Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christmas Stollen - Weihnachtsstollen

This classic sugar-dusted seasonal German fruit cake is also known around the world as „Christmas Stollen“ ("Weihnachtsstollen"), or simply „Stollen“. The distinct shape of this baked, sweet delight is said to represent the Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothing.

Stollen was invented in the City of Dresden, and nowadays is the subject of an annual festival in its honor, the so-called „Stollenfest“. Each year the stollen is paraded through the market square, then sliced and sold to the public, with the proceeds supporting local charities. This candied fruit peel-studded cake has been around since 1474 and was originally known as “Striezel” which referred to a braided shape. The Stollen actually started life as a very different confection. During its long history, it has been transformed from a simple oat bread consisting only of flour, oats and water, to a rich, buttery loaf. The dough itself only became enriched with butter in 1647, when Pope Innocent VIII gave his official permission to include butter and milk in the recipe during the Advent season, then a time of fasting.

Dresdner Christstollen” is said to be the most famous and oldest stollen. It is a yeast bread or rather cake with lots of raisins, currants, candied lemon and orange peel, and with those most Christmassy of spices, namely cinnamon, anise, coriander, cloves, allspice and cardamom. The commercial production of Dresden stollen is carefully licensed and regulated to ensure quality and authenticity.

Nowadays, there are several other variations of Stollen, some have a yeast dough others do not. There are Stollen like „Poppy Seed Stollen“ (Mohnstollen), „Nut Stollen“ (Nußstollen), „Marzipan Stollen“ (Marzipanstollen), and „Quark Stollen“ (Quarkstollen) made with fresh quark, also known as „curd cheese“. In fact, there are probably as many recipes for stollen as there are (home) bakers.

Having baked Christmas Stollen for many years now, some with yeast, others without, I am now very partial to a Stollen that has no yeast in, like this recipe. It is easy to put together, bakes up beautifully and is prepared with curd cheese (quark) instead of yeast. But I will caution you, if you are expecting a dough that is light, this certainly isn´t it. With lots of dried fruit and nuts (and candied fruit peel if you use it), this is a rather dense dough that bakes up into a wonderfully rich cake, best enjoyed in the afternoon or for breakfast with a nice big cup of coffee or tea. You can enjoy a big slice on its own, or slather it with some good butter and your favorite jam or honey.

Before you get started baking, you should remember that your dried fruit (such as raisins, sultanas or currants) need to soak in a lovely bath of rum, brandy, or hot apple juice for a full day before you bake the Stollen.

It is also good to know before planning your Christmas baking that once the Stollen has cooled, it will keep for a few weeks if you wrap it well, otherwise it will dry out. For storage, it has to be kept in a dry and rather cool place.

One more thing to remember before you get started, around here, Stollen are usually baked in a special Stollen baking pan that you can order online but you could also use a bread baking pan or shape the dough by hand to imitate the shape.

I have made a few adjustments to the original recipe and the resulting confection is moister, with even more dried fruit and nuts than before.

Recipe for Christmas Stollen (Quarkstollen)
Inspired by a recipe from Stevan Paul

  • 250 grams dried sultanas
  • 50 ml to 100 ml dark rum, brandy or apple juice (enough to cover and soak the sultanas)
  • 500 grams AP (plain) flour (you can also use white spelt flour here)
  • 2 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 150 grams super fine white baking sugar
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla sugar
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1-3 tsps Stollen Spice Mix*(according to your personal taste)
  • 200 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 250 grams, curd cheese also called "quark", room temperature (fat reduced)
  • finely grated zest from one organic orange
  • 2 eggs (M), free range or organic
  • 100 grams golden raisins (you can use diced candied lemon peel instead)
  • 100 grams chopped almonds (you can use diced candied orange peel instead)
  • some unsalted melted butter for brushing the warm baked caked (as needed, about 50 grams)
  • a generous amount of powdered sugar to dust the cake (as needed, about 25 grams)
*If you cannot find Stollen Spice Mix at a store or online, you can make your own, following the recipe below.

  1. Warm the rum or juice. Soak the sultanas/raisins/currants either in the rum, brandy or the apple juice and let sit at room temperature, overnight.
  2. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (375 degrees Fahrenheit).
  3. Prepare a baking sheet, cover with parchment paper (baking parchment) or use a Silpat non-stick baking mat to line your baking sheet. NOTE: If you are using a specialty Stollen baking pan, brush with melted butter, dust with flour, tap out excess flour and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, vanilla sugar, salt and spice mix.
  5. In the bowl of a standing mixer or in a large bowl of your mixer, beat together the butter, curd cheese, and orange zest until smooth, then beat in the egg.
  6. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.
  7. Stir in the golden raisins (or candied fruit peel if using) and the chopped almonds.
  8. Shape the dough in a roughly oval form, fold dough in half lengthwise and place it on the prepared baking sheet. OR: using a Stollen baking pan, place the dough in the pan and press it in, then place the filled baking pan on the prepared baking sheet, making sure, you place it "upside down".
  9. Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until golden on top. Transfer to a cooling rack.
  10. While still warm brush generously with melted butter and dust very liberally with powdered sugar. You can repeat this step to create a generous white coating. Let cool.
NOTE 1: Stollen should set for at least one day before serving.
NOTE 2: If wrapped really well, the Stollen will keep for about two weeks in a cool, dry place.

Stollen Spice Mix (Stollengewürz-Mischung)
(feel free to double or triple  the quantities, as needed)

Ingredients for the Spice Mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I always use "Ceylon" cinnamon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/16 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/16 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preparation of the Stollen Spice Mix
  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. 
  2. Store in airtight container, such as a spice jar.
  3. Use this mixture in recipes that call for Stollen Spice Mix.

If you have not tasted Stollen before, trust me, you will be in for a treat. Why not start a new tradition this season and bake this classic German Christmas loaf known as Stollen, a spirited, spiced (use the fresh, warm spices listed above), sugar-topped confection, packed with almonds, dried fruit (raisins or sultanas are a given here), and candied citrus peel (an option).

If you would like to add Marzipan (almond paste), you can do so by using about 150 grams, all rolled up and enclosed in the middle of the dough.

It is also good to remember that Stollen keeps rather well, which lends itself to both local and national distribution – think of your neighbours, friends and family and send them some.

As you can glimpse from the pictures above, I prepared my Burnt Sugar Almonds (recipe can be found here), Dutch Pepernoten (recipe to follow in a few days), and Stollen, for a Christmas Charity Bake Sale on the weekend. I filled seasonal, labelled cellophane bags with the Almonds, cut the Stollen into thick slices and placed the cookies together with Dutch tea bags in Christmas themed mugs - all sold out at the end of the afternoon - so, go ahead and make some goodies this season, give some away and keep some for yourself!


* non-stick stollen baking pan can be ordered in the US here
* stollen baking tins can be ordered in the UK here

Friday, November 21, 2014

FFwD - Storzapreti (Corsican Spinach Gnocchi)

Today´s recipe for the French Fridays with Dorie group is „Storzapretis (Corsican Spinach Gnocchi)“ – a wonderful dish of end of week comfort - and certainly worth making.

Gnocchi are small Italian dumplings usually made from potato, flour (traditionally buckwheat flour) and egg and shaped into small ovals with a ridged pattern on one side. They can also be made from semolina flour, as they are in Rome. Or, as in this recipe, they can be prepared with fresh ricotta or brocciu (a cheese produced from ewe's milk on the island of Corsica, where it is considered a national food). Gnocchi are often poached and then cooked au gratin (with grated cheese) in the oven and served as a hot starter. They are served in a similar way to pasta often with a cheese- or tomato-based sauce and freshly grated parmesan. They can also be added to soups, stews and casseroles.

Dorie´s recipe for the Storzapreti is a two-step process. I started with the preparation of the spinach gnocchi. You will be required to follow the recipe rather closely. Cook the spinach, drain very well and chop finely. Then add the brocciu or ricotta, an egg, grated cheese (I used Parmigiano Reggiano), mint or majoram (I used fresh basil and Italian parsley instead), a bit of flour, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Using two tablespoons, you will form quenelle, freeze them for a good thirty minutes. While the gnocchis get the cold treatment, it is a good time to make the fresh tomato sauce – I just prepared my very favorite recipe with previously oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, black olives, capers, a bit of garlic and more fresh basil – I reduced it quiet a bit until it had a nice, thick consistency.

Carefully cook the gnocchi in barely simmering, salted water, drain, add the tomato sauce to an oven-proof dish, layer the gnocchi in or on the sauce, add some more cheese on top, pop in the oven, bake for a bit and serve piping hot.

Whimsical pasta shapes such as these Corsican gnocchi invite inspiration in the kitchen and are just plain fun to eat. That´s at least what my taste testers thought – our kids absolutely adored them.

To see how much the other members of the French Fridays with Dorie group enjoyed this recipe, please go here.

For copyright reasons, we do not publish the recipes from the book. But you can find the recipe for the "Storzapreti (Corsican Spinach Gnocchi)" on pages 376-377 in Dorie Greenspan´s cookbook "Around my French Table".

Friday, November 14, 2014

FFwD - Pan-seared Duck Breasts with Kumquats

Today´s recipe for the French Fridays with Dorie group is „Pan-seared Duck Breasts with Kumquats“ – a restaurant-quality dish made using wonderful ingredients.

Dorie´s recipe is based on the famous French classic „Duck à l´orange“ – but her recipe replaces whole duck with Muscovy duck breasts and the syrupy orange glaze with a red-wine sauce and tart-sweet candied kumquats.

Kumquats are also called „Chinese oranges“ (although mine hailed all the way from South Africa). They are the smallest of the common citrus fruit. In contrast to other fruit from this group, the skin and zest are sweet, while the juicy insides are tart with a hint of bitterness. As they are a  winter treat, they were a bit hard to track down around here. Kumquats can be eaten whole, just as they are or cooked with sugar, spices or spirits to make sweet compôtes and aromatic chutneys.

This recipe is done in three steps. First up you have to candy the kumquats in sugar syrup. Then it is onto the sauce made of a fruity red wine, balsamic vinegar, chopped shallots, crushed black peppercorns and coriander seeds, freshly squeezed orange juice, homemade chicken broth and a few tablespoons of that lovely kumquat syrup. The third and last step is the preparation of the duck breasts.

To prepare the duck breats, using a sharp knife, slash the fat of the duck breasts in a criss-cross, cutting almost through to the flesh. Season with salt and pepper. Then heat a Dutch oven or a heavy-based frying pan, until you can feel a gentle heat, then place the duck breasts, skin-side down. Cook for eight minutes on a low to medium heat until the fat begins to melt. Spoon over the duck and season some more. When the skin begins to brown and crisp, spoon out the excess fat (there will be lots of it) to save for frying shoestring potatoes. Flip over the breasts and cook for another three minutes on the flesh side. This will give you medium-rare duck. Remove from the heat, cover with foil, place in the oven and allow to stand for five minutes,  then slice diagonally.

Divide duck breast slices among the plates. Drizzle duck with red wine sauce, garnish with candied kumquats, sprinkle with crushed peppercorns, and serve with some seasonal lambs lettuce and delectable shoestring fries made with the duck fat that you saved earlier.

This recipe is truly amazing. The sauce is dependent on a good-quality wine and the candied kumquats were delicious and easy to make. Really an elegant dish with a well balanced red wine sauce and sweet-tart candied kumquats, that both complement the duck very well. This recipe is definitely a keeper and the flavors are so appropriate for the season.

To see how much the other members of the French Fridays with Dorie group enjoyed this recipe, please go here.

For copyright reasons, we do not publish the recipes from the book. But you can find the recipe for the “ Pan-seared Duck Breasts with Kumquats“ on pages 232- 233 in Dorie Greenspan´s cookbook "Around my French Table".

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Saint Martin´s Day & Sweet Dough Men - Sankt Martin & Weckmänner

Today, on November 11th, Germans celebrate St. Martin's Day (“Martinstag”) also known as the "Feast of St. Martin of Tours". It is a special day that is particularly popular with children. 
Heute am 11. November feiert man in Deutschland Sankt Martin, auch bekannt als das "Fest des Sankt Martin von Tours". Für Kinder ist dies ein ganz besonderer Tag. 

St. Martin was born in 316 or 317 and started out as a Roman soldier, he was baptized as an adult, became a monk and was named Bishop of Tours on July 4th, 372. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life.

The most famous legend of his life is that one cold winter day, during a snowstorm, he was riding through the country when a shivering beggar came his way. Since he had neither food nor money, St. Martin cut his wollen cloak in half with his sword to share it with the freezing beggar. It is said that he thus saved the beggar from a certain death. 
Sankt Martin wurde 316 oder 317 geboren. Er wurde zunächst römischer Soldat, dann wurde er als Erwachsener getauft, wurde Mönch und am 4. Juli 372 dann Bischof von Tours. Es wird davon ausgegangen, dass er ein guter Mensch war, der ein ruhiges und einfaches Leben führte. Die berühmteste Legende seines Lebens ist, dass er an einem besonders kalten Wintertag, während eines Schneesturm über Land ritt, als er auf einen frierenden Bettler traf. Da er weder Essen noch Geld hatte bei sich hatte, teilte Sankt Martin seinen Umhang mit seinem Schwert und gab die eine Hälfte dem Bettler damit der nicht mehr frieren sollte. Es wird gesagt, dass er damit dem Bettler das Leben rettete.

Every year, St. Martin´s Day is celebrated to commemorate the day of his burial on  November 11th, 397.

In some parts of the Netherlands, in a small part of Belgium, and in some areas of Germany and Austria, children walk in St. Martin´s processions through the villages and cities. They carry colorful St. Martin´s  paper lanterns and sing St. Martin´s songs. Usually, the procession starts at a church and ends at a public square. The lantern processions are aften accompanied by an actor impersonating the Saint. He is on horseback dressed like a Roman soldier and wrapped in a red woolen cloak. When the procession reaches the town square, a St. Martin’s bonfire is lit and in some parts of Germany, such as the Rhineland (where we live) and the Ruhr area, Sweet Dough Men ("Weckmänner") are distributed to the children.
Jedes Jahr wird Sankt Martin gefeiert, um dem Tag seiner Beerdigung am 11. November 397 zu gedenken.

In einigen Teilen der Niederlande, in einem kleinen Teil Belgiens und in einigen Gebieten Deutschlands und Österreichs gehen Kinder in Martinszügen durch die Dörfer und Städte. Sie tragen bunte Martinslaternen und singen Martinslieder. In der Regel beginnt der Martinszug an einer Kirche und endet am Marktplatz. Die Martinszüge werden oft von einem Reiter begleitet, der als römischer Soldat verkleidet, Sankt Martin darstellt. Desweiteren begleiten meist auch einige Musikgruppen die Martinszüge. Am Ziel des Martinszugs wird ein Martinsfeuer entfacht und im Ruhrgebiet und im Rheinland (da wo wir leben) werden frisch gebackene Weckmänner an die Kinder verteilt.

The tradition of the mostly handcrafted paper lanterns goes back to former times, when people lit candles to honor their saints and when lanterns were put up everywhere in town when a bishop dropped by for a visit.
Die Tradition der Laternen geht zurück auf frühere Zeiten, als Menschen Kerzen anzündeten, um ihre Heiligen zu ehren und Laternen überall in der Stadt aufgestellt wurden wenn ein Bischof zu Besuch kam.

The custom of lighting a St. Martin´s bonfire after the lantern procession represents the beginning of festivities. In former times, most of the work on the fields had been completed and now it was time to celebrate, drink and eat. Traditionally, a fat goose and sweet bread treats were served.

Today, in the days and weeks leading up to the feast of St. Martin, children craft their own St. Martin´s lanterns in school or in kindergarten.

On the day of the celebrations, after participating in one of the numerous lantern procession´s, the children go door to door singing St. Martin´s songs in exchange for sweets or other small treats. Singing in exchange for candies is called "schnörzen" around here in the Rhineland.
Der Brauch des Martinfeuers am Ende des Martinszug symbolisiert den Beginn der Festlichkeiten. In früheren Zeiten war um diese Zeit die meiste Arbeit auf den Feldern war getan, und nun war es Zeit zu feiern, zu trinken und zu essen. Traditionell wurden eine fette Gans (Martinsgans) und süßes Brot serviert.

Heute, in den Tagen und Wochen vor dem Sankt Martinsfest, basteln die Kinder ihre eigenen Martinslaternen in der Schule oder im Kindergarten.

Am Tag der Feierlichkeiten gehen die Kinder nach dem Martinszug von Tür zu Tür und singen Martinslieder – sie werden mit Süßigkeiten oder anderen Kleinigkeiten belohnt. Hier im Rheinland nennen wir das "schnörzen". 

As mentioned above, to conclude the celebrations of St. Martin´s Day, the traditional treat that is given to the children after the St. Martin´s Day procession, are pastries called “Weckmänner”, baked goods in the shape of a man holding a clay pipe.

Every year, I also bake a few of these "Sweet Dough Man"(for a lack of a better translation) for family and friends.
Wie oben erwähnt, ist es nach dem Martinszug  mmer noch Tradition, dass alle Kinder, die mit dem Martinszug gegangen sind, einen Weckmann bekommen.Allerdings ist der Weckmann ursprünglich  ein Gebäck, das den Bischof Nikolaus von Myra darstellt.

Auch ich lasse es mir nicht nehmen und backe jedes Jahr zu Sankt Martin einige "Weckmänner" für Familie und Freunde.

To this day, the clay pipe that each sweet dough man carries, symbolizes an episcopal crozier, in memory of St. Martin the Bishop.
Die Tonpfeife, die die Weckmänner ziert symbolisiert einen umgedrehten Bischofsstab, in Erinnerung an St. Martin den Bischof.

The clay pipes that I always use were handcrafted in Germany and have become somewhat of a collector´s item.
Die Tonpfeifen, die ich immer benutze, werden in Deutschland handgefertigt und über die Jahre haben sich da schon einige angesammelt.

Today, on St. Martin´s Day,  we will be watching the St. Martin´s procession along our street, right in front of our house. We will decorate the front yard with lots of colorful lanterns. And after the procession, the children will carry their candle-lit lanterns from house to house in our neighbourhood singing St. Martin´s songs, receiving sweets and other little treats. We will be waiting for them with baskets full of sweets, apples and clementines.

 The festivities in memory of St. Martin bear some resemblance to Halloween that was celebrated in many parts of the world just eleven days ago. 
Heute geht ein Martinszug direkt in unsere Strasse. Wir werden den Vorgarten mit vielen bunten Laternen schmücken. Und nach dem Zug werden die Kinder in unserer Nachbarschaft mit ihren handgefertigten Martinslaternen von Haus zu Haus gehen,  Martinslieder singen, und dann Süßigkeiten oder andere Kleinigkeiten bekommen.Wir werden auf die Kinder mit Süßigkeiten, Äpfel und Clementinen warten

 Die Feierlichkeiten zu Ehren von St. Martin ähneln denen zu Halloween, das in vielen Teilen der Welt vor elf Tagen gefeiert wurde.

Sweet Dough Men
(makes six)

Ingredients for the Yeast Dough 
  • 500 grams strong flour
  • 42 grams of fresh yeast 
  • 80 grams fine (caster) sugar
  • 180 ml lukewarm milk
  • 60 grams unsalted butter 
  • 3 egg yolks (L), free-range or organic 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla sugar 
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest (organic)
  • one pinch fine sea salt
(für sechs Stück)

Zutaten für den Hefeteig
  • 500 Gramm Mehl (Type “550”)
  • 42 Gramm frische Hefe
  • 80 Gramm feinster Zucker
  • 180 ml lauwarme Milch
  • 100 Gramm Butter, geschmolzen
  • 3 Eigelbe (L), Freiland oder Bio 
  • 1 ½ TL Bourbon Vanillezucker
  • 1 TL geriebene Zitronenschale (Bio)
  • eine Prise feines Meersalz

Ingredients for the Topping
  • 1 egg yolk (L), free-range or organic 
  • 2 tbsp.milk
  • a few raisins for the eyes, mouth and buttons
  • clay pipes * OR small lollipops 

Special Equipment needed
  • 2 baking sheets
  • baking parchment
  • soft brush
Zutaten für den Belag
  • 1 Eigelb (L), Freiland oder Bio
  • 2 TL Milch
  • ein paar Rosinen für Augen, Mund und Knöpfe
  • Tonpfeifen oder kleine Lutscher

  • 2 Backbleche
  • Backpapier
  • Backpinsel

Preparation of the Yeast Dough
  1. Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the center of the flour.
  2. Then add the fresh yeast to the warm milk together with the sugar, stir to dissolve, pour the yeast mixture into the well, cover with some of the flour.
  3. Cover the bowl and leave the starter to rise for about 10 minutes.
  4. Then add the butter, egg yolks, pure vanilla sugar, lemon zest and salt to the flour mixture. Mix all the ingredients together and knead well.
  5. Cover again, leave the dough to rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead. Return the dough to the bowl.
  7. Cover the dough and let rise again until it has doubled in volume, about 40 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
  9. Knead the dough and divide into 6 pieces to form into gingerbread men shaped "Weckmänner".
  10. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
  11. Place the pastries onto the prepared baking sheets, cover and leave to rise again for 10 minutes.
  12. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk with the 2 tbsp. milk.
  13. Brush the pastries with the egg wash and decorate with raisins for the eyes, mouths and buttons. Add clay pipes (if using).
  14. Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes until deep golden. Let cool on racks.*NOTE: unfortunately I am unable to locate a U.S. source for the clay pipes. Please let me know of a source if you know one.
Zubereitung des Hefeteigs
  1. Das Mehl in eine Schüssel geben, in die Mitte eine Vertiefung drücken.
  2. Die Hefe und den Zucker in der warmen Milch auflösen, in die Mulde gießen und mit Mehl vom Rand bestreuen.
  3. Zugedeckt an einem warmen Ort 10 Minuten gehen lassen.
  4. Butter, Eigelbe, Vanillezucker, Zitronenschale und Salz zum Mehl geben und alles zu einem glatten Teig verarbeiten.
  5. Zugedeckt an einem warmen Ort zirka 30 Minuten gehen lassen.
  6. Dann mit den Händen auf der leicht bemehlten Arbeitsfläche gut durchkneten. Den Teig wieder in die Schüssel geben.
  7. Zugedeckt weitere 40 Minuten gehen lassen, bis sich der Teig verdoppelt hat.
  8. Den Backofen auf 190 Grad Celsius vorheizen.
  9. Den Teig zusammenkneten, in 6 Portionen teilen und Weckmänner formen.
  10. Zwei Backbleche mit Backpapier auslegen.
  11. Die Weckmänner auf die vorbereiteten Backbleche legen und zugedeckt noch einmal 10 Minuten gehen lassen.
  12. In einer kleinen Schüssel das Eigelb mit den 2 EL Milch verquirlen.
  13. Die gegangenen Weckmänner damit bestreichen und mit den Rosinen Augen, Mund und Knöpfe eindrücken. Tonpfeifen auflegen.
  14. Die Weckmänner für zirka 20 Minuten backen.Vom Blech nehmen und auf einem Gitter abkühlen. 

Have a wonderful St. Martin´s Day today!
Viel Spaß beim Martinsfest heute!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

FFwD: Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Parsley Coulis

Today´s recipe for the French Fridays with Dorie group is „Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Parsley Coulis“, an elegant soup with velvety texture and creamy flavor, just perfect for late autumn.

For the Jerusalem Artichoke Soup, melt the butter in a large Dutch oven, add the onions, celery, leek and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for about ten minutes. Add the cubed Jerusalem artichoke, then some more pepper and salt and cook for another fifteen minutes. To the vegetables, add the hot homemade chicken or vegetable stock to the pot, cover with a lid and cook for another thirty minutes. Pour the mixture into a blender and blitz until smooth.

Serve the soup while good and hot and garnish with toppings of choice such as Dorie`s Parsley Coulis, simply made of fresh parsley leaves, extra-virgin olive oil, a good grinding of black pepper and some sea salt. Instead of putting a spoonful of cream in the center of each soup plate, a added a bit of cream to the soup before serving.

To add a bit of a seasonal touch and to add another flavor component to this recipe, I chose to prepare some oven-baked Pear Crisps with Maple Syrup that I served alongside the soup.

I loved that I got to use those fragrant local pears from a farm nearby with that incredibly charming name „Vereins-Dechantsbirne“ (also called „Doyenné du Comice“ in French, this autum pear variety hails originally from France where it was first discovered in 1850). Nothing like using local and seasonal fruits and veg for our dishes.

Dorie´s no-fuss soup recipe is surprisingly elegant and was received very favorably by my devoted taste testers. Because the vegetables are very slowly cooked, this soup has lots of lovely flavors.

We really enjoyed the rich and earthy creaminess of the Jerusalem Artichoke Soup together with the fresh and bright taste of the Parsley Coulis. This velvety soup definitely makes a nourishing autumn meal, especially when topped with coulis. Besides, the coulis adds a nice visual element to the soup plate. And the wonderfully crisp and sweet Pear Chips are a delicious treat alongside this soup.

To see how much the other members of the French Fridays with Dorie group enjoyed this recipe, please go here.

For copyright reasons, we do not publish the recipes from the book. But you can find the recipe for the “Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Parsley Coulis“ on pages 76-77 in Dorie Greenspan´s cookbook "Around my French Table".

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Saint's Braid - Allerheiligenstriezel

Today, on November 1st, Catholics and some Protestants in Germany honor the lives of every saint on All Saints' Day („Allerheiligen“). On this public holiday, they also remember deceased relatives and visit their graves. It is also traditional to bake a Braided Yeast Bread („Allerheiligenstriezel“) on this day.   Its name means "All Saint's Braid" in English and it basically consists of flour, eggs, yeast, shortening or butter, some milk, salt, pearl sugar or almonds. Some regional variations also include raisins, rum or lemon juice.
Am heutigen 1. November ist Allerheiligen, ein christliches Fest, zu dem aller Heiligen gedacht wird, auch solcher, die nicht heiliggesprochen wurden − sowie der vielen Heiligen, um deren Heiligkeit niemand weiß als Gott. Allerheiligen ist hier ein gesetzlicher Feiertag an dem es auch Brauch ist einem „Allerheiligenstriezel“, ein in Zopfform geflochtenes Hefegebäck, zu backen. Wie andere Striezel und Zöpfe auch besteht er aus Mehl, Eiern, Backhefe, Fett und etwas Milch und Salz sowie Hagelzucker oder Mandeln zum Bestreuen und wird je nach örtlichem Brauch auch mit Rosinen, Rum oder Zitronensaft gebacken.

In Austria and Bavaria it is given to godchildren by their godmothers and godfathers on All Saint's Day. This tradition has its origin in the ancient funeral cults when women cut their hair (which often was braided) as a sign of mourning.  In the 19th century, it was also common to give this bread to the less fortunte. And especially for children that lived in poor rural areas, a gift like this was like a rather welcome reprieve from all the starving throughout the year. Nowadays, giving an All Saints` Braid to your godchildren has lost some of its „special“ appeal but there is no reason not to bake such a lovely, traditional bread like this today and share it with your godchildren, and/or family and friends.
Von Österreich bis Bayern schenken ihn die Tauf- bzw. Firmpaten zu Allerheiligen ihren Patenkindern. Der Brauch hat seine Wurzeln in antiken Trauerkulten, als man sich die geflochtenen Haare abschnitt, um seine Trauer auszudrücken. Im 19. Jahrhundert wurden auch oft die Armen mit dem Allerheiligenstriezel beschenkt. Für die Paten- und Firmkinder, die in unbegüterten Verhältnissen auf dem Land aufwuchsen, bedeutete das Geschenk einen „Ausgleich zu den üblichen Tagen des Darbens und Sparens“. Heutzutage hat zwar der Brauch ein wenig an Bedeutung verloren, aber es gibt eigentlich keinen Grund warum man solch ein leckeres, traditionelles Backwerk wie diesen Striezel nicht mal backen sollte um ihn nicht nur mit den Patenkindern aber auch mit der ganzen Familie oder den Freunden zu teilen.

Also common (especially in Linz) was the superstition that the luck of the forthcoming year depended on how well the pastry turned out. If the yeast rose well and the bread was moist, plump and delicious, the year ahead would be a good one, if not, well, it was said that there was trouble ahead to say the least. Seems I am in luck for this year.
Insbesondere in Linz war das Gelingen des Backwerks mit jeder Menge Aberglauben verbunden. So bedeute es Glück und Erfolg für das bevorstehende Jahr wenn der Hefeteig gut aufging und das Backwerk saftig und lecker wurde. Ging der Teig allerdings nicht auf, so befürchtete man großes Unglück, um es milde auszudrücken. Da habe ich wohl ein gutes Jahr vor mir.

All Saints`Braid

Ingredients for the Braid
  • 500 grams strong flour
  • 250 ml lukewarm milk
  • 25 grams fresh yeast
  • 2 egg yolks (L), organic or free range
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 100 grams unsalted butter
  • 75 grams superfine sugar
  • 2 tsps. pure vanilla sugar
  • grated zest of ½ an organic orange
  • grated zest of ½ an organic lemon

  • 1 egg (L), organic or free range
  • a bit of milk
  • some pearl sugar

Zutaten für den Striezel
  • 500 Gramm Mehl (Type 405)
  • 250 ml Milch (lauwarm)
  • 25 Gramm frische Hefe
  • 2 Eigelb (L), Bio- oder Freilandhaltung
  • eine Prise feines Meersalz
  • 100 Gramm ungesalzene Butter (weich)
  • 75 Gramm feinster Zucker
  • 2 TL Bourbon-Vanillezucker
  • Abrieb von ½ Bio-Zitrone
  • Abrieb von ½ Bio-Orange

  • 1Ei (L), Bio- oder Freilandhaltung
  • etwas Milch
  • etwas Hagelzucker

  1. For the yeast dough, disslove the fresh yeast in some of the warm milk together with a tbsp of the sugar. Add the flour to a large bowl, using your fingers, make a well in the middle of the flour, pour the yeast-milk mixture into the well, cover with a bit of the flour, cover.
  2. Let the mixture rest in a warm place, coverer, fo about 15 minutes.
  3. Then add the remaining ingredients to the flour and knead until the dough comes together.
  4. Cover the bowl again and let rise again for about 30 minutes.
  5. Knead the dough, divide into equal parts and roll them into equally long strips. Braid the strips and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  6. Cover and let rise again for 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat your oven to 200  degrees Celsius (180 convection).
  8. Using a pastry brush, brush the risen braid with the egg wash. Sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake in the pre-heated oven until golden brown.
  1. Für den Allerheiligenstriezel die Hefe in etwas lauwarmer Milch auflösen und mit dem Mehl und einem EL Zucker ansetzen. Dafür das Mehl in eine Schüssel geben, in der Mitte eine Mulde machen, die Hefemilch hineingießen, etwas Mehl verrühren und dann mit ein wenig Mehl zudecken.
  2. An einem warmen Ort 15 Minuten gehen lassen, bis die Oberfläche rissig wird.
  3. Danach mit den restlichen Zutaten zu einem geschmeidigen Teig kneten.
  4. An einem warmen Ort zugedeckt noch einmal 30 Minuten gehen lassen.
  5. Erneut durchkneten, in Stränge teilen, zu kleineren oder größeren Striezeln formen und auf ein mit Backpapier ausgekleidetes Backblech legen und mit Frischhaltefolie abdecken.
  6. Nochmals 20 Minuten gehen lassen.
  7. Den Ofen auf 200 Grad  (180 Grad Umluft) vorheizen.
  8. Dann mit Milch bestreichen, mit Hagelzucker bestreuen und im vorgeheizten Backofen goldbraun backen.

This fine bread is sometimes spiked with plump raisins as well – on All Saints´ Day it is traditional to braid the yeast dough and bake this so-called All Saints` Braid, on the occasion of other Christian holidays, yeast breads are baked in different shapes such as a wreath (Christmas), or a basket (Easter), or as a fancy „knot“.
Dieses feine, häufig auch mit Rosinen verfeinerte süße Brot aus Hefeteig wird nur zu Allerheiligen in Form eines Allerheiligenstriezels gebacken, während des übrigen Jahres, zumeist an kirchlichen Festtagen, wird es in den unterschiedlichsten Formen zubereitet. So zum Beispiel als Kranz an Weihnachten oder als Korb an Ostern.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Cottage Cooking Club - October Recipes

Today, marks the sixth month of our international online cooking group, the Cottage Cooking Club. As a group, recipe by recipe, we are cooking and learning our way through a wonderful vegetable cookbook written in 2011 by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, called „River Cottage Everyday Veg“.

The Cottage Cooking Club online cooking group is meant to be a project aimed at incorporating more vegetable dishes in our everyday cooking, learning new ways to prepare tasty and healthy dishes, and sharing them with family and friends.

We will make an effort to use as much local, regional, organic and also seasonal produce as is resonably possible. With that goal in mind, during that month of October, I prepared a few wonderful dishes from the book.

Let us start with a picture of these lovely late summer squash that I came across at one of my favorite farmers´ markets at the beginning of the month – always delighted to find these bright yellow beauties (especially in early October). I grilled them and marinated them, following one of my favorites recipes from the book „Marinated courgettes with mozzarella“ (page 314) -  as a group we prepared that very same recipe in July of this year.

Onto this month´s recipes then. My first recipe for this October post is the „Baby beet tarte tatin" (page 48), from the chapter "Comfort Food & Feasts".

I could not believe my luck when I came across these yellow baby beets in Belgium. I carried them through Antwerp all day long when we visited a few weeks ago and kept thinking about making this wonderful savory tarte with them. The beets have to be roasted in the oven together with some butter, oil, cider vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Then they get covered with puff pastry, and need to be baked for a good 20 minutes. Once you turned the tarte out onto a plate, it is time to prepare the vinaigrette with shallots, Dijon mustard, cider vinegar, oil, pepper, salt and plenty of chopped fresh parsley. I do not think that there is any savory tart that is more photogenic or more delicious than this one.

The second recipe we enjoyed was the „Warm salad of mushrooms and roasted squash“ (page 94), from the chapter "Hearty Salads".

This is a delightful autumnal salad with lots of flavor and color. I chose one of my favorite squashes for this recipe, the „Butternut squash“ that I roasted with fresh sage from my herb garden. For the mushrooms, I chose some baby portabella mushrooms. My preferred kind of mushrooms.

For the „greens“, I bought some very seasonal lamb´s lettuce, the buttery leaves of that salad go so well with the meaty mushrooms and the slighty salty Pecorino Romano shavings that I used in lieu of the blue cheese (which the kids do not really appreciate). Utter delight on a plate is all I can say.

The third recipe was a soup. I love hearty soups. "Cannellini bean and leek soup with chilli oil" (page 165), from the chapter „Hefty Soups“ is a hearty, yet light enough soup to be served before a main course. Or as a main course with an assortment of breads and rolls alongside.The only qualm I had with this recipe is that my chilli oil did not have that wonderful reddish hue – it tasted nice and spicy but unfortunately the color was a tad pale.

Leeks are so abundant around here these days, making this soup was a really good choice for the month of October. Another plus is that this recipe is so easy to put together – especially since you can use canned white beans. The only advice I have is to use a very well seasoned vegetable stock for this or you might find the finished soup a bit bland, despite the added chilli oil. You can always use Hugh´s recipe for vegetable stock on page 130.

Onto recipe number four, the „Kale and onion pizza“  (page 186), from the chapter "Bready Things".

I made this recipe a while back and used tons of fresh spinach instead of the kale for this – this is our favorite vegetable pizza recipe of all times – you must try this if you have not already done so, you will not regret it, trust us.

Recipe number five this month was „White beans with artichokes“ (page 240), from the chapter "Store-Cupboard Suppers" – more of a non-recipe, so easy to put together using those canned white beans and those wonderful oil-preserved artichoke hearts that are readily available at Italian markets around here.

For the salad part I used more of the beloved seasonal lamb´s lettuce and added some local Belgian endives – there is an endive farm not far from where we live, and I loved using that fresh, slightly bitter salad in this recipe – it paired so well with the artichokes hearts and the creamy beans. To finish off this dish, I used a local goats cheese feta and crumbled it over top – makes me feel good to be able to use so many local and seasonal ingredients for this nice recipe.

Onto recipe number six „Broccoli salad with asian-style dressing“ (page 316), from the chapter "Mezze & Tapas".

So, it was time to pull out that steamer basket again for the broccoli. The dressing which consists of garlic, freshly grated ginger, sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, spring onions, sea salt and pepper is actually almost identical to the Asian-inspired coleslaw on page 115 – a salad which I make on a regular basis to accompany Asian foods and which the kids adore. They could not get enough of this very tasty broccoli version – I made it twice this month and plan on making it many times still.

It is Brussels sprouts season, so I made the „Roasted brussels sprouts with shallots“ (page 352), from the chapter "Roast, Grill & Barbecue". What is not to love about this hearty dish – Brussels sprouts and shallots seem to be a match made in heaven, roasted with tons of fresh thyme from my herb garden, lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper, sea salt and olive oil, these tiny cabbages turn into a sweet delight that everyone gobbled up.

Did you know that Brussels sprouts are actually called „Rosenkohl“ (literally meaning „rose cabbage“) in German – funny sometimes how differently the same things can be called in various languages. The first recorded harvest of this lovely autumn/winter vegetable can be traced back to the year 1587 in what was then the Netherlands and is Belgium today.

While I prepared the sprouts, I decided to make the „Roasted cauliflower with lemon and paprika“ at the same time. Almost the same procedure as the above Brussels sprouts – roast the cauliflower florets with lemon juice, pepper, salt, olive oil and a bit of hot smoked paprika.

There are two kinds of this smoked paprika with a rather intense flavor, hot and mild – we liked the spicy kick from the paprika in this dish – overall nice but not quite as nice as the roasted sprouts. But roasting cauliflower is a nice way to prepare this vegetable, no doubt.

Pumpkin and raisin tea loaf“ (page 394) from the chapter of „Sweet Asides“ was my ninth recipe from the October line-up. What would the month of October be without some sweet baked dessert with pumpkin – I used grated „Hokkaido“ also called "red curry squash" for this recipe, no butter, no oil, just Muscovado sugar (form the British shop), four eggs, zest and juice of a lemon, raisins (that I plumped up in some warm apple juice for about thirty minutes), ground natural almonds, self-raising flour (also from the British shop), sea salt, freshly ground cinnamon and nutmeg – I also added two teaspoons of homemade vanilla sugar.

I baked this tea cake in my special so-called „saddle of venison baking pan" („Rehrücken-Backform") – love the shape of that pan. We rather enjoyed this loaf cake with a cup of tea in the afternoon – the kids preferred it with a bit of butter and jam – a nice easy, seasonal tea cake.

To gild the lily and just in case you need further convincing that I am a true life fan of the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipes and his River Cottage Series, I made two recipes from his latest cookbook called „River Cottage Light & Easy – Healthy Recipes for Everyday“.

The first recipe I made was the „Carrot cornbread“ (page 67), from the chapter „Baking“. I made this easy cornbread with with freshly grated carrots as a side to the above „White beans with artichokes“ – a nice, moist cornbread with just a hint of sweetness from the almond milk and the carrots and what a gorgeous color too. This bread is also great as a side to a hearty winter soup and just plain, dunked in a bit of your favorite oil, such as linseed oil or olive oil.

Then, I just could not pass up the opportunity to prepare another sweet recipe – apart from the Pumpkin and raisin tea loaf. I opted for the very seasonal „Chestnut and almond shortbread“ (page 380), from the chapter „Treats“.

Who would have thought that shortbread with chestnut flour (readily available at Italian markets), wholemeal buckwheat flour, ground almond flour, Muscovado sugar and sunflower oil could taste this delightful – I did add a pinch of ground cinnamon and some vanilla sugar but other than that I stayed true to the original recipe – what a delightful addition to your cookie repertoire and with its crumbly texture and definite nutty taste, a treat that is sure to please even the most discerning cookie lovers.

Chestnut flour is quite popular for sweet as well as savory dishes in France where it is called "farine de châtaigne" and in Italy, where it is known as "la farina di castagne".

If you are looking to reduce your use of wheat flour and dairy ingredients, would like to use new grains and oils – this new cookbook would certainly be worth adding to your Christmas wish list...

Another month full of wonderful recipes- I managed to incorporate all of the above recipes in our regular schedule and was very pleased that the recipes I prepared were received with so much enthusiam and curiosity – I owe another big, fat „Thanks“ to my utterly devoted taste testers and keep enjoying to cook from this cookbook!

Please note, that for copyright reasons, we do NOT publish the recipes. If you enjoy the recipes in our series, hopefully, the Cottage Cooking Club members and their wonderful posts can convince you to get a copy of this lovely book. For more information on the participation rules, please go here.

To see which wonderful dishes the other members of the Cottage Cooking Club prepared during the month of October, please go here.