mardi 13 décembre 2011

The big baking post

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Dear reader,

As we speak, a large pot of homemade mincemeat is cooling on the stove, soon to be laced with brandy and left overnight for the flavours to blend. Commissioned by my boss to bake 2 dozen mince pies, I feel a little nervous, especially since I don't have the proper sized tin, only a muffin mould and cutters which are too small. Since the begiing of December I have made around 200 German Christmas cookies or Plätzchen. Last week I made a mincemeat cheesecake and on Sunday the flat smelled of oranges and freshly baked gingerbread as I prepared a snow topped spice cake and some orangettes. In the small hours of this morning I made Dan Lepard's cranberry chocolate snow cookies as the sky was turning the loveliest pink and orange. They were so good that I ate at least 12 of them, yes really, me who was always so self-righteous about only ever eating one transformed into a quivering wreck who raids the biscuit tin. If there was ever a case for baking overdose, it could well be me and it's not even Christmas yet.

Still, as Mae West once said, too much of a good thing can be wonderful. In the spirit of seasonal excess, I'll be posting a series of recipes, hopefully every day until Sunday, beginning with this post on Christmas cookies. I've never really been a fan of shop biscuits or boxes of chocolates, however expensive they may be. There are always the caramels, liqueurs and coconut ones which I hate left at the bottom and it always seems too much. Yet a little bag of homemade goodies makes a lovely gift, much nicer than a boring voucher or another CD and I guarantee that your friends will really appreciate the time and effort you've put in for them. I made all the Plätzchen below over about four days but you might not have the time or energy for that which I quite understand. The Spekulatius are by far the simplest and quickest, followed by the cranberry and chocolate snow cookies then the vanilla crescents, Linzer Augen and mini Stollen. The Lebkuchen and cinnamon stars are the fiddliest and most time consuming, although also the most popular. Whichever you choose, I'm sure they'll be most appreciated.

Vanilla crescents (recipe from Mingou I posted here)

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Keep in a metal tin for 4-6 weeks in a cool place

Linzer Augen (recipe from Mingou I posted here)

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Keep in a metal tin for 4-6 weeks in a cool place


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I bought my patterned form from Karstadt but any large department store in Germany should stock nice ones. If you can't find it, just use ordinary cutters in the shape of your choice.

Makes around 80

500g flour
250g butter
250g natural cane sugar
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1. Preheat the oven to 200° or 175° fan assisted. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until you have a smooth dough.
2. Roll the dough out to around 5 mm thick and cut out shapes or if using a form press the dough onto the pattern evenly with a rolling pin or your hands. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment.
3. Bake for around 10 minutes then remove carefully and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Keep in an airtight container for 4-6 weeks

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Zimtsterne (cinammon stars). Recipe from the December issue of Meine Familie und ich.

I chose a different recipe from previous years in order to avoid serving raw egg white so I could give it to kids and older people. It's basically pretty similar but this time the icing is applied before baking.

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Makes around 60

4 egg whites from medium sized eggs
a pinch of salt
350g icing sugar
500g ground almonds
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon zest from an unwaxed lemon
icing sugar for rolling out

1. Beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff then fold in the icing sugar. Beat at maximum speed on your hand mixer for another 10 minutes. Put 5 tablespoons of egg whites to one side.
2. Mix the almonds with the cinnamon and lemon zest. With a large whisk, gently blend in the egg whites and leave to cool for 30 minutes.
3. Divide the dough into small portions and roll each one out between two sheets of plastic in order to avoid having a super sticky dough that remains glued to the worktop (I'm talking from experience). It should be around 5mm thick. Using a star shaped cutter, regularly dipped in icing sugar, cut out the cookies and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment, gathering up the remaining bits and rolling out again until you have no dough left over. Brush the reserved egg white mixture over the stars and leave to dry for an hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 150°C (fan assisted 130°C). Bake the stars for 12-14 minutes and transfer to a rack to cool. They should be slightly golden and chewy inside.

Keep in a metal tin for 2-3 weeks

Elisen-Lebkuchen (Recipe from the December issue of Meine Familie und ich)

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Elisen-Lebkuchen are a little different from the normal Lebkuchen because there is no flour but a mix of nuts and spices instead. The cookies are pretty easy to make but decorating them takes a long time. However, all my friends loved them the best so maybe it's worth making the effort.

Makes around 60

4 medium sized eggs
1 teaspoon lemon juice
150g icing sugar
2 teaspoons Lebkuchengewürz or mixed spice if you don't live in Germany
200g ground almonds
200g ground hazelnuts
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon zest from an unwaxed lemon
60 Backoblaten or wafers, 0.5cm (see here for more info or you can skip them if there aren't any in your supermarket)
250g bittersweet or dark chocolate, depending on your preference
chopped almonds for decorating

1. Preheat the oven to 160° or 140° for fan assisted ones. In a large bowl beat together the eggs, lemon juice and icing sugar vigourously by hand or with a mixer for around 10 minues or until thick and creamy. Add the Lebkuchengewürz, ground almonds, hazelnuts, salt and lemon zest and blend with a metal spoon.
2. Distribute the wafers on a baking sheet covered with parchment and place one heaped teaspoon of mixture on each Oblaten. Bake for around 15 minutes. Remove and leave to cool.
3. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave, stopping to stir every 30 seconds if you're using the latter. I found that melting all the chocolate at once wasn't such a good idea because it started to set before I'd finished decorating so do smaller amounts one after the other if possible.
4. Brush each Lebkuchen with melted chocolate and scatter some chopped almonds on top.

Keep in a metal tin for 4-6 weeks. Place a slice of apple inside that you change regularly and don't close the tin completely so the cookies stay soft.

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Chocolate cranberry snow cookies from a recipe by Dan Lepard in the Guardian here. So easy and delicious!

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Mini Stollen ((Recipe from the December issue of Meine Familie und ich)

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Makes around 80

For the dough

250g flour, plus more for rolling out and the worktop
1 pack of dried yeast or half a cube of fresh
1 tablespoon milk, slightly warmed
70g sugar
125g low fat quark/curd cheese/fromage blanc
a pinch of salt
one medium egg
80 raisins
50g candied orange peel
50g candied lemon peel
a little lemon juice


100g of butter for brushing on top
100g icing sugar for decorating

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl and form a well in the centre. In another bowl mix or crumble the yeast with the warm milk and 1/2 teaspoon sugar and pour into the well. Mix with some of the surrounding flour. Leave for 30 minutes.
2. When the time's up, add in the quark, salt, egg, remaining sugar, raisins, candied orange and lemon peel and the lemon juice and knead until blended. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.
3. Roll out the dough on a floured worktop until 2.5cm thick. Cut into rectangles 10cm wide and 20 cm long. With the edge of your hand make an indentation in the middle then fold both sides (lengthways not widthways) over one another so that you have a long Stollen shape.
4. Place on a baking sheep covered with parchment and leave for another 30 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 180° or 160° fan assisted. Bake the stollen on the middle shelf for 15-20 minutes.
6. Melt the butter and brush generously over the top of the stollen while it's still warm. The more butter you use, the longer it will keep and the better it will taste. Dredge a thick layer of icing sugar as a finishing touch and cut into 1cm thick slices.

Keep in a metal tin for 1-2 weeks

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The finished cookies, ready for giving out. Tomorrow I'll be back to talk about cake and give you an update on my mince pies. Wish me luck!

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The sky this morning

16 commentaires:

  1. What an extravaganza of Christmas cookies!! I love the look of all of them.
    I haven't had the time to bake a lot of cookies yet. I will be starting tomorrow with my traditional Greek cookies. I hope I get the chance to post them.

    I can't wait for your next posts. So exciting. A post a day...!

    Good luck tomorrow Emily Vanessa!

  2. Goodness, they all look fabulous. I believe your Spekulatius most speak to me, so I am happy to know that they are the simplest and quickest. Some people are going to feel very lucky to receive these treats. Enjoy your mincemeat pie making.

  3. Wow, what an awesome collection of mouthwatering cookies! I'd love to taste them all. Fantastic.



  4. Magnifique ! (J'en ai fait 7 sortes aussi cette année. C'est du boulot, mais quel plaisir de les offrir après :-))

  5. Oh my. *slurp* An excellent round-up, Emily. I saw the chocolate cranberry snow cookies today & wondered about them. So that's on my list. I saw a few others here that I can't make now but will definitely file away. Some lovely cardamom pods are winging their way to me from a friend who works at Williams-Sonoma, so I'll be making something with that next week.

    I had to laugh though when I read each cookie/biscuit "life span" - 4-6 weeks? Ha! I guess you & your friends are endowed with heaps of self-control.:)


  6. Those crescents look like something my gram used to make... very soft, are they??? Can't believe you're doing all that baking... good for you! I am not in a cookie mood... haven't got anymore sweet tooths to share them with and just can't eat them myself (not after all that goose last week!!!).
    Your photos are, as usual magical... maybe I'll make just one batch of crescents–– although Barbara had some good cookies too –– see, there's the rub, start with one and then 2 and 3 and you have baskets of them!

    Happy Holiday to you!

  7. I knew from the title of this post that I would love it - how could I not? oh my, can you send me some to Australia? :) I want to try everything, but I'm particularly drooling over the Vanilla crescents.

    here's to seasonal (and sensual) excess!

  8. How exciting to wake up to all these comments - thanks for your support!
    @Magda - Ooh, traditional Greek cookies, I bet they're amazing and am looking forward to your recipes.
    @Denise - Yes, do make the spekulatius, they're so simple yet for me represent the taste of Christmas if there is such a thing and i'm sure your friends will love them.
    @Rosa - So glad you like them, I'd love to hare them with you.
    @MM - Merci encore pour tes recettes! J'étais sûre que tu avais fait pleins de biscuits magnifiques aussi. Je me sentais epuisée après tout ce travail mais oui, cela fait tant de plaisir de les offrir.
    @Susan - I can confirm that those cranberry snow cookies are amazing and very quick and simple compared to the rest here so go for it. Everyone absolutely loved them too; the only difficulty was to stop eating them ;-) I love cardamom pods and there's so many great recipes you can use them in. Ha, the 4-6 weeks is theoretical actually! It's written in German baking magazines because the idea is that when you have 60-80 of each biscuit you don't eat or give them away immediately. That said, there aren't many left here! My friends also ate the whole bag in a few hours.
    @Deana - I only really do it for my friends and eat surprisingly few myself (well, with the exception of the snow cookies as I mentioned) so I can understand your not making any with no-one to share them with. It simply wouldnT' be as much fun. Barbara always has great stuff on her blog which I'm hoping to make as well. The rest of the week must be lower in sugar to compensate for yesterday's excess though.
    @Hila - I'd love to send you something but it might have to be in January with all the rush here but as you don't celebrate Christmas, maybe that's not so bad. Drop me a line with your address. The vanilla crescents are always a huge hit and so delicious.

  9. What a wonderful job you have done! You are a baking machine. The biscuits look so lovely all packaged up.

    (At first glance, those vanilla crescents look a little like fat, sleeping caterpillars or somesuch!)

    I'll be making some shortbread next week to give to my grandparents. I get so excited thinking about Christmas baking.

  10. Yep, that just about sums it up, a baking machine :-) When I gave one student his bag of cookies last week, he looked amazed and told me I have too much time on my hands. Ha ha, the vanilla crescents do look rather like caterpillars! Shortbread also makes a wonderful gift, so perfect for this season and versatile. Looking forward to seeing them.

  11. Ils sont superbes! Quel courage :) je n'ai reussi a faire que trois sortes de petits gateaux, il faut dire que je n'ai pas cette tradition dans ma famille, moins d'experience que toi.

  12. Merci Gracienne. Tes biscuits étaient vraiment magnifiques et si je avais un travail exigeant, je ne sais pas si j’aurais le courage de tout faire. Tu fais toujours de choses extra comme ces massepins qui me font tant envie :-)

  13. The perfect post right before Xmas! I'm flying to Greece to see my sister and her adorable daughters and I will turn into a baking aunt. Thanks!

  14. @Lecia - Oh, I'm so happy you think so because you're truly one of my favourite photographers and that's a great compliment. Thank you.
    @Manon - That's good that this post will be useful then. Hope you have a wonderful time in Greece, come back with lots of great stories and enjoy the baking!

  15. Thanks for the lovely recipes!!!