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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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Birchermüesli is a superfood! A healthy and easy-to-digest combination of fresh fruit, oatmeal, yoghurt and nuts.Birchermüesli is a combination of fresh fruit, oatmeal, yoghurt and nuts. It was created around 1900 by a Swiss physician who promoted eating raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains (instead of bread and meat) for maintaining health and encouraging healing.

Now that I’m eating for two – yes! 🙂 – Birchermüesli has become my pregnancy superfood. It’s full of the vitamins and minerals recommended for pregnant women. In addition, the combination provides protein and fiber, and is easy to digest. I’ve also noticed that I feel more like cooling fresh foods than I normally would, especially for this time of year, and Birchermüesli perfectly satisfies the craving. (Usually I reserve Birchermüesli for the summer when fresh fruit is plentiful, the days are hot and I don’t feel like cooking – I’ll eat it for dinner.)

The beauty of this recipe is its flexibility. It’s easy to adapt it to what’s in season and to personal taste. Lately I’ve been using fresh mango and blueberries and strawberries that I froze last summer. Another nice winter version would be with raisins and/or other chopped dried fruit, ground or chopped nuts and banana (add just before serving). In fall, chopped pear and dried cranberries. In the summer, the options abound with fresh berries, melon, peaches, nectarines, apricots, …

Pregnant or not, Birchermüesli is one of those things I feel good about eating. I’d actually consider it one of my comfort foods.

Recipe: Birchermüesli (Swiss Raw Oatmeal Yoghurt “Porridge”)

The ingredients listed below are the basic combination. Seasonality and creativity can dictate the details. I have to admit that I don’t measure the ingredients, so they are approximateadjust proportion of oatmeal vs. yoghurt to suit personal preference. I often make it in the evening to eat the next morning. This method allows the oatmeal to soften. If you have issues with leaving cut fruit sit overnight, then add just before serving. Serves 2-4.

2 cups oatmeal (old-fashioned, not quick cook)
2 1/2 cups yoghurt
1 apple, finely grated
1/2 orange, juiced (could also be lemon, grapefruit or a combination)
1/2 cup ground nuts or hemp hearts
1-2 tbsp maple syrup
3 cups fresh fruit, chopped if necessary (frozen berries work well too)
1/2 cup raisins, chopped nuts (toasting the nuts adds nice flavour) or dried fruit (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Let stand at least one hour (or overnight) before serving.

In addition to the standard apple, orange juice, yoghurt and oatmeal, mango, blueberries, strawberries, maple syrup and hemp hearts made it into my most recent version of Birchermüesli, but this recipe is so easy to adapt to personal taste.

These ingredients made it into my most recent version of Birchermüesli, but this recipe is so easy to adapt to personal taste: switch up the fruit, add ground or chopped nuts, raisins or other chopped dried fruit. My dad likes to enhance it with a bit whipped cream! Note the special grater for the apple. It’s a special “Bircher” grater and reduces the flesh to a pulp (most likely to make it even easier to digest).

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An encounter with cows is highly likely on most hikes in the Swiss Alps. Their milk makes the cheese that makes Aelplermagronen so tasty. The perfect way to end a day of hiking.

I imagine this dish was created on a faraway Swiss alp by a farmer’s wife who just put together a meal with what she had on hand: potatoes, pasta, onions, cheese, milk or cream, and apples.  Älplermagronen is a hearty dish. It hits the spot after a hike in the mountains and is satisfying on a cold winter evening.

Cheesemaking hut on a Swiss alp.

Cheesemaking hut on a Swiss alp. Where the stinky cheese comes from!

Recipe: Älplermagronen (Swiss Mac ‘n Cheese)

Aelplermagronen, Swiss mac 'n cheese, hearty and satisfying on a cold winter night.Älplermagronen are served with applesauce (go for homemade!), a nice contrast in both flavour and texture. This recipe generously feeds 4 people!

2 medium to large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 – 1″ cubes
1 lb penne pasta
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
4 tbsp butter or oil
1 cup grated cheese (Gruyère, Appenzeller, Raclette, … something aged and a bit stinky)
1/2 cup milk or cream or combination of both
salt and pepper to taste
applesauce

Heat oven to 375° F. Set a large pot of salted water (approx. 5 liters) to boil.

Heat butter/oil over medium-low heat in a frying pan. Add onions and fry them until golden brown.

When water is boiling and while onions are frying, add penne and potatoes to the salted water. Stir to make sure pasta doesn’t stick together. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain penne and potatoes.

Combine milk/cream with salt and pepper.

In an ovenproof casserole dish, place 1/3 of the penne-potatoes, sprinkle with 1/2 of the grated cheese. Make another layer with 1/3 of the penne-potatoes, sprinkle with the other 1/2 of the grated cheese. Top with the remaining 1/3 of the penne-potatoes. Pour the seasoned milk/cream evenly over the top. Spread the browned onions on top.

Bake covered for 10-15 minutes until steaming hot and cheese is melted. Serve with warmed applesauce.

Älplermagronen can easily be prepared a day ahead and heated for 30-45 minutes in 375° F oven (cover to prevent onions from burning) to serve.

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Get out the cookie cutters! Making Mailaenderli -- Switzerland's most popular Christmas cookie, a kind of "Swiss shortbread" -- is easy and fun.

Mailänderli milanais in French or, literally, “little milano” in English – is the most popular Swiss Christmas cookie. It’s an egg-enriched shortbread with a hint of lemon. Fun (get out the cookie cutters!), easy to make, and good keepers, they’re among the first Christmas cookies I make.

Cutting out Mailaenderli

I started planning my Christmas baking mid-November after realizing that with my ambitious plan of making more than 12 kinds of cookies, I’d need to be pretty organized! Luckily last year I created a spreadsheet with all the cookie ingredients, so preparing the shopping list was a snap.

I bought everything last Saturday and dedicated Sunday to baking Mailänderli and honey gingerbread. I made some Nuts & Bolts too! Meanwhile David made Stollen (a buttery yeast bread with candied fruit, almonds, raisins and currants) and prepped the ingredients for Basler Leckerli (cookie with spices, candied peel and almonds, a specialty from the city of Basel).

The house was warm and the aromas delicious. I like this time of year! Made with love, I look forward to sharing the cookies with family and friends.

Mailaenderli, almost ready to bake

Mailänderli, almost ready to bake. Just missing the egg wash.

Recipe: Mailänderli (Swiss Shortbread)

Quantities in weight – scale required!

250 g butter
250 g sugar
3 eggs + 1 egg yolk (for egg wash, keep separate!)
1 lemon, zest only
500 g flour

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

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. Add the 3 eggs, incorporate on low speed, then beat on higher speed until mixture is light and homogeneous. Mix in lemon zest, and finally the flour.

Gather the dough together. Flatten into a disk and place in fridge for two hours.

Dust counter with flour. Roll out dough to 8 mm thickness. (Yes, the Swiss are very exact! I think the main thing is not to make them too thin.) Cut out cookies using cookie cutters. Place on baking sheet.

In a bowl, prepare the egg wash by lightly beating the egg yolk and diluting with a bit of water or milk. Brush cookies with egg wash. Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden.

Cool. Store in an airtight container. Makes lots of cookies!

Mailaenderli in all shapes

Mailänderli in all shapes.

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"Leek Prizetaker"

Love this photograph by Charles Jones.

I know I’m doing something wrong. For two years now I’ve tried – operative word – to grow leeks. Both times, they’ve started off looking good, yet ended up rotting in the ground by mid-July.

Too much water, unsuitable soil, planted too deep or not deep enough? Some quick research suggests I should plant them deeper and build up the earth around the leeks as they grow. I’ll have to try again next year. Hopefully I’ll get lucky the third time around.

I won’t let my leek gardening failure prevent me from buying leeks and cooking with them though. Recently eaten at my table:

Leek, sweet potato and barley soup

Leek, sweet potato and barley soup.

Papet vaudois

Papet vaudois, a typical hearty Swiss dish.

Papet vaudois is leek, potato and saucisson vaudois, a special sausage originally made in the French-speaking canton Vaud. The leek and potato are really just a vehicle for the sausage! I’ve found a high-quality and authentic version at Au Saucisson Vaudois, an artisanal charcuterie in Saint-Brigide, Quebec.

Leek and goat cheese quiche

Leek and goat cheese quiche.

Recipe: Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche

This is one of my favourites! The recipe is adapted from “Mosimann’s Vegetarishe Küche,” a vegetarian cookbook by Swiss chef Anton Mosimann. Makes one 9-inch quiche (with some pastry dough left over).

1 recipe pastry dough
1 leek, halved lengthwise, sliced (white and green parts) into 1/2″ pieces and washed
1-2 tbsp olive oil
125 g ripened goat cheese (I used Le cendrillon, the not ash-covered one)
2 eggs
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp chopped thyme
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Prepare pastry dough. (Since pastry dough recipes usually call for a ½ cup of butter, so I keep pre-measured pieces in the freezer. I make the dough without a food processor and grate the frozen butter into the flour, a trick I picked up from one of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s HomeBaking cookbook). Roll out dough, line a 9-inch pan (I use one with a removable bottom) and blind bake the crust. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Saute prepared leek in olive oil for 10 minutes or until just tender. Let cool.

Combine eggs, cream, sour cream and seasonings. Crumble goat cheese into the egg mixture.

Distribute the leek over the bottom of the pre-baked crust. Pour egg and goat cheese mixture over the leek.

Bake 30-40 minutes until filling is firm and golden. Allow filling to settle before serving. Serve warm.

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