Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Cookies

The whole house smells like Christmas - wood burning and spices. 


The signature Christmas cookies are served - some hanging on the tree, some in a nicely decorated box. What I love the most about these cookies is not so much preparing them, not even baking them, although the heat helps all the aroma to gently fill every corner of the house. The strongest tease to all my senses is opening the cookie box. After few days of aging in the air tightly closed container, the cookies exude the most perfect aroma - the combination of the spices blooms the nicest smell. No need to have a bite even - so satisfying! 

I kept the old tradition this year of making the old-fashioned Lebkuchen cookies. I am on a journey to make it a family tradition of baking these for every Christmas. While I was growing up in Bulgaria, they were simply called honey cookies. In North America a variation of these is popular under the name of gingerbread, or 'spicy bread' in France, but everywhere they are baked, they bring the sense of Christmas with their warm aromatic flavour. I stick to the German name, out of respect towards the origin of this recipe. And because this particular one is unique to this certain region of Europe.

Grab your favourite winter cookie cutter(s) and treat yourself and your family and friends with a recipe easy to perform, and so satisfying.


for the cookies: 

490 g all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp powdered anise
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger

225 g honey
160 g light brown sugar
134 g unsalted butter
1 large egg

1. Sift the flour in a bowl.
2. In another bowl, sift all the spices.
3. Heat the honey, sugar and butter in a heavy bottomed pan over a low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Do not allow to boil.
4. Remove the butter from the heat and stir in the spices.
5. Beat in the flour, reserving a handful of it in the bowl. Let the dough cool a little bit.
6. Lightly beat the egg and add to the dough. 
7. Knead the dough with hands, using the reserved flour.
8. Wrap the dough in clean foil and let it rest at room temperature overnight.


Tailoring:

Follow the instructions for tailoring the Lebkuchen cookies.

Have wonderful Christmas day and warm tasty cookies with family and friends!

♥ IN

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Vínarterta


The things we learn from people are amazing! How important is communication, how enriching! This cake was mentioned to me last week. After six years of visiting Ana's violin teacher, I got to learn that his heritage is Icelandic. The Icelanders had the tradition of making this cake for Christmas. I only received a rough description of the cake, but got inspired to look for it - many layers of cake and dried-fruit filling is something that is worth researching.

My research led to a crossroad. It was like opening the Pandora box. Instead of finding out the information and sinking into reading, I had to choose what road to follow. Apparently there are different variations of this cake. The original recipe is from sometime of 1860. The most interesting fact is, that today's Icelanders themselves have not heard of this cake. I guess, the tradition got lost in Iceland through the centuries, but very well kept here, in Canada, in the families with Icelandic heritage. 

What a treat it was for me to hear about the cake! 


I remember the years of my childhood, when the chocolate was a pure treat. It is not because I am 120 years old, but because I used to live in a country, behind the iron curtain, where everything imported was forbidden. We had the chocolate production and, a really competitive one - the recipes for the chocolate were very original. There was a variety of chocolates. My favourite one was fine milk chocolate - an original recipe to die for. Now is a real treat to find a fine milk chocolate. And I have no explanation why, but it is the real life we live in. 

To be able to buy a bar of chocolate at 80's was a celebration of life. My grandmother,  as a hard working lady, living in a village, used to make an amazing "chocolate" out of dried plums. She puréed them, made them into a paste, rolled them out to a 5 mm sheet, leaving it to dry. Afterwords, she used to cut the sheets into bars and called them "Grandma's chocolate". This tradition was popular in Bulgaria when I was a child - a memory, kept from our grand grand parents. The taste to these dried-fruit bars was uniquely similar to what I got to taste in this cake.

The cake is a simple layered structure of cookie sheets with a spread of dried fruits jam in between. I found, after tasting it, that the jam would be more powerful if consisted of walnuts. This is what I will try next time. Surely, it won't be an original vínarterta any more, but it would be more adventurous one. Besides, as it turned out, the original recipe is quite questionable.
   
Here is the recipe the way it pleases my taste ... for now:


for the cookies:

225 g butter, at room temperature
300 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond liquor

2 large eggs

600 g flour
1 tsp baking powder

3 Tbsp heavy cream 35%

for the filling:

1 kg prunes, dried plums
60 g sugar
450 ml water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cardamom


for the frosting:

100 g butter soften
150 g cream cheese
50 g orange syrup


prepare the cookie layers:

1. Beat the butter to cream consistency. 
2. Add the sugar and beat well to mayonnaise consistency. 
3. Add the vanilla extract and the almond liquor, beat to homogenize.
4. Add the eggs one by one, beating after each addition.

5. Combine the flour and the baking powder in a bowl. 

6. Add half of the dry ingredients and one Tbsp of cream to the butter mixture. Fold in, without mixing thoroughly.
7. Fold in the rest.
8. Divide the cookie dough in seven equal pieces. Roll each one in a perfect 20cm x 20cm (8' x 8') square.
9. Bake at 175° C one by one, or two at once, if you are using convection. Keep the rest in a cool place.
10. Once baked, leave each cookie layer to cool completely on a wire rack.
11. You can store them for two days, before assembling the cake.


prepare the filling:

1. Combine the prunes and the water in a heavy bottomed pan. Place over a medium heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the temperature if needed. Cook for about five minutes. 

Note: This step very much depends on the quality of the prunes used. I remember that the dried plums from the my childhood were really dry - not a drop of life in them - almost skin and pit. Now the prunes on the market are very juicy and pretty much 'alive'. The cooking times would depend on how dry the prunes are.

2. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve. Cook for few more minutes. The mixture would thicken to jam consistency. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and the spice
3. Pulse the jam in a blender to smoothen it. Use warm, but not hot.

prepare the frosting:

1. Beat the butter and the cream cheese to homogenize.
2. Add the syrup and mix well.
3. Use immediately


Tailoring:

1. Place one cookie layer in a parchment paper.
2. Evenly spread some of the filling.
3. Repeat with the rest of the cookies and jam, leaving the last cookie plain on top of the cake.
4. Cover in plastic wrap and keep in a cool place for a week. This cake needs to age. The cookie layers will become softer.
5. Cut in 16 cubes, each 5 cm x 5 cm (2' x 2')
6. Pipe rosettes of the frosting. Garnish with halved pecans.
7. Store in a cold place. Serve at room temperature.

I would like to hear your experience with this beauty.


Have a very Merry, sweet, and generous in love Christmas!

♥ Ивелина





Monday, 12 December 2016

"Twelve Days till Christmas" Cake

12 days till Christmas! And the snow has just arrived!!! 

It is so clean out there... 

It is white! It is quiet! Our every day running is slowing down - our hearts beat normal. Our worries got buried under the heavy blanket. 
The Earth is moving at a normal pace. The air is so crisp and clean - the children's laughter is ringing, the tree branches are singing, the birds wings are drawing pictures in the clouds. The chimneys' smoke is knitting a sweater to the wind. The footprints are writing a poem.
It is so white! Our souls are sparkling white! We are better people! It feels like rebirth and a white beginning. It feels like a fairytale. It feels like a miracle.
12 days till Christmas! The white canvas out there temptingly invite us to write our story, to make our wishes, because the magical season has started. 

Happy Christmas, everyone! What did you wish for today?


My seasonal Christmas cake - surely very much chocolaty, and garnished with vanilla soft hearted, crunchy topped mini puffs. It is very warming and dreamy...


for the cake:

use one recipe of  Genoise cake


Note: I baked most of the batter in the 15 cm (6') cake pan. I also used a small amount from the batter to bake a thin layer of cake at 20 cm (8') cake pan. I need the extra 20 cm layer for future project. You could bake the whole batter in the 15 cm cake pan, building a 'wall' of parchment paper inside the pan and your cake will be 5 layers, instead of four; or you could use a 20 cm cake pan and make not so high cake of three layers. 


for the chocolate ganache:

400 g heavy cream - 35%
250 g milk chocolate - 30%
150 g dark chocolate - 75%
50 g butter


prepare the chocolate ganache:

1. Bring the cream and the sugar to boil.
2. Have the chocolate chopped in small pieces in a bowl.
3. Pour the boiling cream over. Let it stay for 5-6 min.
4. Stir carefully with a silicon spatula to incorporate any cream until the ganache is smooth and glossy.
5. Stir in the softened butter. Cover with plastic foil and let harden to piping consistency at room temperature.


Tailoring:

1. With a serrated knife, cut the cake in 4 layers.
2. Spread the ganache evenly between the layers, leaving just enough to cover the cake and make some rosettes for decoration.
3. Decorate as desired.
4. Refrigerate.
5. Before serving, make sure you temper the cake at room temperature.


Have a chocolate Christmas, everyone!

♥ IN

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Christmas Cake with Caramelized-Apple Cream Cheese Frosting


It is this time of year, when the fragrant spices are very popular in my kitchen. There are certain types of spices that I use only at Christmas time. I feel that I ignore them for the rest of the year, but this is something I am not forcing myself on doing, it just happens...

I reach for the cinnamon from time to time (rarely) in a non-seasonal time, but definitely it is the queen of the spices at Christmas time. The nutmeg is present in my savoury cuisine through the year, but I do not touch the cloves and the cardamom in any other time of the year, but for Christmas. In this cake, all these spices meet together and really bloom the taste. 

It is an easy and fast desert, baked in a bundt cake form and topped with a light cream cheese frosting. The apple caramel sauce makes it extraordinary and certainly delivers the warm and cosy sense of Christmas.


for the cake:

225 g unsalted butter at room temperature
380 g custard sugar

2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

60 g cocoa powder
150 ml cold water

250 g plain yogurt 
1/2 tsp baking soda

250 g flour
1 tsp cinnamon 
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
4 g salt
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of clover
a pinch of cardamom 
a pinch of four peppers 


prepare the cake:

1. Prepare the cocoa mixture: In a bowl. scale the cocoa and stir in the cold water to a paste consistency.
2. Prepare the yogurt: Scale the yogurt and add the baking soda. Stir well. Leave aside until needed.
3. Prepare the dry ingredients: Scale the flour in a medium bowl. Add all the spices. Stir well.
4. In a bowl of a self-standing mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until mayonnaise consistency is reached.
5. Add eggs one by one, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla.
6. Add the cocoa mixture.
7. Mix in half of the yogurt mixture. Fold in half of the flour mixture, followed by the rest of the yogurt. Gently fold in the rest of the flour. Mix to homogenize well. 
8. Bake in the bundt form at 180°C, until a toothpick check comes out clean (about half an hour).
9. Leave in the pan to cool for 20 min.
10. Turn the cooled cake over a wired rack to cool.


for the frosting:

half a cup of caramelized apple sauce 
200 g cream cheese at room temperature

prepare the frosting:

1. Beat the cream cheese until light.
2. While mixing, incorporate half of the caramel sauce. Add the rest and beat to homogenize.
3. Leave at the refrigerator to cool and prepare for piping.

tailoring the cake:

1. Place the cooled cake in a serving plate.
2. Sift icing sugar on top.
3. Pipe the cream cheese as desired. I used St. Honoré piping tip.
4. Garnish with pomegranate. 


Serve chilled.
Store in a cool place.

Have a sweet day,
♥ IN