Christmas gatherings would not be complete without pate’. For many people, pate’ brings to mind a fancy goose liver-based hors d’ oeuvre spread — but not all pate’ is made from liver!
While traditionally served baked in a crust, today pate’ simply describes a wide variety of smooth blends of meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, dairy products, liquors like sherry or cognac with herbs and spices.
Pates’ can be smooth and creamy (mousse) or firm and chunkier (country style). Mousses spread effortlessly on crackers or bread while country style varieties can be sliced or cubed for appetizers or sandwiches. Equally flavorful hot or cold, pates’ are best served at room temperature.
Recipes are not always extravagant and widely vary from the humble appetizer prepared at home to one of the most expensive dishes served in world renowned restaurants.
There are no rigid rules for cooking or serving pate’. Nearly any flavor profile that appeals to you can be made into one. Today I wanted to feature a couple of very simple but tasty pates’ you might enjoy to try somewhere throughout the Christmas season.
In a food processor, combine turkey, onions, sour cream & mustard; process until mixture is well blended & smooth. Add relish; process about 30 seconds or until JUST combined. Spoon into lined bowl; cover with plastic wrap & press gently. Refrigerate 1-2 hours to blend flavors.
Unmold onto serving; remove plastic wrap. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios; gently press onto plate. Serve with a variety of crackers. Yield: 2 1/2 cups.
Walnut & Wild Mushroom Pate'
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast for 10 minutes, or until fragrant & lightly browned.
In a large skillet, saute shallots in butter over medium heat until translucent.; add chopped mushrooms, garlic, parsley, thyme, salt & pepper. Cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Process toasted walnuts & olive oil in food processor until mixture forms a thick paste. Spoon in the cooked mushroom mixture; process to desired texture. Pack mixture into a well oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Serve on baguette slices or crackers of your choice. Yield: 20 servings
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.
Creativity and imagination is part of the fun of baking from scratch. The pairing of flavors been going on ever since people put food to mouth, but the science of it has now become big business.
As a rule of thumb, desserts usually have one or two predominate flavors, but some may have small amounts of additional flavor elements to help support the main flavor combination.
I have always loved the sweet, nutty flavor of hazelnuts especially in baking. The other day I was thinking about a square my mother used to make at Christmas. It had a very simple ‘shortbread’ base that was neither too sweet or buttery. My next thought was to pair hazelnuts, dried cranberries and glazed citrus peel to form the top layer. To add a little pizzazz, I baked them individually in different shaped tartlet pans.
I was real curious to see what Brion would think of these little ‘bites’. After tasting one, he felt they had good flavor but were a little dry. My solution to this was to make an orange coulis sauce to serve with them.
There’s something about the citrus notes of orange with the tarty sweetness of cranberries that makes for an aromatic amorous marriage of flavors. The end result produced a great tasting Christmas dessert!
Hazelnut & Dried Cranberry Bites with Orange Coulis
In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt & orange zest. Add butter, mix until well combined. Divide shortcrust among 24 tartlet pans. Evenly press pastry on bottom & up the sides of each. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat eggs with sugar, flour, extract, corn syrup & melted butter. Fold in chopped hazelnuts, cranberries & citrus peel.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place tartlet pan on a foil lined baking sheet. Carefully fill tartlet pans (should be enough for 24). Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven & cool on a wire rack.
Peel orange in a circular fashion, being careful not to go to thick & getting the pith. Cut in slivers. Juice the orange, straining into a small saucepan. Heat water, orange juice & sugar, bring to a boil. Add slivers of orange peel; simmer about 15 minutes until peel is cooked.
When ready to serve, make a design with some coulis on dessert plates, place tartlets on top. Decorate with a bit candied orange rind!
If you don't care for the orange coulis, try serving these little bites with a bit of Grand Marnier flavored whipped cream OR some white "Old English" cheddar.
Halloween is one of the oldest holidays in the world. Few people are aware that its roots date back to Samhain, the ancient Gaelic harvest festival celebrated in Celtic countries, such as Scotland, Ireland and Wales. It was believed that spirits from the underworld and ghosts of dead people could visit the world of the living on the night of October 31st. These spirits could harm the living or take them back to the underworld. To avoid this, people started dressing up as ghosts and spirits, if they left their homes, to confuse the underworld spirits. Bonfires and food played a big part in the festivities.
Over the years, Samhain became merged with the later Christian holidays of All Saint’s Day on November 1st and All Soul’s Day on November 2nd. This explains our modern holiday’s focus on spirits and the dead.
Halloween traditions were brought to America by the Irish and Scottish immigrants. Through time other traditions have blended into Halloween for example the harvest time tradition of craving pumpkins.
Brion and I live in a ‘young’ neighborhood. We’ve been very fortunate to have great neighbors on either side of us. One family has two boys and the other side has two girls. It is fun to make something special just for ‘our’ little people. This year, I’m making some Halloween cookies for their treat. My choices are SPIDER WEB & 3-D PUMPKIN cookies! Hope they will like them.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream together butter & sugar until light & fluffy; add orange zest. Beat in eggs & milk. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt together in a small bowl. Combine flour mixture with butter/egg mixture.
When dough is mixed, divide into thirds. Place one third in a plastic bag & place in the refrigerator. From the remaining dough, take a small amount & knead green food coloring into it. Once the color is fully worked into the dough, place it in another plastic bag & refrigerate. With remaining dough, add orange food color, knead it in, place in a plastic bag & refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or longer. When dough has chilled, cut into pumpkins & spider web cookies.
3-D Pumpkin Cookies (30)
For each 3-D pumpkin you'll need:
(2) Orange scalloped or plain circle cookies 1 7/8" diameter.
(2) Orange scalloped or plain cookies 2 1/4" diameter with a 1 1/4" or 1 1/2" circle cutout.
(1) Green scalloped circle 1 1/4" or 1 1/2" diameter with a hole cutout in the center using a straw.
(1) Green stem, made from rolling a small amount of green dough into a 'snake', & cutting it into pieces about 3/4" long, then bake. Feel free to adjust the sizes a bit based on the cutters you have, or the finished size you desire.
Place chilled orange colored dough on a LIGHTLY floured work surface. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of dough. This helps to roll out the dough without adding additional flour. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 of an inch thick. Cut out pumpkin pieces ( 4 per cookie ). Place cookies on prepared baking sheet, topped with either silicone liners or parchment paper. Remove green colored dough from refrigerator; roll as above, cut lid circles & stems ( 1 each per cookie ). Make sure to only put cookie pieces of similar size on the same baking sheet to ensure even baking. Place entire baking sheet (with cookies on it) in the freezer or refrigerator for about 3-5 minutes. This will help them to keep their shape while baking. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Bake cookies for 5-6 minutes depending on their size. Bake ONLY until they are just barely beginning to take on a golden tone. After a minute or so, remove cookies from baking sheet to cooling rack. Once cooled, you are ready to assemble the pumpkins.
Starting with one of the solid circles & one cutout circle. Add a line of your 'cookie icing' onto the solid circle, then place cookie 'ring' on top.
Add a line of cookie icing onto the first cookie 'ring'. Add the second cookie 'ring'. The base of your pumpkin is now complete.
Assemble the pumpkin top by first attaching the small green stem to the green circle (using a bit of cookie icing). Then add a line of icing onto the bottom of the green circle, & place the green circle on top of a solid orange circle.
Allow the pumpkin top & pumpkin base to dry completely for at least 1-2 hours. Fill pumpkin cavity with mini M&M candies. Arrange on serving dish with tops.
Spider Web Cookies (24)
Place remaining chilled dough a LIGHTLY floured work surface. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of dough. Roll dough to 1/8" - 1/4" thickness. Cut circles using a 3-inch round cookie cutter. Place cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for about 6-8 minutes, until just golden. Do not allow cookies to brown. After a minute or so, remove cookies from baking sheet to cooling rack. Cool completely.
Reserve some regular chocolate chips for spider bodies, however many you plan to make. Place remaining regular chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl with 1 TBSP shortening. Heat in microwave on high for 1 minute bursts, stirring after each minute, until chocolate is melted & smooth. Dip half of each cookie into chocolate & set aside.
In a separate bowl, quickly melt white chocolate chips with 1 TBSP shortening the same way as the semi-sweet chocolate. Pour melted white chocolate into a zip lock baggie & cut off a tiny piece of one corner. Make semi-circles on the dipped chocolate part of the cookie. Use a toothpick & draw lines through both dark & white chocolate from the center out to the outside edge of the cookie to create a web effect.
Place a little drip of melted chocolate on the cookie near the web. Use a toothpick to draw out 8 legs from the chocolate. Place a regular chip at one end for the spider body & a mini chocolate chip at the other for the head. Place the cookies on wax paper & allow chocolate to cool & harden before serving.
1 egg white
1/2 tsp orange extract
orange gel food color
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
With an electric mixer, whip egg white, extract & color until frothy. Slowly beat in powdered sugar, a little at a time, until mixture is thick but still liquid enough to beat. Beat on high until the mixture becomes thick & glossy, about 3 minutes. Cover the surface with plastic wrap while waiting to use it.
Royal Icing will set to a firm, glossy finish when applied to cookie. This icing can be stored , tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.
When I think about Autumn here in Canada, it could be likened to a vanGogh painting. The landscape transforms into a beautiful tapestry of red, gold and yellow. As the days grow shorter and the mornings darker, your tastes turn from salads and cool drinks to your favorite comfort foods. Smells that bring you back to your childhood……. evoking so much from one moment in time is the sheer essence of Autumn.
The truth being is that fall just gives us a different perspective. The word Thanksgiving itself makes one pause and ask, what am I thankful for this year? We start to reflect on the year we have had with it’s inevitable highs and lows.
Fall also represents a time of change. As nature bursts with it’s fabulous fall foliage, it gives us a little bit of extra time to make the most of what we have left in this year before the grand finale.
For the last 60 years, Canada has celebrated Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October. It’s one of those holidays that tend to bring families together, both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately though, in this highly technological age, it seems as if we have become more connected digitally than emotionally. Thinking about the food aspect of this holiday, sweet potatoes have become synonymous with Thanksgiving (and Fall).
Native to Central and South America, sweet potatoes are some of the oldest vegetables on the planet. Distantly related to commonplace, starchy Russets and Yukon Golds. Western markets have tagged some sweet potatoes with the deceptive name ‘yams’ to differentiate the southern from the northern crops. True yams are rough-skinned tubers, related to lilies.
Enter the ‘Candied Yam Casserole’. It seems to be the most divisive of the side dishes served, a real ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ kind of thing. Definitely not a venerated Thanksgiving tradition but more of a marketing promotion that caught on. It was 1917 when the first instance of sweet potatoes baked with a coat of marshmallows appeared in a recipe booklet commissioned by Angelus Marshmallow Company. The recipes in the booklet showed you how to incorporate marshmallows into everyday dishes so that their product wouldn’t fail and ‘viola’, the classic and capitalistic pairing was born.
I do remember my mother making this casserole for our special Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, being a kid that loved sweets, it tasted real good. At this point in time, I would rather just have them with salt and pepper for most part.
My blog recipe is one I came across in a Pillsbury booklet from 2010 ( pillsbury.com ). We have enjoyed it several times as it fits in perfect with a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil; spray with cooking spray. Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork & rub with oil. Place on baking sheet & bake 45-55 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork.
In a large skillet over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp; remove & drain on paper towel. In bacon drippings, cook onion & celery about 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Add broth & 2 Tbsp butter; heat to boiling. Stir in stuffing mix, cranberries & 2 Tbsp of the walnuts. Remove from heat, cover & set aside.
Remove sweet potatoes from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 375 F. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out potato flesh, leaving a 1/3-inch thick wall on inside of shell; set aside. Place potato flesh in a large bowl. Add 2 Tbsp syrup, remaining 2 Tbsp butter & the nutmeg; mash. Spoon about 1/2 cup of stuffing mixture into each potato shell; spoon mashed sweet potato mixture over stuffing, leaving some stuffing exposed around side of shell.
Line a baking sheet with foil again & spray with cooking spray. Place potato boats on sheet. Bake 15 minutes or until hot. Sprinkle potatoes with crumbled bacon bits & remaining 2 Tbsp walnuts; drizzle with additional syrup.
With tomorrow being Thanksgiving Day, it seems like baking some special little dinner rolls for the occasion would be in order.
Bread making has always been a carefully protected symbol of civilization. The Greeks would let only priests make bread — they reasoned that dealing with the ‘staff of life’ was the business of those trained in religious matters. The Romans, a practical-minded people, turned bread baking over to the Civil Service and enforced rigid sanitary regulations. In any case, it has always been an integral part of history.
Pan or dinner rolls, a name given to small pieces of dough, shaped and baked in a pan with their sides touching. This prevents them from flattening out, instead springing upwards.
At our house we love pan buns. For some strange reason, both of us enjoy baked goods when they are very lightly baked rather than dark and crispy. Pan buns usually fit that description.
These PUMPKIN DINNER ROLLS check all the boxes. For Thanksgiving, they’re just a little bit more special as well as being a suitable accompaniment for soups and stews during the fall and winter months. If you like pumpkin, I think you will enjoy them.
In a microwave-safe bowl, heat milk & butter about 45 seconds. Whisk until butter has melted smoothly into the milk; add egg, pumpkin puree & whisk again to combine. Heat again about 15 seconds to warm total mixture. In a large mixing bowl, add remaining dough ingredients along with pumpkin/milk mixture.
Combine & knead dough on a lightly floured surface 5-8 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Grease bowl lightly, place dough in bowl & turn to grease all sides of dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a draft-free place until dough has doubled in bulk.
Spray work surface with baking spray, punch dough down & turn onto surface. Divide dough into 10 equal portions; roll each into a ball. Place dough balls into a sprayed, 9 x 9-inch square pan; cover with plastic wrap & place in a draft-free area until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a small bowl, melt butter & add honey; stir to combine. Before baking, generously brush the rolls with honey butter; reserving any extra to brush on after baking.
Bake 15-17 minutes or until puffed & golden. After removing from oven, brush with any remaining honey butter & allow to cool slightly before serving.
For some extra 'butter' to serve with rolls, whisk together equal parts softened butter & honey until fluffy.
MAKE AHEAD OPTION: Once you have the rolls in the baking pan, cover with foil & place in refrigerator overnight. When ready to bake, bring the rolls to room temperature & allow to rise about 45 minutes before baking.
Germany’s love of poppy seed is no secret, you can find it in everything from sweet to savory foods. For many German and central eastern Europeans, poppy seeds are a symbol of wealth, the tiny seeds representing coins. They figure prominently at Christmas and New Year’s, expressing hoped-for prosperity in the coming year.
Poppy seed cultivation dates back to 1400 BC. Early Egyptians pressed the seed into cooking oil whereas the the ancient Romans mixed them with wine and honey for Olympic athletes or home use. It should be made clear though, that this spice is not narcotic because opium is found in the pod and not in the seed itself. The dried pod loses any of it’s opiate properties long before the seeds are harvested.
‘Mohn Kaffee Rolle’ is considered a nostalgic German Christmas pastry much like Stollen is. One thing for certain, in keeping with true European tradition, poppy seed is added in such large quantities that the dough sometimes looks black.
When I recall my mother’s poppy seed roll, it was never dry. It seemed like a vanilla custard with ‘wall to wall’ poppy seeds in it. There were numerous recipes in her file — cake, roll, twists, cookies, strudel, pudding — everything and anything poppy seed! This recipe seems unique in that it uses a ‘Zwillingsteig’ (zwilling=twin, teig=dough) dough, a rich, moist dough used in the past when making cakes with fresh fruit. The dough is a combination of yeasted and shortcrust dough kneaded together. It seems a little involved but is well worth it in the end. One more special ‘taste of a memory’ before the holiday season is to far behind us.
In a bowl, place all shortcrust ingredients & quickly knead together until well combined. Shape into a disk & set aside. Dough can be made a day ahead, wrapped in plastic wrap & refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before combining with yeast dough.
In a small dish, sprinkle yeast over lukewarm water, add 1 tsp sugar stirring until dissolved. Let stand 5 minutes. Sift flour with 3 Tbsp sugar & salt. Cut in butter with pastry blender. Add lukewarm milk, egg & vanilla to yeast mixture, then gradually add to flour mixture & blend.
Press dough out to about 1 inch thickness & lay disk of shortcrust on top. Knead together by hand until fully combined, about 2 minutes. Shape into a ball & place in a greased bowl. Cover with a tea towel, let raise in a warm, draft free spot for about an hour or until doubled in size.
Poppy Seed Filling
Grind poppy seeds. In a small saucepan, combine poppy seeds, sugar, semolina & salt. Add butter & milk. Place over medium high heat; stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately & set aside to cool. When mixture is lukewarm, stir in egg, vanilla, rum & walnuts. Set aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. When dough has risen, punch down & roll out on a lightly floured surface about 1/4 - 1/2 inch thickness.
Spread with cooled poppy seed filling leaving a 1 inch border on each of the shorter ends. Brush shorter ends with egg wash. Starting from shorter end, roll dough, jelly-roll style, into a tight log. Cut into 2 loaf pan lengths.
With a sharp knife, cut each log of dough in half lengthwise. Carefully twist the two pieces of dough together & place into prepared pans. Brush dough with egg wash, cover with greased plastic wrap & let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 F. When dough has risen, brush again with egg wash & bake about 40 minutes or until golden brown. When loaves have fully cooled, whisk together powdered sugar, water & lemon zest until smooth. Brush glaze over loaves & allow to set before slicing.
Unless you can find freshly ground poppy seeds, it is best to buy the whole seeds, store them in the freezer and grind them right before using. Because of their high oil content, the seeds easily turn rancid.
Good poppy seeds smell slightly 'musty' and have a nutty flavor - not bitter or harsh.
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.
I’ve always enjoyed food history and recreating memories from the past through cooking and baking. I had never realized how much my mother’s cooking was influenced by our German heritage. I guess as one gets older, things that were taken for granted now take on a whole new meaning. Today’s blog features a couple of those very special European treats.
VANILLEKIPFERL or Vanilla Almond Crescent Cookies – Although this little crescent cookie originated in Austria, it has become very traditional in Germany. ‘Vanillin’ became very popular in the early 20th century, after artificial vanilla flavoring was invented. I’ve noticed there are numerous recipes that call for egg yolks in them. My personal preference is to make them without – just a few less calories. ‘Vanilla Sugar’ which is used in many German baked goods can be either bought in the Dr Oetker brand or you can easily make it yourself. If you like the flavor of anise, you may want to try adding some anise seed to the cookie dough and when baked, dust these with ‘Anise Sugar’.
GEVULDE SPECULAAS or Spiced Cookies (Squares) Filled with Almond Paste – You’re right, this is very much a Dutch specialty. Some years ago I had the opportunity to spend a little time in the presence of a Dutch baker. Among the many things I learned at that Dutch bakery was their love of almonds and those unique speculaas spices. In the mid 18th century, the recipe for ‘Spekulatius’ made its way to Germany from Holland and has become another traditional favorite. The origin of the cookie’s name may have derived from the Latin word ‘Spekulum’, signifying ‘mirror image’, which alludes to the wooden mold whose mirror image appears on the cookie.Since I became ‘hooked’ on that ‘speculaas spice’ combination, I like to make a small pan of these very rich and wonderful tasting goodies each Christmas.
In a food processor, place flour & butter & pulse to combine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Place mixture in a large bowl. Add ground almonds, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1 pkg vanilla sugar, salt & extract. Knead dough with your hands in bowl until it comes together, about 5 minutes. Divide dough into four equal pieces, shaping each into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap place in a sealed plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove one ball at a time from refrigerator. Roll into a rope 12 inches in length. Cut into 12 even pieces, rolling each with the palm of your hands to a 3-inch length. Form into a crescent shape & place 2 inches apart on baking sheet. When you have filled the baking sheet, bake for about 12 minutes, just until tips of crescents turn a light golden brown. Using another COLD baking sheet repeat with remaining dough.
Allow cookies to rest on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup powdered sugar remaining package of vanilla sugar. Carefully coat warm cookies in sugar mixture; place on a wire rack to finish cooling. Allow to sit out overnight then transfer to an airtight container for storing or freezing.
In a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt & spices. Add chunks of cold butter & pulse into a smooth dough (you can do this by hand if you prefer). If the dough is too dry. you can add a little milk. Wrap dough in plastic wrap & place in refrigerator for 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Either grease or line a 8 x 8" baking dish with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 F. Divide dough into 2 portions. Roll out each portion on a lightly floured surface, until they are exactly as big as baking pan. Put one layer in pan & press lightly to fill the bottom. Lightly beat egg with a teaspoon of cold water. Spread 1/3 of egg over dough in pan.
Roll out the almond paste between two sheets of plastic wrap, until it is exactly the size of pan. Press the paste lightly down to fit in the pan, and spread the next 1/3 of egg over it. Place the second layer of dough on top of the paste, press it lightly, making it as smooth as possible. Spread the last 1/3 of the egg wash over dough. Decorate the pastry with the almonds.
Bake about 40 minutes or until they test done. Allow speculaas to cool completely in the pan, then cut into the portion size you prefer.
If you would like to make the 'Anise Seed Crescent Cookies' instead of the Vanilla Almond version, use vanilla extract instead of almond & add 1 Tbsp of crushed anise seed to the batter. For the 'Anise Sugar', blend (at a high speed), 1 Tbsp aniseed with 1 cup of granulated sugar until it makes a powder.
Although Gevulde Speculaas are at their best when fresh, I have never heard any complaints after they have been frozen. I always make sure they are wrapped in an airtight way before freezing.
In regards to the 'speculaas spice', I like to make extra so I can use it in anything you would normally use apple or pumpkin pie spice in.