Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Lebkuchen Houses

Traditions are sculpted by the memories of the people. For some traditions is particularly easy to cross time and geographical borders, because of the taste. The well known gingerbread houses today are the young ancestors of the lebkuchen houses, born in Germany two hundred years ago, when Brothers Grimm wrote "Hansel and Gretel". German bakers were inspired by the descriptive story and freed their imagination into baking differently shaped and coloured small and big delicious houses. 

Decorated with candies, small cookies, chocolate pieces and lots of icing, the houses are extremely appealing not only because of their whimsical appearance, but because of the heavenly aroma of the spices as well.

Make this in advance and you will have Christmas feeling all season long. 

I chose to bake lebkuchen houses because of the variety of spices used in the recipe. My houses are gently decorated with white royal icing and I did not use any candies. I like this way of decorating - it is very gentle and feels natural - similar to the winter drawings, that, I must confess, I miss this season.


for the houses:

one recipe lebkuchen dough

You will need templates.

for the templates:

1. On a sheet of paper, draw the shape of your house - with symmetric or asymmetric roof - it really does not matter - whatever feels enchanted to you. 
2. Draw the side walls of the house - 2 rectangles. Once you decide how your house will look like, make the side walls - they will be equal rectangles and will determine the height of the house. 
3. Draw the front and back wall of a house with symmetrical roof - 2 pentagons. Decide how steep the roof will be and draw a symmetrical pentagon. The roof is very much influenced by the fifth acute angle of the pentagon. The smaller the angle, the steeper the roof. 
4. Draw the front and back wall of a house with asymmetrical roof - 2 pentagons. Again it depends on the fifth angle of the pentagon, but this time, the two arms of the angle have different length.
5. Draw the roof of a symmetrical house - 2 equal rectangles with length that matches the length of the rectangle drawn for the side walls and the same with as the arms of the acute angle of the pentagons used for front and back wall. 
6. Draw the roof of an asymmetrical house - 2 different rectangles: both with length that matches the length of the rectangle drawn for the side walls and the same with as the arms of the acute angle of the pentagons used for front and back wall (one of the rectangles will be smaller than the other one).
7. Now you have all the elements of the house drawn on paper. Before cutting the shapes, the roof needs some corrections: the roof extends a bit on front and back of the house, and also over the sides. That is why the rectangles for the roof must be at least 1 cm bigger at each side (if the drawn length is 8 cm, correct it to 9 or more. It all depends of your vision). 
9. Cut all the elements, transfer them onto a heavy carton and cut again. These are the carton templates, used for the dough.


prepare the house elements:

1. Roll out the dough about 5-7 mm thick.
2. Place the templates and cut them out with a paring knife.
3. Arrange onto a lined with parchment paper pan.
4. Cut the windows and doors, where desired.
5. Bake at 180 C.
6. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
7. Elements are deformed while baking. The sides of the walls could be straightened with a knife, but make sure you do not change much of the sizing.

I preferred to keep the deformed shapes where possible because I like the crooked and unstable look of the baked hoses, but for a perfection seekers: place the templates over the baked elements and cut the excessive dough. This will produce rough edges of all the sides, but will make gluing easier and the look of the house perfect.


decorating the house:

You will need Royal Icing.

for the Royal Icing:

20 g meringue powder*
50 ml cold water*
(*40 g egg whites, or egg white from one extra large fresh egg)
230 g confectioners’ sugar
few drops of lemon extract or juice

  • meringue powder and water can be substitute for fresh egg white. I would recommend, if egg whites are used, to be pasteurized. Once the egg white icing is prepared, decorate the cookies the same day and let them dry. Discard all of the royal icing that is left. Meringue powder royal icing could be stored at room temperature for up to 10 days. Whip before using it again.
prepare the Royal Icing:

1. Add the meringue powder to the water in a mixing bowl. Beat to soft peaks for about 3 min.
2. Slowly add the sugar until it is incorporated. 
3. Add the lemon extract and beat for about 5 min until the icing forms stif peaks. 
4. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use. 


Tailoring:

1. Decorate each element as desired. Leave to dry overnight.
2. With Royal Icing, glue the sides of the house together. Leave to dry for 2 hours.
3. Glue the sides of the roof one by one. Hold them together until slightly dry then leave to dry overnight.
4. Pipe Royal Icing over all seems. Pipe decorative icicles. 
5. Display the houses around the Christmas tree, or anywhere as a decoration. 

Note: You can brighten your houses with a candle inside. I do not recommend doing so for longer than to take a festive family picture, because the house could be burned from the inside.

Check the cookie-candle holders I made for Moms and Munchkins. Maybe they will make your holidays brighter in a safer way. 


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Crispy Molasses Stars

Crispy cut-out cookies that are made with molasses. That is how they have the signature dark colour and are perfect canvas for decorating in snow motives with a contrastingly white royal icing.

These spicy cookies are perfumed similarly to the Lebkuchen, but because of their high fat quantity, they are harder and able to keep their crispiness even after stored for months. These should be rolled out very thinly. I rolled mine to 3 mm (even less on one batch) and produced more than hundred. 



for the cookies:

140 g unsalted butter
110 g molasses
125 g custard sugar

250 g all purpose flour
70 g cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cardamom

grated rind of one lemon
1/4 cup ground almonds

5.5 cm 6-point star cookie cutter



prepare the cookies:

1. In a heavy-bottomed pan, warm the butter, sugar and molasses, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Do not bring to boil. Leave to cool.
2. Add the sifted dry ingredients and stir with a flexible spatula.
3. Add the lemon rind and almonds.
4. Wrap the dough in a clean foil and let it rest overnight at room temperature.
5. Divide the dough in two and roll each piece very thinly.
6. Cut out the cookies and place them on a lined with parchment paper pan.
7. Bake for about 10 min in a pre-heated to 175C oven.
8. Leave them to cool on a wire rack.
9. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a month.
10. Decorate, if desired.


Share with friends and family:

1. Choose a box that will accommodate the size of cookies you have made.
2. Cut a wax paper ribbon the same width as the cookies.
3. Pack the cookies and slide them into the box. Fill it until the lid so the cookies would have no space to move around.
4. Share with love.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Chocolate Swiss Roll

Delicious desert! In its simplicity, it serves an irresistible combination of sponge roll and chocolate mousseline.  What better way to celebrate Saint Anne on December 9th? 


for the swiss roll:
(for a pan 48/23 cm , or 17/11")

4 yolks from large eggs
4 whites from large eggs
165 g sugar for the yolks
85 g sugar for the whites
175 g flour
pinch of salt

The basic bowl is the one with the yolk mixture. 

1. Combine the yolks and the first sugar quantity in a bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment (or use the hand held mixer). Beat in high speed until very thick (for about 10 -15 min with hand held mixer). 
2. In another bowl, beat the egg whites and the sugar to firm, moist peaks. 
3. Fold in the yolk mixture alternating with the sifted flour in three steps. Do not overmix. 
4. Immediately transfer in the pan and bake at 220°C for about 6-7 min. 
5. Prepare a piece of parchment paper the same  size as the sponge roll. Cover with sifted powder sugar. 
6. Cool slightly the baked sponge and when cooled take it off the pan, holding the paper it was baked on. Carefully turn it over the powdered piece of parchment paper. Peel off the paper it was baked on. Sift some confectioners' sugar.
7. Let it cool completely.

for the cream mousseline:

250 ml milk
60 g sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk from a large egg
2 Tbsp corn starch
1/2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
120 g dark chocolate
170 g butter cubed and at room temperature

1. Bring the milk to boil.
2. Whisk the egg, egg yolk and sugar until foamy. Whisk in the cornstarch, until smooth. 
3. Add half of the milk and mix well. Return the egg mixture to the pan over a medium heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the cream thickens slightly. Change to a hand held whisk and whisk for few more minutes to thicken. 
4. Remove from the heat. Add the chopped in small pieces chocolate and stir until well homogenized.
5. Cover with plastic foil and leave to cool.
6. Place in a bowl of a mixer and beat with a whisk attachment, adding butter in pieces. Whisk until well homogenized.
7. Chill for 30 min before use.

for the chocolate ganache:

200 ml heavy cream
200 g dark chocolate

1. Bring the cream to boil.
2. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate. Stir to homogenize.
3. Use immediately. 


Tailoring:

1. Spread all the cream over the sponge. Distribute evenly with a spatula, leaving 2 cm of one of the sort sides uncovered.
2. Starting with the short side, roll tightly.
3. Place the roll over a wire rack and leave in a refrigerator to cool.
4. Take the roll out of the fridge and place it over a pan.
5. Pour the warm ganache over the roll, letting the ganache to cover all the roll freely. 
6. Place it in the fridge to cool for 30 min.
7. Place the roll on a serving plate. 
8. Collect all the excessive chocolate from the pan and store in a well closed box. Use for preparing hot chocolate or decorating other sweets.

Store the roll in a cool place. Serve at room temperature.





Tuesday, 9 December 2014

"The Nutcracker" Cupcakes

"The Nutcracker" is a symbolic piece. Written in 1892, it became popular much later, as most of the classical music. Tchaikovsky left a print in the music history when this piece turned into a ballet performance. Since 1960, "the Nutcracker" has been a Christmas emblem in most of the big theatres across the world. 

Make these cupcakes festive, make them sweet and in big number - they are delicious and celebrate the joy of the season. 


for the cupcakes:
(makes 24)

240 g unsalted butter
400 g sugar
4 large eggs
160 ml heavy cream 35%
160 ml milk
90 g freshly squeezed orange juice (1 orange)
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
500 g all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. pinch salt


for the icing:

220 g unsalted butter softened
grated orange zest - 1 orange
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
500 g cream cheese
170 g confectioners' sugar
1 Tbsp heavy cream


prepare the cupcakes:

1. Combine the "wet" ingredients: cream, milk, orange juice and vanilla extract in a bowl.
2. Combine all dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, soda and salt in another bowl.

3. Beat the soft butter and the sugar till well combined to a airy fluffy mixture. Stop the mixer and scrape the mixture from the bottom of the bowl. Continue mixing - for about 3 min. 
4. Beat the eggs with a fork, just enough to destroy the structure of the whites. Add the eggs in small portions to the butter mixture, till well combined and homogenized. 
5. The working bowl is the one with the butter. Adding wet and dry ingredients to it is in three portions. Starting with the flour mixture, combine well in slow speed of the mixer (or by hand), add half of the liquid and the second third of the flour, mix just till combined, again - the wet mixture, followed by the last part of the dry one. Do not over-mix, just combine well. 
6. Fill the cups at two thirds.   
7. Bake in paper cups in a cup cake pan at 175 C, convection bake. Bake for about 20 min. Check with a tooth pick. 
8. After they are ready, leave on a rack to cool.


prepare the icing:

1. Beat the butter until it reaches a mayonnaise consistency.
2. Scrape down the bottom of the bowl, add the lemon juice and beat again.
3. Add the cream cheese. Cream well, until completely homogenized.
4. Sift in the confectioners' sugar. 
5. Add the cream in the middle of the sugar. Cream well. 
6. Cover with wrapping foil (the foil should touch the cream) and place in the fridge for not longer than an hour.

Tailoring:

1. Spoon in a piping bag with a tip of your choice.
2. Pipe swirls or rosettes.
3. Decorate.

Store in a cool place. Serve at room temperature.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Macarons

The fall is far gone. White and snowy spirit surrounds us. It is all about Christmas preparation now - Christmas lights and songs, spicy perfumed cookies, chocolate and cakes, friends and family gathering... 

My macarons today are a perfect evidence for a personal historical failure. I followed a recipe for a roll out cookies, but ended up with a perfect macarons. At the time I mixed the ingredients, I noticed that the batter is too runny for rolling out. Piping it in macaron shells saved the day and produced these nice rustic white confections.


for the macarons:
(makes about 25)

220 g finely ground unblanched almonds
140 g egg whites (about 3 1/2 large eggs)
350 g powdered sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice

for the chocolate ganache:

125 ml heavy cream
50 g sugar
175 g dark chocolate  
25 g butter


prepare the macaron shells:

1. Prepare the baking tins - cover the pans with silicone sheet or a parchment paper. 
2. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks are formed.
3. Beat in the sugar, adding in thirds and beating well after each addition. Beat further for about 3-5 min.

Note: You could divide the sugar - 1/3 + 2/3. Beat in the 2/3 with the egg whites (again, adding the sugar in portions). Add the 1/3 of the sugar to the almonds and grind for few seconds. The sugar will will absorb any reduced oil and will allow to grind the almonds well.

That is the proper way to prepare the macaron batter. As I mentioned, though, I was trying to make different type of cookies. 
4. Fold in the almonds. Add the lemon juice. 
5. Spoon the batter into a piping bag with a round tip and pipe 50 shells. 
6. Bake at 130 C until the shells are well raised and dry on top. Do not let them to change their colour. 
7. Place them on a wire rack to cool.

prepare the chocolate ganache:

1. Bring the cream and sugar to boil.
2. Have the chocolate chopped in a bowl. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate. Let stay for 5 min.
3. Stir the mixture gently until well homogenized and glossy ganache is formed.
4. Incorporate the butter. Cover the dish with cling foil. Leave at room temperature. Use before it hardens completely.


Tailoring:

1. Spoon the chocolate ganache into a piping bag with a star tip.
2. Pipe swirls onto the bottom side of half of the macaroons.
3. Cover each one of the piped shells with the rest of the plain macaron shells. Press very gently.
4. Serve at store at room temperature.



Monday, 1 December 2014

Sachertorte

Rich chocolate sponge cake, glazed in apricot and iced in bittersweet chocolate ganache. 

Subject to a court case, this cake recipe was developed almost 300 years ago by Franz Sacher. 

Now, there is no argument about the exquisite taste of this Viennese creation. Cut in the middle and layered with apricot jam, or just covered with it on tor and the sides, the cake always proudly wears the signature "Sacher" chocolate stamp. 

I decided to prepare Sachertorte, trying to find the most genuine recipe for it - not the contemporary versions with new additions. One of the issues, discussed in court was if the cake should be cut in half and layered with jam, or just covered. I chose not to cut my beautifully baked chocolate sponge.


for the cake:

170 g dark chocolate
140 g butter, softened
170 g custard sugar
120 g egg yolks (about 6 extra large eggs)
320 g egg whites (about 8 extra large eggs)
150 g all purpose flour

for the glaze:

200 ml apricot jam
1 Tbsp lemon juice

for the ganache:

50 g sugar
1 Tbsp glucose or white corn syrup
190 g heavy cream
230 g dark chocolate - 75% cocoa

Have a 8" cake pan buttered and covered with parchment paper.


prepare the cake:

1. Melt the chocolate over bain marie. Set aside.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and pale.
3. Beat in the egg yolks one by one, beating well after each addition.
4. Beat the egg whites, until stiff. Fold in one quarter of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it.
5. Gently, fold in the yolk mixture into the whites.
6. Sift over the flour and fold gently.
7. Pour the batter into the pan and bake in the middle of the oven at 175C for 40-50 min, or until ready. (check with a toothpick).
8. Turn the cake onto a wire rack to cool.

prepare the glaze:

1. Heat the apricot jam and the lemon juice and allow to boil.
2. Strain through a fine sieve.
3. Brush the top and sides of the cake, while the jam is warm. Distribute the jam evenly.
4. Leave to cool and set.

prepare the ganache:

1. Chop the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl.
2. Bring the cream, glucose and sugar to boils.
3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Leave to stay for 5 min.
4. Stir to homogenize.

Tailoring:

1. When the jam is well set on the cake and while the ganache is still warm, place the cake on a wire rack and fit the rack into a deep pan.
2. Pour the ganache over the cake (over the centre).
3. With a flat spatula, evenly distribute the ganache on top of the cake and let it cover freely the sides. Use the spatula for the sides, if needed.
4. Leave the cake on the rack until the ganache hardens and sets.


Serving:

Serve at room temperature. Traditionally, Sachertorte is served with unsweetened whipped cream.
Store in a cool place for up to 4 days.