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Almost Last Minute

Is it just me or does time speed up in December?  I always start off with grand plans and lists and intentions, but halfway through the month, it seems I have barely made a dent in all the things I would like to do.  I’m sure there are many of you who feel the same way.  This is the point in which we have to make peace with not getting everything done and buying some gift cards.  It’s the though that counts and I’m not just saying that.  I know I’m not the only one with a list of people to get gifts for and for half of them I can’t think of anything to get.  I spend a lot of time racking my brain over these people and, if nothing has come to mind by this time of the month, gift cards are a wonderful invention.  That leaves me some spare time to try to finish off my Christmas baking wish list, yay.

The last time we talked, my list was really long.  Unfortunately, it only got longer and now has reached the point where it has to be trimmed.  I can’t make everything I’ve made in previous years AND add a few new things I’ve been itching to try.  Mostly, I am now baking whatever I feel like baking, because I really believe that if one is going to bake during this crazy season, it better be something you REALLY want to make.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens when trying new things, the new stuff does not always work out the way we wish they would.  Like these Lebkuchen.

I had high hopes for this recipe since I love this cookie.  I made a recipe last year that was quite good and I  thought this one would be better and more authentic.  This year’s recipe is from Classic German Baking, which I mentioned last week.

There is no flour or leavening in this recipe and, as a result, what you you put into the oven is what you get when they come out.  They do not spread much or change really.  The dough was pretty sticky and hard to spread onto the papers, so that made for lumpy bumpy cookies.  I thought maybe the glaze would help its looks, but no.  The glaze was also a pain to apply evenly.  They taste ok, but I’ll just say that next I will go back to the recipe I made last year.  At least I got some good quality time with this cutie pie who helped me assemble them.

After that disappointment, I moved on to a new cookbook with some great Christmas recipes, Sweet by Helen Goh and Yotan Ottolenghi.  This is the book the husband used last week for me birthday cake.  I wanted to try the Soft Gingerbread tiles with Rum Butter glaze.

After I figured out how best to use the cookies stamps with this dough (coat them with a light film of oil for each cookie), these were fun to make, especially since I had some help from the husband.  The dough is easiest to handle when chilled and rolled between sheets of parchment.  I also found that the rum butter glaze was best applied by dipping the cookies into the glaze rather than brushing each cookie individually.  These might be our new favorite gingerbread cookie.  I love the look of the stamped ones, but I want to make another batch in some other shapes, too.  Maybe I’ll be able to get to that this weekend.

I’ve also got my sweet sourdough starter going to prep for pandoro and panettone baking next week.  On a whim yesterday, I decided to try out a sourdough kugelhopf recipe instead of discarding the unused portion of the starter.  I wasn’t sure if it would work because I have a stiff starter, whereas the recipe calls for a liquid one.  I just made up the difference in weight with water and a little extra flour.  The dough came together quite well.

However, it didn’t seem like it was very active for a long time, even after I transferred it to the pan for its last, long rise.  It seems, though, that a watched dough doesn’t rise.  I just had to ignore it for a few hours and it rose just fine.  It did take a couple extra hours, but our house is pretty cold, so that does not surprise me.  Once baked, it looked great.

What I was really impressed with, though, was the crumb structure.  It’s spongy, but firm, elastic, and yet sort of cakey, moist, and fine textured.  It was a little tangy from the sourdough and just a little sweet.  The bits of rum soaked fruit was a perfect complement.

It was so good, I decided to make another one today.  I love it when experiments work out like this!

Now that time is getting short, I don’t know how much more I will be able to get done before Christmas.  But, I’ve promised you a giveaway so I’m just going to keep it simple this year.  Leave me a comment on this post by midnight this Saturday, December 16, and I will randomly pick one winner to receive a box of goodies to be shipped on Monday, December 18th.  This giveaway is limited to United States addresses.  Only one comment per person, please!  Tell me what you’re doing to get ready for the holidays.  Are you baking a lot?  Shopping?  Making any gifts?  Trying to get over a cold (as some in our house are doing) or avoid illness (the others in our house are doing this)?  I’ve been tempted to go on a diet in preparation for the holiday week of treats, but it’s hard to do that with all the baking that is happening here!


Advent Season

Hello friends!  It’s been a crazy busy couple of months here as we continue to adjust to our high school/middle school schedule.  We were not prepared for the increased work load and all the issues that come with that.  It kind of threw us all off mentally and left hardly any time for extra things, especially during the week.  Oddly enough, now that the older one is swimming 2 hours everyday, our schedule seems to be settling down.  Maybe he just needed regular exercise to help his mind focused?  Or maybe we’ve all just adjusted our expectations.  Anyway, I’ll take it and run with it for now!

And now, it’s time for Christmas baking to begin!  Squeee!!!  I’m super excited this year for all the baking.  I think the early Thanksgiving holiday really helped us to get a head start on all things Christmas.  Already this week, I have tried three new cookie recipes:

Pfeffernusse from Classic German Baking by Louisa Weiss

Springerle, also from Classic German Baking

and Bakery Style Butter Cookies from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen

I have literally been waiting for months since I got Classic German Baking to start baking some of the recipes in the Christmas chapter.  I love that that she has a special section for Christmas!  I chose to make Pfeffernusse and Springerle first because they are long keepers.  In fact, they are supposed to get better as they age.  This is perfect for including in packages that might go a long distance, like to a different country.  Neither one of these cookies has any butter in them, which makes them a different texture than most cookies out there, but we don’t mind that.  Actually, it’s probably better for our waistlines at this moment!  Both cookies are really yummy.

The Pfeffernusse are like a dry, bready, and chewy gingerbread.  The lemon glaze on that one really compliments the cookie well.  It was a very stiff dough. Next time, I might try a cake flour to get a softer dough.

We also made Springerle last year, but I used a different recipe, which I actually like better.  These are drier, but that could be because I baked them too long.  Next time, I will pull them out earlier.  That being said, those of us who like anise, preferred this recipe.  I preferred the fruity/floweryness of the recipe from King Arthur Flour.

The third cookie I made mostly because I had two egg yolks lying around and a container of sprinkles I wanted to use up.  These were a bit of a fiasco to make, only because of my choice of equipment.  I did not have a big star tip for piping and I actually dislike piping anyway (it hurts my hands).  Instead, I decided to use my cookie press.  We had a hard time getting them to press out evenly (a lot of them curled into strange shapes) and making them a uniform size was also quite challenging.  Not to mention, loading the press was a three person job (one to unscrew it, one to hold it, and then one to fill it).  Good thing there were three of us!  Anyway, despite all that, they are quite delicious.  I could do without the chocolate dip and sprinkles.  I left some plain, with just jam sandwiched between and those were my favorite.  The kids prefer the sprinkled ones, so everyone is happy, really.

This is a great start to the Christmas baking season.  There’s still a lot left.  So far, we are up to 9 different breads/pastries and 10 different kinds of cookies.  We just need to add a few more and we’d have enough to populate an advent calendar!

Day 4: Lebkuchen

Several years ago, I was introduced to today’s cookie by a good friend of mine who generously shared a package of lebkuchen that she had squirreled away. We had never heard of them before, but loved them from first bite.  Then, we began seeing the everywhere at Christmastime, from Trader Joe’s to the local fancy grocery store.  We would buy multiple packs of them during the holidays and save them for special treats.

The best way to describe them is a citrusy-spiced nut cookie, sorta like a nutty gingerbread.  They are usually glazed with either an icing or chocolate glaze that  protects the cookie from getting dried out, which also makes this cookie an excellent keeper.  In fact, I read one recipe that suggested making them two full weeks before you plan to serve them because the flavors develop over time.

Another distinctive thing about them is that they are usually baked on top of an oblaten wafer.  These are usually made of some kind of starch and resemble the communion wafers that some churches use.

This year, we are having a little trouble finding a supply of lebkuchen in our area, so I decided I would have a go at making them myself.  You start by making a ground nut mixture that includes citrus and spices.  I got my spice mix from a friend in Germany who sent me a package awhile back.

Some recipes sort of stop here and just add some sugar and eggs to finish the recipe.  However, the recipe I was using called for some flour, a little chocolate, and butter as well, which I understand is not entirely traditional.

Usually, I would pick a more traditional recipe, but I was worried that they would fall apart since I did not plan to use the wafers.

With the addition of flour as a binder, you can bake them with or without the wafers.  As I said, I did not have wafers, but at the last minute, I remembered that I did have sheets of rice paper from making nougat.  It just took some cutting to make the round oblaten shapes.

You can see I was all ready to bake them when I remembered the rice paper.  It was easy to transfer them to a different baking sheet with the paper.

I have to say that I am really pleased with how they turned out.  They look just like the ones in the packages, especially after the glaze is brushed on and has time to dry.

And they taste great as well!  The texture is just right and the flavors are actually a little brighter than the packaged ones.  I think the spices could be a bit stronger, but those may ripen with time.  It will be interesting to see if they taste better the longer they sit, but we may not make it that long!

The recipe I used came from an America’s Test Kitchen publication from 2008, Holiday Baking and is not readily available on the internet unless you subscribe to their site.  I think this recipe would be a good substitute, though.

Next year, I may try buying some oblaten papers, but for now, I will stick with the rice paper that I have.  It worked really well, though it is probably not as thick as the real thing.

I have loved reading all the comments so far, so keep them rolling in!  Tell me about the best gift you have ever given someone else for Christmas.  I’m looking for ideas!

Remember that you get one entry a day if you leave a comment here on the blog.  Comments in other places are not eligible for the Christmas Treat box giveaway.  More details here.




No No November

This fall has been whizzing by us at a breakneck speed. As our kids get older, they are becoming more independent, but they are also becoming more and more busy. Gone are the days when everyone used to take an afternoon nap (not that that always happened, but we planned for it, haha). We have a mandated rest time every afternoon when we are home, but more often than not, the boys and I are using it to catch up on reading or homework or (for me) cooking.

Halloween almost went by unnoticed by us this year. On Friday afternoon, we found ourselves costumeless, bereft of candy, and no plans to carve pumpkins. Friends, this is the first time this has happened in the last ten years or so that we have been in this house. Luckily, we had been invited to a halloween party and our friends there had extra costumes, which thrilled the boys because it was either that or go home without any candy.


The next day, I kept exclaiming how I could not believe it was November already. I am just not ready for all the the inevitable thoughts about Thanksgiving and that major holiday that comes next month. What’s a girl to do? Why, make some cookies, of course! Yes, it is time for our annual cookie fund raiser for Samaritan’s Purse. We are a few weeks later than usual and a little more pressed for time, so things have to be condensed this year. It was tempting to take a break from all of this, but there really is such a little amount that we do to help others that it seemed stingy for us to not do it.


So, we will be making some Awesome Trail Mix Cookies


and Nibby Toffee Butter Cookies, and many more to help us all remember to be thankful for all our blessings. What are you doing to help yourself get into the spirit of the month?

What’s Next?

Last week, after I finished my sweater, I had a lot of grand plans about what I was going to do next. First, I finished a hat to go with the cowl that I finished awhile ago. The hat was a pretty quick knit and even though I originally planned to give it away, it fits me so well that I think I have to keep it.


I may even have enough leftover yarn to cobble together a matching set of fingerless mitts.


But, then I hit a bit of a snag. Every once in a while, my hands get weak and numb. I have pretty weak hands to begin with. The husband is always teasing me because I have trouble opening any jar or lid in the house. Sometimes, even turning a doorknob or picking up a glass of water can be painful or difficult. When I have one of these episodes, I have to give my hands a rest and make sure I sleep with them in a relaxed position, not flexed in any way. If I knit anything, it has to be really lightweight. So, I cast on a new shawl.


It’s one of those bottom up shawls where you cast on all the hem stitches, in this case there were 339 of them, and decrease as you knit your way up. Unfortunately, my stitch counts were off from almost the very first row. I tried to fudge it, but I was having a hard time seeing how the pattern was supposed to be lining up and it all became just too much for me. I put it aside and made some cookies instead.


These cookies turned out to be too sweet, so I adjusted the recipe. Twice. None of them got rave reviews from the cookie eaters in my house. So, I changed tactics a bit and went all out in the chocolate area.


These turned out better comments, but, honestly, I think I need some more cookie taste testers. I think the boys have been eating too much Easter candy or something. They can’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm over cookies lately. Well, I thought they were pretty good, but I do need to tweak the recipe a bit before I post it here, so stay tuned.

Basically, even though the past week has been super busy, I have little to show for it. Sigh. At least I have the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival to look forward to this weekend. I am making my list and checking it twice!