Mormor Larsson’s pepparkakor

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Just in case you might feel a little behind in all things Christmas (I am desperately, hence the tardiness of this post) and have not reached the comforting, all-embracing Christmas feeling that comes with the house being festively adorned, cards sent, presents bought and menus planned. If despite being assaulted inundated by Season’s greetings, bells, songs & carols, decorations, quaint markets with roasted chestnuts and the like, the Christmas spirit has not reached you, then these traditional Swedish spiced cookies should do the trick. Up the dosage and take one to five in the early evening with a large mug of hot, mulled wine – preferably outside around a glowing fire with a group of friends & family.

Pepparkakor is not your usual soft gingerbread, nothing like German Pfefferkuchen although they share the name nor Lebkuchen, Honigkuchen or other gingerbreads. The sweet crisp cookies loaded with aromatic spices are more akin to spiced Spekuloos / Spekulatius biscuits – perfect to be dipped into milk, cocoa or the aforementioned mulled wine (Glögg). Continue reading

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Pfeffernüsse

Pfeffernüsse by the james kitchen
Pfeffernüsse, a photo by the james kitchen on Flickr.

 

Before you wonder, yes, there is pepper in these traditional Christmas cookies. Although the term Pfeffer (pepper) was used in the Middle Ages as a broad header for all exotic spices or Spezereien and the name Pfefferkuchen has stayed on to name gingerbread and its close relatives and specialities in their own right: Printen from Aachen, Lebkuchen from Nuremberg, Elisenlebkuchen and and and.

This recipe for Pfeffernüsse veeres a little from tradition in its use of the Moroccan spice mixture ras el-Hanout but I found the idea of crushed rosebuds & grains of paradise pepper which are included in mine quite intriguing. I have doubled the quantity and added the usual Lebkuchen spices along with pepper to have a real spice-laden cookie worthy of its name.

 

Pfeffernüsse
makes about 45 cookies, adapted from Brigitte 24/2012

250g (8.8 oz or 2 cups + 1 tablespoon) plain flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ras el-Hanout
1½ teaspoons Lebkuchen spice (Lebkuchengewürz)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
freshly ground white pepper (about ¼ teaspoon)
160g (5.6 oz or ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon) caster sugar
zest of ½ lemon
50g (1.8 oz) candied lemon peel (Zitronat), finely chopped
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
extra flour to roll out the dough

100g (3.5 oz or 1 cup) icing sugar or confectioners’ sugar
water
4 chunks of dark chocolate

 

Mix flour, baking powder, ras el-Hanout, Lebkuchen spice, cinnamon, pepper, sugar, lemon zest and lemon peel in a mixing bowl. Whisk the egg with the milk in another dish, add to the spiced flour and knead to a smooth dough using the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer.

Preheat your oven to 170°C (340° F) or 150°C fan oven and roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of 1cm or 2/3 inch. Cut out small thick rounds with a cookie cutter (4cm or 2.5 inches diameter) and place the Pfeffernüsse on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes and let cool on a wire rack. When they are cooled down completely, make a thin glaze out of the icing sugar with water and brush the Pfeffernüsse with it. When the glaze has dried, warm the dark chocolate chunks (easy if you put them in a small plastic ziplock bag and place for a few minutes in hot water, then cut a tiny piece of the corner and use as a piping bag) and with a quick move pipe thin lines of chocolate over the cookies. Leave to dry & keep in a tin.

 

Sauerrahmplätzchen

Sauerrahmplätzchen by the james kitchen
Sauerrahmplätzchen, a photo by the james kitchen on Flickr.

 

A soured cream dough with a plummy filling of German Pflaumenmus (plum butter) enrobed in a crackly cinnamon-sugar coating. They are – to be honest – a pain to make but really, really nice to eat.

By your third or fourth biscuit the whole egg washing & sugar coating will be a total mess, but the messier it gets the crunchier the outside will be – I speak from experience. By now, you have uttered a few well chosen words and swear you will never make them again but a short while later you will be rewarded by the exquisite taste and will be making plans for a second batch (next week). You have been warned, they are slightly addictive.

Pflaumenmus or plum butter is quite a big thing in Germany and a speciality, albeit of a firmer consistency, the English Damson cheese is a relative. Firm, oval shaped and rather sour Zwetschgen (prune plums, Quetche, Prune de Damas) give the dark brown pulpy butter its sour plum taste not the plumper, round shaped plum. You might be familiar with apple or pear butter which would be a fine substitute if that is easier for you to get hold of, though German stores (our German butcher in Mountain View, CA had the most surprising range of homesickness-relieving treats) or World markets in the US sometimes stock plum butter. Of course, you can make some yourself and this would be an appropriate use of your surplus and while I am lyrically waxing on here, there are recipes and descriptions out there from other German aficionados here (recipe) and in Luisa Weiss’ book, to name a few.

 

 

Sauerrahmplätzchen – crème fraîche & plum butter cookies
makes about 50 cookies; adapted from the Christmas 2013 issue of Essen & Trinken

250g (2 cups) plain flour
175g (1½ sticks) cold butter, cut in small cubes
75g (2.5 oz) crème fraîche, soured cream or Schmand (minimum 30% fat)
a pinch of salt
225g (8 oz) of plum butter (German: Pflaumenmus), substitute damson jam or apple butter
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
75g (2.5 oz) sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

 

Mix flour, butter, crème fraîche and salt, knead into a pale and smooth dough, wrap it into cling film and keep in the fridge overnight. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400° F) or 180°C fan oven and prepare the filling and coating station on the side: stir plum jam; whisk the egg yolk with milk in a small bowl and in another bowl mix sugar and cinnamon. Flour a board and roll out the cooled dough about 3mm (1/5 inch) thick. Cut out little circles with a 5cm (3½ inches) round fluted cutter, fill these like ravioli with a scant ½ teaspoon of plum butter (or less), fold one half over the other and seal the seams by pressing them with the tines of a floured fork. Dip in the egg wash or brush with it, and roll the little pockets in the cinnamon-sugar. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper and bake for about 12-14 minutes on a lower shelf. Leave to cool if you are strong enough otherwise mind the hot filling.

 

Marzipankartoffeln – baked (marzipan) potatoes

 

Marzipan potatoes are a sure bet to be found among the sweets, fruits and nuts on your  “Bunter Teller” that everyone gets in Germany on Christmas Eve (around midnight or depending on age a little bit earlier in the evening). These here are a baked version, much darker than the usual light brown Marzipankartoffeln, and mimic the dark French truffle potato (Vitelotte). To match this rather sophisticated look, the cacao got an upgrade with cinnamon & ground cardamom to play with the roasted flavours of the dark cacao & coffee.

Initially, I got inspired by the Skandinavian penchant for cardamom and coffee (I am still in love with the Korvapuusti) though the coffee & cardamom combination is also an oriental specialty. Event better, I might add some rose petals or rosewater (naturally, it is Marzipan) to the next batch to go even further down that route.

 

Marzipankartoffeln – Baked (marzipan) potatoes
makes about 40 potatoes; adapted from a Brigitte (23/2003) cutting

250g (8.5 oz) almond paste (Marzipan-Rohmasse)
80g (¾ cup) icing or confectioners’ sugar
65g (½ cup) ground almonds
40g (1/3 cup) plain flour
1 egg white
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (Kahlua)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1-2 teaspoons ground cardamom
3 tablespoons dark cacao powder

Chop the almond paste and blend in a food processor or mixer with icing sugar, almonds, flour, egg white, and the coffee liqueur. Wrap in plastic wrap / cling film and keep cool in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300° F) or 130°C fan oven.

Mix the dark cacao powder with cinnamon & cardamom in a small dish. Form roughly cherry-sized balls of the Marzipan paste and roll in the spiced cacao and place on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.

 

Mexican wedding cookies

These are a non-negotiable part of our Christmas baking ever since the day I found the recipe at Williams-Sonoma – one of my Holy Grail kitchen paraphernalia places, and I desperately miss just being able to drive to one, just anyone (or Sur la Table, Dean & Deluca, Bowery Kitchen supply if we are making a shopping list) for a quick browse & daydream. They have never been made in our kitchen with the recommended ground almonds since that would be nearly the same dough as for the German Vanillekipferl (minus the cinnamon, add seeds from a vanilla pod), half moon shaped cookies that are rolled in icing sugar just hot out of the oven. The same should be done with these but I like it if they have a snowy white icing sugar dusting rather than a half-melted coating, which is exactly what happens if you roll them in the sugar while hot.

Anyway, these might be ubiquitous in the States (and Mexico?) and have many names and origins attributed to them (Russian tea cakes, butterballs, snowball cookies etc.) but are always a crowd-pleaser with our English and German friends & relatives.

Mexican wedding cookies
makes about 4 dozens, adapted from this Williams-Sonoma recipe

228g (2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature)
125g (1 ¼ cups) icing or confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch or ¼ teaspoon salt
210g (1 ¾ cups) plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
120g (1 cup) ground hazelnuts

Cream the butter in a mixer, sift 50g (½ cup) of the icing sugar into the bowl and continue beating until light and pale yellow.  Stir in the vanilla, mix salt, flour (sift if you like, most of the time I do not bother) together with cinnamon and add as well as the ground hazelnuts, giving the mixture only a few turns until just combined. Wrap the dough into cling film and rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 175°C (350° F) and sift the rest of the icing sugar (75g or ¾ cup) into a bowl.
Take the dough out of the fridge and form small balls (about 2.5 cm or 1 inch in size). Place on a lined baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until the cookies are just turning lightly golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack, then roll them in the icing sugar.

almond apricot squares

Basically an almond & apricot sandwich cookie (and a distant and less sweet relative of the German chocolate covered Dominostein), only baked as such right from the start with the apricot jam & almond paste filling acting as the glue which welds the layers together. Still hot from the oven the whole slab is coated with a boozy glaze that once dried adds a frosty shine and cut into neat squares when cool.

Almond and apricots go so well together that I changed the original recipe, which used toasted and finely chopped pine nuts: first for practical reasons (too much work and I had the almonds in my hand) and also flavour considerations. Apricots and peaches always have a hint of almond about them and especially the inner piece of the stone exudes an almond-like fragrance, nearly looks like one, too. Since there is such a similarity of flavour and taste cheaper almond paste or Persipan is made from the soft inside of peach stones rather than the more expensive almonds.

These squares have a nice almondy taste, not so in your face as Marzipan if you are not a lover of this almond, sugar & rosewater confection brought over to Europe in the Middle Ages from Persia via Venice; astonishingly Marzipan was one of the few allowed foods to be eaten during fasting time. This might explain its connection with Christmas when the Advent period was a time of fasting before the feast. Its origin is widely agreed upon though the etymology of the name lists several possible sources: basically each culture area where Marzipan was consumed & produced has a claim. Anyway, always a great luxury (originally produced by apothecaries or in monasteries) it was often depicted in Delikatessenstilleben (e.g. Osias Beert, 1610) and  provided a fantastic modelling base for almost real looking fruit etc. and elaborate baroque showpieces. Every European country has one or more Marzipan specialities and cities connected with those: Calissons d’Aix-en-Provence, Lübecker and Königsberger Marzipan, Mazapán de Toledo…

 

Almond-apricot squares
about 60 pieces, adapted from a 2009 Brigitte cutting
125g (4.4 oz or 1 stick + 2 teaspoons) soft unsalted butter
50g (½ cup) icing sugar or confectioners’ sugar
2 pinches salt
1 egg
60g (½ cup) ground blanched almonds
250g (2 cups) plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
50g or 3 heaped tablespoons good apricot jam
150g (about 6 oz) cold almond paste (german: Marzipan Rohmasse), use more to taste (or if you need to use up a 200g (7 oz) slab, use all, I reduced the original weight)
50g (½ cup) icing or confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons apricot liqueur (I use Austrian Marillenbrand Bailoni) or apricot brandy / schnapps

Cream the butter with sugar & salt, add the egg and subsequently the almonds. Stir the baking powder into the flour to get it evenly distributed and knead it briskly into the dough. I do all of this with the Kitchen Aid, only trying to knead dough other than yeast versions as shortly as I can and not over do it. Wrap the dough into cling film and rest in the fridge for about one hour.

Quickly knead the dough and roll out a rectangular shape (30 x 40cm or 12 x 16 inches) between two layers of baking parchment. Cut into two long halves, pierce both sheets a couple of times with a fork and cool again in the fridge for 40 minutes. Both blocks can be stacked with a piece of baking parchment keeping them separate.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350° F), fan oven 160°C.

Paint one dough layer with the apricot jam and cover this with the coarsely grated almond paste (I kept it quite cold and dry, to be easily grated with a box grater). Put the second sheet on top and press lightly together with your hands. Place the whole block onto a cookie sheet / baking sheet covered with baking parchment and bake for 25 minutes until lightly tanned. Mix the icing sugar with the liqueur for a thin glaze and brush the cake with it the moment it comes out of the oven. Leave to cool and cut into small squares of 2cm (1.5 inches), about the same as the height of the thing. They keep for at least 3 weeks but frankly I have had them round for longer, too.