Saturday, December 10, 2016

More From My Grandmother;s Christmas Kitchen

The enticing aroma and bewitching taste of Pfefferkuchen and Lebkuchen at Christmastime make them an unforgettable experience no matter how many years pass. These baked treats are in a class of their own and have no relationship with gingerbread in my opinion.

Recipes go back to the Middle Ages down to the 12th century when the spice trade was flourishing. Guilds were formed and no one not belonging was allowed to bake any Pfefferkuchen! Luckily we do not have these restrictions anymore and we have the choice of hundreds of well tested recipes!

My recipe today is not that ancient but just over a hundred years old. It is also fairly easy to prepare, considering that we now have blenders and mixers and food processors, items our grandmothers had to substitute with elbow grease!

What you need:
2 baking sheets, buttered and dusted with flour
Cooling racks, 2
Hand mixer with whisks and kneading hooks
Cookie cutters

Ingredients for the dough:
250 g granulated sugar (or a little less if you don't want it so sweet)
3 eggs
2 tsp Lebkuchen spice
60 g candied orange peel, finely chopped
zest of a fresh lemon
375 g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder

Preparation:
Sift flour and baking powder together in a bowl and keep aside. In a fairly large bowl whisk sugar and eggs until light and fluffy. add all the spices and mix in at low speed. Change whisks to kneading hooks and gradually incorporate the flour. On slow speed so you would not spread flour dust everywhere! When all flour ha been added increase speed and continue kneading for about 5 minutes until well combined. At this stage the dough is very sticky and impossible to work with. So wrap it in clingfilm and keep in the fridge for a few hours. Overnight is even better.
Preheat oven to gas 4 (180 C), placing the shelf just above centre. Flour your work surface and rolling pin. Roll out dough to almost finger thickness (one of the many quaint measurements), a generous 1 centimetre is fine. Using cutters of your choice cut out as many cookies as you can, re-rolling any leftover dough. Place on prepared baking sheets and bake for 10 - 15 minutes. Mine took 12 minutes! At 10 minutes they were not quite done and at 15 minutes they had become too crisp.
I think every oven is different, so it is advisable to bake a trial piece first in order not to ruin the lot! When done place on cooling racks and then prepare the icing.

For the icing you will need:
200 g icing sugar
1 egg white large
a very few drops of lemon or almond essence

Preparation:
Sift icing sugar into a bowl. In another bowl lightly whisk the egg white then gradually add the icing sugar on low speed and your chosen flavouring. Whisk until smooth and thick. Immediately brush the icing over the cookies and allow to set and harden before storing in airtight tins.

This recipe yields about 40 cookies.



Monday, December 5, 2016

From My Grandmother's Christmas Kitchen

The build-up to Christmas was always mysterious and magical in our house when I was little. One moment one was banished from the sitting room because secret things were happening there and next moment the kitchen was out of bounds, even though the most enticing smells were wafting through the house!

The kitchen was firmly my grandmother's domain and I will always remember all the delicious treats she prepared. One of those was " Baked Potatoes ", a most delicious little mouthful!

Not to keep you in suspense what these potatoes could possibly be, here is the recipe:

200 g shelled walnuts (or mixed nuts)
250 g icing sugar, sifted
3 egg whites, a few drops of almond essence if liked
some cocoa or grated chocolate
baking tray, buttered and dusted with flour

Grind the nuts, preferably with the pulse button, so they would not become too oily.Add the icing sugar and almond essence if using. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff. Take some of the whites and stir under the nuts then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Using your hands roll little balls the size of a walnut and place on a board or plate. When done, roll each ball in grated chocolate or cocoa to cover. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake at 180 degrees C (gas 4) for about 15 minutes until they split. That is where you get the "baked potato" effect!

 Ready for the oven!
 All done and yummy!

This recipe gives approximately 36 pieces. But if your family is like mine you should bake a second batch the next day!






Monday, November 28, 2016

How Not To Do Christmas Decorations!

My plan for this post was to show an old-fashioned traditional German Christmas tree and how to replicate some of the ornaments used in a more modern way.

In the good old days there were no plastics, garish tinsel or flashing lights. Instead a lot of special cookies were baked and decorated, especially Lebkuchen and Pfefferkuchen. Nuts were gilded and apples polished. All were suspended from pretty ribbons and hung from the tree. Candles were attached to the branches with their own candle-cup clips and to finish it off  a little Engelshaar (angel hair) was spread sparsely over the tips of the branches to add some glitter. And the top of the tree was usually a golden star.

Because I live in the tropics I had to find a dough other than the traditional varieties for the simple reason that anything edible will attract the entire ant population from ten miles around plus other undesirables!

So, after a lot of research, I decided to use salt dough. Easy to make and easy to use, that is what I thought. Flour, salt and a bit of water in a bowl, then knead until smooth and lump free, then allow to rest for half an hour.

Half an hour later I was eager to start on the cookie shapes, but my beautiful dough had turned into a sticky wet mass. I added more flour to get the right consistency for using the cookie press. That did not work! More flour needed so I can roll out the dough and use cookie cutters. Finally I got somewhere! I cut out stars and hearts and formed some Brezeln by hand. Then I used a toothpick to poke holes in the top of the cookies to be able to attach ribbon for hanging when done.

The instructions for the use of the dough gave the option of baking, which would make the cookies puff up or to allow air to dry them. I opted for baking at a low temperature. Fifteen minutes should be enough, I thought, and I should have sparkling white cookies! No such luck! They had puffed unevenly and shrunk somewhat and had turned a brownish/greyish colour. To top it off, the cookies were still soft.

Plan B called for air drying. So I put the whole lot on a cooling rack and placed them outside in the sun with the breeze circulating around them. Come night time I brought the cookies inside. Still soft! This went on for the last ten days until I was tired and decided to put them back in the oven. By now they had shrunk even more and the holes I had made at the start had closed at the back where they initially touched the baking tray. The cookies were also a lot thinner now! After another twenty minutes on lowest heat with the oven door slightly open I now had some medium brown ones, some more  grey than before and the rest almost roasted.

Never mind the colours, the cookies were now hard, just how I wanted, and I  had decided to spray paint them in gold anyway. After they had cooled I gave them two coats of paint on each side allowing them to dry between applications. Then I allowed them to dry thoroughly overnight.

Today I wanted to attach the ribbon/string/thread so they could be hung up. To be able to do so I needed to work on the closed holes. So I used a fine needle to start with. then a slightly thicker one. But still the holes were not large enough. I used the next larger size and that was it! Most of the cookies just broke and for those that did not I just used fine fishing line instead of pretty ribbon!

I shall never do salt dough again! The high heat and humidity where I live will not allow this project to be successful.

But for the fun of it I will add a few pictures!


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Star Struck

 Today I want to show you a different type of star. These are made from individual wires, beaded up
 with different sized beads, according to your fancy.
Size may differ depending on how many beads you use. Tools and materials needed:
20g wire
24g wire or decorative sparkly yarn
at least 12 beads with large holes which can take 2 wires
lots of smaller beads in complementary colours
round nose pliers
flat nose pliers
wire cutters
measuring tape or ruler

 To start cut 6 pieces of 20g wire 20cm long and straighten/ place 2 wires each together, centres crossing at an angle of about 60 degrees. Meaning evenly spaced.
See picture


Now cut about 30 to 40cm of 24g wire and use to wrap around the centre where the wires cross in spiderweb fashion until you feel the wires are secure.cut the thin wire and tuck in the ends to prevent

any snagging.
Straighten and align the long wires and measure that all have the same length. At this stage it is still possible to adjust.





Choose 6 beads with the large holes and place one on a pair of wires. push the bead close to the centre and use your fingers to open the wires to
prevent the bead from sliding off. Repeat with the
other 5 beads.
You can see how the points of the star start forming. Choose smaller beads and place a few on the 2 wires forming a point, adding a slightly larger bead in between if you wish.



When you think the point of the star is long enough or if the remaining wires get too short     place the 2  wire ends side by side and add           another bead with a large hole. Spread the wires open so the new bead doesn't slide off. Repeat 
with the remaining points. Now check the shortest wire end , measure and trim all the others to the same length. Use your round nose pliers and make tight little curls in each end. Then use the flat nose pliers to form a little spiral which will sit snugly beside the bead




The picture at the top shows how the finished star should look like plus variations.
Making a few of these stars will fire up your imagination and you will have the blingiest Christmas tree in town!



                                                                 



Monday, November 7, 2016

Christmas tree jewellery

By this time six years ago  we were in the middle of uprooting ourselves, packing up our life possessions, in order to move to a new house. That was not an easy task, especially since our married daughters kept their former bedrooms as warehouses for their surplus belongings!

No Christmas preparations whatsoever that year! And much has happened in the intervening years which prevented me from working on my blog. But I was sorry to have neglected it for so long and have promised myself not to let that happen again.

And since Christmas is just round the corner again I want to start by giving you some ideas for Christmas tree jewellery. For this project you will need wire in either of the following gauges: brass 18g (1mm), or copper 16g (1.2mm) or aluminium 14g (1.4mm) and a matching wire in 24g (0.5mm). You will also want wire cutters , flat nose pliers, round nose pliers, hammer and anvil. And assorted beads in different sizes and colours of your choice! Start with about 50cm of your chosen wire, straighten it and start bending it.


Measure 7cm and using flat nose pliers make a sharp bend and fold the wire back on itself. Now measure 3.5cm and bend in th opposite direction. Continue until you have 6 points on one side and 5 on the other. Now measure 7cm again and cut.
Flip it over and start opening the points like the picture above. Gradually open the points, keeping the wire fairly straight.Continue until you have a star shape.







Now bend the two long ends toward each other to
form the 6th point of your star. Measure 3.5 cm and
bend away one end at an angle and wrap two or
three times around the other long wire and cut off any excess.
 Now bend the second long wire back at an angle of 90 degrees and cut, leaving 1.5 to 2cm. Using round nose pliers form a closed loop.  Hammering the points and corners of the star will help to strengthen it and give it some
texture.

And now comes the fun part!

Attach the 24 gauge wire on one point of the star/and trim the end. You will need about 1 metre of wire for this. Now start adding your beads. One or two and wrap the wire around the star shape. Add another bead or so and continue wrapping until you have a look you are happy with. Cut off any excess wire and tuck in the end. Now choose a length of matching ribbon and attach through the loop at the top of the star, so you can hang it up.

Play around with different beads and wires. Make a 5 pointed star and vary the size. Let your imagination fly!




























Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rediscovered - seed beads


Seed beads have been with me since I was a little girl. You grow up and forget about them. Suddenly you want them again, for a collage work or enticing bead embroidery and lastly for jewellery. Making pieces in the French beaded flower technique is something wonderful to learn, but translating this to jewellery is quite challenging.
Today I will show you just one of the pieces I just made - others will follow because the muse bit me!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summertime - Berry time





When summer comes around I miss the delicious, juicy berries found in temperate climates. Here in the tropics none can grow! So this year I played "pretend" and sat down to use my beads to create fantasy berry clusters as earrings.
Well, we can't enjoy eating them but wearing them instead!