Merry Christmas… and my Favourite Cookies!

As promised, I am sharing another one of my traditional German Christmas recipes that has been adapted to be gluten and nightshade free. Most people with either a German or Dutch background will be familiar with Spekulatius. These cookies are immediately recognizable by the relief images baked right in them. They are crisp, light and spiced with the three “C’s” of Christmas: Cardamom, Cloves and Cinnamon. If you have tried to make them at home and found that the texture was different than (and not as nice as) the commercially made ones, you’ll love this recipe.

The secret to crisp, light Spekulatius is lard. When you use butter or margarine, they come out like any other spiced cookie, but with lard, this little Christmas gem is elevated to “Singing Choirs of Angels” cookie status. (IMHO) I am probably biased. Nope, I’m definitely biased! (As mentioned in the recipe, you can use a mixture of butter and lard, but don’t use more butter than what is recommended. You do need the lard to get the texture right.)

This Christmas cookie will always be my favourite. They take some attention to make, but only because the rolling pins and blocks that are carved out to make pictures on the cookies have to be kept well floured, yet not so well floured that you lose the picture in the process. It takes a little practice to find the sweet spot for this process. But they are so worth the effort! Any good kitchen store will have one of these rolling pins and if not in stock, they can certainly order them in for you. Well, not in time for this Christmas, but there’s always next year.

There are a couple things you’ll want to know before you get started on these. First of all, don’t substitute the lard, and don’t use artificial extracts. These are a once a year cookie and they just aren’t wonderful if you don’t trust the recipe. Also, the nuts absolutely must be ground really fine. If they aren’t, you’ll have a lot of trouble forming the cookies with the blocks or rolling pin. Don’t rush chilling the dough. It needs to be cold, especially in this Gluten Free version. Have a pastry brush (a real one, not a silicone one) on hand so you can gently brush away any extra flour from the surface of the cookies before you bake them. In the grand scheme of things, it’s easier to use the rolling pin than the individual blocks. You want the dough to be relatively thin, but there has to be enough thickness so it can fill the recesses in the blocks and rolling pin and give you that lovely relief picture that these cookies are famous for. Every oven is a little different, so watch the first batch and notice how long it takes for them to bake. Use that as your guide. The time will vary depending on how thin they are.

 

Gluten Free Spekulatius

500g Gluten Free Flour Mix (as given in last week’s blog)

1Tbsp Gluten Free Baking Powder

1 tsp Xantham Gum

250g Sugar

1 Tbsp Vanilla Sugar (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)

1/4 tsp Pure Almond Extract

1/4 tsp Cardamom

1/4 tsp Cloves

1 tsp Cinnamon

2 Eggs

200g Lard (do not substitute; though it is okay to use 150g lard and 50g butter)

100g Finely Ground Hazelnuts (Almonds are okay)

Instructions

1. Combine all dry ingredients together and mix thoroughly with a whisk.

2. On a clean counter, make a pile with the dry ingredients.

3. Make a well in the dry ingredients; put eggs in the well and mix with a fork, just enough that they won’t run all over the place.

4. Cut up the lard into small pieces and dump it, as well as the ground nuts onto the messy pile on the counter. Mix the dough, with your hands, and work it until it is smooth and uniform. Chill the dough for at least one hour.

5. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment and preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. Roll out the dough with a regular rolling pin to about 1/4″ thick. Using either a well-floured rolling pin that has relief images carved into it, or wooden blocks with relief images carved in them, press images into the dough. If using blocks, take your time and use a small, sharp knife (like a paring knife) to coax the dough out of the carved portion of the block, if it gets stuck.

7. Use a knife to cut the individual images into separate cookies and arrange them on the prepared cookie sheet. Gently brush away any excess flour from the surface of the cookies.

8. Bake for about 4 minutes or until lightly golden (compared to when they started). Allow them to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

And there you have it!

I sincerely wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope that however you celebrate this season of the year, that your celebration is filled with Love and Kindness; yes capital “L” Love and capital “K” Kindness. Because really, that is all that matters.

Happy Baking and when those cookies are all done…

Happy knitting… and good luck keeping the cookie crumbs off your project!

 

 

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What? Recipes? From the Yarn Shop?

You might be surprised at the number of people who come to my yarn shop looking for a pattern, and then can’t think of the word pattern, in the moment. What do they call it? They call it a recipe. And of course, that is exactly what it is. Well that got me thinking. What with Christmas coming up, I thought I’d break from blog tradition and share some of my Family Christmas Recipes.

Many of you will know that I am a celiac but in addition to not being able to eat gluten, I am also allergic to the nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant). Before you ask, I rarely eat out because it is simply too risky and too stressful… and quite frankly in the time it takes to explain everything and figure out what is safe for me to eat I could cook something at home.

I took my traditional German family holiday baking recipes from my Grandmother and reworked them so that they can be gluten/nightshade free. If you are unfamiliar with gluten-free baking, potato flour is frequently used in the flour mixes as it gives a nicer quality of crumb in baked goods. Most commercially made gluten free baked goods contain potato.

Growing up in a German immigrant family, Christmas baking was a big deal. Stollen  is a traditional German Christmas cake. It is nothing like the heavy fruitcake that we typically see at this time of year. It contains raisins, currents, nuts and some candied fruit (Zitronat) as well as almond paste. This was always the first thing to be baked. Mom would soak the nuts, raisins, currants and candied fruit in rum for the better part of a week, stirring them daily to make sure the flavour permeated all of it.

Today, I want to share my recipe for Gluten Free Stollen.

To begin with, you have to make up the flour mix. Weigh out 925g of brown rice flour and 400g of Tapioca starch. Combine these well. I have a good sized Tupperware container that I keep this mix in. I usually weigh it into the container (remember to reset the tare on your kitchen scale when you begin adding each ingredient) close the lid and shake it well before mixing it well with a whisk. This is the flour mix used in all the recipes I’ll be sharing with you over the next couple blogs.

Judy’s Gluten Free Christmas Stollen

125g Dried Currants (they look like tiny raisins; do NOT substitute!)

125g Black Raisins

125g Yellow Raisins

150g chopped Almonds

150g chopped Hazelnuts

100g Zitronat*

1/4 tsp Almond extract

1/2 cup Dark Rum (or more if you like)

1/2 tsp Pure Lemon Extract

1/8 tsp Cardamom

1/8 tsp Mace (Nutmeg blossoms)

500g Gluten Free Flour mix (above)

1 – 1/2 tsp Xantham Gum

1 Tbsp gluten free baking powder

200g sugar

1 Tbsp Vanilla Sugar (you can use 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract instead)

pinch of salt

2 eggs

       250g Quark**

175g Butter (at room temperature)

250g Almond Paste (at room temperature)

       Butter and Icing Sugar to decorate

Instructions

  1. Combine the currants, raisins, nuts, almond and lemon extracts, rum, spices and Zitronat in a large metal or glass bowl (not plastic). Stir them well. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Stir this mixture at least three times a day for a minimum of 2 days. 4 days is ideal, you can go as long as 5 days provided the bowl is covered tightly the entire time and refrigerated.
  2. Prepare a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Using a mixer, combine the butter and Almond paste.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine flour, xantham gum and baking powder and whisk together thoroughly.
  6. In a separate bowl, weigh out sugar and add vanilla sugar (or vanilla) and salt
  7. Pour the flour mixture onto your clean kitchen counter. Make a well in the centre of it. Place the sugar, quark and eggs in the well and using a fork, mix them just enough so the eggs won’t run all over the place. It’s okay that it is only mixed with a portion of the flour at this time.
  8. Add the butter/almond paste mixture to the great messy pile on the counter. (Don’t mix it in yet.)
  9. Add the nuts and fruits mixture to make the pile even bigger and messier.
  10. Mix this big pile of delicious-smelling stuff until you have a beautiful smooth dough. It should mix quite quickly. It may be a wee bit sticky. This isn’t like bread dough, you don’t have to knead it extensively. Just get it mixed to a nice smooth texture.
  11. Form the dough into two equal loaves and position them to fit on the large baking sheet. I find that I have to place them diagonally-ish to make them both fit happily.
  12. Bake for around 40 minutes.
  13. Once it comes out of the oven and while it’s still hot, brush the top with butter (not margarine!) and sprinkle profusely with icing sugar. The butter will absorb a bunch of icing sugar. Don’t skimp on the icing sugar, it should look like a good layer of snow on a rolling hill.
  14. Allow it to cool before cutting.
  15. If it doesn’t immediately get devoured by everyone who has been staring in the oven window, salivating while it was baking, store it in a sealed container.

*Zitronat in this recipe is candied fruit made from citrus. Look for the container in which the fruit is all and only shades of yellow. It is important to use the right one. Don’t use the mixed candied fruit, it will ruin your Stollen!

**Quark is a soft cheese, ask for it in the deli. If you can’t get it, you can approximate it by squeezing cottage cheese through a metal sieve and mixing it with a little bit of yogurt to give it a smooth and creamy texture.

Happy Baking… and then happy eating the baked goods while knitting!