Christmas is known for bringing out the ancestral origins in all of us, with every culture celebrating the holidays enjoying their specific holiday foods. Although my parents were born here in Canada, our German heritage was very evident in my mother’s cooking and baking.
One cookie that has been made specifically for holidays for hundreds of years is gingerbread. Across Europe you will find many versions of the spicy cookies in different shapes, colors and textures.
‘Lebkucken’, a traditional German gingerbread was invented by medieval monks in Franeonia, Germany in the 13th century. Prepared in monastery bakeries with ingredients that not only had symbolic religious meaning but were highly prized for their healing properties.
There are a variety of types of lebkucken, each distinguished by slight alterations in ingredients. Most common ingredients include: * honey, flour, sugar and eggs * gingerbread spice mix or ‘Lebkuckengewurz’ * almonds, hazelnuts and/or walnuts * candied lemon and orange peel. The most critical ingredient being the ‘exotic’ spices from all around the world such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, anise, cardamom, coriander and ginger.
Lebkucken can be round, square or rectangular. They can be glazed or not. Sometimes cocoa is mixed in with the dough making it rich and chocolaty. Other times, roasted apple, marzipan or cashews may be mixed in to add different flavors and textures.
‘Elisen lebkucken’ are the highest quality made. They must have at least 25% almonds, hazelnuts and/or walnuts and must contain no more than 10% flour if any. The ‘Nuremberg lebkucken’, baked in the city of Nuremberg, Germany, are known worldwide to be the best. Marzipan is often an ingredient in these gingerbread.
Of course this brings me back to another memory. Some years ago I had the experience of spending some time in the presence of a Dutch baker. At Christmas time, he would bake these incredible Dutch cookies called ‘Speculaas’ that were filled with marzipan and had that glorious similar spice blend. I just loved it and can’t resist making some version of it every Christmas season since.
Today, I’m making a large batch of lebkucken which I’m going to divide. Half of it is going to be made into ‘glazed’ triangles and the other half I want to dip in white chocolate and add a little holly decoration. Should be good!
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet & toast until the skins blister, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly, then transfer nuts to a clean kitchen towel & rub together to remove the skins. Cool completely.
In a small bowl, combine almond meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices & salt. Transfer hazelnuts to a food processor, add walnuts, candied citrus rind & crystallized ginger along with 1 cup of the dry ingredient mixture; pulse until very finely chopped. Add remaining dry ingredients & pulse ONLY to combine.
In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat butter with brown sugar until creamy. Add honey & beat until smooth. Add eggs & vanilla, beating to combine. Fold in dry ingredients then beat until evenly combined. Divide the dough in half. Wrap in plastic wrap & chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish with 2 pieces of parchment paper (this will allow you to easily remove squares fro the pan). Spread the half of the chilled dough evenly into baking pan & bake in the center of the oven until surface is dimpled & a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. The cake should be springy but firm. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
In a bowl, whisk powdered sugar with your choice of flavoring & water to make a thin but spreadable glaze. Spread glaze on just-warm cake & let cool completely. Remove cake (with parchment) from pan onto cutting board. Cut 16 squares then cut each square into 2 'triangles' giving you 32 pieces.
Making Individual Cookies
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Scoop about 1 1/2 Tbsp dough out at a time. Roll into balls. Place on parchment about 2-inches apart & bake at 350 F. for 15 minutes or test with a toothpick. Remove from oven & cool completely.
White Chocolate Icing
In a microwave safe bowl, melt white chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp shortening on HIGH for 10 second intervals, stirring between intervals, until melted, smooth & fairly runny. Dip half of each cookie in melted white chocolate mixture then run bottom of cookie slightly along edge of bowl to remove excess. Place on parchment paper to set at room temperature.
For the holly decoration, melt candy melts, one color at a time. Place in a small piping bag with a #4 tip & pipe decorations. Allow to set up at room temperature. You should have around 26 cookies.
If you would like a dark depth of flavor, add 2 Tbsp dark, unsweetened cocoa to your cookie dough as well as using a dark brown sugar instead of the light.
If you prefer to not make 2 different versions, make the whole recipe into either bars or rounds -- your choice!
This is one of those cookies that gets better as it ages.
Something I did & found it worked well was to portion out my cookies before chilling the dough.
Sour cream is often thought of as topping for potatoes or an addition to sauces. Due to its creamy texture, sour cream can be added to a variety of baked goods and recipes in order to yield moister results. The use of sour cream has been associated with the cooking traditions of Eastern Europe, Germany, Ukraine and Russia since the first half of the 20th century. Originally made by allowing cream to sour naturally, today’s commercial version can contain the addition of lactic acid, gelatin or guar gum.
Probably one of the first recipes I ever used sour cream in was coffeecake. I just couldn’t believe how tender and moist it was and the heavenly smell when it came out of the oven. Looking through my mother’s recipe files, I see there were many recipes that contained sour cream that she had used.
I saw this recipe on a site called love2cooksweets.ca It was posted back in 2010. Nothing fancy but makes a wonderful sour cream oatmeal cookie. These can be filed under ‘comfort food’ I’m sure.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda & salt. In a medium bowl, cream butter with sugars; beat in egg & vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with sour cream. Stir in raisins & oats.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Scoop dough onto cookie sheet a few inches apart. Bake 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool on pan about 30 seconds then remove to wire racks.
Part of the enjoyment of writing these blog stories and recipes is the research process. I find it fascinating to learn about the different cultures through their recipes. With some, you have to dig deep to retrieve the authentic recipe or process. Many recipes, as I know from my own family heritage, only exist in memory. These recipes are priceless pieces of family traditions. Each having a history and story of it’s own making them unique and special.
Whenever I feel inspired to create a new recipe, I try to learn everything I can about it’s history and the way it is traditionally made, then I set out on my own. It’s not that I think I can do it better, but rather just personalizing it to our taste.
Fruit dumplings were most popular in England and Central Europe. As people crossed the ocean, they carried with them the recipes for the foods they knew and loved. As time passed they experimented more with the flavors of fruit dumplings. The dough evolved from flour and potatoes to the pastry dough we know today.
I have made this BAKED STONE FRUIT DUMPLING recipe with either my own homemade pastry or frozen puff pastry. We found them real good either way.
In a small bowl, combine sugar, bread crumbs, cinnamon & nutmeg. On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry into two 12-inch squares. Cut each sheet into nine 4-inch squares. Brush squares with egg. Place 1 tsp sugar mixture in the center of each square; top with 2 Tbsp chopped fruit of your choice & 1 more tsp sugar mixture. Gently bring up corners of pastry to center; pinch edges to seal. Place on greased baking sheets.
In a small bowl, combine streusel ingredients. Brush remaining egg over dumplings; press streusel over tops. Bake at 375 F. for 14-18 minutes or until golden brown. Place pans on wire racks & allow to cool about 10 minutes before serving.
While dumplings are baking, combine flour & water in a small saucepan beating until smooth. Add the sugars, butter & salt. Bring to a boil; cook & stir until smooth & blended. If serving immediately, place dumpling on serving plate & pour sauce over top.
These versatile dumplings can also be made with tart apples or mixed berries.
When cinnamon, sugar and butter are mixed together, the result is something many people all over the world find irresistible.
The first cinnamon roll was created in Sweden, around the 1920’s. After World War I, several goods such as sugar, eggs and butter, which had been heavily restricted, eventually returned to the grocery shelves. The spice trade from Southeast Asia also led to the invention of the roll. Cinnamon was not grown locally in the European countries, hence the spice trade from Sri Lanka led to the development of cinnamon use in the European countries. The influences of German baking techniques combine with Swedish and Danish ingredients can clearly be seen in the making of the cinnamon roll.
In Sweden, October 4th is ‘Kanelbulle’ day or national ‘Cinnamon Roll Day’. This holiday was originally created by the country’s Home Baking Council in 1999 to commemorate their 40th anniversary. Swedish cinnamon rolls are not as sweet and heavy as they are in North America. The dough contains a hint of cardamom spice and they are generally baked in muffin papers to make a more delicate treat.
Our family definitely enjoyed a lot of irresistible cinnamon rolls. As is everything that becomes the ‘norm’, you take it for granted until you no longer have it and it becomes a ‘taste of a memory’.
I recall my mother also making ‘potato’ doughnuts. The mashed potato seems to really add to the flavor of a yeast dough. In keeping with this Swedish ‘holiday’, I am making POTATO CINNAMON ROLLS or ‘Twists’.
In a large mixing bowl, combine lukewarm milk with yeast; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Allow to stand about 3 minutes or until foamy. Add warm mashed potato, melted butter, eggs, sugar, cardamom & salt; mix well. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic.
Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning dough to completely coat it with grease. Cover with plastic wrap; allow to rise in a draft-free place until doubled in size. Punch down, turn out on a lightly floured work surface & let rest for about 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar & cinnamon; set aside.
Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into a 14 x 14-inch square. Brush with melted butter & evenly sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture. Fold dough into thirds like a business letter, then roll again into a 14 x 8-inch rectangle. Facing the long edge, cut dough into roughly 18 -8-inch strips. Twist each strip several times, slightly stretching it as you do so. Take one end of the twisted strip & coil the dough around your hand twice, then over the top. Coil dough again & tuck the loose end in at the bottom.
Arrange on baking sheets. Cover with plastic & allow to rise in a draft-free place, 45-60 minutes or until doubled in size. Place oven rack in middle position & preheat oven to 350 F.
If you prefer, you can brush rolls with egg wash & sprinkle with pearl sugar or chopped almonds instead of using cream cheese glaze. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. While cinnamon rolls are baking, make glaze (if you are using it). With a mixer, beat together cream cheese & butter until light & fluffy. Blend in powdered sugar & vanilla. Add enough milk to achieve a drizzle-like consistency. Drizzle on rolls while still warm.
Freezer Instructions: Form cinnamon rolls into twisted shape & place several inches apart on baking sheet to freeze rolls individually. Once frozen, transfer to a resealable plastic freezer bag. When ready to bake, place on a lightly greased baking sheet & allow to come to room temperature before baking.
There is definitely more to rhubarb than just dessert. While rhubarb is generally treated as a fruit, it has also made many popular appearances in recipes of the day as a savory ingredient.
Braised in chicken stock with a little brown sugar makes a nice side dish for pork, lamb or fish. In sauces, it teams well with onion, sugar and star anise and tarragon for salmon or trout. If your serving pork, onion, sugar, cinnamon, allspice and cloves all pair well with rhubarb.
In September, 2016, I posted a recipe for Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Chutney. It became real popular with my blog followers so I thought I would share another pork/rhubarb idea. This recipe was one of those newspaper clippings from yesteryear that is still in my ‘file’ today.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Trim excess fat from short ribs; cut into serving size pieces. Place some of the fat in a heavy skillet & heat until skillet is well greased. Discard any remaining pieces.
Combine flour, salt & pepper in a plastic bag. Place short ribs in bag & shake to coat evenly; reserve any extra flour. Place ribs in skillet & brown slowly on both sides. Transfer to a shallow baking dish, making a single layer.
Top ribs with slices of onion, orange & celery. Toss rhubarb, sugar, reserved flour mixture & cloves together & sprinkle over all. Add water to the baking pan. Cover tightly with foil. Bake 35 minutes or until ribs are tender. Uncover & continue baking 10 minutes longer.
The original recipe used pork chops but our preference is with pork country style ribs instead.
The thought of rhubarb is a nostalgic thing for me. I have memories of my mother’s neat row of rhubarb plants growing along the edge of her garden. Magically each spring they would reappear from what had been frozen ground only a few short weeks before. While other plants still lay dormant, the large fan shaped rhubarb leaves quickly gathered enough sunlight to produce some juicy stalks.
Tucked in behind the water fountain, in Brion and my flower garden, are three rhubarb plants. Originally we had put them there to show off that huge foliage as well as being used in my cooking. Time has passed and with our trees becoming more mature, they are getting more shade than they like. Nevertheless, last year they were still producing in late September.
I’m going to start off this season with some RHUBARB CHEESECAKE SQUARES, a favorite recipe that comes from tasteofhome.com
In a small bowl, combine flour, oats & brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Set aside 1 cup crumb mixture; press remaining mixture onto bottom of a greased 9-inch square baking dish. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a small bowl, beat cream cheese & sugar until smooth. Beat in salt, vanilla, cinnamon & nutmeg. Add egg; beat on low speed just until combined. Stir in walnuts & rhubarb. Pour over crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until set. Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cutting into squares.
If you are wanting to use frozen rhubarb, measure rhubarb while still frozen, then thaw completely. Drain in a sieve, but do not press liquid out.
Its true that a good scone is a delicate flavor balance of opposites: rich but light, tender but sturdy, satisfyingly sweet but not overly so.
As baking soda and baking powder came into use as rising agents in the mid 19th century, the familiar light, raised scones began to appear in recipe books.
Scones are closely related to biscuits in that they contain much of the same ingredients — flour, baking powder, salt, shortening or butter.
The making of tender scones lies in the technique itself. The ‘secret’ is to mix the dough as little yet as thoroughly as you can. The less you work at it, the more tender the scones will become.
Scones as well as muffins seem to fall in and out of ‘fashion’. For me, I love them both and never tire of making either one.
This particular recipe I developed some time back with a lot of room for variations. My sister, Loretta and I share a common addiction for scones and fully believe it should be a constant in one’s life. This one is for you, Loretta. Enjoy!
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a food processor, pulse oatmeal for a few seconds; transfer to a large bowl. Whisk oatmeal, flour, baking soda, spices, salt, flax & pecans (sunflower seeds) together until combined. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk egg, brown sugar, syrup, oil, applesauce, orange zest, orange juice & vanilla together until combined.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, stir a few times, then add raisins, carrots & apple. Fold together gently just until blended.
Scoop onto baking sheet & bake 3 minutes at 425 F. then reduce heat to 350 F. & bake for an additional 9 minutes or until they test done. Cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes; remove to wire rack.
In contrast to it’s name, coffeecake usually does not have any coffee in it but is most often served with coffee. This is a cake that was not invented by a pastry chef but rather evolved from a variety of different types of cakes. Said to have had it’s origin in Europe, coffeecake became famous in Germany, Scandinavia and Portugal. The Scandinavians were advocates of the coffee break and desired something sweet with their coffee, thus contributed to the evolution of this tasty cake.
By 1879, coffeecakes had become well known in America and became common place to most households. As time passed, the original recipe was being prepared with cheese, yogurt, sugared fruits, nuts and spices. The most preferred baking pan for this cake is the ‘bundt pan’. The hole in the center of the pan allows heavier batters to become cooked all the way through without any dough being left unbaked in the center.
Sour Cream Coffee Cake, sometimes called Russian Coffeecake, is one of the most delicious and poplar of all versions. Due to the fact that this dense cake is not overly sweet makes it ideal for breakfast, brunch, snacks as well as other informal occasions. The lactic acid in the sour cream results in a tender crumb as well as keeping the cake fresh longer while the fat contributes to the flavor and moistness. The slight tang of the sour cream underscores the velvety, buttery cake. With the batter being rather thick, it will support a heavy filling or streusel.
This is a cake with limitless possibilities. Personalize it to suit the occasion with fillings such as Apple Nut, Brown Sugar & Nuts, Cranberry Orange, Date or Fig. Of course, instead of a glaze you can always put some streusel in the bundt pan first, giving it a glorious look and taste when baked and inverted on a serving plate.
Today’s recipe combines the use of sour cream and cream cheese. The aroma when it comes out of the oven is heavenly not to mention the taste later.
In a small bowl, combine cream cheese with apricot preserve until smooth; set aside.
If using streusel on top or inside, combine streusel ingredients well; set aside.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly butter & flour a 12-cup bundt cake pan.
In a large bowl, beat sugar, margarine, vanilla & eggs at medium speed for 2 minutes. In another bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt; fold into creamed mixture alternately with sour cream. Beat on low speed for another minute.
Spread 1/3 of the batter in pan; spread with 1/2 of the filling. Repeat 2 times. Bake 45 minutes or until tests done with a wooden pick. Remove from oven to a wire rack; cool for 20 minutes. Combine glaze ingredients while cake is cooling. Invert bundt pan onto serving plate & drizzle with glaze.
If you choose to use streusel, after buttering & flouring the pan, sprinkle streusel in the bottom which will essentially become the top of cake.
Or place some streusel on the bottom of pan & sprinkle some over each layer of filling.
FILLED OATMEAL COOKIES – The only thing better than an oatmeal cookie is a filled oatmeal cookie, right! It seems they were one of those cookies traditionally baked at Christmas time, probably due to the cost of dates and the time consuming process to make them.
Whenever my mother was doing her Christmas baking, she gradually filled every cookie tin she owned and then started using empty ‘Rodger’s Golden Syrup’ pails to store them in. These pails were good for the purpose because they were airtight. To keep us ‘kids’ from nibbling on them before Christmas had actually arrived, the pails were discretely placed among her jars of canning downstairs. Somehow a pail got missed, so that year we enjoyed some very tasty cookies in about February.
I personally just love dates but Brion, not so much. As an alternative I decided to make half the recipe with Cranberry filling so it would work for both of us.
MINCE-APPLE TARTS – Mince(meat) pies, like Christmas puddings, were originally filled with meat, such as lamb, rather than dried mixed fruit as they are today. The shape was an oval to represent the manager that the baby Jesus slept in, with the tops representing his swaddling clothes.
A custom from the middle ages was that if you eat mince pie on everyday from Christmas until the 5th of January (12 days) you will have happiness for the next 12 months. At one time in the UK, mince pies were a status symbol at Christmas. Having pies like this, made in various shapes, meant you could afford to employ the best pastry cooks.
It seems mincemeat is one of those things that people either really like or they want nothing to do with it. Brion and I always enjoy to have a few (fruit) mincemeat tarts at Christmas time. Tossing in a bit of apple, walnuts and some extra rum or brandy doesn’t hurt either.
Date Filled Oatmeal Cookies / Mincemeat-Apple Tarts
In a large bowl, cream margarine & sugar; beat in milk & vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine oatmeal, flour, baking powder & salt; gradually stir into creamed mixture until blended. Cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or longer.
In a double boiler over medium heat, bring dates (cranberries), sugar, water, juice & zest to a boil; stirring often. Reduce heat to low, cover & simmer, stirring occasionally, until fruit is very soft. Uncover & cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes or until mixture forms a thick paste. Let cool completely.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll out cookie dough to about 1/8 - 1/4" thickness & cut into 1 1/2 - 2" circles. Place on baking sheet & bake for 12 - 14 minutes or until golden edge is crispy & center is still soft. Transfer immediately to rack & allow to cool completely. Spread filling evenly over smooth side of half of the cookies; sandwich with remaining cookies.
Mince - Apple Tarts (24)
On a floured surface, roll out pastry. Using a 2 1/2" cookie cutter, cut 24 circles. With a canape cutter, cut out 24 various shapes such as stars, trees, bells etc. for the top of tarts. Preheat oven to 375 F. Place shapes on an ungreased baking sheet; sprinkle with sugar. Bake cutouts for a few minutes until light golden. remove from sheet & cool.
Press tart pastry sheels into bottom & up the sides of miniature muffin cups. In a small bowl, combine all filling ingredients. Spoon into tart shells. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until filling is bubbly & crust is light golden brown. Cool 2 minutes; remove from pans. Top each tart with a cutout.
Due to the fact that the filled cookies will get quite soft after a few days, I like to keep them in the freezer & eat them while they are still slightly frozen.
For the tarts, you can either buy frozen tart shells or I do have my favorite pastry recipe posted on the Thanksgiving blog in October 2016.
THUMBPRINT or THIMBLE COOKIES – are such a great little cookie with so many variations that they remain among the holiday favorites. Of course it’s not hard to figure out the meaning behind their name. Similar to filled cookies, you can either fill the divot you make in them either before or after you bake them.
Here is a good example of the phrase ‘the same only different’. Four varieties of thumbprint cookies you might want to add to your office cookie exchange list, if they are not already on it.
In a medium bowl, combine butter with brown & white sugar. Add egg, pumpkin, flour, spices & salt; mixing until a thick dough forms. Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop balls (about 2 tsp size), 1-inch apart from each other. Using your thumb or a sewing thimble, make a divot in the center of each ball. Bake for 25 minutes or until slightly brown. Remove cookies from oven; while hot, deepen any of the divots if needed. Place on cooling rack.
In a small bow, combine cream cheese filling ingredients, mixing well. When cookies are completely cool, spoon a small amount of filling into each of the divots. Top each with a bit of crystallized ginger.
Lemon Blueberry or Raspberry Anise Thumbprint Cookies
In a medium bowl, cream butter & sugar well. Beat in egg yolks & extract. Stir in lemon zest, then fold in flour & salt until fully incorporated & a soft dough forms. Wrap in plastic wrap & chill about an hour. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form dough into 1-inch balls; roll in hazelnuts & place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Using your thumb or a sewing thimble, make a divot in the center of each ball. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove cookies from oven; while hot, deepen any divots if needed. Place on cooling rack & cool completely before filling centers with preserves.
Fig & Flax Thumbprint Cookies
In a medium bowl, beat butter & 1/4 cup brown sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add egg yolk & vanilla; beat until combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, 2 Tbsp ground flax seeds, cream of tartar, spices & salt. Slowly add flour mixture to the batter & beat on low until just combined, scraping down the sides as needed.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, place the egg white. In a small dish, combine 1/4 remaining brown sugar with 1/4 ground flax seeds. Roll slightly rounded teaspoons of dough into balls. Dip one ball at a time into the egg white & then roll in the sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheet; press divots in each ball. Bake about 15-17 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove from oven; check if divots need to be deepened. Place on cooling rack & cool completely.
With the Blueberry, Raspberry & Fig recipes, you can bake the cookies for about 15 minutes then add the preserves & bake another 3-4 minutes. I find it easier to store or freeze the cookies if I put the preserve in at serving time -- personal preference only.
I rolled my spiced pumpkin cookies in gingersnap crumbs just for a little added flavor.
Apricot preserves are another good choice for the flax thumbprints and probably easier to find depending where you live.