Mutzenmandeln – German almond dough nuts

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Mutzenmandeln, almond cookies or veritable dough nuts, if you so will, are almond cake dough bits shaped in the form of almonds, fried and rolled in sugar while still hot. Eaten warm, licking sugar covered fingers they are still a rare treat to me Continue reading

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Lingonberry cake

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This is a marvellous winter cake: a rich, flourless chocolate-hazelnut base is topped with the mildly sweet compote of wild lingonberries. The tart, acetous berries have a bitter note that reminds of heather and forest and provides such a wonderful contrast to the toasted nutty notes of the cake while both are balanced by a layer of cool, silky whipped cream and a final sprinkling of chocolate shavings (or for sentimental reasons: sprinkles). Don’t be tempted to use any other chocolate than dark, rich, bittersweet chocolate high in cocoa solids (60% plus) and Dutch processed cocoa, no milk chocolate or sweet cocoa shall touch this cake for it lives of these adult smoky flavours that call out for a strong cup of coffee (or something even stronger) – perfect for a post Christmas afternoon with coffee, hot chocolate and tea to battle the fog, ice and snow. Continue reading

German apple torte – gedeckte Apfeltorte

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I did not even plan to make an apple cake this weekend – weird, right? After all, autumn is apple time and therefore apple cake time. Well, luckily these apples found me. My go-to vegetable & fruit lady at the local market told me about these heirloom apples, an old cooking apple variety which is best for cakes and suddenly I was totally set on apple cake. I got a few Golden Nobles (Gelber Edelapfel), a variety that was found around 1800 in Norfolk and has been cultivated since 1820. It is an excellent cooking apple, very low in sugar and, according to Dr Wikipedia, suitable for diabetics. Above all it is beautiful in its yellow-pale green colour. Peel it as thinly as you can and discover why it is also called Wachsapfel (wax apple) since the skin comes off like a fine shaving of a candle and the pale yellow-green skin colour stays on the apple flesh.

Anyway, this noble apple demands a special cake, a traditional German gedeckte Apfeltorte which is covered apple torte where a magnificently juicy soft apple layer studded with raisins and almonds is encased in a soft (yes) shortcrust pastry and covered with a lemon-sugar glaze. It does not get any more German than this. Sourcing recipes, I found one in a cookbook from 1894 (I love old cookbooks) for a Hamburg apple torte that sounded like the one I was searching for and was about to start when my Mum rang – excellent timing. Naturally, I told her about the market, the apples and that I was about to embark on baking (we talk about food a lot) and she told me about this old family recipe that she had been given by my grandmother’s twin sister and swore that Tante Martha’s apple torte is the best apple cake ever. As I said, excellent timing. Danke, Mama!

The recipe arrived post-haste (well, email) and my Mum is right, it is the BEST apple cake EVER, the apple slices melded together into a soft apple layer, juicy but not runny, tart and sweet with plump raisins and little almond nuggets (I’ve added those since I love raisins and almonds in an apple cake, soak them in rum if you like a boozy note but of course water is fine, too), a well tempered hint of cinnamon (not too much). This fabulous apple filling is balanced by the soft & crumby pastry and finally, the sweet lemony glaze – serve with lashings of whipped cream after that first autumn walk in the forest. Best on Grandma’s china, if you’ve got some, for the true German experience. Continue reading

Gewürzgurken – German pickled cucumbers

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Market stalls in Germany are brimming with pickling cucumbers and bunches of stunningly fragrant dill flowers in summer to make the traditional Gewürzgurken, German dill & spice pickled cucumbers. If you have never tried them, you definitely should. Less sharp than cornichons but with an equally pleasant crunch and a soft interior, their balanced aromatic notes are perfect company to cold cuts, fish, anything smoked or cured, paté, cheese, well, the list is endless.

I love the complex dill flavours the cucumbers absorb from dried dill, seeds and the wonderful fragrant (and very pretty) dill flowers and it is hard to find comparable examples outside of Europe. These pickles are smaller than their American cousins but bigger than cornichons or gherkins and have a decidedly mellower vinegar flavour than all of those who punch high in the acid class without being sweet as bread-and-butter pickles and the like. Continue reading

Rote Grütze

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In early July when the red currants are ripe my grandmother always made Rote Grütze. We picked the shiny, glassy currants and other berries from the garden and she cooked her own version of this Northern European dish. I am still in awe of every bunch of sparkling red currant jewels and they should really be worn as edible earrings like you do with a pretty pair of cherries.

My grandmother did not bother much with strict adherence to the original Northern German recipe where she came from and that limits the fruits to red currants but used what was available and at peak though she insisted on only red fruit. Strawberries or raspberries for a sweet flowery note, sometimes bright red cherries were included and if a few last rhubarb stalks were leftover from the previous harvest, they got used too. Accordingly the colour of the pudding varies between bright red leaning on pink or dark ruby red if darker cherries, raspberries and a few black currants or black berries dominate later in the summer. Continue reading

Potato salad with cucumber

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Over the years, my Mum’s second potato salad has become our first choice when potato salads are called for. Yes, we used to be a solid two-potato-salads-family (Mama’s version & my Oma’s version) but slowly we’ve upgraded to five – so I think it’s save to say we have acquired some deep knowledge about those things. Of course, there is nothing wrong with her original one, the classic German Kartoffelsalat of potatoes, pickled gherkins, onions & mayonnaise (my Grandma’s one is with raw egg yolk and nothing else should ever cross my lips where pan-fried Rotbarsch (rose fish) is served) but one day my Mother presented us with her new & improved version sans mayo but with crunchy fresh cucumbers, sharp onions and a light white wine vinaigrette. Heaven and pretty much the moment of a paradigm shift in my parent’s household concerning potato salads.

I could eat this single-handedly straight out of the bowl (and I do when no one is looking) or as a side to anything. It’s a fabulous potato salad, zingy but pleasingly mellow with a fresh sharpness & cucumber crispness to it which is exceptionally good and refreshing with pan-fried fish, Schnitzel, chicken legs, chicken wings, sausages … you get the idea Continue reading

Sweet woodruff syrup – Waldmeistersirup & Maibowle

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It is near impossible imagining Germany in May without Waldmeister, sweet woodruff. The faint vanilla-sweet smelling herb infuses the traditional Maibowle (may wine punch), imparts its astounding fresh aroma onto vivid green coloured jelly, ice creams and green gummy bears. Waldmeister syrup mixes with sparkling water for a herby-sweet spring lemonade and flavours a refreshing Berliner Weisse (beer). But drizzle it onto a perfect ball (or two) of mascarpone ice cream, add the best strawberries and you might as well find yourself in paintings by Watteau or Boucher: Continue reading