vendredi 4 décembre 2009

A little snow was here and there

I know that snow is special for many people but it always makes me feel a particular kind of excitement every time I see thick, white flakes falling from the sky. In the area where I grew up, we rarely had any and yet one of my very first memories is of sledge riding down a hill close to our house on a wooden sledge my Dad made. I remember the excitement mixed with fear and the sharpness of the wind against my cheeks. It made me sad when a new housing estate was built there shortly afterwards. I love the silence which snow creates, the muffled whoosh of cars going by with their headlights on, the strange evening light in the streets with its reflections and the satisfying crunch of it underneath your feet. Some people don't like snow in the city for me but I've always found there's something so amazing about waking up, opening the curtains and seeing the buildings and parks under a thick white blanket. Everywhere is transformed, even the ugliest places and the sight of it makes me want to put on Wellington boots, coat, scarf and gloves and rush out to enjoy every second of it while it lasts.

As a child, I fell in love with the Snowman animation, a story about a boy who builds a snowman that comes to life. Together they fly through the air to the North Pole to meet Father Christmas and other snowmen. The end is so heartbreaking though that it made me cry year after year but the story became one the things I adored the most. I had the book, record, teddy bear, plate, cup and still feel its magic whenever I watch it every Christmas Eve at teatime; I associate it with the smell of clementines and ginger, of warm mince pies and the crackling of logs on the fire.

But for me, the most beautiful memory of snow was back in the 80's when a blizzard swept across the UK, bringing down trees and powerlines everywhere. Today I'm not sure if I'd enjoy it the same way without Internet, blogging, light, music and other gadgets but as a child, it was fantastic to be sent home from school and the landscapes around our house seemed like one giant playground. My brother was at university at the time which was also closed. On our way to pick him up, my Dad took the precaution of buying an enormous amount of chocolate to put in the car, just in case we broke down. This all disappeared mysteriously later on but as I get my sweet tooth from my Dad, it shouldn't surprise you! We all went out together for long walks, got into ferocious snowball fights and made enormous snowmen. People stopped to talk to each other on the streets and there was a real feeling of solidarity in that strange and silent world, cut off from everything. I can't exactly remember what we did for food; back then there were no enormous supermarkets close by but we obviously didn't starve! We were lucky to have a gas stove and heating and there were thick white slices of buttered toast whose smell mingled with that of the melted candlewax. In the evenings, candlelight flickered and we read stories aloud to one another; a highlight was the hilarious A Diary of a Nobody, especially the part where the narrator decides to paint his bath red. I won't spoil that delicious story if you haven't read it but I think you can easily imagine it isn't a success! My family is proud to own an antique bed warmer which my Dad couldn't wait to try out now that the electric blankets were no use. It was the first and last time because it leaked so my parents ended up sleeping on the sofa while their bed dried! Then late one evening, I was sitting in the kitchen when I heard a crash and the lights came back on; it seemed unreal to return to normal life again and thinking of those snow filled days always makes me happy and feel nostalgic. Last year, I cruelly regretted not being in the UK for the heavy snowfall when everyone had to stay at home but I'm still hopeful that we'll have snow again in Berlin this winter to compensate for the grey skies.

Berlin is currently packed in the countdown to Christmas which makes me want to avoid shopping altogether at weekends, especially since I read Magda's hilarious post on using on of my recipes. Also, I prefer presents with a more personal touch so for my friends, I decided to make the Weihnachtskekse (or Christmas cookies) from Mingou's blog, plus Cantuccini from here. I'd also like to start with a personal message which I hope doesn't sound too nauseating:

Dear friends, I know it isn't easy for you to put up with me. I'm very demanding, a perfectionist, I mess up all of your diets, I send you enormous emails which you take the time to answer, you cheer me up when I'm (frequently) frustrated, you always say the nicest things about my baking when I feel it's a disaster, you give me the coolest music and films. Actually, you guys are the best and I couldn't do without you so enjoy the cookies - you deserve them! And to all my readers - thanks for inspiring me and making me feel appreciated. I still can't believe it when I read all your lovely comments!

You can find the recipes in French in this beautiful post:

Lebkuchen (makes about 60) - There's no pic because basically, I had to leave them to dry overnight when they'd been iced which meant hiding them from my flatmate so they all stuck together. They were good, though, believe me!

300g rye flour (Roggenmehl)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g icing sugar
1.5/ 2 tsp mixed spice or Lebkuchen spice (basically the same thing!)
3 small eggs
80g honey (you'll all be smarter than me and NOT buy honey in a squeezy bottle which took ages to get it out of!)

For the covering

400g dark chocolate
100g butter

In a large bowl, mix together the rye flour, sugar, biarb of soda and spice.
Add the eggs and honey and mix until you have a smooth mixture (add more flour if it's too sticky).
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
On a well-floured (and I mean with A LOT of flour) work surface, roll out the dough until it's roughly 1/2 cm thick. Using the cutter shape of your choice, cut out the Lebkuchen and place them on a baking tray covered in non-stick paper, at least 2 cm apart. Bake for 10 minutes maximum - they should still be moist and soft! Leave to cool on a cooling rack.

When they're cool, melt the chocolate and butter together in a small saucepan (no need to use a double boiler) or in the microwave. Using a fork, dip each Lebkuchen into the chocolate so it's covered all over, scrape off the excess and place on a plate covered with non-stick paper. Leave to dry for several hours.

Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars) - makes around 50

I've added bicarb of soda here and even if Mingou's recipe isn't traditional, it's still fantastic!

200g ground almonds
60g caster sugar
100g icing sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon
160g flour
2 egg whites

For the icing

150g icing sugar
1 egg white, beaten to the stiff peak stage
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl, mix together the the almonds, sugars, cinnamon, bicarb of soda and flour.
Add the eggs and mix well until the pastry forms a ball.
Pre-heat the oven to 150°C.
On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough until it's 1cm (maximum) in thickness, cut out the stars with your cutter and place them on a baking sheet covered with non-stick paper. Bake for 10 minutes maximum (they should be just golden brown underneath). Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
To make the icing, mix the icing sugar with the whipped egg white and vanilla essence. Spread over the stars and leave to dry.

Linzer Augen (Linzer eyes) - Actually, these are my favourites and I couldn't resist making them with raspberry jam which I adore.

300g flour
200g butter
100g icing sugar
2 egg yolks
100 ground almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
2 sachets of vanilla sugar
a pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten for coating

for decorating

Seedless raspberry jam (I like Wilkin and Son, expensive but so delicious)
Some icing sugar

1. Pour the flour into a large bowl, add the cold butter, cut into small pieces and rub together until you have a mixture like breadcrumbs.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until you have a smooth dough. Add some water or flour as needed. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for about 30 mins - while you're waiting, you can start with the Vanillakipferl dough.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
4. After 30 minutes, roll out the dough on a well-floured work surface and cut out round shapes. On half on the circles, also cut out a hole in the middle (in Berlin, I found a really cool cutter with a removables smaller cutter for the centre but you can use anything).
5. Brush the cookies with egg and place on a baking sheet covered with non-stick paper. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
6. Leave to cool then decorate by sandwiching the biscuits together with raspberry jam and dusting with icing sugar.

Vanillakipferl (Vanilla crescents)

280g flour
100g ground almonds
200g butter
60g icing sugar
1 packet of vanilla sugar
1 egg

To decorate

Icing sugar
Vanilla sugar

1. In a large bowl, mix the flour with the ground almonds and vanilla sugar.
2. Add the cold butter cut into pieces and use your fingertips to combine until you have a mix like breadcrumbs.
3. Add the icing sugar and the egg and mix everything in until the dough forms a ball.
4. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for about 30 mins.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.
6. If you're in Germany, you can find great Kipferl moulds at Karstadt, for instance, or you can just form little crescents yourself, about the size of your finger. Place on a baking sheet covered in non-stick paper and bake for about 10 minutes. When they're done, coat them in a mixture of vanilla and icing sugar.

Storage tips: I keep mine in 4 different metal, air-tight tins with a slice of apple as Mingou suggests for the Lebkuchen and Zimtsterne to keep them soft.

To give as presents - if you live in Germany, you can find lovely star covered plastic sachets at DM, Rossmann or many supermarkets. I use red ribbon to tie them up with. In France, you can get them from Lavande. Or you could pack them in beautiful tins. I'm sure they'll be apprciated however you present them.

The cantuccini recipe is from Pascale Weeks and amazingly simple.

This weekend is my last full one in Berlin before I fly to the UK next Sunday but I promise you another post before I leave - next time with some serious and non-sweet comfort food.

25 commentaires:

  1. I miss the first snow. It was always clean, white, pristine and silent. I have many happy memories of snowstorms of my childhood and one particular day when I ice skated all over on canals and rivers in our little town. So quiet.
    Living in Florida has many advantages, but we sure don't get snow. Well, one time in 1976 or 1977 we actually had snow coming down, but of course, it melted the second it hit the ground.

  2. Quel beau billet ! Les photos aussi sont magnifiques. Ou est prise la premiere photo, si belle ?
    Je me souviens de la neige dans le sud de l'Allemagne, dans les Alpes, ou encore en Suisse, avec les petits chalets si douillets.

    A New York, c'est notre compagnon d'hiver. Quand elle arrive, nous la regardons tomber, virevolter, par la fenetre du salon et peu a peu, nous voyons passer des peres, des meres, des luges, des enfants joyeux, qui s'acheminent tous vers le parc voisin. C'est un de mes moments preferes de l'annee. J'arrive meme a demander des jours ou 1/2 journees de conge pour aller faire de la luge avec mes enfants les jours de neige !!

    Merci pour la recette des Linzer Augen. J'adorais en acheter en Allemagne. Mon Noel est reste un peu allemand, je n'arrive pas a me convaincre d'acheter une buche de Noel, en "bonne" Francaise que je devrais etre... J'achete toujours un Stollen et concocte des biscuits allemands...
    A bientot,

  3. Magnifique ! Quel dommage que je manque de temps en ce moment et que je ne puisse pas en faire autant... J'adore ces petites étoiles à la cannelle ! Ah, si seulement il pouvait neiger à Noël...

  4. Wow! look at all those cookies!! I love Christmas baking... infact I haven't even started yet... boy, I better get on it!

    I have to say I can't wait for it to snow! We haven't even had a trace yet... and this is Canada! Here's praying that it will soon!! I feel it won't feel quite so like Christmas until it does!

  5. I love the way things look when it's snowing! It is so magical and peaceful.

    Those shots are lovely! what gorgeous Christmas treats! Yummy!



  6. Emily, you are a charming perfectionist. I feel blessed to be one of the friends who was honoured with your Christmas cookies. They were....divine. I had completely forgotten what 'real' cookies taste like. The packaging was so pretty and what a gift to reiceve such a labour of love. When evryone elsr was running around shopping, I spent my saturday afternoon curled up on the sofa under make fake fur cover with tea and real cookies. merci

  7. Barbara - The snow is always best when it's fresh, perfectly white and so beautiful. It must have been magical to go skating in those amazing landscapes. Well, in Berlin it rarely snows and where my parents live too so I empathise with you. But then that makes it super special when it falls.
    Laurence - Merci beaucoup! La première et la quatrième photo étaient prises en Autriche mais je ne me rappelle plus où exactement. J'aime bien la première car ça me rappelle le glaçage d'un gâteau de Noel ou de la meringue. C'est magique de voir la neige chaque année, surtout en montagne où l'air est si pur. J'y dors toujours si bien et puis on peut jouer dehors toute la journée et puis rentrer et boire un chocolat chaud. J'ai souvent pensé à l'hiver en NY et j'adorerais partager cette expérience un jour; faire du patin à glace au Rockerfeller Centre, marcher dans les rues blanches avec les gratte ciels au-dessus, faire des bonshommes de neige dans les parcs, ça doit être magique. C'est charmant que vous continuez avec ces traditions allemandes. C'est vrai que les biscuits et les gâteaux y sont magnifiques et même si j'aime beaucoup faire des mince pies en Angleterre, les Weihnachtskekse et le Stollen sont mes préférés. Les Linzer Augen sont faciles et si jolis je trouve. Bonne journée Laurence!
    Julia - Ah merci, je suis contente que tu aimes ça. Les biscuitas sont très beaux pour offrir mais c'est vrai qu'il faut du moins une journée pour tout faire. Après j'étais complètement épuisée! J'ai une petite préférence pour les Zimtsterne et les Linzer Augen et comme toi j'espère tant qu'on aura bientôt de la neige. Je souviens d'une très belle photo sur ton blog de la vue sur les toits blancs à Paris, cela me fait rêver.
    Ash - Don't worry, there's still enough time! I started early because next week I'm on holiday already and wanted to give my friends something nice before I left. No snow in Canada yet? I can't imagine how fantastic it is to have a white Christmas - sigh!
    Rosa - Yes, there's nothing quite like it and I always hope it snows on a day when I have some free time to enjoy it. Switzerland seems to me the prefect country to enjoy that because you have so many mountains and beautiful places. Making my own cookies was really fun and I think it will become a tradition every year. Have a good St. Nicolas!
    Lisa - Aw, thanks a lot! I always feel a little depressed when I see all these ready to roll cookie mixes in supermarkets because there's nothing quite like making your own. Sharing them with others is a big part of the fun though. I'm really pleased you like them and it's so nice to get away from this shopping mania and relax instead. Although having said that, I got a new evening dress yesterday...

  8. Oh les jolis biscuits qui sentent si bon Noël. Je me souviens des petites étoiles de Mingou, j'avais eu envie d'en faire d'aussi jolies à l'époque, jamais essayé finalement, mais tu me redonnes l'envie.
    Je reviendrai lire ton billet plus tard, c'est dimanche, j'ai du boulot à la maison - mais je voulais te souhaiter un bon dimanche tranquille et paresseux.

  9. On croirait la 3e photo sortie d'un album de collectionneur de photos anciennes, avec une couleur de ciel tout à fait particulière, comme opaque... Moi aussi j'ai des souvenirs de longs hivers enneigés quand j'étais petite, de très longues récréations où on nous laissait jouer tout notre soûl et fabriquer des igloos. Maintenant, là où j'habite, c'est la panique dès qu'on aperçoit un flocon ! C'est que nous sommes plutôt habitués à la pluie (à l'heure où je t'écris, elle tombe en belle diagonale avec des accélérations soudaines).

  10. Quelle patience! Je vois qu'un plat "non sweet" se profile, chouette. Bon retour en Angleterre.

  11. Oh, mais tu les as tous faits ! Chapeau ! Je ne sais pas si j'aurai le courage cette année... (bon, je ferai des Zimtsterne, c'est sûr, mais les autres...)

  12. @Gracienne - Merci de ta visite! J'espère que tu as passé un bon dimanche et puis si tu as le temps, ces biscuits superbes valent sûrement l'effort.
    @Rose - Cette photo était prise de mon balcon il y a un mois peut-être mais la neige a fondu tout de suite :-/ Ah oui, la fabrication des igloos, c'est chouette! Je l'ai fait pour la première fois l'année dernière et on s'est bien amusé. Aujourd'hui comme à Rouen, rien que la pluie mais la bruit qu'elle fait me réconforte quand je peux rester chez moi.
    @Sarah - Ah mais tu n'as qu'à venir chez moi pour prendre le thé(avec ton gentil mari bien sûr)!
    @Sarah-Louise - Merci! Tu vois, j'écoute mes lecteurs et lectrices ;-) La prochaine recette sera pour toi...
    Mingou - Mais tu m'inspires! Ça fait un moment que j'ai envie de les faire et puis j'étais ravie de pouvoir les offrir comme cadeaux gourmands. Merci pour toutes ces recettes! Je vois que as une préférence pour les Zimtsterne comme moi.

  13. Chère Vanessa,

    A chaque fois tes posts sont un moment suspendu, une pause teintée de jazz et de latte macchiato parfumé à la canelle, et je les attends impatiemment.

    Celui-là m'enchante comme les autres, tu as véritablement le don de la douceur et aussi celui de raconter ton intimité avec une pudeur charmante, quelque chose de très anglais, de très Jane Austen, et c'est pour cela, je crois, que tu as tant de lecteurs fidèles. Tu mets du rose dans nos lectures Internet!

    I baked a very nice cake today, quatre-quarts aux amandes aamélioré à ma façon, and I'm really proud of it, I thought of your posts as I took the vanilla-almond crusty paste from the oven today! I'm getting better in spite of the frightening German supplies...

  14. It's so nice to be back on your blog and read you... I just spent five minutes looking at your first photo up there, it's amazing. I also have great memories from snow when I was a kid: opening the door of the chalet in the morning and finding a two meters high wall of snow! the wonders of Norway...

  15. @Magda - Oh, mais quels compliments! Tes mots me touchent tellement je ne sais pas que répondre...En tout cas, je suis ravie d'avoir des lecteurs si fidèles et gentils et je suis vraiment contente que me lire te fasse plaisir :-) En ce moment je lis Emma de Jane Austen (je l'adore, surtout en hiver) et c'est une des mes écrivains préférés! Bravo pour le gâteau - je t'avais déjà dit que je crois tu sais très bien faire la cuisine et j'aurais bien aimé l'essayer. Mais on partagera un gâteau l'année prochaine - c'est promis!
    @Julie - It's lovely to have you back! The first photo makes me dream too because the house seems so lost and picturesque up there with all that snow. I last saw snow on my way to Italy when all the mountains high up around were getting dusted with a layer of it. It must be fantastic to see the snow in Scandinavia - I'd so love to go there in winter (and there aren't many takers!) to enjoy it.

  16. I really like to read your post it's full of poetry, nostalgia and sweetness !!!

    have a nice day


  17. Ok, if you like stories of snowmen who come to life, you should watch the movie Jack Frost. It's the story of a guy who dies and comes back as a snowman to terrorize his neighbourhood (why, I'm not clear on that). Ok, in fact, don't watch it, it's terrible. But it's so bad it's actually funny (it features pretty intense special effects, if I remember correctly).
    anyways, it's great reading you. There was snow in my hometown last year.. I actually wish it's coming back this year!

  18. Bonjour Vanessa, quels beaux souvenirs que tu nous as partagé. Tout comme toi, j'adore la neige et me réveillé comme ce matin avec un décor tout blanc. Elle nous apporte l'apaisement de l'âme et de l'être, nous avons l'impression que le temps s'arrête.

    Passe une belle journée.
    Josée xx

  19. Looking forward to the cake time then!

  20. Bonjour Vanessa, si tu passe par chez moi j'ai un prix pour toi.

    À bientôt, bisous.

  21. Comme toi, j'aime l'hiver et la quiétude qu'amène les averses de neige. Rien de plus ressourçant que de s'asseoir près de la fenêtre avec un café, de la musique et un bon livre. Nous attendons justement une tempête qui nous donnera de 20 à 30 cm de neige... Magnifiques photos et quels beaux biscuits, j'adore les Zimtsterne et les tiens sont plutôt bien réussis! C'est nous qui te remercions, car c'est toujours un réel plaisir que de te lire et j'espère que tu continueras de nous livrer tes petits bonheurs après les fêtes! Passes une très belle journée!

  22. Merci à toutes pour ces commentaires!
    @Virginie - Thanks so much, I'm glad you liked it.
    @Pia - I've missed you and thanks for the movie tip; I'd never heard of that one and it sounds pretty funny so I'll see if it's on over Christmas or try to get it from the video store. How lucky you were to have snow last year, we had a tiny bit but it was more like icing sugar.
    @Josée - Merci beaucoup! Oui, c'est si magique de voir la première neige; on veut simplement que ca dure assez longtemps pour en profiter. Ca doit être super de la voir tous les ans au Canada. Et puis merci pour ce prix! Je me sens si honorée et touchée! Bonne journée et bises.
    @Magda - Me too! Just get in touch whenever you have time...
    @Isabelle - J'aimerais bien être chez toi dans la cuisine attendant la neige en buvant du café. Le silence qu'apporte la neige est merveilleux. Merci pour tous ces compliments; j'adore te lire aussi et voir tes recettes alléchantes et tes belles photos. C'est un grand plaisir de connaître tous ces lecteurs si gentils à travers mon blog et à chaque fois tous ces commentaires m'épatent. Bonne journée et prend soin de toi!

  23. C'est incroyable combien nous sommes toujours charmés par la neige, son mouvement lent, doux et cette atmosphère hors du temps comme si elle absorbait tous les bruits. Merci de nous le faire revivre avec ta délicieuse touche gourmande. Je croule sous cette avalanche de biscuits chaleureux ;-) En particulier, depuis le temps, j'aimerais me lancer dans les lebkuchen. C'est vrai que les gâteaux allemands ont une âme réconfortante, un foyer qui nous protège.
    Bonne nuit

  24. Dada - Oh merci pour tes mots si doux et charmants. Je rêve aussi de voir Venise ou des villes d'Italie sous la neige, ce silence qui s'installe et les rues blanches. Tu es si douée dans la cuisine que je suis sûre que tous ce biscuits ne présenteront aucun problème pour toi si tu as le temps pour les faire. Je rentre du marché du Noel si réconfortant avec l'odeur de la cannelle et du feu où on a mangé des biscuits et bu du vin chaud. Une expérience inoubliable!