Thursday, December 28, 2006


Lebkuchen is a form of gingerbread common in Germany. The difference between Lebkuchen and what we Americans typically think of gingerbread is it's made with honey instead of molasses, hence the lighter color. Lebkuchen was developed in the 13th century by Franconian monks though the development of the name Lebkuchen is still a mystery. The most likely explanation is it comes from the Latin word for a flat, unleavened loaf, libum. However the more popular (and less academic) belief is the name comes from the German word Leben, which means life. In fact, it is believed that eating these "life cakes" can chase away the winter blues.

The city most famous for its Lebkuchen is Nuremberg. Located on a major spice route, records show Lebkuchen was baked in Nuremberg since the late 14th century. Nuremberg Lebkuchen is a protected food product in Europe and its production is strictly controlled. The highest quality Lebkuchen of Nuremberg is given the title Elisen, supposedly named after a daughter of a Nuremberg baker.

This particular recipe uses crystallized ginger instead of the more common candied fruit. This change causes the spicy flavor of ginger to be strong in these bars. The bars themselves are dense but soft. The bars do rise slightly while baking but they will basically be the thickness you roll them out to be. If you try to roll them out thin like a sugar cookie I believe you would get a hard, dense cookie that might be tough to chew. The dough is sticky, very sticky. It was probably the toughest cookie/bar/etc. dough I've worked with yet. And there is the time factor. The dough must chill overnight in this recipe (and many others). I recommend that when chilling the dough, gently work it into a ball shape so only a small portion of the dough touches the bowl. It will be much, much easier to remove from the bowl the next day. Still, the rewards of this delicious bar outweighed the work involved.

from page 198 of the The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook

Makes about 24 bars

3/4 cup (9 oz) honey
1/2 cup (4 oz) light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp chopped lemon zest or 1/4 tsp lemon oil
2 tsp chopped orange zest or 1/4 tsp orange oil
2 1/4 cups (9 1/2 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cups (2 oz) finely chopped blanched almonds
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
3 rounded Tbls (1 3/4 oz) diced crystallized ginger
6 Tbls brandy
1 cup (4 oz) powdered sugar

Combine the honey and the brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil while stirring occasionally. Once boiling, remove from heat and let it cool until it's only slightly warm. Using a food processor, chop the crystallized ginger until it is fine. Mix the honey-brown sugar mixture, egg, lemon zest or oil, and orange zest or oil in a large bowl until they are well mixed. Add in the spices, flour, crystallized ginger, baking soda, and almonds and mix until they are thoroughly mixed. This produces a stiff and very sticky dough. Very sticky. Cover the bowl, put in the refrigerator, and let sit overnight.

When you are ready the next day, preheat the oven to 350° F and grease a 9x13 inch or equivalent sized pan. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough to fit into the pan. The dough will be very sticky but try not to over-flour everything. Put the dough in the pan. I rolled it onto the rolling pin and then unrolled it in the pan. Fit the dough into the pan the best you can but don't press down too hard. I greased my fingers and that worked pretty well. Bake for about 20 to 22 minutes. In the meantime, mix the brandy and the powdered sugar. This glaze isn't very thick. The bars are down when a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately and begin glazing. Apply the glaze in layers so each layer has time to soak in and harden. Once fully glazed and cooled, cut into 1x2 inch bars. If you store these in an airtight container with a slice of apple, they will stay soft.

Also on Just Baking.

Lebkuchen at Wikipedia
German Embassy in Washington DC
Nuremberg Gingerbread Tour
The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook
Germany's Regional Recipes
German Cookery: The Crown Classic Cookbook Series (Crown Classic Cookbook)
The German Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Mastering Authentic German Cooking

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Via: VideoSift

Via: VideoSift

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A little something for Christmas

I entered December with the start of a plan. I envisioned two weekends where I would be able to bake cookies like pfeffernusse, try my hand at lebkuchen, maybe tackle a mincemeat pie. But the plan changed, neither weekend could be used. Weekday nights are tough because by the time I get home from work and get ready, it's already well into the evening.

Still, I wanted to do something. This led to two late nights of making nut clusters, barks, and dipping. I was able to do this by using chocolate flavored and vanilla flavored almond bark. Made to be melted and dipping, almond bark (sometimes referred to as candy coating) works well as a time saving and cost saving alternative to real chocolate. Especially for dipping, where the most important flavor is the item dipped and not what it's dipped in. Plus, a few people in my family don't eat chocolate but they can still have the vanilla version. Time is saved because there is no tempering, just melt and go. Need more? Just add it and melt. Much, much simpler and no worrying about bloom. Qualitywise, let's be honest and say this isn't going to wow any chocolatiers or chocolate sophisticates who sample hand-rolled truffles infused with basil and topped with sea salt. Really, the quality is on par with a chocolate bar from Hershey's or Nestle and most people will appreciate the effort you put into making it.

All in all, I was able to make a selection of items for small gifts. Lorrie and I both brought some to work. A little bag to a friend here and there. Enough to bring with use to both family Christmas celebrations. Below is a list of things I made.

  • Cherry vanilla bark
  • Vanilla-covered and chocolate-covered toasted coconut marshmallows
  • Vanilla-covered and chocolate-covered shortbread
  • Chocolate-covered Nutter Butters
  • Mint chocolate-covered graham crackers
  • Mint-covered Oreos
  • Vanilla-covered Oreos with crushed peppermint candy canes
  • Vanilla-covered peanut butter and Ritz cracker sandwiches
  • Cranberry and pistachio vanilla mendiants
  • Various chocolate-covered nut clusters
  • Vanilla almond bark
  • Peanut clusters, Almond clusters, and mixed nut clusters

I wish I had the time to bake though. I was looking forward to having some fun trying recipes though now I won't feel guilty about showing up empty-handed.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My second set of bars

I needed another batch of bars for the reception after my grandmother's funeral and the rule for no chocolate was still in effect. I had planned on trying a recipe for Lebkuchen at sometime during the holiday season and thought this would be a good time to make it. The only book I had with me was the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, which in this case wouldn't have been my first choice. There's nothing wrong with this book, quite the contrary, but when I originally thought about baking Lebkuchen I had chose the recipe in Mimi Sheraton's wonderful book The German Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Mastering Authentic German Cooking.

I wrote more information about Lebkuchen and the recipe I used is in this post here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Chewy Date-Nut Bars

I decided to help my mother and my aunt out by making some bars for the reception after my grandmother's funeral. When I volunteered I didn't have any set plans or recipes in mind so I started paging through the bar cookie section of the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion,trying see what jumped out at me. I have to admit, this is my favorite book. Every recipe I've tried worked the first time and tasted great. The variety of recipes means I have recipes for just about any occasion. In fact, when I first started baking again over a year ago, this was the first book I bought and have used consistently since.

While paging through the different recipes, I only had one guideline in mind: no chocolate. I wanted something that everyone could try and Lorrie and my uncle Joel don't eat chocolate. It was a good thing I had this rule too. These were one of the few non-chocolate choices at the reception. Other people had brought a lot of things that contained chocolate. This date bar caught my attention because the description talked of yellowed recipes and of days past. 'Historic' or 'back in the olden days' anything will always make me stop and look.

Now, my dad likes date bars a lot. My aunt Nancy makes date bars he absolutely loves. Her bars have a very strong date flavor (duh, hence the name) which is not the rest of the family's cup o' tea. These bars had a more subtle date flavor and received a thumbs up from every member of the family and many of Lorrie's coworkers. I really thought these bars were good. They were moist and chewy with a little sweetness and a little flavor of date while the walnuts provided a little tooth when you bit into the bars. I will make these again.

Chewy Date-Nut Bars
from page 195 of the The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook

Makes about 16 bars

2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups (5 1/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (8 oz) brown sugar (I used dark)
1 cup (4 oz) chopped walnuts
1 cup (5 1/4 oz) chopped dates
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400° F. In a mixing bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients, beat the eggs until frothy. In a different bowl, add the flour, salt, baking powder, and brown sugar and whisk together until they are sufficiently mixed. Add these dry ingredients to the eggs and stir until mixed. Fold in the dates and walnuts. Grease a 9x9 inch pan. Put the batter into the pan and spread evenly. I recommend using your fingers. Make sure they are well greased because this batter is very sticky. Bake the bars for 18 to 22 minutes. They are done when they are golden brown and the top of the bars is shiny. Since we want chewy bars, not crunchy, the center should be slightly wet when a toothpick or tester is inserted into the middle. Overbaking will dry these bars out making them crunchy. Cool them completely before cutting. Dust the tops with powdered sugar.

Monday, December 11, 2006


My grandmother passed away on Saturday, her 84th birthday. She finally succumbed to the complications of Alzheimer's disease. The service is Tuesday at the little country church where she taught Sunday school, sang in the choir, and worshiped for all her life. She will be laid to rest next to her husband of over 60 years, Walter, but she will also be among family and close friends who left this mortal coil before her for this country church cemetery is essentially our family's cemetery.

Driving up to Green Bay to say good-bye, I was flooded with memories. Staying over at her house and watching one of her favorite shows, Johnny Carson. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world to be able to stay up way past my bedtime. I still do. Sledding down the hill in her backyard in winter. Playing the card game Rook. Looking out the window on Christmas waiting for her and grandpa to arrive. OK, waiting for them to arrive so we could open presents but still, waiting for them to arrive. I remember being shy and embarrassed as she proudly showed off her young grandson to her friends. She was there for all of my achievements as I grew into a man. Birthdays, graduations, awards, plays, games; I can't picture one without her. She enjoyed crochet and the afghan she made me when I was young always made it onto my bed in winter and it is still one of my prized possessions, safely hidden from the two feline terrors in our house. Sunday dinners are another wonderful memory. I would give my eyesight for one more Sunday dinner of hers. Or even just one more bag of her rolls!! She was the baker in the family. I can only hope to one day bake the way she could. Sadly, Alzheimer's claimed many of her recipes before she could pass them on. Potato pancakes, bread, fudge, dressing (stuffing); all we have left are approximations and best guesses. In a lot of my writing there are references to Germany and my German cookbooks. My family's ancestry is German and my grandparents could speak it fluently. I purchased these cookbooks to help me understand the basis for her recipes so that one day I might be able to recreate some of the greatness from her kitchen. I know she would have enjoyed this site. I could go on but it's hard to see what I write through the tears.

Still, while we here all mourn her loss, I know one man who is happy. My grandfather is now reunited with the love of his life.

Grandma, I love you and I miss you.

As a tribute, I am including one of her recipes we do have, Ice Box Crunch.

4 cups flour
3 Tbls. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pkg. dry yeast in 1/4 cup warm water
1 cup shortening
1 cup warm milk
2 eggs

Sift dry ingredients. Add shortening. Mix like pie crust. Beat eggs and mix with milk. Add yeast and pour into dry mix. Mix well. Put in refrigerator.

Roll out like pie crust. Put your favorite filling on, or cinnamon and nuts. Lap the sides together. Fold the ends up. Bake 30 to 40 minutes at 350°. This is similar to Kringle.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. If you do or if this post moved you, please donate to the fight against Alzheimer's, either now or when you have a chance. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sugar Almonds

While doing research for an article about Stollen for Just Baking, I ran across a recipe for sugar almonds that piqued my curiosity. I was intrigued by the simple list of ingredients and the method used to create a hard candy shell, so I gave it a try. The results were surprisingly excellent. The candy coating gave the almonds a good crunch when you bit into them. The flavors of the sugar, cinnamon, and almonds were well balanced. No flavor overpowered another. The small amount of cinnamon was noticeable and highlighted the sweetness of the sugar. These almonds would be popular served at a party or on a dessert tray. They would also make a wonderful gift from your kitchen, in a decorated jar or container.

The key to the recipe is not overcooking the almonds, a lesson I learned the hard way. While preparing a batch I was paged for work and ended up overcooking the almonds because of the distraction. Although the shell still formed and had the desired crunchiness, the flavor and texture of slightly burnt almonds made them unpleasant to eat. I also made batches in different size pans (two and four quart) and found that the bigger pan made it easier to keep the almonds separate at the end.

The recipe is from German Cookery: The Crown Classic Cookbook Series (Crown Classic Cookbook). It’s recipe number 494 (page 199), which is in the candies section of the chapter entitled “Christmas Cakes and Candies”.

Sugar Almonds
4 Tbls. water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup shelled almonds (do not use blanched)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Grease a jelly roll or similar pan and place two forks by it. Combine water and sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and heat until this forms a thick syrup. The water will boil off. When the syrup is ready, remove it from heat, gently add in the almonds, and stir constantly. Continue to stir until the sugar syrup begins to crackle, which does not take long and occurs while the syrup is still liquid. Place this over heat again. The sugar will crystallize and form a white grainy coating; continue heating and stirring until all the sugar is melted again. Once all the sugar is melted, mix in the cinnamon. Remove from heat and pour onto greased pan. Separate the almonds with the forks, working quickly before they cool and fuse together.

As posted at Sugar Savvy or as one of the featured articles at Well Fed...

Sources for Sugar Almonds:

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chocolate Covered Espresso Cookies

I'm always scanning the other food blogs looking for something I think Lorrie will like. I saw these espresso cookies from alpineberry and I knew I had to make them for her. After finding them a month ago, I finally had the opportunity to make these last night and tonight. They were great. The original recipe was strong in the coffee flavor but not sweet. In my opinion they were more like a digestive biscuit from the UK than what Americans traditionally think a cookie is. That sounds worse than it is, it just means they are not sweet. I actually dislike super sweet and sugary and I found these very tasty right out of the oven. But a slight modification and use of the double boiler will up the sweetness level against the coffee flavor. I think I like these better than chocolate covered Oreos or Nutter Butters. These should be very popular when she brings them to work tomorrow!

I changed the recipe slightly. Dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar gives them a little more sweetness and a darker color. I used white chocolate and added the ground espresso beans to the chocolate to give it a little grit, a little coffee flavor, and a speckled effect.

Chocolate Covered Espresso Cookies
(modified version of the ones Mary at alpineberry made which she adapted from Fine Cooking)

Makes about 28 cookies

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp instant espresso powder
2 tsp water
2 tsp finely ground espresso beans
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
enough white chocolate to cover 28 cookies

Dissolve the instant espresso powder in the water. Cream the butter and dark brown sugar together. Once it's well blended, add in the water and dissolved instant espresso powder and mix well. Finally add in the rest of the ingredients minus 1 tsp of the espresso beans until they are just mixed. Roll the dough into a log and then wrap in plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to form the dough into the log, it will be more consistent. The dough log should be about seven inches. Put in the refrigerator overnight and no more than a couple of days. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Cut the cookies from the dough, about 1/4 inch thick. Place on cookie sheet and bake for about 12-15 minutes. The cookies are done when the sides are brown and the cookies appear dry. Cool on a rack for about an hour. Melt the chocolate and add in the 1 tsp of the espresso beans. Dip the cookies, covering them with a thin layer of the chocolate. Place on wax paper and allow 10 minutes to set and then place in the refrigerator for another 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

I'd like to say I made these in conjunction with the National Cookie Day but I didn't know yesterday was that until I saw a post about it on Cooking Is Medicine. Probably should have been more on top of that. By the way, it is also National Cookie Cutter Week so celebrate by helping me determine what these are!

My first post at Just Baking

Stollen is a traditional German fruitcake made to celebrate the Christmas season. Although many recipes exist, the most famous is the Dresden Stollen ("Dresdner Weihnachtsstollen" in German). The city of Dresden is also where Stollen was first created in the 15th century and sold at the Striezelmarkt Christmas market. Originally called Striezel, the once folded over shape of the Stollen was meant to represent the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes. Later miners renamed it because they thought it looked like the opening to a mine or Stollen.

Continue reading at Just Baking...

Sources for Stollen:
Interesting fact I couldn't fit into the article: Martin Luther refers to "butter-letters" in his writings at the start of the Protestant Reformation so the desire to improve the taste of Stollen actually had a tiny part in the Saxony's change from Catholicism to Protestantism.


Stollen is a traditional German fruitcake made to celebrate the Christmas season. Although many recipes exist, the most famous is the Dresden Stollen (”Dresdner Weihnachtsstollen” in German). The city of Dresden is also where Stollen was first created in the 15th century and sold at the Striezelmarkt Christmas market. Originally called Striezel, the once folded over shape of the Stollen was meant to represent the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes. Later miners renamed it because they thought it looked like the opening to a mine or Stollen.

The original recipe for Stollen contained no dairy products. Historically, the Advent season was a time for fasting and things like milk and butter were not allowed. So the original Stollen was hard and relatively tasteless. In 1674 Prince Elector Ernst and his brother Duke Albrecht petitioned the Pope to allow their bakers to use butter. The Pope granted them a “butter-letter” which allowed only them the use of dairy during the fasting period. A few years later other bakers were also allowed to use butter but they had to pay a fine. The fines for using butter stopped when Saxony became Protestant.

Every year in Dresden they hold the Dresden Stollen Festival. It occurs on the Saturday before the 2nd Sunday of Advent, which is December 9th this year. Over 700,000 people take part in a day which includes a parade and the ceremonial cutting of the 3 to 4 ton giant Stollen by the Royal Master Baker and the Stollen Maiden. Pieces of the giant Stollen are sold to guests with part of the money generated going to charity.

The recipe below is from Mimi Sheraton’s wonderful cookbook The German Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Mastering Authentic German Cooking. It is on pages 450-451 and is bookended by two other recipes for Christmas breads. While researching the history of Stollen, I also found this was the recipe promoted by the German Embassy in Canada.


Makes 3 loaves

1-1/2 cups raisins
1 cup chopped citron
1 cup chopped candied orange peel
1/2 cup rum
6 to 8 slivered blanched bitter almonds or 1 teaspoon almond extract
2 envelopes dried powdered yeast
1/2 cup luke-warm water
1 tablespoon sugar (optional - used to activate the yeast quickly)
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/3 cups butter
1 lemon rind, grated
2 tbs. rum
2 cups flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
5 to 7 cups flour
1-1/2 cups chopped blanched almonds
melted butter
granulated sugar
confectioner’s sugar (vanilla flavored is preferred)

Soak the raisins, citron, and orange peel in rum for about an hour and then drain but save the rum. Follow the directions on the package to activate the yeast in warm water. Scald the milk and add the sugar, salt, and butter. After the butter has melted, add to the mixture the rum, lemon peel, and almond extract if you are not using bitter almonds. Let the mixture cool until it is lukewarm in temperature. Add the yeast mixture to this as well as 2 cups of flour. Mix thoroughly and let it sit in a warm area with no draft until the dough blisters (about 15-30 minutes). When the dough is ready, lightly beat the eggs and add them in. Slowly mix in the additional 5-7 cups of flour until the dough is not sticky, but soft and light and smooth enough to handle.

Dry the soaked fruit and lightly dredge it with flour. Place the dough onto a thoroughly floured board to knead. While kneading, add in the fruit, almonds, and bitter almonds if you are not using the almond extract. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic and blisters. Form a ball and put in a floured bowl. Brush the dough with melted butter, cover with a thin towel, and place in a warm, draft-less area to rise for about an hour. The dough should double in bulk. Punch the dough down and divide into three smaller balls.

Let the dough rest for 10 minutes and then roll each ball into an oval about 3/4 of an inch thick. Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle a small amount of sugar over them. Fold each oval in half length-ways so the edge of the top half doesn’t quite meet the edge of the bottom half. Place all three loaves on a buttered baking sheet and again brush with melted butter. Allow the loaves to rise in a draft-free, warm area until they double in bulk again (about 1 hour).

Preheat your oven to 425° F. First bake the loaves for 10 minutes and then turn the heat down to 350° F. Bake the loaves for roughly 45 minutes. The loaves are done when they are golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. While still warm, brush the loaves with melted butter and generously sprinkle the confectioner’s sugar over them. The confectioner’s sugar should cover the top of the loaves like an icing.

Stollen is served in 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch slices and sprinkled with additional confectioner’s sugar. It does store well in a cool place (not in the refrigerator).

As posted at Just Baking.

The photo used was taken from the Flickr account of Rene Schwietzke and used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

And the winner is...

A few weeks back I asked for your help to Name this thing I made. Well the votes are tallied and the winner is: Nutter Scotch Haystacks!

Thanks to all those who voted and commented!

Also, I've noticed that there are a good number of people looking for recipes using chow mein noodles. Using this as a base, I have a couple of variations you can try.
  • Replace the butterscotch chips with peanut butter chips and then drizzle with melted chocolate or top with marshmallows.
  • Replace the butterscotch chips and peanut butter with 1-1/2 cups of chocolate chips and 2/3 cup of coconut.