Vanillekipferln – Christmas Baking, part 5

I was actually going to write this post last night but then Miss Meike’s Kitchen thought it would be a good idea to stop up and keep me company so that plan went out of the window.

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We had some more Christmas cookies yesterday after dinner and you’ll see that my mum has also been busy:

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Her latest additions to the cookie plate are almond macaroons with a chocolate filling (to the left of the reindeers), next to these almond cookies with a jam filling and some chocolate coating and, at the bottom, orange sticks (they sound better in German: Orangenstäbchen) filled with marmalade and coated with chocolate at one end. The latter two are part of our permanent Christmas cookie baking list. My grandma always made the almond cookies and my mum has been making the Orangenstäbchen for a very long time too. You see, we’ve always got cookies that are made every single year without fail and then there are always some new recipes we try out or others that we only make occasionally.

The next cookies I made are from the permanent list. I’ve been tinkering with my Grandma’s recipe, may she rest in peace. There can’t be a Christmas season without them, particularly since my dad declared them to be “the most boring Christmas cookie”. Let me assure you, they are not. They are Vanillekipferln, a Bohemian-Austrian traditional cookie that seems to be ubiquitous here in Germany. I like them for their subtle taste and I’ve just noticed that this recipe is the first Christmas recipe I copied into my recipe book. Says it all. The Kipferl bit here refers to their crescent shape.

Ingredients:
66g sugar
200g butter
2 egg yolks
seeds from a vanilla pod
pinch of salt
260g flour
100g ground almonds*

Method:
Cream sugar and butter together. Add the yolks and vanilla seeds.
Slowly add the salt, flour and almonds and bring the dough together to a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for an hour in the fridge.
(It saves time later, if you divide the dough into quarters and shape each quarter into a sausage, about 2 cm thicks and wrap them individually.)

* I compared a couple of recipes and some add as much as 200g of almonds. I have tried this this year but I can’t offer an opinion on that yet. Last time I made them, I only used 50g (that was all I had left) and that was fine too. You can also use a mixture of nuts, e.g. half almonds, half hazelnuts.

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Cut the sausages into slices, about 2cm thick. Shape into crescents.

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Bake in a preheated oven (190°C) for 8-10 minutes.

While they’re still hot, roll them in 50g icing sugar mixed with 7g vanilla sugar.
But be warned: they easily break when they’re too hot so let them cool on the baking tray for about five minutes.

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Gingerbread House – Christmas Baking, part 4

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In this house, we’ve been trying to merge German and English Christmas traditions so the kids get the best of both. Today, 6 December, is the German Nikolaustag, our Santa Claus day. Thanks to Martin Luther, the Christchild delivers presents on Christmas Eve but Santa Claus, the Catholic saint, survived as the bringer of small things at the beginning of December, a bit like a teaser before the big day. When I was a child, Nikolaus always dropped his bag off in the evening – there would be an almighty knock on the front door and when we opened, a potato sack with oranges, nuts and little presents (stocking fillers…) would be lying there.

Master Meike’s Kitchen was given a fabric stocking with his name on by an English friend a couple and I got one for Miss in a well-known German discount chain in England – so we now hang up stocking by the front door the night before. And Nikolaus does what he has to do during the night. It works well.

Another cherished childhood memory of mine for Nikolaustag is my Grandma’s gingerbread houses. She used to make one each for me and my brother and they were ginormous. My mum told me today that my Grandad was the one doing the construction work and my Grandma probably never made them again after he passed away 30 years ago. In my memories, we had them every year until I was a teenager… But maybe not. Anyway, last year I decided to continue this tradition and make one gingerbread house for my kids (and the rest of the family). It took me three evenings to make and I was kind of happy with it but there was lots of room for improvement. This is last year’s house:

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It was a bit wonky and the bits I had designated as roofs were too short. I used my Grandma’s recipe and for some reason decided that I needed triple the amount, made it all in one go but, of course, couldn’t bake it all at the same time. The first batch rose beautifully and was perfect and the other two stayed flat and were a bit dry. I think if I’d put the dough in the fridge while I didn’t need it, the baking powder may have stayed active. We didn’t actually eat it all in the end. The last, dry bits I ground to a powder and used up for desserts.

So this year I decided to try a different approach. I was going to make dough for one batch at a time but in the end I needed only one. I also thought rolling the dough out and cutting it to shape before baking might be an idea. And I think that is the way forward but I will make proper cardboard shapes for next time. After baking:

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Unfortunately I made one of the side walls too thin and it collapsed before I even started putting the house together… But what is thick icing for? I had also cut out windows because I wanted to try melting hard sugar sweets to get “glass”. That didn’t work. Either my oven wasn’t hot enough or there wasn’t enough time or I didn’t bash up my sweets into small enough pieces. I’ll have to look into that again. For roof tiles, I used filled wafers. That wasn’t my brightest idea as, of course, they go soggy. But at least they stayed on. Note to self: use biscuits again next year…

I found a website with very useful tips on how to build the house and I actually sat and watched the video… Well, how else am I supposed to learn? I never asked my Grandma because making gingerbread houses wasn’t really on my to-do-list in my late teens and early twenties so I missed that opportunity. But I think I’m getting there. The construction process (no toothpicks!):

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And the finished Gingerbread House:

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The kids loved it:

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The demolition process has begun!

1. Advent

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

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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…

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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…

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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:

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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.

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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! 🙂

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These are baked:

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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….

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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:

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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:

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It doesn’t look very pretty:

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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.

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

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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):

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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):

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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:

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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:

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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Chicken Pie and Cookies

I haven’t forgotten…

I have done some baking but not a lot. And since I’m kind of on holiday I’ve not baked any bread but we’re buying at the moment. There’s a nice little bakery in a village nearby… They actually bake on the premises so I don’t feel too bad about it…

The whole story is a bit long but our flat was rented out for a year and it’s just been done up and is getting furnished again. I have to improvise in the kitchen a bit when I notice while making something that I haven’t got certain equipment at hand.

This was the case with this Chicken Pie. I made pastry. Now Mr Meike’s Kitchen had stocked the kitchen after I sent him a shopping list. He’d decanted flour into a container and labelled it “self-raising” but there is also another, closed bag of self-raising flour. One of them was meant to be plain… So I’m using the open one as plain, in the hope that it’s right…

I had found a recipe for a Chicken Pot Pie here which I used as a guide to make my own.

Ingredients for the pastry:
360g flour – which may, or may not, be self-raising
1 tsp salt
250g butter
1 egg
2 tbsp cold water
1 sprig of rosemary

I had to roll out the pastry with a pint glass as there was no rolling pin… I used about two thirds for the base and somehow got it into a baking tray… I blind baked it at 200°C (although I’m not sure whether our oven here is accurate) for 10 minutes.

I didn’t get to eat the pie when it first came out of the oven. When I had some the next day, it was soft (I don’t want to say it was soggy…) but it was tasty.

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Ingredients for the Filling:
The meat of about one and a third roast chicken
A colander full of frozen mixed veg
Olive oil and butter
Flour
Milk and water
Salt, pepper, cayenne pepper
A sprig of rosemary

I took the veg out before I started making the sauce in order to let it thaw a bit. The sauce was just a simple thick white sauce to coat the chicken and veg. I stirred it together the best I could and spread it over the pastry base before covering it with the remaining pastry.

Bake for half an hour at 200°C.

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The men in the house liked it and that’s good enough for me.

We’ve done some culture since getting to Leicester, dragging the kids to Newarke House Museum and to New Walk Museum.

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Making cookies with the kids is a good idea when the weather isn’t great. So the other day, when Miss Meike’s Kitchen was busy lining up matchbox cars on the lowboard, Master Meike’s Kitchen and I made Double Choc Chip Cookies. He did a very good job chopping some dwrk and white chocolate. I was very impressed.

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We used my cookies recipe but used self-raising flour (due to no baking powder in the cupboard), only caster sugar and no vanilla. The dark chocolate unfortunately dominated the white and I really should have thought of that but I suppose they added to the flavour so it’s ok.

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The cookies were dark at the bottom and pale on top but they went from this

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to this

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overnight…

Baking Bread 31

I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to make my day that little bit more stressful by doing some baking. We’ll be traveling to England tomorrow, all four of us, for nearly four weeks. You’d think I’ve got enough on my plate as it is. Actually, I originally was going to make cookies for the journey… Even more work!

In order to have enough bread for today and the morning and some in the freezer for our return, I needed to make another loaf and I opted for a small one from Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf, a Sunflower Bread. The recipe is available here. I substituted part of the sunflower seeds with flax seeds (normal and golden). It tastes fine but it turned out a little bit on the heavy side. I think I added too much water so the loaf is actually a bit stodgy. And it could have done with a longer rise but I didn’t have the required amount of yeast either so that probably didn’t help.
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It’s a shame because the loaf in the book looks rather tasty:

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I also made Dan’s Spotted Soda Loaf, I’ve made it a few times now (first time here) and it’s always turned out nicely. This time I substituted the Golden Syrup with honey and I think this is even nicer! Shame you can’t see that from the pictures!

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