Brown butter ebelskiver

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Æbelskiver are spherical, pillow-y Danish pancakes (south of the Danish border in northern Germany they are known as Pförtchen or poffertjes in the Netherlands) and these two bite-sized marvels were all the rage when we lived in California. Mine come with a nutty brown butter crust and a heavenly soft & light vanilla pancake centre. Being not really on the sweet side they become truly irresistible with a dusting of icing sugar and a sprinkle of dark bitter cocoa powder Continue reading

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

Chicken chile verde

Chicken chile verde by the james kitchen
Chicken chile verde, a photo by the james kitchen on Flickr.

Not the prettiest of pictures I admit and I am happy to have a very good reason to cook this again very soon – just for the picture, you know, but this is such a tasty dish that it would be a shame to wait since it will be a good thing to use up turkey leftovers, too. I might be wrong but there might be a time in the near future where plenty of those will be available and this you do not want to miss out on.

When we lived in California we used to buy a chicken chile verde from Trader Joe’s and loved it so much that back here – where no TJ’s exists – we needed to make our own and after a few trials & fiddles we had our own chicken chile verde: it is even better, fresher and dead easy to make. It is best to cook the whole amount even if you are just two people, freeze the rest and you’ll have more ready to go when you need a quick fix.

I buy the whole chicken (to make sure it is not so much tempered with, at least free-range, long-lived, traceable and so on, no Frankenbird), roast it one day and use the leftovers for salads, chicken Fricassée (with loooots of capers for me)… and surely this chicken chile verde. If you start from the beginning then either roast a chicken along side something else (if you have the oven on already, might just squeeze a chicken in) or cook one  in this sort of mexicanized court bouillon (recipe below).

Not be too missionary & evangelical about it but I really recommend a whole chicken with bones & dark meat from free-range, long-lived birds (that is the healthy part with all the omega 3 & 6) for a proper chicken taste and succulent meat as opposed to the rather reduced one-dimensional taste of only breast meat. If you are squeamish about a whole bird use chicken pieces by all means, although there is a lot of flavour coming from the carcass and little tasty bits & pieces of meat that you are missing out on. Like the Oyster or Pfaffenschnittchen (the best piece for the priest…), in French it is adequately called Sot-l’y-laisse – “A foul who leaves this behind”.

Chicken chile verde
for about 6 portions

1 cold roast chicken or 1 cooked chicken (see below) or leftovers from the previous roast chicken dinner, picked and torn into not too little pieces
1 large tin / can (790g or 28 oz) of tomatillos (about 12)
3 cooked or broiled garlic cloves (I use the ones from my roast chicken or the cooked chicken)
1 small tin (220g or 110g drained weight) of sliced Poblano peppers, reserve a few and chop
2 jalapeño chiles, seeds removed, chopped
1 bunch of coriander / cilantro, roughly chopped
salt & pepper
olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
1 large or 2 medium garlic cloves, chopped
½ l (2 cups) good chicken stock (or use some of the chicken cooking liquid, check for saltiness though)
1-2 whole cloves (Nelken)
1-2 teaspoons dried oregano
salt & pepper
green Tabasco (if you need more spice)

Either roast a chicken (rubbed in olive oil, stuffed with two bay leaves & at least three garlic cloves – though why so stingy, they are the best to eat with the chicken – and seasoned with salt, pepper & dried thyme) in the oven at 200°C or 400° F for about 1 hour and leave to cool OR make the chicken one day for dinner and use the leftovers for this OR get a cold rotisserie chicken. Pick the meat of the bones and tear into bite-sized shreds (as for Fricassée).

Place the drained tomatillos, soft garlic cloves, most of the sliced Poblano peppers, jalapeños & coriander in a blender or food processor and chop with quick pulses to a chunky purée. Sweat the chopped onions in a little olive oil until translucent, add the chopped garlic cloves and stir for a scant minute to cook these, too. Add the chicken pieces, the tomatillo sauce, chicken stock, cloves and dried oregano. Let the whole thing cook on a low flame for a while (minimum 10 minutes or much longer until you need it) – this is mainly to get the flavours to mingle and to reduce the liquid in the sauce to a nice saucy consistency. Season with salt & freshly ground pepper and if you like green Tabasco.

Serve with rice and I think green vegetables of your choice, we have snow peas or broccoli or something along those lines with it.

Cooked chicken for chicken chile verde:

1 whole chicken
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 onion, quartered (no need to peel)
1-2 celery stalks, halved
a few coriander stalks (use the leaves for something else)
one or two or a few parsley stalks
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
10 (1 teaspoon) whole black peppercorns
1 small dried chili (peperoncino, piquin etc.)
1 tablespoon salt

If you have a large stock pot leave the chicken whole otherwise cut it into quarters and put it along with the other ingredients into the pot. Cover with water and bring over high heat to the boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook it for about one hour. Remove the chicken from the bouillon and leave to cool. Take of all the meat when it is cool enough to handle and shred into bite-sized bits.

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.

 

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.