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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.

 

 

 

Sugar and Spice

It’s that time of year again when I start looking through all my cookbooks and brainstorming with the boys for cookie ideas. I have been wanting to make some cookies for weeks now, but other things seemed to get in the way. You know what I am talking about. All this is to say that making cookies was not a big priority, even though I kept thinking about wanting to make them. So, when a friend contacted me looking for a cookie recipe for a baby shower, I was primed and ready to go. All I needed was a reason to get baking. In the space of two days I made three different batches of cookies.

On the third day, I had to make a trip to the store to restock the butter, sugar, and eggs. Then, I made another batch, which I suspected would be the winner, but I had to make sure.

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So, I made them again. You know, just to be sure they were just right and would work for my friend, who had some specific requests for this recipe, which are as follows:

First, they had to be a spice cookie because they are for a baby shower and the baby is a girl. She wanted to be able to write on the label something like, "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice." Cute, right? But, she didn't want to bake the cookies serve or to give away. What she wanted was a mix that she could put into a mason jar and give out as favors. This presented some more limitations which leads to my next point.

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Second, they have to be easy to make. Not everyone likes to make cookies or has the equipment or energy to cream butter and sugar. To make a cookie mix that people will actually want to make, and not just leave sitting on a shelf until they decide to throw it away, the mix has to be basically a dump and stir recipe. This is actually not how most cookie recipes operate, so this part of the recipe took quite a bit of experimenting.

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Third, the cookie cannot require any extra ingredients that people are not going to want to buy. Most spice cookies I looked at called for molasses, which is not a pantry item for most people. Me, I try to always have at least four jars on hand at all times of the year because you never know when you will want to make a gingerbread cake. However, I recognize that not everyone is crazy like me and if I were not that way, I know that I would not want to buy a jar of molasses for a recipe that will only want two tablespoons. Then what in the world would I do with the rest of that jar? For this reason, I decided that the recipe must only call for butter and eggs to be added to the mix. Most people have butter and eggs on hand and don’t mind having leftovers of those ingredients hanging around. The secret here is the dark brown sugar, which has molasses in it. In a pinch, you can make it with the light stuff, but it won’t be as rich tasting.

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Lastly, the mix has to look good and fit in a pint sized jar. Quarts are a bit big for party favors, especially for this party, which I anticipate will be on the large size. This baby is a highly anticipated one.

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Many dozens of cookies later, I finally put together a cookie that met all these requirements and tasted good as well!  Of course, then my friend tells me that they aren't going to use the mixes anymore.  They are going to just bake a bunch and give them away in cute little bags. This is probably what I would have done as well because it turns out that these cookies are so easy, that it will not a be a chore to make a huge batch of these and give them away. Still, I am glad that I did it because it definitely got my cookie juices flowing.  It does make a good cookie mix recipe to give away for the holidays or to just keep on hand for a cookie emergency.  Plus, I get to share it with you!  Enjoy!

Sugar and Spice Cookies

To package this up in pint sized jars, cut the recipe in half and layer all the dry in gredients in a jar.  A wide mouth funnel really helps cut down on the mess if you are doing this.  The cookies are rolled in a spiced sugar mixture that I put in a little baggie at the top of the jar.  You can get these at just about any craft store.  Or, it can be omitted. Also, I cut a piece of parchment to include with the jar because, amazingly, there are still people who have not discovered the joys of parchment. Trust me, your giftee will thank you.

12 Tablespoons butter

2 eggs

1 1/2  (10 1/2 ounces) cups dark brown sugar

2 cups (10 ounces) all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

For rolling:

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.

Melt the butter in a large microwavable bowl.  Let cool until lukewarm.  Whisk the eggs into the butter.

Add all the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix with a stiff spoon or hand mixer until there are no lumps or dry spots in the dough.

Whisk the sugar rolling ingredients in a shallow bowl.

Scoop out heaping Tablespoons of dough (about walnut size or ping pong ball sized) and roll between your hands into a ball.  Then, roll the dough ball in the sugar and spice mixture until coated.

Place cookies about 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets.

Bake 12-15 minutes.  The cookies should still be slightly puffy in the middle, but look mostly dry.

Cool on pans for at least five minutes and then transfer to racks to cool.

makes 22-30 cookies

Day 12: Gingersnaps + TWD

It was great fun to read everyone’s comments yesterday about their favorite Christmas movies. I had forgotten some of them, such as A Christmas Story. There are so many hilarious and memorable scenes from that movie, especially the double dog dare scene, haha. And I, too, loved Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas when I was a kid, though I haven’t seen that in a long time. On a more recent note, I also loved that sappy movie with Hugh Grant, Love Actually and that other one with Jude Law, which I can’t remember the name of right now (something holiday?).

Anyway, I’d love to just sit down and watch all of these movies and knit for hours on end, especially with the miserable week that I have had that is continuing into this one. Remember that tooth trouble I was having? Well, it’s only gotten worse. I won’t go into all the details, but I will just say that a month long toothache during the holidays makes it difficult for a person to get into the holiday spirit. Still, I am grateful for having had the self imposed cookie making schedule and my kids who motivate me to get up and get things done so that their holiday doesn’t get ruined because of my misery.

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I have to say that I was skeptical about today’s cookie, gingersnaps from Baking with Julia. First of all, the ingredient amounts seemed miniscule, so right away I decided to quadruple the recipe. Then, the dough was really sticky, which didn’t concern me too much because I always roll out dough between wax paper or parchment. I tried both with this one and parchment seemed to work best.

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Once the dough was rolled, I froze it until it was firm and had no trouble cutting cute little star shapes. The trouble came with the molasses glaze. It didn’t sit on the dough well and when it baked, it was not pretty. I don’t know if it is just me, but glazing cookies before they are baked just does not work out for me.

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So, I threw the glaze away. I over baked the first pan because they didn’t look done after 7 minutes. I ended up baking them for about 12 minutes and they were very hard and crunchy.

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The second pan, without glaze, baked for exactly 7 minutes with my convection fan on and they were much better; not as hard, but still crunchy around the edges.

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After two pans of stars, I decided we had enough of those and started making shapes to go with our annual gingerbread house decorating party tomorrow. This year, I decided not to bake all the house pieces myself and bought the Ikea kits instead (horror!). What can I say? They are cheap and I decided I wanted to bake other things besides pan after pan of gingerbread. However, when I saw how firmly these gingersnaps bake up, I thought they would be good for trees and snowmen.

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Some of the cookies are a little thin because I was trying to get enough for six kids out of the rest of the dough, but that’s nothing a lot of extra frosting won’t take care of. As for how they taste, I don’t know since they are too hard for me to eat, but the boys liked them and the husband said they were good and then ate a whole handful. They must be pretty good, right? You can find this recipe here. I highly recommend at least doubling it. Otherwise, it would be kind of a lot of work for not many cookies.

And now, this suddenly brings us to the end of my Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies series. Crazy, right? Don’t forget to leave a comment for a last chance to win a tin of cookies. One comment per post per person in the United States will qualify as an entry into the contest. I will give you until 9pm tomorrow night, December 18, eastern standard time to comment and then I will pick a person at random to receive a tin of cookies. I hope to ship on Friday, so be sure to check back to see if you are the winner because I will need your address to mail it. Don’t post any addresses here, I will get in contact with you if you are the winner.

Of the twelve cookies I have featured this week, which would be your favorite(s)?

Day 10: Walnut Spice

Here’s another cookie that I find that I cannot do without during Christmas time. I think I may be the only one who really loves them in my house. It’s not that the others don’t like them; they just like other ones better. But not me. This one and the ginger cookies from earlier are two cookies that I make mostly for myself.

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They are crispy and nutty and spicy and very good keepers. You can find the recipe here. I did not do the egg wash with this recipe either. I wish I had more time to say more, but we’ve got lots going on today. You know how it is this time of year!

What is your favorite holiday activity? I love to sing carols, especially old ones.

Day 7: Swedish Pepperkakor

Recently, the boys and I listened to Pippi Longstocking. To a parent, Pippi is kind of horrifying at worst and at best, just annoying. She is, however, a sympathetic character, having no parents to teach her manners and the general way of doing things, and she also has some redeeming qualities. She is kind at heart and fearless in the face of adversity or danger. Maybe she doesn’t do things the way they “should” be done, but she is trying her best.

I think I secretly identify with Pippi in a way. Growing up, I had to figure out a lot of things on my own and was not taught how to get along in this culture that was not my mother’s. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to walk between these two cultures while at the same time trying to figure out who I wanted to be. Thank goodness those days are behind me, not that I have everything figured out now or anything, but those were some turbulent years, to say the least.

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Anyway, there’s a scene in the book that describes Pippi making dozens and dozens of cookies. She rolls the dough out on the floor, bangs them into the oven, and flour flies everywhere. While we listened to it, I imagined her making these Pepperkakor cookies.

Mildy spiced and unadorned, these cookies have really become a favorite in our house. Well, actually, they are more like the husband’s favorite. He likes them because they are not too sweet, not too spicy, not to buttery, and well, basically, they are plain good. They are the kind of cookie that you don’t feel bad about eating 2 or 3 or 8 of because they are not overpowering. This is not to say they are mediocre; they are just a wonderful everyday cookie.

I looked around at a lot of Pepperkakor recipes and I could not find one that is the same as the one I used. The recipe I use comes from a book by Pat Sinclair called Scandinavian Classic Baking It’s a cute little book and fairly inexpensive. If you are a fan of any type of Scandinavian baked good, you will like this book. One thing I like especially is that there is a photo of every recipe. My copy was a gift from a dear friend and has a nice autograph at the beginning.

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We make these yummy cookies with a fun set of cookie cutters that I got from Ikea last year with different woodland creature shapes. This year, I also added an owl, a gnome, and a pig because, apparently, the most popular shape in Sweden is the pig.

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I hope you will consider making these cookies. They are so much better than the ones they sell at Ikea and if you do them today or tomorrow, you will be just in time to celebrate St. Lucia Day, too! See my post about St. Lucia Buns here. I will be making those buns tomorrow for the husband, who, though he certainly does not look it, seems to be part Scandinavian.

Which brings me to my question today. What kinds of cuisines do you like that are not your own? I love foods from all over the world, but I especially love Middle Eastern Food and Japanese food. I think those are my favorites because I once lived in each of those places and the food is so closely linked to my memories there. Sadly, also because I used to live there, it is difficult for me to find restaurants that are “authentic” enough for me to enjoy. There really is no substitute for standing at a food stall in a foreign country eating something you have never had before and discovering that it is sublimely delicious.

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Swedish Pepperkakor
Adapted from Scandinavian Classic Baking
makes about 6 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cutters

17.5 ounces or 3.5 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1.5 teaspoons ground ginger
.5 teaspoons salt
.5 teaspoons ground cloves
7 ounces or 1 cup granulated sugar
3.5 ounces or .5 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
8 ounces or 1 cup or 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons molasses

Sift together the flour, spices, and salt. In a stand mixer or with a hand held mixer, cream together the sugars, butter, and molasses on medium speed until creamy. Add the egg and beat until well mixed.

With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture a little at a time. Mix on low until a soft dough is formed. Divide the dough into 4 pieces.

Roll out each piece of dough between two sheets of wax paper or parchment paper until it is about 1/8 inch in thickness. Slide the dough sheets onto a baking sheet and freeze or refrigerate until you are ready to bake. In the fridge, the dough will keep for several days. In the freezer, it should keep for a few months as long as you wrap it tightly in plastic wrap after it is frozen.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees or 325 if you have a convection oven. Take out the sheets of dough and let them warm up a bit while you wait for the oven and get your pans ready. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place one sheet of dough on your counter and peel off the paper. Place the paper carefully back on the dough and, making sure you grasp both pieces of paper on each side, flip the whole thing over. Peel of the other side of paper from the dough. Using your cookie cutters, cut out as many shapes as you can. If the dough is seems to hard, let it thaw a few more minutes. I usually cut shapes from the outside edges first because they thaw sooner.

Place the shapes on a lined pan 1-2 inches apart. Bake each pan for 7-9 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Transfer to racks to cool if you need the pan to bake more or just let it sit on the pan to cool.

You can decorate these if you like, but we prefer them plain. They will keep well in an airtight container for several weeks. They are excellent dipped in tea, which is how I have to eat them because I still cannot eat crunchy foods from going to the dentist a few weeks ago. They get soft in the tea, but don’t fall apart easily.