Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Raffaello Macaroons (Almond Coconut White Chocolate Macaroons)You know those Ferrero Rocher balls, the white ones called Raffaello? I like them. They’re the inspiration for this cookie.

I’m delighted with how these macaroons turned out. Crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. The flavours marry beautifully, yet there’s still a subtle taste of each individual ingredient.

Recipe: Raffaello Macaroons (Almond Coconut White Chocolate Macaroons)

Makes approx. 36 cookies. This recipe is gluten-free!

1 1/2 cups ground almonds
1 1/4 cups finely shredded coconut (unsweetened)
3/4 cup coarsely grated white chocolate
1 egg
1 egg white
3/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine egg, egg white and sugar in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until thick, light coloured and frothy. Gently mix in the ground almonds, shredded coconut and shaved white chocolate.

Make 1-inch size balls and place on baking sheet 2-3 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.

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Homemade Basler LeckerliI finally started the Christmas baking. With Baby in the picture this year, I had to make some tough decisions: which cookies to bake. Most of my regular recipes, including most favourites, are staying on the shelf. The cookie cutters too will gather dust until I’ve got a little helper in the kitchen next year. [Anyone with kids is certainly laughing at my naivete and thinking, “You wait and see. Your little helper will just help make a big mess!”] Luckily Basler Leckerli, one of my favourite Christmas cookie recipes, is quick to make and makes lots of cookies with little effort.

Basler Leckerli date back to the 17th century. At the time, making gingerbread was a recognized trade. The use of roughly chopped ingredients differentiated the gingerbread made in Basel from that made in other parts of Switzerland and Germany, where they were made with finely ground nuts. Go to Basel today and the tradition continues. Leckerli are available year-round from a local shop called Läckerli Huus (House of Läckerli), but I find homemade ones taste better!

This recipe is from my mom and originates, of course, in her hometown of Basel, Switzerland. It contains neither fat nor eggs. The cookies are dense and wonderfully flavoured with honey, candied citrus peel, almonds and spices.

Recipe: Basler Leckerli

Quantities in weight – scale required!

500 g honey
300 g sugar (I have successfully cut the amount of sugar in half and use only 150 g)
300 g slivered almonds (the ones that look like little sticks)
70 g candied lemon peel
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
50 mL rum
500 g flour

250 g icing sugar
2 tbsp rum
2 tbsp water

The honey and flour mixture for Basler Leckerli before rolling out.

The honey and flour mixture for Basler Leckerli before rolling out. It’s quite sticky, but needs to be worked while still hot. Sprinkle with flour to prevent sticking.

Basler Leckerli rolled out and ready for baking.

Basler Leckerli rolled out and ready for baking.

Cutting the baked Basler Leckerli

Working quickly to cut the baked Basler Leckerli while still hot.

Glazed Basler Leckerli

The glazed Basler Leckerli. Final step: let cool completely, separate and store in an airtight container.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper, greasing and flouring the paper. I also grease the baking sheet to prevent the paper from sliding around.

In a large pot, bring honey and sugar to a boil. Add almonds and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and quickly stir in rum, spices, candied lemon peel, and flour.

Place honey and flour mixture on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle liberally with flour to prevent mixture from sticking to rolling pin and roll out evenly. I find this step is easier done by two people: one person to hold the baking sheet and the second to roll out the dough. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Prepare glaze while cookies are in the oven. Mix rum, then water into icing sugar one tablespoon at a time. If necessary, add more water one teaspoon at a time to achieve the right consistency. The glaze should be very thick.

Remove cookies from oven and slide onto cutting board. Cut immediately into squares/rectangles and glaze while still hot. I find the best way to spread the glaze is to use a metal spatula; spoon the glaze onto cut cookies in sections and spread quickly with the spatula. Doing this step with two people can make sure that the glaze gets on before the cookies are too cool for it to spread nicely.

These cookies store for a long time in an airtight container. It’s not unusual for them to be/get a bit hard. Either leave them like that and bite carefully (great for dunking in tea or coffee) or put piece of bread in the container to soften them up.

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2010 Christmas BakingI spent much of last week preparing bags and tins of cookies and giving them away. My Christmas baking is pretty traditional. I make a bunch of cookies that are typical for the season in Switzerland and other parts of Europe. Some recipes are hundreds of years old! Except for one: Thomas Haas’s Chocolate Sparkle Cookie.

Thomas Haas's Chocolate Sparkle CookiesThomas Haas is a fourth generation pastry chef from Germany who set up shop in Vancouver. Around 2002, he created the Chocolate Sparkle Cookie, which became all the rage in Vancouver and beyond. My mom always has her ear to the ground for this kind of thing, and she is the one who introduced me to the cookie. A delicious introduction indeed!

The Chocolate Sparkle Cookie is crisp on the outside, densely moist inside, and seriously chocolatey. What I like most about the cookie though, is how it lends itself to other flavourings. Thomas Haas himself did a chocolate-garam masala version using Vij’s, the well-known Vancouver restaurateur for inspired Indian food, garam masala mix. And there are so many other possible combinations:

  • chocolate-ginger using ground and crystallized ginger;
  • chocolate-spice flavoured with cinnamon and cardamom;
  • chocolate-orange using orange zest and a touch of Grand Marnier, decorated with some julienned candied orange peel;
  • chocolate-hazelnut made with freshly roasted ground hazelnuts in place of the almonds;
  • “smokey hot chocolate” flavoured with cayenne and a touch of chipotle;
  • chocolate-mint using mint flavouring or maybe crushed candy cane;
  • ….

I’m not sure yet if the Chocolate Sparkle Cookie falls into the non-traditional cookie category or is simply a new tradition. What I do know is that it’s one of the most popular cookies I bake every year!

Recipe: Chocolate Sparkle Cookies

This cookie was created by Thomas Haas. He shared the recipe with the L.A. Times. It was subsequently reprinted in Western Living’s March 2004 issue. The dough must be refrigerated overnight. Makes approx. 36 cookies. This recipe is gluten-free!

1/2 lb (225 g) bittersweet chocolate
3 tbsp (45 mL) butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
2 eggs
1 tbsp (15 mL) honey, preferably blackberry
1/3 cup (75 mL) sugar, plus more for rolling
3/4 cup (175 mL) ground almonds
2 tsp (10 mL) cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
Powdered icing sugar, for garnish

Chocolate Sparkle Cookie dough after chilling overnight.

Ready to roll! Chocolate Sparkle Cookie dough after chilling overnight. A small ice cream scoop would probably work well to portion the balls.

Rolling the Chocolate Sparkle Cookies in sugar.

Rolling the Chocolate Sparkle Cookies in sugar. Work quickly! The warmer the dough, the stickier and more difficult to manage it gets.

Combine the ground almonds, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate on top of a double boiler, over (but not in contact with) simmering water. Remove from heat. Mix butter pieces into the heated chocolate and stir until melted.

Beat eggs with electric mixer, gradually adding the honey and sugar until light and the mixture falls in thick, smooth ribbons from the beaters (5-10 minutes). Fold egg mixture into chocolate-butter mixture. Gently add the ground almond mixture to the chocolate mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 325° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the dough into 1-inch (2.5 cm) balls. Working quickly, roll the balls in granulated sugar. Place on sheet about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Bake for 12 minutes, until the cookies begin to crack and the centres are moist but not wet. Cool slightly. Dust lightly with powdered icing sugar.

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Elisenlebkuchen are a hearty German gingerbread made of ground nuts, candied citrus peel and spices, then covered in dark chocolate once baked.I think I fell in love with Elisenlebkuchen, a hearty German gingerbread originally from the city of Nürnberg, when I was a kid.

Every year for seven years, I looked forward to my German school’s annual Christmas concert, because I would get an Elisenlebkuchen. When I was living in Switzerland, the Christmas markets gave me the opportunity to eat one of my holiday favourites again. Finally last year, for the first time, I tried a recipe for Elisenlebkuchen I’d tucked away many years ago. I was thrilled to make myself this specialty made of ground nuts, candied citrus peel, and spices, baked on a wafer, then covered in chocolate.

Elisenlebkuchen are now on my holiday must-bake list!

Recipe: Elisenlebkuchen

Quantities in weight – scale required. The dough must be refrigerated overnight. Yes, the finicky process of tempering chocolate for the coating is worth it! Makes approx 36 6 cm Ø pieces.

3 eggs
150 g sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
5 drops bitter almond oil
zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp lemon juice
100 g ground (fine meal) almonds
100 g ground (fine meal) hazelnuts
100 g ground (fine meal) walnuts
100 g candied orange peel, finely chopped
100 g candied lemon peel, finely chopped
6 cm Ø circular baking wafers (Back-Oblaten) – in Ottawa, I find these at Swiss Pastries (Carlingwood mall)

approx. 300 g dark chocolate

In a bowl, beat the eggs until light. Add sugar and continue beating until the sugar is dissolved. Mix in spices, lemon zest and lemon juice. Fold in ground nuts and chopped candied citrus peel. Cover the mixture and refrigerate overnight.

Spreading the Lebkuchen dough on circular baking wafers.Preheat oven to 300° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Spread the mixture onto the baking wafers leaving free 2 mm around the edge of the wafer. Place on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake 30-35 minutes until lightly browned. Cool. Coat with dark chocolate.

I find that David Lebovitz’s instructions for tempering chocolate are the clearest and easiest. What I’ve learned is that chocolate heats very quickly and cools slowly. Next year, I’m going to turn off the heat for my water bath once the water is hot in the hopes that I’ll have better control. Best to use a digital thermometer. Once the chocolate is ready, hold the Elisenlebkuchen upside-down and dunk them into the chocolate. Place them on a wire rack and allow chocolate to harden.

An alternative to the chocolate would be to decorate the tops with blanched almonds or other nuts before baking.

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Quebec City's German Christmas Market under a blanket of snowCute little wood huts decorated with lights, pine and fir. Snowflakes. Cobblestone streets and old buildings. Voices coming together in festive song. Warm aromas of Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and other traditional specialties. Christmas crafts, handmade gifts and artisan wares. Laughter. Happy people. The German Christmas market in Quebec City is the perfect prelude to the holiday season.

Cute Santa decorations made by members of the church to support Quebec City's less fortunateMy long-time friend, Susy, is one of the organizers of this Christmas market. It started three years ago when she and several other Germans and German-Canadians sought to recreate in Quebec City the beautiful Christmas markets common to many central European countries. The first year they attracted over 1000 people to their stands in a community centre (the expectation was 200).

Lights, laughter and traditional treats at Quebec City's German Christmas MarketOne of many happy shoppers at the German Christmas MarketEncouraged by this initial success and the apparent interest from the community, they created the Communauté Allemande Québec and started organizing the event for year two. They had wood huts built for the vendors and moved the market to the courtyard of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, a beautiful location just across from the Château Frontenac. The second year attracted over 20,000 visitors.

Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus carved of wood

Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus carved of wood

Chocolate Santa moulds

Chocolate Santa moulds.

This year, the market was extended to two weekends (December 3, 4, 5, and 10, 11, 12). They also increased the number of vendors and added a series of Christmas concerts to the festivities. The numbers for year three look promising, proving that the marché de Noël allemand has become a popular event on Quebec City’s Christmas calendar. Needless to say, I’m proud of Susy’s achievements!

Selling pretzels and German sweets at the German Christmas Market

Yummy pretzels and traditional German baking.

German gingerbread

German gingerbread in pretty shapes and natural decorations.

Volunteering at the market allowed me to spend time with Susy, be a part of this great event and soak up the festive ambiance. Of course, I also enjoyed checking out the different foods being offered! In addition to the Glühwein, there were sausages, pretzels, German Christmas cookies, Nürnberger Lebkuchen (German gingerbread), baked apples, roasted chestnuts, crepes, Apfelbrot (a hearty bread with apples, hazelnuts and spices) and Stollen (a candied fruit and nut-filled buttery yeast bread). Yum!

Selling traditional German Lebkuchen (gingerbread)

These ladies were busy throughout the day and evening selling Lebkuchen, traditional German gingerbread.

Susy and me at the German Christmas Market

My friend Susy, one of the market's organizers, and me at the German Christmas Market's info booth.

I’ve learned there are European-style Christmas markets in quite a few towns in Quebec. However, the Communauté Allemande Québec‘s German Christmas market is extra special: an incomparable setting in Vieux-Quebec, an authentic German Christmas market atmosphere, and a delightful mix of craft and culture. It reminded me of Christmas markets I’ve visited in Europe.

Christmas market in Colmar, France

Christmas market in Colmar, France. It takes up the entire city!

On a different note, I have to add that while we were in Quebec City, we had an exceptional dinner at Le clocher penché, a little bistro in the Saint-Roch neighbourhood. The food was fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced. The service was professional and friendly. The ambiance was charming and upbeat.

Quebec City's Le clocher penché bistroTo start, I had homemade faisselle, a creamy yet light fresh cheese made of cow’s milk just firm enough to keep its shape – out.of.this.world – followed by melt-in-your-mouth pork cooked sous-vide for two days accompanied by a mix of wild rice, squash and bok choy which added tasty texture to the dish. Meanwhile, David had marrow bone as an appetizer, and, as a main course, delicately flavoured boudin noir on a sublime parsnip puree with lightly sauteed apples served with a salad of fennel and apple, a crunchy contrast to the boudin. Delicious!

Bar at Le clocher penché

The bar at Le clocher penché. Note the pictures hanging above the bar -- portraits of their local farmer-producer-suppliers.

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