Christmas Indulgencies – Cookies & Candy

Mon Dec 22, 2008 10:11 am
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Cookies, cookies, cookies! Ideally I would like to bake, say seven or eightcookies different kinds so when you browse into your cupboard or onto a nicely presented table you see them all lying there, one different from the other. I’m not really interested in eating seven or eight different cookies (I have more of a savory tooth), but I would love to just look at them, arrange them and know that they are there. Pretty. Fine. Ready to eat. Nice presentation.

So far we have made Swedish gingerbread cookies (they top the list of importance), chrusciki and vanilla horn cookies, and that is really plenty, but I do love the idea of baking an unnecessary amount to completely indulge in and treat your friends and family to.

And the same thing goes for candy. This year we have made salted caramels, burned almonds (twice - I doubled the second batchcaramels and it came out disastrous, it must have messed up the proportions or the cooking surface ratio) and dark truffles, and I’m about to make whiskey-raisin-marzipan-chocolate rolls (my mother's delicious recipe really calls for portwine, but one takes what one has), as well as white truffles with lime and cinnamon.

But I would also love to make crisp chocolate covered Sevilla orange peels, nougat, fudge, fine marzipan figures, knäck, kola, multiple chocolate truffles in a range of flavors, mint pastiller, ice chocolate and other traditional sweets. I could go on all day.


Apart from candy and cookies, I also have plans on baking vortbread which is a traditional Swedish Christmas bread that calls for brewer’s wort (or simply porter and soda, which is all I have access to). It’s a quite dark and heavy bread which you eat Christmas ham on. If I have the time, I also would like to make some hardbread (crisp bread), which is really rather easy and it’s so nice to have around. We'll see, of course then there is food to be cooked as well…



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Back to Baking

Wed Dec 17, 2008 8:41 am
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After a little time off the baking scene, I feel like I’m finally coming back to it. When you’re busy with other things, it’s easy to forego luxurious tasks such as baking bread, since it does require time, and sometimes quite a lot of it.

bread

I started baking bread like crazy about a year ago when I received Rose Levy Berenbaum’s book “The Bread Bible” for my birthday. I raced through that book and baked almost every single bread that I found interesting. After that I went whole heartedly into sourdough and experimented haywire. Apart from developing my own recipes, I also found Daniel Leader's book “Local Bread” which is my absolute favorite, because all breads truly do come out wonderful with great structure, and most recipes are focused on sourdough.

I find sourdough absolutely fascinating. The idea that you can grow your own yeast and bake with it is to me a wonderful thing – such control, such results! I actually don’t believe that a no-sourdough bread can really compare to one with sourdough. Even in doughs where you’re using a quite dry sourdough, as opposed to a rather wet one (a wetter sourdough undoubtedly features a more sour final taste), the bread overall tastes more complete and complex, stays fresh longer and certainly produces a superior aroma in the kitchen when it’s baked.

Another fascinating aspect of sourdough is the fact that you can actually make it with different kinds of flour. So far I have experimented with white flour, rye flour and buckwheat, however I have also read recipes for sourdough that are made exclusively with semolina or spelt.

I had three simultaneous sourdoughs going at the same time until I in one moment of weakness thought I should get rid of two since I wasn’t baking at the moment anyway. So the wet white sourdough as well as the rye sourdough went down the drain and I was left with my dry white sourdough. Well, of course it wasn’t a big deal since you can easily recreate them, as long as you have one to work with. So now, I’m making a new rye sourdough since I feel like baking hearty rye loaves and they do turn out better in many cases with rye instead of white sourdough.

Sourdough is a whole subject in itself, one which I could go on about for some time. Anyway, I’m glad to be back in a baking loop – during the last couple of days I have made one of my favorites – stretched light rye (a wonderfully airy and simple sourdough bread), but also Italian baguettes (first time try, and they rose over expectations), and now I’m in the process of a new one which I invented – a rye loaf with molasses, cumin and anis (I thought some Christmas influenced bread was in order). I also feel slightly tempted to try an Italian Panettone, however I don’t have any fancy paper shapes and I think it does take a fair amount of time. We’ll see what else will be made – no matter what, it’s certainly nice to smell bread again.



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Burnt Almonds & Holiday Atmosphere

Fri Dec 12, 2008 10:25 am
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Food is wonderful in so many ways, and especially when it comesalmonds to evoking memories and creating the right atmosphere, particularly around the holidays. I have many food related memories, and it is quite amazing how tasting something can truly trigger emotions or feeling that are difficult to bring forth any other way.

The other day I decided to make an attempt at homemade burnt almonds. Burnt almonds (brända mandlar) are basically whole almonds covered in crystallized sugar, and you can find them at almost every Christmas market in Sweden during the holidays.

Each year when I was young, we used to take the train up to Stockholm for a lovely weekend that involved a nice hotel in Gamla Stan (old town), visits in small boutiques and other Christmas shops, cafe brakes with hot chocolate and whipped cream, as well as the yearly Christmas market where you could find glogg and burnt almonds. When we came to the market we stocked up and bought several packs of warm almonds that were sweet and crunchy and completely addictive. They were one of the highlights of the trip.

I haven't had burnt almonds for some time now, and the other day I read somewhere that you can make your own burnt almonds. And of course you can, why haven't I thought of it before? It's only almonds, water and sugar (as well as cinnamon for additional flavor) that is combined and cooked until crystallized.

It's actually really easy to make, and the flavor is spot on from what I remember. Make them for the holidays and you won't be able to stop eating them, because they are just wonderful.

Burnt almonds recipe 



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Soft Gingerbread & Cream Cheese Treats

Sun Nov 30, 2008 8:04 pm
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I love gingerbread cakes and cookies. The spices, the flavors, the aromas in the kitchen - gingerbread signals the arrival of the holidays. We usually bake hard gingerbread cookies and decorate them with icing (and eat way too many of them), but I also like the soft gingerbread cake that incorporates all the flavors of the cookie but serves it in a more substantial, moister form.

cakecake

Sometimes however, you just want something new and fresh, however reminiscent of your old favorite treat. And this is what I came up with: a cream cheese marbled gingerbread cake that is oh so rich, soft, flavorful and tasty. It would be perfect for a holiday cocktail party, especially cut into fine, small squares. Or it would be nice just to bake on a dark Sunday afternoon to fill your kitchen with aromas of cinnamon and cloves, and enjoy a piece with coffee. Either way it's great.

Marbled Cream Cheese & Gingerbread Cake Recipe



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Happy Thanksgiving!

Thu Nov 27, 2008 7:56 am
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One of the best things that America has to offer is definitely Thanksgiving. One day to be grateful and eat more than you thought possible of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, pumpkin pie and more. In Sweden, and I bet in many places around the world, few people have ever cooked a full turkey, had stuffing, had cranberry sauce or tasted pumpkin pie. And pumpkin pie in particular is a real shame to let go unnoticed all your life!

turkey
cranberry_sauce


I really love this holiday: cooking, eating, drinking, talking, over and again. The time it takes to cook the turkey is perfect for preparing all the other dishes, having a cocktail or two and trying not to sample too much of everything. I especially enjoy when there is something new on the Thanksgiving table and this year I have heard rumors about persimmons being included…

Anyway, I just wanted to wish everybody a Happy Thanksgiving that hopefully includes marvelous food and good company!



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Chestnuts, Wine, Butter & Lemon

Fri Nov 21, 2008 8:51 pm
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Chestnuts. Ever since the concept of chestnuts started popping up everywherechestnuts a month or two ago, I have been thinking about them. Newspapers, cooking blogs, favorite glossy books that write about wonderful fall and winter topics all seem to talk about chestnuts! Brown, rustic and beautiful, slightly sweet and interesting, I truly have wanted to make them for some time now. But I hadn’t been able to find them anywhere, until today. And I almost jumped high in the grocery store when I spotted them, and immediately started thinking about what to make with them: chestnut soup? chestnut pie? chestnut topping on ravioli? No – I think I’d better stick with the simplest method: roasted and enjoyed with butter, lemon and salt.

chestnutsIt has been a while since I have had chestnuts; I do wish I currently was in Paris or New York, and had the luxury of enjoying them on the street, cooked over charcoals. But since that isn’t the case, home roasted will have to suffice. And did they! Sweet, flavorful, rich and satisfying, I could eat them non stop. I forgot how good they are, especially with a glass or two of red wine, and plenty of butter and lemon to dip them in.

I actually love this type of food. It’s rather time consuming; you pick up a chestnut, peel it, (it does take a little while), have a sip of wine, talk, then prepare the chestnut you’re about to eat carefully, and enjoy it. Repeat. Have another sip of wine and repeat again. It’s simply perfect.chestnuts

We had the chestnuts for appetizers today as we were preparing a duck which unfortunately didn’t turn out quite as expected, which was too bad. However the chestnuts more than made up for that.

How to Roast Chestnuts



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Making your own Chai Tea

Tue Nov 18, 2008 4:32 pm
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When the darkness seem to steal more and more of your daylight, and the shivering cold gets right tochai you (or maybe you have one sunny day after another, what do I know) - either way you can’t go wrong with a nice cup of Chai to warm you up. Chai is a sweet flavorful drink spiced with ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. You can buy black Chai tea at your local teashop, however occasionally I prefer this version which is sweet and creamy. Most people get their dose of this type of Chai at their local coffee shop, or they buy an expensive package at the grocery store. However there is no need for that, because you can make a wonderful mix at home, that is oh so good and also much cheaper.

This Chai drink mix also makes a lovely gift for family, friends, neighbors, teachers and other people that you want to give a holiday greeting to. Divide a batch into mason jars, top with a piece of cheese cloth (like on the picture) or any other pretty fabric. Attach a nice note, and you’re set to go. It’s certainly an unexpected gift, but it will be very appreciated.

However maybe you would just like to keep it all to yourself, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, because it's quite nice to have around.

Chai Mix Recipe



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Making Danish Kavring & Appreciating Smørrebrød

Sat Nov 15, 2008 8:14 pm
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The other day, I was looking through my cookbooks and bread books and camebread across a Swedish recipe for Kavring bread. Kavring is dark rye bread flavored with cumin and fennel and sweetened with dark corn syrup. It has a slightly sweet taste, it’s quite moist and it’s oh so good with a sharp cheese and a good marmalade. It struck me, that I haven’t had kavring in so long, and you certainly can’t find it easily in the US.

I had never previously made it, however it is one of those recipes that is quite straight forward: no 8 minutes kneading on low, then rest for 10, then knead for 10 on high and continue, - sometimes those types of breads (however great they taste and turn out) just drive you crazy… This recipe on the other hand is very simple and I was really envisioning that soft moist crumb that is sweet and dark, yet not overly heavy when I decided to make it.

If you visit Denmark by any chance, then you have to go into the closest café or bakery and order smørrebrød – in other words a fancy combination of open faced sandwiches made with kavring featuring a delectable selection of interesting toppings. Some of my favorites include: smoked salmon and horseradish cream, herring with mustard sauce and curry chicken salad, however some smørrebrød combinations are much more elaborate than those examples.

So kavring, certainly has a lot of potential. And did it turn out as expected? Not quite, however it still came out great. The flavor was good, however the bread was not as dark as I expected. This could be due to the use of regular rye flour and not course, or there simply was not enough dark corn syrup in the recipe. Either way, it doesn’t really matter, because the bread itself was still very satisfying, rich and definitely worth making.

Danish Kavring Recipe



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