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.
Bread pudding always gives me reason to remember good things. Why is it so beloved, aside from the extreme comfort food factor? It’s not that the dish was invented here — that honor likely goes to clever medieval or even ancient cooks in Europe and the Middle East who had a surplus of stale bread on their hands. The perfect embodiment of the virtues of frugality and indulgence: day old bread, too precious to waste, is bathed in a mixture of milk and eggs and made into either a sweet or savory bread pudding (with a few other additions) and baked into something sublime.
In 2015, ‘The Taste of a Memory’, a memorabilia/cookbook I wrote as a tribute to my wonderful parents, was published. It contained a compilation of stories, articles, recipes and reflections that evoke an intimate memory, special time period and fond emotion brought about by the aroma and taste of food. Writing them down not only puts them in print but allowed me to take a mental journey back to a gentler time. Hopefully this book will be enjoyed by future generations or just anyone choosing to read it. As with my other book endeavors, Brion’s strong support and technical savvy were invaluable.
For today’s blog, I chose a recipe from the book called APPLE-ANISE BREAD PUDDING. The licorice flavor of anise is one we both enjoy.
Anise seed is native to the Mediterranean basin and has been used throughout history in both sweet and savory applications. Anise seeds are not botanically related to star anise, but have nearly identical flavors and in ground form can be substituted for each other. For most part, Europeans use anise in cakes, cookies and sweet breads where as the Middle East uses it in soups and stews.
I don’t particularly recall my mother using anise in her cooking or baking but for my sister Loretta and I, it’s definitely one of our favorite flavors. I hope you enjoy this bread pudding recipe.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Pulse bread CRUSTS ONLY in a food processor to make bread crumbs. Reserve 1 cup for the topping. Butter an 8 x 8-inch baking dish & coat with 1-2 Tbsp of the remaining bread crumbs.
With a mixer, beat eggs & then add the sugar. Mix in anise seeds, cinnamon, vanilla & milk until combined. Pour into a large bowl & add bread bread cubes. Fold together gently with a spatula then pour into prepared baking dish. Top with diced apples & chopped walnuts.
In a small dish, combine reserved 1 cup bread crumbs with 2 Tbs melted butter & 1 Tbsp sugar. Sprinkle topping evenly over pudding.
Prepare a 'hot water bath'. For this you will need another pan that's larger than & at least as deep as the bread pudding pan itself. When you set the bread pudding pan in it and add water it should go about halfway up the sides. This will ensure even, slow baking for a smooth velvety result.
Bake about an hour or until it tests done. Pudding should be puffy & golden. Serve as is or with whipped cream, your choice!
ANISE SUGAR - for tea, on top of cookies or over fruit.
In a blender, combine 1 cup sugar with 1 T. anise seed
Blend on high speed until mixture is thoroughly combined
In a small saucepan, bring sugar, salt & water to a boil. Add cranberries, reduce heat & simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly then process for a few seconds in a food processor. Add orange zest; stir & set aside to cool completely.
Pumpkin Spice Roll
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices & salt. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat eggs, vanilla & sugar until mixture is pale yellow & fluffy. Add pumpkin puree & mix to combine. Fold in the dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, spread the cake batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake for about 10-13 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched & tests done in the middle.
While cake is baking, make CREAM CHEESE FILLING. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter & vanilla until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Remove cake immediately from the oven; invert onto a clean tea towel that has been lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. Remove parchment paper & carefully roll cake in jelly roll fashion in tea towel.
When cake has cooled completely, carefully unroll & spread with a layer of cranberry jam. Next top with a layer of cream cheese filling. Carefully re-roll cake. Wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.
Decorate with remaining cream cheese topping & cranberries (I saved a few whole ones from the cranberry jam). Add a few 'kiwi' leaves & you got it!
Over the years, our travels have taken Brion and I to many interesting places in the world. Each has left us with amazing memories.
In November of 2009, before Egypt was in such disarray, we explored this ancient country. You could safely say that time has not lessened the mystique of the world’s oldest tourist attraction. No matter how many pictures you look at, or how much you read on the internet, there is just nothing as powerful as seeing the real thing. Brion’s ability to speak fluent Arabic was a huge bonus for us while in Egypt.
The flight from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Cairo, Egypt was a bit grueling at 16 hours long but we ‘recovered’ fairly fast. To make the most of our vacation, we divided it into four segments; – five days in Cairo, six days in Alexandria, eight days on a Nile River cruise and the last week at Sharm El Shiekh on the Red Sea.
The Nile River cruise was definitely the highlight of the vacation. We boarded the ‘Helio’ cruise ship in Luxor which took us to Aswan and back. Each day the ship would dock at various sites along the way and our personal guide would take us to explore temples, tombs, the high dam and the beautiful botanical gardens at Kitchener Island. It was such an incredible experience viewing the sights and sounds as you slowly sailed along. Travel is a good reality check to make us appreciate what we have in our own lives and so often take for granted.
Every evening, the supper buffet on the ship was created with a different theme. One of the items Brion really enjoyed was ‘EGYPTIAN KOFTA’. Egypt’s local and rich resources of fresh foods coming from the Nile Valley, has given the world some of the most coveted cuisines. Egyptian food is a mixture of all the different civilizations that came to Egypt in the history of its existence.
The word kofta (or kefta) has its origins in Persia. Although you can make meat, seafood or vegetarian kofta, the most popular in Egypt is a mixture of ground beef and lamb combined with onions, garlic, parsley and a ‘BAHARAT’ spice blend.
Along with my recipe today, I thought you may enjoy to look at some of the photos from our Nile River cruise.
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.
Fall has definitely arrived! The leaves are turning their beautiful gold and crimson colors and there is a chill in the air. Years ago, when Brion and I made the choice of what trees, shrubs and flowers to plant in our yard, our plan was to showcase the colors of every season. For me, being a farmer’s daughter, watching this seasonal beauty each year has been priceless.
The ‘flavor of fall’ brings pumpkin to mind. When I was a kid, I thought they looked great, made wonderful jack-o-lanterns but didn’t care for the taste at all. Then one day mom made a pumpkin ‘chiffon’ pie and I was hooked.
In the winter of 2011, Brion and I traveled Turkey for a month. We were meeting our Trafalgar tour group in Istanbul. Arriving a day early gave us time to ‘snoop’ around a bit. Next to our hotel was a ‘Starbucks’, so we went in. When Brion ordered my coffee they gave me a ‘Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte’ by mistake. That pumpkin chai flavor was just incredible. I have been addicted to it ever since.
The Starbucks original pumpkin spice latte turns 14 years old this year. In January 2003, they started developing it to expand their line of seasonal winter drinks. In 2015, real pumpkin puree was added to the drink.
A stay in Istanbul would not be complete without a traditional and unforgettable boat excursion up the Bosphorus, that winding strait that separates Europe and Asia. Its shores are a mixture of past and present, grand splendor and simple beauty. Modern hotels stand next to shore-front wooden villas, marble palaces in contrast to rustic stone fortresses and elegant compounds neighbor small fishing villages. Since Turkey actually straddles two separate continents, its culture features strong elements and traditions from both east and west. At that point in time we found Turkey a relaxed country to travel in which made our time there very enjoyable.
I came across a recipe on a website called greatist.com for a DIY version of Starbuck’s PUMPKIN SPICE CHAI LATTE. I couldn’t resist trying it.
In a small dish, combine 'Pumpkin Pie Spice' ingredients & store in a spice jar with a lid. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together pumpkin puree, 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice, milk, syrup & vanilla. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture starts to steam. Remove from heat & pour mixture into a blender. Cover, hold the lid on tightly; blend for about 15 seconds or until frothy.
Brew the coffee. If you like extra milk foam on top, pour a few tablespoons of milk into a glass jar with a lid while coffee is brewing. Tightly seal & shake for 30-60 seconds. Remove lid & place jar in microwave for 30 seconds.
Divide coffee & milk mixture between 2 mugs. Top with extra milk foam (if using) & sprinkle with a bit of pumpkin spice.
Gingerbread (cake) is the perfect sweet/spicy dessert for fall and winter, flavored by a ‘strange lumpy little root’. I recall my mother baking gingerbread cake for our supper dessert. She would serve it warm with farm fresh whipped cream. For lack of a better expression, ‘it was to die for’. Strangely enough, I was never fond of molasses but certainly enjoyed that warm gingerbread cake!?
Gingerbread has been baked in Europe for centuries. In some places it was soft, delicately spiced cake, in others, a crisp, flat cookie. Then in other places, warm, thick, dark squares of bread served with lemon sauce or whipped cream.
At first, gingerbread was made with breadcrumbs and sweetened with honey, but as it made its way throughout the world it has been adapted to meet the taste of different cultures. In North America, along with the ground ginger we usually like to add cinnamon, and cloves. Molasses is usually labeled as ‘sulphured’ or ‘unsulphured’ depending on whether sulphur was used in the processing. The unsulphured molasses is lighter in color and tends to have a nicer flavor.
Brion does not remember ever eating gingerbread cake?? I’m going to try to bring back the taste of a memory with this classic little cake and see what he thinks.
The name of this pie definitely conjures up a cornucopia of fall flavors. The idea of combining fruit and vegetables has forever appealed to me.
I have always had a love for zucchini as far back as I can remember. Even though it is served as a vegetable, its technically a fruit because it comes from a flower. It has a golden blossom that grows under the leaves.
A member of the gourd family, zucchini is an easy to grow, summer squash, native to Central America and Mexico. Zucchini became quite popular after the 1940’s with the interest in Italian cookery.
In 1992, I came across a recipe in a little ‘Pillsbury Classic Cookbook’ for HARVEST PIE. It had a great combination of apples, zucchini, carrots and spices. If you like these ingredients, this ‘classic’ will become a favorite fall ‘go to’ dessert recipe for you.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a 9-inch DEEP pie with pastry.
In a large bowl, combine apples, zucchini, carrots, nuts & flour; toss to coat.
In a medium bowl, beat brown sugar & margarine until well blended. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, lemon juice, vanilla, orange zest & 2 eggs; blend well. Add to apple mixture; mix well.
Spoon filling into pie crust-lined pan. Top with second crust & flute; slit crust in several places. In a small bowl, blend egg & water; brush over top crust. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cover pie loosely with foil during the last 15 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning.
Serve with whipped cream if desired.
Oven temperatures often vary, so if you prefer, bake pie at a bit lower temperature.
We will soon be heading into fall. For apple lovers, the cool mornings and clear days of Autumn mean one thing; its time for some of the season’s crisp, juicy apple harvest. Apples are available year round thanks to controlled-atmosphere, cold storage chambers that keep them fresh for months. Some varieties even develop better flavor overtime. After 30 plus years in the food service industry, I retired and spent some wonderful years as tree and shrub buyer for a garden center. On this property there were many apple trees. One of the varieties was called Westland. These particular apples don’t taste like much until the first frost had touched them. Apples are a very common fruit but shouldn’t be overlooked due to their versatility.
When you take notice of how many ways apples are used in German baking, cooking, etc. its very clear that Germany loves its apples. For example there’s fresh apples, apple sauce, apple pancakes, apple juice, apple schnapps, apfelschorle (apple juice and carbonated water) and of course the many versions of apple cake …..
This German Apple Cake is served with a nice vanilla custard sauce making it quite special.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease & flour or line with parchment paper an 8 or 9-inch spring form pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon & cardamom. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add 3/4 cup sugar & mix. Peel apples; slice & cut as suggested. Toss apples with flour mixture to coat.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs & milk together. Add to the apples & flour; mix in with a large spatula until just combined. Batter should look thick & dough-like. Transfer the dough to prepared cake pan & flatten the top using the back of spatula. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp sugar over the cake top. Bake for 45-50 minutes or when cake tests done.
In a bowl, whisk egg yolks & sugar until pale yellow about 2-3 minutes. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk just to a boil. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg/sugar mixture. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan & stir over medium heat until custard thickens, about 4 minutes. Custard should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in vanilla & transfer to serving pitcher. This custard is not a thick, pudding like consistency; it needs to be a pour able.