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Breastfeeding toddler

My view several times per day. (Not easy to snap a picture of an easily distracted and very-interested-in-the-camera toddler while breastfeeding!)

Before having Bee, I wasn’t committed to breastfeeding. I’d heard stories of problems and pain. I thought “If it works, then good. If it doesn’t, oh well.”

Yet here I am with a 19-month old nursling, who shows no signs of giving up the boob. Nor do I have a need to stop nursing her for the time being. In fact, I’m happy to continue breastfeeding her for the health benefits to both her and myself until there is a compelling reason or circumstance for me to stop.

I feel lucky that I never had any breastfeeding problems, though the path was a bit rocky sometimes.

Like most new mothers who are feeding on demand, it started with having to get used to being in constant demand, coupled with uncertainty. The nagging question of “Am I doing it right?” despite the fact that Bee was gaining weight regularly. Then it was getting over my hang up of breastfeeding in public. Since I overcame that discomfort, it’s been smooth sailing.

I also feel lucky to live in a neighbourhood, and be part of a community, that is open and supportive of breastfeeding.  All of my closest momfriends are still breastfeeding their toddlers.

One of my momfriends decided that this extended breastfeeding was worthy of celebration. Last Sunday I was invited to a “boob celebration” along with another still-nursing mother. Of course, husbands (whose breastfeeding support is invaluable) and toddlers (the raison d’être of our breastfeeding) were invited too!

I’d heard of lactation cookies, but had never made any. This event became the perfect opportunity to bake some to share with these lactating ladies. The recipe is a mash-up of the ones I found on Peaceful Parenting and The Progressive Parent. Both sites do a good job of explaining what the key ingredients oats, flax and Brewer’s yeast do to boost milk production — not that we really need the extra help at this point. Aside from the main benefit, I really just wanted them to taste good.

I’m happy with the results, and think they are nourishing cookies for anyone. David and Bee certainly approve, and so do the lactating ladies!

Lactation cookie made with oats, flax and Brewer's yeast to boost milk production, and other ingredients to make them taste good!

Recipe: Lactation Cookies

This recipe makes approx. 5 dozen cookies. These cookies are not overly sweet; they taste “nutritious”. The chocolate chips and dried apricots add sweetness, but if you prefer sweeter cookies, increase the brown sugar to 1 cup.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tbsp Brewer’s yeast
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp each cinnamon, ground ginger
3/4 cup ground/milled flax seed
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup almond butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick cook)
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped almonds (or cashews or macadamia nuts)
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots (or raisins, if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line or grease baking sheets.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, Brewer’s yeast, baking powder, salt and spices.

In a second (small) bowl, combine ground/milled flax seed and water. Mix with a spoon to make a thick paste. As the mixture sits, it will thicken into one lump.

In a third (large) bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add almond butter and beat until combined. Beat in sugar, then eggs one at a time. Mix in flax seed mixture, molasses and vanilla.

Mix in flour mixture, then oats and finally the chocolate chips, chopped almonds and chopped dried apricots.

Make small balls of dough and place on cookie sheet. Press down balls with a spoon or fork. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.

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Curious baby "baking" cookiesCurious baby "baking" cookies

I first made these cookies (and froze a huge batch) while I was waiting for Baby to make her appearance. I was already on maternity leave, but she was “late,”  taking her time, getting ready for the world. Once she was here, they provided me with nourishment in the middle of the night while I was providing her with hers; breastfeeding builds up an appetite.

More recently I made them with Baby in the carrier. She’s so curious, looking from the mixer button to the bowl, watching the beater turn. Soon enough she’ll be taking her first bites and eventually be able to eat one of these cookies herself. And we’ll continue to bake them together. I look forward to that day!

I wanted to name these cookies after my baby. But to preserve our privacy, I opted for “6A” instead. 6 As like in her complete name. 6 As like all the good ingredients in these cookies. Tasty little nuggets of nourishment.

Recipe: 6A Cookies: Oatmeal, Dark Chocolate, Pear (or Cranberry) and Walnut Cookies

6A Cookie: Oatmeal, Dark Chocolate, Pear (or Cranberry) and Walnut CookieThis recipe is adapted from the Bon Appétit cookbook’s Oatmeal cookies with raisins, dates, and walnuts. They freeze well. Makes approx. 30 cookies.

1 cup flour (I use a combination of spelt and whole spelt flours)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
25 mL honey (liquid)
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried pear cut into small pieces or dried cranberries

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

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Using a standing or hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure everything is well combined. Incorporate egg on low speed, then beat in honey and vanilla and continue beating until light and fluffy.

Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Finally, mix in oats, chocolate chips, walnuts and pear pieces/dried cranberries.

Drop batter by tablespoonful onto prepared cookie sheets. Moisten fingertips and flatten cookies slightly. Bake approx. 10 minutes until golden brown.

Baby reaching for cookie

Sorry Baby, I shouldn't have tempted you, but you'll get to eat one soon enough.

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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

Glaze:
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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Date-filled oat cakes - a healthy and delicious snack!The Harvest Loaf Bakery used to make Cape Breton oat cakes and a date-filled version. They were one of my favourite treats. About a year ago, they disappeared from the shelves. A couple of weekends ago, I finally asked if the bakery still made them and was disappointed to discover that it doesn’t anymore. Unfortunately the baker with the recipe left and it was unable to reproduce it faithfully.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to try to make them in my own kitchen. It was this recently tweeted recipe that finally encouraged me to make them. The blog post talks about how the recipe was demonstrated at the South Arm Community Centre in Richmond, B.C.. This was my neighbourhood community centre when I was growing up; I went to playschool and brownies there. What a coincidence!

After comparing  several oat cake recipes, I made three different batches in the last couple of weeks – brown sugar vs. white sugar, variations on the date filling, more butter vs. less butter, hand mixed vs. food processor – and had them taste-tested by several people. The only thing I didn’t try is to make them with shortening; I’m just not a fan.

Below is my favourite version. It has less butter than any of the recipes to which I referred. The dough may seem a bit crumbly, but it rolls out fine. The lemon in the filling brightens it and makes it a touch less sweet.

Recipe: (Wannabe) Cape Breton Oat Cakes with Date Filling

I admit, I’ve never been to Cape Breton. No clue if this recipe is authentic, hence the “wannabe” status!

Filling:
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped dates
1 cup water
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp lemon juice

Dough:
2 cups flour (I used spelt flour)
2 cups oatmeal (I used old-fashioned rolled oats)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp each ground ginger, cinnamon and cardamon
1 cup butter
1/3 cup cold water

Prepare date filling. Place dates and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium-low heat until dates are soft and water is reduced by half. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender. Mix in lemon zest and lemon juice. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking soda and spices. Cut in the butter. Rub mixture between fingers until it resembles a coarse meal. Add enough water to moisten and gather dough into a ball.

[Blending in the butter is much easier with a food processor. I processed together all dough ingredients except for the oatmeal and water to prevent the oatmeal from being ground too fine. Once the flour and butter resembled a coarse meal, I mixed in the oatmeal with a couple of pulses, then added the water. Finally, I brought the dough together with a quick knead on the counter.]

Making date-filled oat cakes. The rolled out dough with date filling, ready to fold.Work with a third of the dough at a time. Roll out thinly (approx. 1/8″) into a long, skinny rectangle. Spoon date filling onto the middle of one half of the rectangle. Wet edges with a bit of water. Fold other half over and gently but firmly seal the edges. Cut into squares/bars and place on baking sheet.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

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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)

Coating:
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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PfeffernuessePfeffernüsse were not part of my mom’s Christmas cookie repertoire. Yet, Pfeffernüsse are among my favourite Christmas cookies.

Every year, I would eagerly anticipate receiving a tin of Christmas cookies from Trudi, a dear family friend. There were a lot of different cookies in that tin, but I always sought out the Pfeffernüsse. They were crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, pleasantly peppery, with citrus-y and toasty goodness. There are a lot of Pfeffernüsse recipes out there, but in my opinion, none are as good as Trudi’s. I was delighted when she gave me her recipe.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see Trudi and her husband Walter in a long time – there are several provinces between us – but I think of her every year when I make them. I hope she still making them and enjoying them in good health.

Today I’m sharing this recipe at my mom’s request. Usually I’m the one getting cooking and baking tips from her. It’s rare to have it the other way around!

Recipe: Trudi’s Pfeffernüsse (“Peppernuts”)

Pfeffernuesse, ready to bake, after drying overnight

Pfeffernüsse, ready to bake, after drying overnight. Letting them dry makes the outside crunchier, while the inside stays tender. I made a double recipe!

Quantities in weight – scale required! This is the original recipe with my modifications in brackets. I’m a fan of spices, almonds and candied citrus peel, so I increase those quantities and reduce the sugar a little. These cookies have to dry overnight. Makes approx. 40 cookies.

2 large eggs
220 g sugar (180 g)
220 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch ground cloves (1/4 tsp)
1 pinch ground white pepper (1/4 tsp… I’ve even put in up to 1/2 tsp, then you can really taste the pepper!)
75 g almonds, chopped (125 g)
30 g candied lemon peel, chopped (50 g)
30 g candied orange peel, chopped (50 g)

Glaze:
100 g icing sugar
1-2 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare baking sheets (line with parchment paper).

Combine flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl. Set aside. Chop almonds and candied citrus peel.

Using a standing or hand mixer, beat eggs until light and airy. Add sugar and continue beating until the mixture forms a thick ribbon. Gently mix in flour, then the chopped almonds and candied citrus peel.

Form small balls with the dough and place them on the baking tray. The dough is still pretty moist, so I keep some flour nearby and dust my hands before making each ball. Allow to dry overnight or 12 hours.

Prepare glaze before baking. Mix lemon juice into icing sugar one tablespoon at a time. If necessary, add more lemon juice one teaspoon at a time to achieve the right consistency. The glaze should be very thick.

Bake cookies 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Glazing Pfeffernuesse

Twirl and swirl the cookies in the glaze while they are still hot to get a textured glaze. I've never had any luck with brushes or the like; the glaze is too thick.

Glaze the cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. The glaze is too thick to use a brush, so I just use my fingers to twirl the cookies upside down in the glaze. Set on a wire rack to cool. The glaze will harden as the cookies cool.

Store in an airtight container.

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