already. Well, all I can say is December is a busy month…

We made Gewürzplätzchen – one day, we made the dough, then it went in the fridge overnight, next day we baked the cookies and then finally we iced them. Gewürze are spices in German and there’s a lot of them in these cookies, a tablespoon each to be exact:

IMG_2950.JPG

Ingredients:
(adapted from LISA 49/2003, p.37)
250g butter
1 egg
160g sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ginger (the powdered stuff)
1 tsp ground cardamom (or go up to 1 tbsp, if you dare)
1 tsp ground cloves (or up to 1 tbsp but I find it overpowering)
500g flour

Method:
Melt the butter. Let it cool.
Mix the egg, sugar and syrup together until creamy.
Add baking powder, spices, butter and flour and bring together with your hands. Form a ball, cover and put in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight.

IMG_2951.JPG

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°C fan.
Roll out the dough to 4mm thick on a floured surface. (I alternately dust my worktop with flour and powdered sugar.) Cut out cookies. Bake for 7 minutes.
Don’t attempt to do this with kids – if they’re like mine, you’ll be struggling to get any cookies onto your baking sheet… And if they then turn the oven temperature to zero and you wonder why the cookies come out looking uncooked and slightly dried out, you know you’re baking with kids! 🙂

IMG_2952.JPG

These are baked:

IMG_2953.JPG

The recipe would like to see them covered in an icing made with port and added red swirls. But that’s too fancy for me. We experimented with some leftover green icing but it was too runny and those cookies now look ever so slightly mouldy….

IMG_2954.JPG
I then made another batch of icing (just powdered sugar and water) and finally got the right consistency and those last cookies are rather pretty:

IMG_2955.JPG

I wish I could share the smell of these Gewürzplätzchen! It’s (almost) the best thing about them. They taste good too. Quite a lot vanished between baking and having a dried icing…

English Gingerbread – Christmas Baking, part 2

My mum calls it “English Gingerbread” but its ‘real’ name is Chocolate Gingerbread and it’s a recipe by Nigella Lawson. It’s the first of only two of her recipes I’ve ever tried as for some reason I’ve never warmed to her and her TV shows. I did read her column in The Guardian, I think it was, at the time when we still read the paper paper. Anyway, it’s a personal favourite with my mum and so the kids and I made this again this year. I never got round to making it last year even though it was on the list…

The recipe is here. I have reduced the dark muscovado sugar to 80g and found it actually tastes much better. Normally it’s neither here nor there if you have a third less sugar but in this case it enhances the chocolatey-ness of the Gingerbread. What works rather well too is replacing the choc chips with grated chocolate. I suppose that would depend what you’re after: with choc chips you get chunky bits, the grated chocolate just melts into the Gingerbread. This year we used a mixture.

Black treacle and golden syrup are melted with butter and spices:

IMG_2917.JPG

It doesn’t look very pretty:

IMG_2918.JPG

I bake the Gingerbread in my brownie tin instead of a 30×20 roasting tin. The Gingerbread comes out higher that way and needs 45 minutes in the oven plus ten extra minutes with the oven turned off.

IMG_2919.JPG

The Gingerbread is covered in an icing made out of butter, ginger ale and cocoa melted together before whisked together with icing sugar:

IMG_2922.JPG

IMG_2920.JPG

They’re then cut in sticks. Because the Gingerbread rises up so high in the brownie tin and we want small(-ish) bites, I cut them in sticks of about one centimetre thick. My mum says she likes them like that but I just might try the roasting tin version again next year…

Here are a couple of the Gingerbread sticks, the top layer of three or so in a shoe box (we keep Christmas cookies in shoe boxes on the balcony – that keeps them fresh all winter):

IMG_2921.JPG

Gingerbread People – Christmas Baking, part 1

The kids and I have made a start on this year’s Christmas cookies. I’m well impressed with myself since it’s not even December yet…

It’s a tradition in these parts of the world to spend December making (and eating, of course) Christmas cookies. All sorts and shapes. And obviously you dig out the recipes you won’t even contemplate during the rest of the year.

Our first lot was Gingerbread People. When I made them last year with Master Meike’s Kitchen for the first time, we decorated them (or “made them colourful”, as he put it) and some of them were recognisable as girls (they had a skirt or dress) or boys (dungarees or shirts). This year they’re just people… And last year we seemed to have a huge amount of them but this year I had two helpers concerned with quality control so it’s actually not that much.

I used the recipe for Gingerbread Kids in Williams-Sonoma’s Kids Baking (2003). The recipe can be found here. I’ve not changed it – apart from the obligatory one third less sugar.

IMG_2672.JPG

Mixing the dough is straightforward. Above you can see the spices that go in: cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and ginger. The dough is supposed to be chilled for an hour. Ours went in overnight. It wasn’t quite planned like that but Miss Meike’s Kitchen toppled over with a glass in her hand. She cut herself on the shards (there was banana custard in the glass, she didn’t want to let go… but I seriously need to rethink my dessert presentation…) so there was lots of blood out of lots of wounds which required a trip to the doctor’s. And, would you believe it, after that I really wasn’t in the mood for baking anymore. It really didn’t do the dough or the resulting Gingerbread People any harm. We cut them out and baked them this morning.

IMG_2673.JPG

If you are wondering why some have a round whole in their heads: they will become decorations, probably for little presents like a jar of homemade jam. You get the idea.

And now for the fun bit, making the Gingerbread People colourful. Mix icing sugar with warm water until it’s easily spreadable with a spoon. (You know what I’m like with piping bags and the like! And now I was doing this with my kids! Easiest option…) We left some of the icing white, other portions were coloured yellow, blue, green and red. But in the process we also ended up with orange and a grey-purple. For decorations we had chocolate drops and sugar hearts.

IMG_2676.JPG

IMG_2675.JPG

I was very pleased: Master did his all by himself whilst Miss started on the colouring and then requested help but did all the decorating herself. It was good fun.

Master Meike’s Kitchen left this puddle of icing on his bit of the table (and it became a lovely teal colour when mixed):

IMG_2674.JPG

Just to round things off: Miss Meike’s Kitchen is fine now and the cuts are healing nicely. Phew.

Baking Bread 32

We’re back home again, after nearly four weeks in Leicester. It was a much needed change of scenery that I enjoyed a lot.

IMG_2613.JPG

The pictures show clockwise from the top:
A view of DeMontfort University from Bede Island
A sheep at Gorse Hill City Farm
The bonfire at the Abbey Park Bonfire & Fireworks on 1 November, the biggest in Leicestershire (allegedly)
The Manor pub in Glen Parva
The Grand Union Canal in Glen Parva
Richard III’s armour in the Richard III Visitor Centre

It feels weird that I didn’t do much baking during that time and it was good to come back to my bread (there were a couple of bags left in the freezer…). So the good thing was that I didn’t have to dive into baking bread straight away but had a few more days grace. My mum fed my sourdough starter while we were away and she did a very good job.

I needed some proper bread after what we had in England mainly consisted of white pre-sliced… I made Dan Lepard’s Alsace Loaf which I’ve made before – once in September and once in October. And I’m getting better and better at it. Soon I’ll have the recipe tweaked to perfection… Mr Lepard seems to assume that people use dried sourdough since he says in the instructions to crumble it in with other ingredients. Now if you don’t take this into account, you’ll end up with a very wet dough – just like me… I’ve now reduced the added water by half the weight of the sourdough but it’s still too wet. The grains were cooked well this time, they just need five minutes more than stated in the original recipe. I also doubled the quantities but didn’t have a spare baking tray so shaped them into two, not four as intended, loaves. They were quite big and because the dough was so wet, they spread out quite a bit and retain their hight.

I hope I’ll soon have worked it out because this particular page in The Homemade Loaf is getting messier and messier…

IMG_2611.JPG

IMG_2609.JPG

IMG_2610.JPG

This is easily the best bread I’ve made yet. The grains keep it moist and even the defrosted slices taste as if they’ve just come out of the oven.

Since I wasn’t sure if the Alsace Loaf would meet with the approval of Mr Meike’s Kitchen (surprisingly though it did), I also made a Viennese Bread which I’ve also made before on quite a few occasions (possibly the bread I made most in 2014). It turned out rather nicely, so nicely in fact that my mum who usually finds my white breads too white actually liked it this time…

IMG_2608.JPG

IMG_2607.JPG

IMG_2606.JPG

And now we’re back in the everyday humdrum, stressy with Christmas and Master Meike’s Kitchen’s birthday coming up and painful with a mouth abscess, followed by a tooth extraction so I’ll leave you with a picture that perfectly summed up my feelings the other morning:

IMG_2617.JPG

Buns and Cookies

I’m really in holiday mode. When we were planning this stay and Mister Meike’s Kitchen asked for a shopping list to stock up cupboards and freezer, I very ambitiously included bread flour and yeast. I mean if I can bake bread at home, surely I can do it on my holidays when there’s not much else to do?!

Wrong. Oh so wrong!

I’ve completely lost my bread baking mojo. I was going to make some burger buns – we had some lovely beef burgers with huge chunks of red onion and grated Red Leicester from the local butcher’s. It all sounded and looked really good in my head and the beginnings were promising:

IMG_2548.JPG

IMG_2549.JPG

IMG_2550.JPG
Since I’ve got an airing cupboard here, I thought that’s where the dough should go to rise. It didn’t. I don’t know where I went wrong but it just would not rise. I had put too much salt in it since my scales here aren’t very precise. It looked too much but I put it in anyway (note to self: trust your instincts!).

IMG_2551.JPG
The buns came out flatter than crumpets and too salty to be edible. Otherwise we were going to try and toast them but unfortunately had to bin them. And the burgers? We had them as they were with baked beans.

Here is the recipe for the buns, if you want to see if you’ve got more luck than me.

And then I needed to successfully bake something or I’d doubt myself… I think while we’re here I’ll stick to cookies. They’re more forgiving…

The kids and I made Oat & Raisin Choc Chip Cookies. I more or less used this recipe but changed some of the quantities and ingredients around a bit so we ended up with this:

Ingredients:
120g butter
80g caster sugar
1 egg
90g flour – possibly self-raising
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
75g porridge oats
125g raisins
50g white chocolate, chopped up
50g dark chocolate, chopped up

Method:
Cream the butter, then add the sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg. Incorporate fully. Stir in the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.*
Then add the oats, raisins and chocolate.
Cover the bowl with clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least two hours or even overnight.
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Roll about 1 1/2 tbsp of dough into a ball, put onto a baking tray that’s been lined with baking parchment and flatten with the palm of your hand.
Bake for 10-12 minutes but keep your eyes on them!
Leave on the baking tray for a few minutes to firm up before removing onto a wire rack to cool.

* I used a wooden spoon.

IMG_2552.JPG

IMG_2553.JPG

A couple of days later we made just Oat & Raisin Cookies, using my recipe adapted to the ingredients available: no two different sugars, no wholemeal flour, no vanilla essence and no cornstarch. They came out fine.

IMG_2554.JPG

IMG_2555.JPG