Merry Christmas and a festive Stollen

I can hear the kookaburras calling outside my window and the Torres Strait pigeon in the mango tree as dusk settles here after a hot and humid Christmas eve. It’s not what many would consider typically Christmasy but to us it is.

Today I baked and prepared for our meal tomorrow. Part of it was this delicious stollen, another recipe from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent. Get this amazing cookbook before it is sold out to make all the wonderful recipes.

As my family and I are preparing to attend Christmas eve Mass at our local church, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all the peace and joy of Christmas and the holidays.

Lebkuchen – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #58

Lebkuchen is a spicy German cookie synonymous with Christmas. Soft in the centre and slightly crunchy on the edges, fragrant with spices and sticky molasses. What this cookies lack in looks it makes up for in flavour and like all good things, improves with age!

Lebkuchen adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup molasses
115g/ 1 stick salted butter
30mls/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup castor sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
3 1/4 cup plain flour, sifted
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 teaspoons cocoa powder
pinch salt
1 cup chopped walnuts

 

Icing

1 cup icing sugar
15g/1 tablespoon butter, at room temp
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons water

 

Method

  1. To make the dough stir together in a bowl the buttermilk and soda. It will become bubbly and thick.
  2. Add the honey and molasses and stir to combine. In a bowl of a stand mixer beat the butter until smooth, add the oil, sugar and vanilla.
  3. Beat for 3 -4 minutes until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat in the egg, followed by the molasses and honey mixture. It will look curdled but that’s ok.
  5. Stir in the remaining ingredients. The dough will be thick and slightly wet. At this point it’s a good idea to wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or even a few days to allow the flavours to mature.
    When ready to bake, heat the oven to 180C/350F.
  6. Line baking trays with baking paper.
  7. Use baking paper dusted with flour to roll out the dough. It will be sticky so be liberal with the flour.
  8. Roll the dough to about 1 cm/1/3inch thick.
  9. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters or simply squares with a knife.
  10. Arrange on prepared baking trays allow a little room for spreading.
  11. Bake for 12-13 minutes. Don’t overbake.
    Make the icing as soon as the trays go into the oven, by beating all the ingredients together until a smooth consistency.
  12. Once the cookies are out of the oven and still warm, paint with the icing.
  13. Leave as is or embellish as desired.
  14. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

 

Krumkake – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #57

This week as we race towards Christmas day I find that I’m baking lots of recipes from this wonderful cookbook by Greg Patent. In Montana where Greg lives, the snow is softly falling and the vista is picture perfect. Quite unlike the view outside my window here in North Queensland.  Summer is in full swing with the heat and humidity being quite oppressive. Much of the traditional Christmas foods, designed to warm your guests who have come in from the cold, really don’t suit our climate.

But this crisp, fragrant cookie is perfect in both it’s home in Norway or here in sunny North Queensland or anywhere for that matter. These cookies taste exactly as I had expected – buttery and with a wonderful flavour of vanilla. Eat them as is or fill them with cream, fruit and jam. Traditionally baked on a krumkake iron, I successfully used my pizzelle iron – the pattern is different but the effect is similar. Krumkake are rolled into a cone with a special wooden tool. I used cream horn moulds or you could simply roll around the handle of a wooden spoon.

Krumkake – A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent

3 large eggs
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 cup plain flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
150g/1 1/3 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid

In a stand mixer, beat eggs on high speed until pale and thick. Gradually add the sugar while beating slowly. Increase the speed and beat for 3-4 minutes until thick and pale.
On low speed, mix in the flour, salt and vanilla. Then with a rubber spatula fold in the butter. The mixture will be quite thick. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

When ready, heat your iron (pizzelle or krumkake). This batter was perfect to drop from a spoon – not to thick or thin. If needed, adjust the batter with a little flour or warm water. Use a teaspoon of batter to make each krumkake. Cook until just golden – which only takes about 10-12 seconds. Remove carefully onto a clean teatowel (to protect your hands). Use whatever device you have chosen to roll your krumkake. Work quickly rolling the cookie around the mould. Once it has cooled and become crisp slide it off the mould. Store in an airtight container. They will stay fresh for 2 weeks.

Hazelnut Christmas Cookies – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #56

These unusual hazelnut cookies (or biscuits) are a German specialty called Nussplätzchen which have a thin base topped with mound of hazelnut marzipan. The topping is soft and chewy when first baked but hardens and becomes crunchy in a matter of days. As with much Christmas baking make these ahead because they will keep for a month or more.

I had made these a couple of days ago but today it is quite significant that I post these cookies as we see images and hear of the tragedy at the Christmas markets in Berlin. It seems surreal that we can be celebrating a joyful Christmas while in many parts of the world people are struggling to survive be it because of war, famine or poverty. Our freedom and relative peace in Australia is to be treasured.

Nussplätzchen adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent
makes 60

Cookie base
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
115g/ 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Hazelnut topping
250g/8 ozs ground hazelnuts
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

To make the cookies base, place flour, sugar, cardamom, lemon rind and butter into bowl of food processor. Process until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and process until it just comes together. Turn onto your work surface and shape into a log. With the heel of your hand smear the dough away from you in small intervals. Gather the dough up again and repeat. Press the dough together into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

To make the filling, place egg and egg white into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until slightly thicken. Gradually add the sugar and beat for 5 minutes. Mix in the cinnamon, lemon rind and hazelnut meal. Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

The next day preheat the oven to 180C/350F and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper. Allow the dough to come to room temperature.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 3mm/1/8inch. Cut into small rounds of about 4.5cm/1 3/4 inch. Reroll the dough to make more rounds. You will need 60 rounds. Place rounds onto prepared baking trays

Divide the cold topping into 60 balls and press onto the bases. Bake for about 10-15 minutes until only pale golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Christmas Cake – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #55

Do you like Christmas fruit cake? Fruit cake is very alienating – you either love it or you hate it. Here in Australia, we have had an English baking heritage and that includes fruit cakes. In years gone by it was the only cake to have for a wedding, baptism or at Christmas. Even my Italian mother made a great fruit cake. Mum’s cake began with boiling of dried fruits, butter, sugar and spices which was left to cool before adding the flour, eggs and rum. I loved that smell of cooking fruits and spices and still do. Fruit cakes have lost favour in recent years but I still enjoy really good fruit cake moist with fruit that has been plumped in dark rum.

This Welsh Christmas cake from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent, is a very traditional fruit cake. My version includes stem ginger in syrup and dark Jamaican rum to soak the fruits. Baking it in a ring pan ensures even baking and it doesn’t dry out on the edges in an effort to cook the centre. Fruit cake is not meant to be served in fat wedges rather a thin sliver with a little liqueur on the side is perfect, almost like a spoon sweet. Do try it any time of the year!

Welsh Christmas Cake adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent

280g/10oz currants
340g/12oz sultanas or golden raisins
280g/10oz dark raisins
1 cup dark Jamaican rum

Soak the dried fruit in the rum for about a week until all the rum is absorbed.
1 cup glace cherries
1/2 cup diced candied lemon peel
1/2 cup diced stem ginger in syrup
3/4 cup blanched almonds, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup plain flour

After a week, mix the cherries, lemon peel, ginger almonds and flour together with the dried soaked fruit.

Now prepare the cake:
fine dry breadcrumbs for the pan
2 cups plain flour
pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup almond meal
250g/ 2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
5 large eggs
1/4 cup dark Jamaican rum, a little extra to spoon over the cake
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Prepare a large angel food pan by coating with cooking spray and dusting with dried breadcrumbs. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F. Sift the flour, salt and spices and set aside.
In a stand mixer beat the butter until smooth, add the sugar and then the syrup. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well beating additions and scraping the bowl when necessary. Add in the rum and extracts. On low speed mix in the flour mixture and almonds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the fruits and almond mixture. Stir until well combined. Spoon into the prepared pan, taping the pan down on the kitchen bench to ensure there are no air pockets. Bake the cake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until a skewer inserted comes out clean. My cake was cooked at 2 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven. I like to give the cake a little drink at this stage by spooning over a couple of tablespoons of rum while the cake is still warm. To keep the cake moist I like to wrap it in a clean cloth to cool slowly. When the cake is cool wrap in plastic wrap and keep in an airtight container. This cake will keep well but can be portioned and stored in the freezer.

Pumpkin Empanadas for Thanksgiving – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #54

Baking is like a journey, isn’t it?
You are at the wheel and you can steer it in any direction you choose. That’s the best part.
It can be a trip to your favourite place, taken in luxury and comfort or it can be an adventure, taking the back roads and visiting the unknown and the unfamiliar.
For me, this recipe was the latter. And I didn’t think I would like this adventure very much at all!
In sunny North Queenland we are enjoying a glut of gorgeous yellow pumpkins. There are pumpkin soups, pumpkin scones and pumpkin cakes. But this is not the land of pumpkin pies and empanadas. So this journey was approached with just a tad of trepidation.
Guess what? These empanadas are delicious!
Here’s the recipe adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent.
Happy Thanksgiving to my US friends! 
Pumpkin Empanadas (adapted  from“A Baker’s Odyssey” by Greg Patent)
Makes 20 pastries (or more depending on the size)
Filling: can be made the day before
1kg Jap pumpkin or pumpkin of your choice
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
Dough:
3 cups plain flour, plus more as needed
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
170g  butter
1/4 cup castor sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 large egg
1/2 cup warm milk
milk for brushing and raw sugar for sprinkling
Make the filling:
Cut the (unpeeled) pumpkin into large chunks, remove the seeds and fibres. Place in a microwave safe bow,l add a little water, cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave for 10 minutes or until tender. Remove from the microwave and allow to cool a little. Or steam if that’s what you prefer.
Remove the skin.. Place the pumpkin to a pot and add the cinnamon stick and sprinkle on the brown sugar and add the salt. Set the pot over a medium heat. Stir to combine, the pumpkin will break up. Allow to come to a simmer. Stir occasionally and cook for 20-30 minutes until the the mixture is thick and the liquid has almost completely absorbed.
Remove from heat and discard the cinnamon stick. Add the vanilla, cinnamon and cloves.  Puree in a food processor or with a stick blender. Let it cool completely.
Make the dough
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
With a electric mixer (or by hand if you like) beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, less than a minute. Add the sugar, cinnamon and cloves and beat well.
Add the egg and beat for a minute.On low speed mix in the flour in 3 additions alternating with the milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour. Mix only until just combined.
If the dough is too dry add a little more milk or if too sticky add a little more flour. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest 30 minutes to an hour.
Heat the oven to 190C/375F
Prepare a couple of large baking trays by lining with baking paper.
The recipe suggests dividing the dough into 20 pieces and making 5 inch circles. I thought this would be too large so I made smaller circles of about 3 1/2 inch circles. 
Roll out the dough and cut circles of your choice. There is no need to flour the surface unless the dough is particularly sticky.
Place a little of the filling on each circle of dough slightly off center, then fold dough over and press edges with tines of a fork.

 Transfer to baking sheet, spacing a little apart. Once all the empanadas are on the sheets, brush each one with milk and make a slit with a knife in the tops.

Bake until deep golden brown. My smaller ones took only 30 minutes but larger ones could take 40-45 minutes.
Cool a little on baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

Spiced Bread Rolls – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #53

What could smell better than baking bread?
Baking spiced bread.
This bread has the most amazing combination of exotic spices. Mahlab a spice made from the kernels within the seeds of  the St Lucie cherry.  I bought mine online at Gewurzhaus Herb and Spice Merchants. This is a wonderful store in Melbourne can not be passed by. The scent of spices drifts up and down the street luring customers in. I dare you to try to walk past and not be enticed into the store. Go in, it’s worth it!
 And so are these rolls. Not just any dinner rolls. These bread rolls are a traditional Syrian bread roll. Gorgeous and alluring just like Gewurzhaus Herb and Spice store!
Kleecha (adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent)
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons freshly ground mahlab seeds
1 1/4 cups warm water
115g salted butter
1/3 cup olive oil
5 cups bread flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons nigella seeds
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons anise seeds
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
In a small bowl mix the yeast, mahlab and 1/4 cup of the water. Allow to stand for 10 minutes in which time it will start to froth. While your waiting melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add in the oil. The mixture should be warm not hot. Check it with a thermometre, it should be 50C/120F. Remove the pan from the heat.
To prepare the dough I prefer a stand mixer but the dough can also be mix by hand. In a stand mixer bowl place flour, sugar, nigella, sesame and anise seeds and the cloves, nutmeg and salt. Add the yeast mixture, the butter mixture and the remaining cup of water. Using the dough hook, knead on a medium-low speed for 5 -8 minutes. Scrape down the sides if ingredients get stuck. The dough should be smooth but not sticky. Add more flour or water to get the correct consistency. 
Form the dough into a ball and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to rise until tripled in size – about 2 hours.

Once risen, turn out the dough on a work surface. Pat the dough down and divide into 18 equal portions. Allow to rest for 10 minutes cover with a clean cloth.

Prepare a large baking sheet or two smaller pans by lining with baking paper. Roll each portion  20cm/8inch long rope then form into a knot.Brush with the egg wash and leave the rolls to rise for another 45 minutes.
In the meantime preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Bake risen rolls for about 20 minutes.

Delicious warm or a room temperature with a good dose of butter!
Any leftovers freeze beautifully.

Buttermilk Cardamom Waffles – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #52

Want a great breakfast on Sunday morning without too much bother? Dust off your waffle irons, everyone! This is one not to miss!
These waffles are light with buttermilk, perfumed with cardamom and taste heavenly!
All it takes is a bowl and a whisk. Not madly beating egg whites to stiff peaks or waiting around for the batter to take a “rest”. Just get straight into it and share them with someone who will thank you for it!
Happy weekend!

Buttermilk Cardamom Waffles – A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent

2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
4 large eggs
2 cup buttermilk
60g unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the waffle iron

On a sheet of baking paper sift flour, baking soda, salt, castor sugar and cardamom. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and  buttermilk. Pick up the paper on top opposite sides, pour into the egg mixture and whisk gently until just combined. Fold in the melted butter. Like muffins, don’t over mix!
Follow the instructions for your waffle iron to make the waffles.

It might take a couple of times to get the correct amount of mixture for each waffle –  it did for me.

Stack up your waffles and bring them to the table with your choice of toppings. 

These Norwegian waffles are traditionally topped with sour cream and fruit or jam. Nothing wrong with icecream and syrup, though!

Chinese Almond Cookies – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #51

It’s been a while that I have notice some different products lining the supermarket shelves. I mean, all the coconut things….sugar, oil and flour. And then in the health food section… chai, cacao nibs and cacao powder. And then off to the tetra pack milks…well, that’s another post! Baking has defiantly taken on a whole new spectrum.

 I saw a post recently on facebook from a friend of mine who photographed her grandchildren “enjoying Acai bowls for morning tea”. Really? Apparently the kids love them. Who knew? What happened to a biscuit and milk for morning tea? I really must be living under a rock.

I wonder if  in 50 years time they’ll be talking about the strange trends back in the early part of the century or if baking will completely change and traditional baking will be for the historians.

These cookies are a traditional Chinese cookie though the Chinese restaurants in my area never served anything like this. The wonderful thing about traditional baking is that it simply took basic ingredients of flour, eggs, butter and sugar and mixed them with local ingredients and a unique recipe was created. And while these cookies look awfully (or should I say, “suspiciously”)like the Syrupy  Almond Cookies in a recent post they are quite a different thing all together.

Now it’s time for the trendy bakers to look away…the original recipe called for 100% lard. Eeek! Ok, so I substituted butter for most of the lard. But do put the lard in (or if you are brave, use all lard)…the texture is amazing!

Dare I say… Long Live Traditional Baking!

Chinese Almond Cookies – adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent
Makes 36

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
180g butter, slightly softened
70g lard, cold
1 cup castor (fine) sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons almond extract
36 whole almonds
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat oven to 180C/350F and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt
Beat the butter and lard together until smooth and well combined. Add the sugar and beat well until creamy. Beat in the egg and almond extract. Gradually mix in the flour mixture until well combined. The dough should be soft but not sticky.
Turn the dough out and divide into 3 equal portions. Roll into logs 30cm/12inches long. Cut each log into 12 pieces, 2.5cm /1inch long. You should have 36 equal portions. Failing all of that just pinch off pieces of dough to make 36 cookies. Roll dough into balls and position on baking trays. Flatten each slightly and press an almond into the centre of each cookie.

Brush with egg wash and bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until golden in colour.

Remove from trays and cool on wire racks.

Store in an airtight container.  Apparently the cookies will last for 1 or 2 weeks but they didn’t make it that long in our house!

Syrupy Almond Cookies – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #50

Is your bake ware shiny and new? Or do you have old pieces that have been with you or your family for years? Can you imagine if bake ware could talk and tell it’s story and what it has seen. It’s sad to see beautiful baking tins, old spoons or crockery abandoned at the local op shop. These were once treasured pieces that were used over and over, now no longer of use to the new owners who may not bake or cook or maybe simple can’t fit anymore inherited pieces into their cupboards. So different to days gone by when the woman of the house “made do” with only a couple of pieces to bake, roast and cook.
I am guilty as charged of having waaaay to much “stuff” but can’t resist a new  preloved piece of bake ware. “It’s useful” I convince myself. Time to declutter. But then I drag out an old baking tray and I love the way it looks full of syrupy cookies.
This recipe comes from my friend, Greg Patent and his great cook book A Baker’s Odyssey. I know you will enjoy it.

Syrupy Almond Cookies ( A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent)

Syrup
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Dough
1 3/4 cup plain flour plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
113g/4oz butter, unsalted
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons yoghurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 whole almonds

Make the syrup by combining sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Allow to cool and then refrigerate until very cold.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a bowl beat butter until smooth and creamy. I used a stand mixer but beating with a wooden spoon is fine. Beat in the sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and egg yolk followed by the yoghurt and vanilla. If the mixture looks curdled that’s not a problem. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients.
Divide the dough into 16 equal portions.

Roll into balls and arrange on baking trays. Flatten slightly and press an almond into the centre. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.

As soon as they come out of the oven transfer the cookies baking dish with high sides to catch the syrup. Immediately pour the cold syrup onto the hot cookies.  After 5 minutes turn the cookies over and then again a few more times. I never got all the syrup to absorb into the cookies but maybe the cookies were a little overbaked.

Store the cookies in a sealed container in the refrigerator and they will continue to absorb the syrup and develop flavour. Enjoy with a strong espresso!