Friday, November 30, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie - Beef Cheek Daube

Today the recipe for the French Fridays with Dorie group are Beef Cheek Daube with Carrots. Dorie uses a somewhat “forgotten cut”, beef cheeks, in her rich, dark version of the French classic.  For this fabulous recipe you cook the beef cheeks in a dark and rich red wine and beef stock to make it meltingly tender, then serve alongside mashed potatoes, pasta, or, as in my case, homemade Herbed Spätzle (for the recipe please click here).

Beef cheeks can be a little difficult to find. Once you have managed to order them and brought them home, you have to trim any excess fat or sinew from the meat and cut into chunks. Two cheeks should be enough for four people. Dorie´s recipe calls for browning the meat in hot fat in a casserole. Do this in batches. Heat a flameproof casserole dish, add the vegetable oil and brown the beef cheeks all over, then remove from the dish and set aside. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, add a bit more oil, sweat down some finely diced carrots, onions and bacon strips and cook for about ten minutes, or until pale golden-brown. Add flour and toast it. Deglaze the casserole with a good red wine and some (maybe) homemade beef broth. Return the beef to the dish, add more beef beef stock and bring up to a boil, then cook in the oven for two hours or until the beef is very tender. The slightest prod with the tines of a fork should have it collapsing into tender meaty strands. Savoury bitter chocolate that you add at the end to the sauce, transforms this slow cooked beef dish into a gourmet experience

Serve the Beef Cheek Daube piled on top of mashed potatoes, alongside pasta or stir it into pasta and be ready to pledge not to use minced beef again because it also makes a staggeringly good and achingly rich melt-in-your-mouth fork-tender Ragù.

To see, how my fellow Doristas mastered this French classic, please click here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Traditional German Gingerbread "Elisenlebkuchen"

Today I am featuring one very beloved Christmas cookie with a long tradition, the so-called Lebkuchen (Gingerbread). In general, Gingerbread is a baked sweet containing ginger (thus its name) and oftentimes warming spices such ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and anise. Traditionally, it is sweetened with any combination of brown sugar, molasses, light or dark corn syrup, or honey. It comes in many different shapes and sizes.

Gingerbread can either take the shape of thin, crisp cookies like Dutch Speculaas that is cut into hearts or other fanciful shapes. Gingerbread can also be a dark, Spice Cake like an American version served, sometimes, with lemon glaze, or the lighter French Pain d'Épices. The third form gingerbread takes today is in a house-shaped confection made with a variation of gingerbread cookie dough. The gingerbread house became popular in Germany after the Brothers Grimm published their fairy tale collection which included "Hänsel and Gretel" in the 19th century. Early German settlers brought this Gingerbread House (Lebkuchenhaus) tradition to the Americas.

But the Germans like a softer, puffier version known as Lebkuchen. So, today, I am presenting the traditional soft version of the German Lebkuchen. There are many different types of  traditional German Lebkuchen which loosely translates as “a cookie or cake representing life”. First, there is the Honey Cakes (Honigkuchen) and the Pepper Cakes (Pfefferkuchen), both names refer to the predominant ingredient in those gingerbread-style baked goods. And then there are the Elise´s Cakes (Elisenlebkuchen)  which I am featuring today. These are a soft variety of Lebkuchen made since 1880. To this day, it is uncertain whether the name Elise refers to the daughter of a gingerbread baker or the wife of a margrave.

As with all other Lebkuchen, the ingredients for the Soft German Lebkuchen (Elisenlebkuchen) usually include the warm and wintry spices such cinnamon but also ground nuts such almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts and finely diced candied fruit, such as the candied peel of oranges (Orangeat) and lemons (Zitronat). As raising agents, bakers traditionally use Salt of Hartshorn (Hirschhornsalz) and Potash (Pottasche).

Lebkuchen dough is usually placed on a thin wafer base called Oblate (Backoblaten). This was an idea of the monks, who used unleavened communion wafers to prevent the dough from sticking. Typically, these types of Lebkuchen are glazed or covered with very dark chocolate, but some are left uncoated or sugar-coated. For decoration, you can use whole almonds, hazelnuts or leave them plain.

 These Soft German Lebkuchen greatly improve in flavor if you place them in cookie tins and give them a chance to soften and mellow.

One last noteworthy information is that one of the unusual ingredients of today´s recipe is finely grated boiled potatoes. I will be featuring different German Lebkuchen recipes in the next few days and this old-fashioned “farmers´ wives” recipe not only contains the already mentioned potatoes but also ingredients that can easily be found wherever you live – I do have a passion for these kinds of recipes, I find them intriguing and I love to try them whenever I can find them. So next time you are boiling potatoes, remember to boil three additional medium sized ones (in the skin), put them aside, leave to cool overnight and bake these Soft German Chocolate Glazed Lebkuchen the next day and surprise your family and friends with delectable Christmas cookies called “Elisenlebkuchen”.

Recipe for Soft German Chocolate Glazed Lebkuchen

Ingredients for the Lebkuchen

  • 370 grams (1 ¾ cups) super fine white sugar
  • 250 grams (8 ounces/2 1/4 cups) ground hazelnuts (I always leave the skins on)
  • 3 eggs (L), organic or free range whenever possible
  • 50 grams (1.7 ounces) finely diced candied lemon peel (“Zitronat”)
  • 50 grams (1.7 ounces) finely diced candied orange peel (“Orangeat”)
  • 1 leveled tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ packets (4 ½ leveled tsp) baking powder (such as Dr. Oetker baking powder called "Backin")
  • 225 grams (1 ¾ cups) AP/plain flour
  • 3 boiled potatoes, cooled, peeled and grated finely on the box grater
  • about 75 round baking wafers (“Oblaten”) 5 cm (2 inches) -  NOTE: you can find them at European stores or bake the Lebkuchen sans wafers but on non-stick Silpat mats or parchment paper

Ingredients for the Chocolate Glaze and Decoration

  • 200 grams (7 ounces) dark chocolate, broken into chunks
  • additional hazelnuts

Preparation of the Lebkuchen

  1. Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).
  2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, ground hazelnuts, eggs, diced candied lemon and orange peel, cinnamon, baking powder and flour.
  4. Add the finely grated potatoes and carefully mix together. Your dough should have a thick and somewhat “sticky” consistency.
  5. Either take a piping bag and pipe the dough onto the baking sheets or pipe or spoon onto the baking wafers, you should a small mound of dough for each cookie (5 centimeters /2 inches). Do not bake more than twelve on one baking sheet, because they do tend to spread a bit while baking.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes – the cookies will be set on the outside but have to be still soft and a bit chewy in the middle.
  7. Transfer the baking sheets to a cooling rack and cool for ten minutes. Then transfer the cookies to the racks to cool completely and decorate with dark chocolate and nuts.

Preparation of the Chocolate Glaze

  1. Melt the chocolate over medium heat in a double-boiler or in the microwave.
  2. Place the Lebkuchen on a large rack set over a cookie sheet and pour the warm melted chocolate over the Lebkuchen, wait until chocolate almost sets and then decorate with additional hazelnuts (I always leave some plain and decorate the others with three hazelnuts each).
  3. Wait until the chocolate has completely set and place the Lebkuchen in cookie tins.They will keep for up to three weeks and definitely improve in taste after a day.

Lebkuchen is easy to make and a wonderful and traditional Christmas treat or as William Shakespeare once remarked:
And I had but one penny in the world, thou should'st have it to buy gingerbread.
-- William Shakespeare, "Love's Labor's Lost"

Monday, November 26, 2012

Traditional Christmas Cookies "Welser Blumen"

There is no such thing as celebrating the Holiday Season in Germany without a visit or two or even more to a traditional German Christmas market. Strolling through festively decorated and illuminated streets, taking rides on old-fashioned carousels, buying handmade Christmas decoration, listening to German Christmas carols, and drinking hot spiced wine; Christmas markets are a traditional and fun part of every Christmas season in Germany.

German Christmas markets date back to the 14th century. Originally, the fairs provided only food and practical supplies for the cold winter season, but soon the markets became a beloved holiday tradition and a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.

Christmas markets are the perfect place to find a unique Christmas gift, such as handmade wooden or tin toys, Christmas glass or wooden ornaments and decorations, whimsical pottery, woolen gloves, interesting jewelry, handmade soaps, beeswax candles, cookie cutters, spices, honey, handmade brooms,  and lots more.

 And no visit to a German Christmas market is complete without sampling some Christmas treats, such as “Stollen” (a traditional German Christmas bread with dried fruits, nuts, spices, and lots of powdered sugar icing), “Glühwein” (mulled wine), traditional “Bratwurst” (various charcoal-grilled sausages), “Lebkuchen” (gingerbread cookies), “Gebrannte Mandeln” (roasted sugar-coated almonds) and “Maronen” (roasted chestnusts).

Almost every city celebrates with at least one Christmas market and we will be attending a few different ones in the next couple of weeks. Most Christmas Markets start in the last week of November and run through to Christmas Eve or a day or two before.

In order to celebrate the official start of the festive season, I am posting my first recipe for Christmas cookies. These cookies are called “Welser Blumen”, an old-fashioned buttery Christmas cookie filled with some wonderful (maybe homemade) jelly or jam and with the traditional “Linzer Cookie cut-out look”.

Recipe for the “Welser Blumen”


125 grams unsalted butter,
70 grams powdered sugar
1 egg yolk, (M)
2 tbsp cold milk
the zest of an organic lemon
150 grams AP/plain flour
100 grams potato starch
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg white (M)
20 grams homemade jam  or jelly (I used sour cherry jelly)

Preparation of the Cookies

1. In a medium skillet, melt the butter. Once melted, add the powdered sugar, egg yolk, milk and lemon zest.
2. Transfer to a large bowl of your mixer.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, potato starch and baking powder.
4. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until you have a smooth, homogenous dough.
5. Divide the dough into two parts and flatten each part into a round. Wrap each with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour or overnight.
6. The next day, preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius and cover two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.
7. Taking one dough disk at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and using a cookie cutter of your choice, cut out cookies and transfer to the baking sheets. Using a smaller cutter, cut the centers out of half of the cookies. Repeat rolling and cutting with the other half of the dough. Combine the scraps from both batches, reroll and cut.
NOTE: For each cookie, you will need one with and another one without the cutout in the center of the cookie – if you have a Linzer Cookie Cutter, this is a good time to use it!
8. To give the baked cookies a glossy look, brush the unbaked cookies with a lightly beaten egg white
9. Bake until the edges are golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
10.  Remove from the oven and place on wire racks until completely cool.
11. Spread a scant tablespoon of jam on the bottoms of each cookie, and sandwich with the cut-out tops!

This is the first one of my festive recipes and there will be lots more such as a recipes for traditional “Lebkuchen”, “Stollen” and “Glühwein” and lots of pictures from our visits to our favorite Christmas Markets – I hope you will enjoy my seasonal posts in the next few weeks!

Friday, November 23, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie - Herbed Olives

Today the recipe for the French Fridays with Dorie group are Herbed Olives. A wonderful Mediterranean “Starter  and Nibbler”!

Olives are the small oval fruit of the olive tree, widely cultivated in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy, France and Greece. Olives are harvested and preserved in oil or brine at various stages of their development. The early olives are green, while the later, more mature olives are black, but there are hundreds of varieties and more shades of color in between.

The Kalamata olives are rich purple, almond-shaped olives grown in southern Greece. Spanish green olives, on the other hand,  have a milder flavor but because of their large size, they are often stuffed with anchovies or almonds. The whole fruit is available in a variety of guises, they can be flavored, stuffed, stoned or with stones, in oil or in brine, sliced or whole. You should always try to experiment with different varieties until you find a favorite.

The fleshy pulp of the fruit is also the source of olive oil. They are used a great deal in Mediterranean cuisine, as hors d’oeuvres, in salads, stuffings, sauces or dips such as “Tapenade” and as an ingredient in main dishes.  Salads typically made with Olives are “Salade Nicoise” and “Greek Salad”.

Today´s recipe calls for adding wonderful herbs and lightly toasted spices to a really good-quality extra virgin olive oil together with the best olives that you can find (I chose dark purple Kalamata and big green Spanish olives).

The list of  herbs calls for rosemary, thyme and bay leaves (all three herbs are still growing strong in the garden)…

…and dried red chilies….

Then for the spices there is black peppercorns and whole coriander

…and whole fennel seeds.

You will also have to add some salt to the dressing (I used coarse French sea salt) before you pour it over the olives and leave to marinate.

In addition to the Herbed Olives I decided to prepare another one of Dorie´s recipes from "Around my French Table" , namely, Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts. I used skin-on whole almonds and added some more of the fresh rosemary and the thyme. And just like the Herbed Olives, the Cocktail Nuts were very well received and simply delicious!

So go ahead and try this recipe for Herbed Olives (and the Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts) and serve them in the nicest dish that you can find - you will not regret it!

The longer you leave the Herbed Olives in the mediterranean marinade, the better they will taste, so you can prepare this "Starter & Nibbler" well in advance and keep the marinated olives in a Weck jar or other type of canning jar.

To see how the other members of the French Fridays with Dorie group prepared the Herbed Olives, please click here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesdays with Dorie - Little Red Riding Hood & Best-Ever Brownies

Today´s recipe for the Tuesdays with Julia group are “Best-Ever Brownies” by contributing baker Rick Katz. A chocolate brownie can be considered to be an American "invention", it is a flat, baked square or bar. It was developed in the United States at the end of the 19th century and popularized in both the U.S. and Canada during the first half of the 20th century. Brownies are a cross between a cake and a cookie in texture and they are either cakey or fudgy in texture. They only started to make an appearance in Europe a few years ago but since then have become hugely popular with children and adults alike.

The ingredients for these brownies are few. There is, of course, the plain flour, fine salt, unsalted butter, white sugar, pure vanilla extract and fresh eggs but then there is also four ounces ( 113 grams) of unsweetened chocolate and two ounces (57 grams) of bittersweet chocolate. And, of course, you will use the best-quality chocolate that you can because it does make all the difference, the brownies will taste all the more decadent, the better the quality of the ingredients you use.

The preparation of these brownies is somewhat different from other brownie recipes. There is the usual melting of butter and chocolate to ensure a wonderful top “crust”. But half of the egg-sugar mixture is stirred into the melted chocolate and butter and the other half is whipped until it thickens and doubles in volume and is folded into the chocolate mixture very carefully before you can add the dry ingredients with a very light touch.

I made them exactly like written in the recipe but baked them a bit longer because they were still too moist in the center after 25 minutes. I kept testing with a wooden pick until I felt they were ready. This recipe is for fudgy brownies with a soft and chewy center. You do not want to overcook them so, unlike cakes, you do not want a skewer to come out all clean. The brownies should be slightly springy on the outside but still gooey in the middle. Allow to cool in the baking pan, then carefully transfer to a large chopping board and cut into chunky squares. It is seriously tempting to remove them when they are still warm but they are far too fragile to decant unless cold.

Since we had a birthday party planned at our house and the birthday girl had chosen “Little Red Riding Hood” as the party theme, I decided to bake these Best-Ever Brownies for the party. Keeping in mind the theme of the party,  I cut the brownies into small chunky squares and dusted them with some powdered sugar, I placed them in chequered red and white cupcake liners and put a few in tiny hand-woven baskets. The guests were delighted at the presentation!

The kids loved these brownies. They thought they were "excellent" -  chewy, very rich and and fudgy exactly what a brownie should be.

Although we have got so many variations on the classic chocolate brownie recipe - whether you like to add white chocolate, nuts, raspberries, cookies, marshmallows, dulce de leche or cheesecake swirls, or even chili or coarse salt, there is simply nothing quite like a fudgy, dense chocolate brownie.

So after tasting these, we are convinced that if only "Little Red Riding Hood" had known about these Best-Ever Brownies, she would have asked her mother to put them instead of a cake in her basket to bring to her grand-mother!

" I am Little Red Riding Hood and I am taking this cake to my Granny. She is alone at home and sick in bed." *

To see all the other Best-Ever Brownies by the talented members of the Tuesday with Dorie group, please do click here.

The recipe can be found at Monica´s delightful blog A Beautiful Mess - "Thank you" so much for hosting, Monica !

And a huge “Thank You” also to my favorite bookstore in town for letting me borrow "Little Red Riding Hood" for the Birthday Party and the photo session at our house! – "Vielen herzlichen Dank" an meinen Lieblings-Buchladen für das Ausleihen des Rotkäppchens vom Buchverlag “moses.”!

*Translated from the well-known fairy tale "Rotkäppchen" first published by the Grimm Brothers, Jakob and Wilhelm in 1812.

Friday, November 16, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie - Goat-Cheese Mini Gougères

Today the recipe for the French Fridays with Dorie group are Goat-Cheese Mini Puffs or Gougères. An elegant, delicious and uncomplicated savory pastry.

These Gougères or “Windbeutel” (which can be loosely translated as “wind bags”) are very popular around here. I have prepared many different versions, my favorite savory version has grated Parmigiano Reggiano in the batter itself. But we also love them for dessert, filled with a bit of softly whipped cream. For us, Profiteroles are the ultimate impressive dessert. When I made Dorie´s recipe and tasted the Gougères that were light as air, I was delighted because this recipe is definitely versatile enough that it can be adapted to a somewhat sweeter version as well as to a savory version with various fillings.

For these Gougères you start out by preparing a basic Pâte à Choux, a Cream Puff Dough. A very light, twice-cooked pastry usually used for sweets and buns. It is made with flour, salt, butter, eggs, milk and a little sugar (if it is being used for a sweet version). As mentioned, choux pastry can be used to make profiteroles, éclairs and choux puffs and is also the basis of the dramatic dessert Gâteau St Honoré.

Choux pastry has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to master, but in fact it is no bother once you know the proper technique. A pre-heated hot oven is essential to raise and set the choux and if you take it out of the oven before it is cooked thoroughly, which means “firm to the touch”,  it will most certainly collapse. Any filling, sweet or savory,  should not be added until the last possible moment because it will make the choux pastry sag. I did choose to serve most of my goat-cheese filling “on the side”, so everyone could fill or not fill his/her Gougères as much or as little as they wanted.

I filled a pastry bag fitted with a large star nozzle to pipe the choux pastry onto parchment lined baking sheets to give the Gougères a bit of a fancy look. I baked them for about twenty minutes, let them rest and cool on the baking sheet while preparing the filling made of goat cheese (I used Picandou from France), cream cheese (I used Philadelphia cream cheese) and herbs (I used finely chopped Italian parsley), some freshly ground black pepper and some fine sea salt.

In conclusion, these delicious Goat-Cheese Mini Gougères make a great appetizer or savory alternative to your afternoon tea or coffee cake. They are an elegant treat that the whole family can enjoy.

To see how the other members of the French Fridays with Dorie group prepared these delicious little morsels, please click here.