Saturday, 24 December 2016

Yeast Or No Yeast? - That Is The Question!

When I was very young my grandmother and  my mum always had an argument at the beginning of December as to which type of Stollen we were going to have at Christmas! My grandma, being very traditional, always opted for the one baked with yeast. My mum, on the other hand, preferred the one made with baking powder for the simple reason that it was less time consuming.

But yeast was not easily available in the area where we lived, and dry or instant yeast had not yet been invented (or commercialized)! So my grandma would write a letter to her friend who had a farm, and ask her for the supply of some fresh yeast. Now the waiting would begin for the precious yeast to arrive. There was a specific date on which the baking was to be done to give the Stollen enough time to mature before Christmas Eve!

If the yeast arrived in time my grandmother would gleefully assemble all the ingredients and chase the rest of the family out of the kitchen! But if the deadline passed without any yeast in sight, grandma would sulk and sit in a warm corner, wanting nothing to do with a yeastless Stollen.

By Christmas Eve the differences were forgotten and everyone enjoyed whatever was on offer! I still have my mum's handwritten recipe, which I will include in this post. But today I have chosen the traditional yeast Stollen from my grandmother's recipe collection which, in my opinion, is for advanced bakers only!

2 tsp dried yeast
100g sugar
500g  flour
2 eggs, a pinch of salt
1/8 -1/4 l warm milk, scant
250g butter
100g raisins
100g sultanas
50g chopped candied peel
75g ground almonds
200g extra flour for kneading in

                               (Shaped loaves)

Make a regular yeast dough using only half the milk, keeping the fruits and almonds back. Knead dough thoroughly and allow to rise. When risen, add the almonds and dried fruit and knead lightly. If necessary add more flour and milk until you have a fairly stiff consistency. Shape into 2 loaves and place on buttered and floured baking sheet to rise again. Picture above.

                                (Well risen and ready for the oven)

Bake in preheated oven for 1/2 hour at 200C, gas mark 5. Immediately after baking, brush with melted butter and dust heavily with icing sugar.

                               (All wrapped up and ready to be enjoyed!)

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Another Visit To Grandma's Christmas Kitchen

It is almost too late to do anymore  baking for Christmas, but this recipe is utterly worth it. This is a fairly thick chocolate Pfefferkuchen baked on a tray and finished with a sugar glaze. The spice mix is milder than given in the previous recipe, so you have variety!

 What you need:

750 g flour
125 g grated dark chocolate,
3 peppercorns, finely crushed
2.5 g ground cloves
2.5 g ground cardamom
7.5 g ground cinnamon
zest of 1 lemon
65 g ground almonds or hazelnuts

340 g honey (or syrup)
200 - 250 g sugar
1/8 l water (125 ml)
65 g butter


2 eggs, beaten
8 g potash (1 1.2 tsp)
1 small glass of rum


How to make:

Sift flour into bowl and stir in all other dry ingredients. in a saucepan combine the honey, sugar, water and butter and bring to boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Pour slowly into the flour mix, stirring vigorously. Or use a mixer with dough hooks, which our grandmothers did not possess! Make sure the dough is smooth and well blended. Allow to cool completely.

In the meantime soak the potash in about 3 tbsp of warm water. When dough is cool, strain the soaked potash through a fine sieve and sprinkle all over the dough, then add the beaten eggs and the rum. Knead dough to incorporate the new additions. The dough will be fairly soft at this stage, so placing it covered in the fridge for a few hours will help it to mature and make it easy to roll out.

Lightly butter your baking tray and dust with flour. Place dough on it and using a rolling pin roll out the dough to about finger thickness. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 - 200 degrees C. gas 4 or 5, for 30 minutes. Immediately after baking cut into pieces, squares or rectangles, as you wish and brush with a hot sugar glaze which is made in the following way: Boil 140 g sugar with 1/8 l of water until a drop forms a bead when placed on a plate. Remove from heat and brush on the glaze. Finally place the pieces on cooling racks. The glaze will turn white when dry. If you wish you can add coloured sugar sprinkles before the glaze dries.I was too impatient to take pictures, so the glaze you see is still fresh and hot!

Thursday, 15 December 2016


After the last article I was asked what Lebkuchen spice is or rather what it is composed of. The professional bakers all have their own spice mix which is a well kept secret. Apart from that there are also regional differences, so the choice is not easy for the home baker. Ready-made spice mixes are now available but not in every part of the world. So I did some research and came up with my own version.

In order to get the best out of spices one should preferably buy whole spices instead of ground because they keep their flavour and aroma for a much longer time. Some spices like cinnamon and ginger are acceptable ground because generally they are used more frequently.

Another important factor is the ratio of each spice in relation to the others. Some spices are so strong in flavour that only a little is used in order not to overpower the rest.

Let me show you the spices I used:
From top to bottom on the left side:
ground cinnamon
ground ginger
whole cardamoms (only seeds are  used)
whole cloves
From top to bottom centre:
whole nutmeg
whole allspice (pimento)
who;e star anise
fennel seeds
From top to bottom on the right:
ground coriander (I ran out of seeds)
ground pepper

Quantities for whole spices should at least be double of what is needed when ground. Remember to calculate well. I shall give you the amounts needed when ground to a fine powder.
cinnamon               2 Tbsp
ginger                     1/2 tsp
(seeds only)            1/2 tsp
cloves                      2 tsp
nutmeg                    1/4 tsp
allspice                    1/2 tsp
star anise                  1/2 tsp
fennel                       1/2 tsp
mace (blades)           a generous pinch
coriander                 1/2 tsp
pepper                      1/4 tsp.

The first five spices listed are essential to the mix, but adding the others will really enhance the complexity of flavours. But if you do not fancy a particular spice you can omit it or substitute for one with similar taste, e.g. fennel seeds for aniseed. 

To make up your batch of Lebkuchen spice put all the whole spices in a dry frying pan, after calculating and measuring,
 and fry on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Take off the heat and allow to cool. When cool place in spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder. If the quantity is too small to be processed properly add the already ground spices like cinnamon and ginger to help with the processing. 

I hope you enjoy making this, so you can create your own personalized Lebkuchen or Pfefferkuchen!

Saturday, 10 December 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

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

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, 5 December 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!

Latest Post

Potted Pineapples

Growing your own pineapples is quite easy when one lives in a warm or tropical country because pineapples love sunshine! But even in cooler ...