Tuesday 23 December 2014

christmas cookies - part III


This is probably the easiest and quickest Christmas cookie recipe you will ever take on but it’s also quite possibly the most delicious. This recipe was given to me years ago by a no-nonsense German grandmother and it’s served me well since. The only amendment I’ve made was to utilize a mix of hazelnuts and walnuts but this is optional. So why go nuts with all that holiday baking this year when you can bake those nuts, that’ll show’em! 

makes about 20 cookies

200 g softened butter
200 g sugar
2 packets vanilla sugar
2 eggs
200 g chopped Hazelnuts (or a mix of Hazelnuts and Walnuts), plus 20 whole hazelnuts for decoration
200 g oat flakes (quick oats work best, do not use whole oats or steel-cut)
4 Tb flour
4 Tb rum
2 packets baking powder

  1. Preheat oven to 390 F
  2. In a bowl, whisk together butter, sugar, vanilla sugar, and eggs until well incorporated
  3. To this add the chopped nuts (I like them to be chunky but not too large so I use a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin to get the consistency I want), stir with a wooden spoon
  4. Add the oat flakes, stir
  5. Finally add the flour, rum, and baking powder and stir until well incorporated
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper then using a teaspoon scoop up the mixture and spoon onto the sheet making sure there is at least 2 inches between each as they spread out. Place a whole hazelnut in the centre of each cookie
  7. Bake in oven for 10 minutes or until the sides of the cookies just begin to turn golden brown – you may only need 8 minutes in the oven

Friday 19 December 2014

christmas cookies - part II


 As I said in an earlier post, when it comes to Christmas, I am all about German cookies. If you are a traditionalist like me you will surely appreciate this old classic: Pfefferkuchen (also known as Lebkuchen and is similar to gingerbread).  I’m being quite literal here when I say “old classic” because Lebkuchen was invented by monks in Franconia, Germany in the 13th century.

The reason I love this treat so much, besides its seven hundred year plus history, is because it’s full of wonderful aromatic spices and honey, and it goes a really long way. I find myself having a couple of these with my morning coffee or afternoon tea for weeks after Christmas as they keep well and are not sickly sweet. Also, they are perfect for dunking!

So here is an oldie but goodie, the wonderfully fragrant Pfferkuchen:

makes around 60

140 g butter
175 g sugar
400 g honey
1 ¾ Tb. dark unsweetened cacao powder
1 ½ Tb. ground cinnamon
1 Tb. ground coriander seed
1 ½ tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground aniseed
1 tsp. dried lemon peel
¾ tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. nutmeg
840 g all -purpose flour
11 g baking powder (or ¾ of a packet)
2 eggs
nuts for garnishing (blanched whole almonds, whole hazelnuts, or walnut halves)
1 tsp. milk

  1. In a medium sauce pan melt the butter on medium low heat
  2. While whisking, add in the cacao and sugar, followed by the honey. This should result in a very glossy smooth texture
  3. Turn up the heat to medium and throw in the spices. Cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool
  4. In a large bowl, add the baking powder and flour
  5. In a separate dish, break the eggs and whisk lightly. Pour ¾ of the eggs into the bowl and put the rest in refrigerator for egg-washing your cookies later
  6. Pour in the cooled down honey and spice mixture
  7. Using a mixer, whisk the ingredients together so that they are evenly incorporated. The mixture should resemble clumpy wet sand
  8. Using your hands bring the mixture together until it begins to bind then divide into four sections, about a large handful each
  9. On a lean flat surface, knead each section of dough into a smooth round ball. Be prepared to spend a good 5-7 minutes kneading each section, it’s a good workout! You should end up with four smooth round large balls which you will cover with cling wrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight to rest
  10. The next day, take out a ball of dough and roll it out on a clean flat surface. To ensure the dough does not stick to your surface, I suggest you roll it out on a sheet of parchment paper. Get ready for another good arm workout
  11. You can roll out the sheet as think or as thin as you like, you merely need to adjust the cooking time.  I like to mix it up. Just ensure you bake similar sized cookies at the same time.
  12. Preheat oven to 390 F
  13. Using a cookie cutter, cut out desired shapes or create a freehand shape with a sharp pairing knife
  14. Add a splash of milk to the eggs that you left in the refrigerator and whisk
  15. Top the cookies with a nut or nuts in whatever design that you prefer, then using a brush, give the surface of the cookies an egg wash
  16. Line baking sheet with parchment paper then set your cookies on it about 1.5 inches apart
  17. Bake for 8 minutes for thinner cookies or 10 minutes for thicker ones
  18. Let cool on a rack
  19. Don’t be shocked by how hard your Pfefferkuchen is, it’s completely normal. Just place them in a cookie tin with the lid on but not completely fastened. They should be nice and soft the next day
Perfect for dunking!

Tuesday 16 December 2014

christmas cookies



Christmas is just around the corner and it’s time to start baking those sweet and decadent desserts.  For me Christmas is very much about tradition which is why my personal go-to inspiration for holiday baking is invariably German. Germans have such an admirable tradition when it comes to Christmas sweets and I for one am a BIG fan. This year I'm kicking off the baking marathon with the beautifully dainty Spitzbuben. You will surely recognize these jam sandwich cookies but I will show you how to make them so that they are flavourful and never dry.

makes 28 sandwich cookies
  • 2 heaping cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaping cup ground almonds
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 200g butter, cold and cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam, or other red jam
  • 1 tsp. brandy, or other fruit liqueur
  • icing sugar for dusting

1.       Using large bowl, bring together flour, ground almonds, sugar, and salt
2.       In small cup, lightly whisk egg then add in the vanilla extract. Pour mixture over the dry ingredients
3.       Add cubed butter to dry ingredients then using your hands, work the butter into the flour until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency. Work the dough a bit more until it begins to come together but do not overwork it
4.       Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling wrap, and place in refrigerator for 2 hours
5.       Preheat oven to 350 F
6.       On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into about half a centimetre sheet. Cut out desired shape using a cookie cutter. Keep re-rolling dough until finished.
7.       Using an apple corer, a very small cookie cutter, or a bottle cap, cut out the centre of half the cookies
8.       Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly golden. Let cool
9.       Meanwhile in a small bowl, stir brandy or a fruit liqueur into your preferred jam.  Raspberry is ideal but I like to mix it up and use sour cherry jam or a white current and cardamom jam
10.   Place about half a teaspoon of the jam mixture on the underside of a cookie then press it together with one of the cookies with the centers cut out.
11.   Leave to cool then dust with icing sugar

TIP: The cookies keep well for days in an airtight container

Monday 8 December 2014

bone marrow


I think there is something about bone marrow that connects us to a very primal part of ourselves.  Some anthropologists believe that in some parts of the world early humans were scavengers rather than hunters and bone marrow would have supplied the large brains of us tool-using hominids with much needed fat.

Be that as it may, I like to indulge myself in primal activity now and then and what could be more indulgent than the exquisite, fatty and nutty bone marrow? However, as if the bone marrow weren't enough of an indulgence, I like to smother it with red wine braised beef brisket and oxtail. I promise you that this will be one of the most memorable dishes you will ever enjoy, right down to the last drop of marrow as you will surely wiggle your tongue along every crevice of your boat-shaped bone in pursuit of it. I took a photo of a friend of mine getting right amongst it like a Cro-Magnon and I have to say, it was an image to remember. 

The great thing about living in an area with access to farms with their own country meat stores is that you can ask for the cuts of meat you want. This ensures that the next time the cattle goes to the abattoir, part of it has your name on it and you will get the freshest cuts from a small herd of local organically raised animals. What can be better that that?

A good rapport with your local butcher is particularly handy when it comes to preparing this dish as you will need to ask for the shin bone to get sliced lengthwise. I tend to put my order in at Oakridge Acres http://www.oakridgeacres.ca/ because their meat is outstanding. The cattle are fed mostly grass/hay as well as non GMO barley. This is some of the best tasting meat I have ever had and I’ll look for any excuse to drive down to Ayr to pick up my order.


Serves 4

2 Tb. olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 beef shin bones cut lengthwise
400 g beef brisket
300 g oxtail
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large carrots, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2/3 bottle red wine
1 cup tomato passata
1 sprig of thyme
Parsley, finely chopped
Lemon rind, grated 

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F
  2. First start off by seasoning the brisket and oxtail amply with salt and pepper
  3. Heat up the olive oil in a deep cast iron pan or pot on medium high heat
  4. Sear the meat on all sides until brown
  5. Remove meat, set aside
  6. Throw in the onions, carrots, celery, and thyme sprig and cook for a 3 minutes
  7. Place the meat back in then pour in the red wine followed by the tomato passata
  8. Let it come to a simmer then cover with lid and place in oven to cook for 3 hours
  9. Remove pan or pot from the oven. The meat should be extremely tender. Using two forks shred the meat up and stir it into the sauce so the meat gets completely incorporated into that lovely dark red braising liquid. Cover and set aside.
  10. Turn the oven up to 420 F
  11. Lay the bones marrow side up on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and bake for 10-15 minutes. Once the marrow begins to soften and bubble, remove it from the oven
  12. Pile on the shredded braised beef on the bone marrow then sprinkle with the chopped parsley and lemon rind for a punch of colour and freshness
  13. Serve with a nice mash as I did or with a couple of golden buttery slices of toast for scooping up that marrowy goodness
TIP: The brilliance of this dish comes out when you get the braised meat and the bone marrow in the same mouthful. The sweet nuttiness of the marrow along with the rich savouriness of the braised meat is out of this world.