During strawberry season the tiny red fruits form the base of my food pyramid and this has always been like that. I used to fight over the last strawberries that didn’t make it on the cake with my siblings all the time and the obligatory biscuit sponge with strawberries, glaze and whipped cream was to be found on the cake table every weekend. In Germany cake or pies are not really considered desserts, they are usually served as an afternoon treat together with some coffee around 3-4ish in the afternoon when the family gathers together on the weekend. When I was a kid there were hardly any weekends without afternoon coffee and homemade cake. As you might guess, strawberry cake was one of the families favourites.
Strawberries are not only delicious, they are low in calories and contain a large amount of vitamins and other minerals. On their own, they make a solid healthy treat, but since life is too short to skip cake, you should allow yourself to indulge every now and then. Continue reading »
It’s no secret that Germany is the home of edible Christmas anticipation. I grew up with baking tons of Christmas cookies, Lebkuchen and Stollen during advent season, just like everyone else in Germany. Back in kindergarden and school we had baking afternoons and cookie recipe swaps and for our family christmas gatherings everyone brought cookies that were all different. One of my aunts always makes the largest variety of cookies, more than 10 types at least and so that you can eat through all of them in one sitting she makes them tiny miniature versions. I especially like her Florentine buiscuits. My other aunt made the hardest cinnamon stars I have ever had in my life, they even top the ones than my mother made once and almost chipped my teeth. The general pattern in my family is that we all make a variety of classic christmas cookies like butter cookies or cinnamon stars and some experimental new ones each year like coconut oat crisps. Be it my mother, sister or aunts, we all have that in common. The other thing I noticed is that with all our experience and preferences the same exact cookie can taste totally different like for example coconut macaroons. Even though recipes are often passed on between all of us, the outcome is never the same.
A bright example of that is the Stollen, a German fruit bread that can be baked in advance and can be stored for weeks. Stollen has a long history in Germany, it goes back to the 15th century. Traditional Stollen is made with yeast, however my mother makes one with Quark/Curd that is more moist and doesn’t taste yeasty (which I don’t like too much). A few years back my mother passed me the copy of her Stollen recipe and I made it myself for the first time. But I couldn’t resist changing the recipe, like I do with almost any recipe I try out of books or the internet… Stollen contains dried fruit, such as raisins and currants, I even put cranberries once, and candied orange and lemon peel, which I find rather disgusting itself. So when I made my first Stollen I gladly let the peel out and added a core of marzipan to it. Over the years I have learned a lot, tried out a lot and brought my recipe to perfection*. I hope I can inspire you to try out yourself and enjoy a nice slice of Stollen underneath the christmas tree.
*Due to the current lack of oven I baked at my Sister’s and my Stollen was not baked through completely as you might see in the pictures. On top I forgot to add the baking powder, even though she asked me if we needed it… That’s what I get for not reading my own recipes carefully… Continue reading »
What is a friend? I have been reading through various definitions and they are all true, but in the end it’s up to you how you define friendship for yourself. A common belief about Germans is, that they don’t make friends very easily and if they do it lasts for a lifetime. I know a lot of people still being besties with their kindergarden or grad school friends, I for my part must say I haven’t seen those friends in years and that’s perfectly fine. I have never been one of the cool kids, I’ve hung out with different groups of friends and never belonged there for too long. Luckily the pace has slowed down, making new friends becomes harder when you grow up, and sometimes I envy those who have friends they grew up with and still nurture a friendship that roots deep.
I happen to have exactly 1 “old” friend, we met when we were both 16 and she was dating my older brother. Although it didn’t work out with them, it worked out with us. We’ve been friends for half our lives, even though we lost contact when she moved across the river to study in Mainz and finally found each other after some years on facebook… In the meantime she had travelled the world and was on to decide what to do with her life while I had my first job after I graduated. She studied abroad, made friends around the globe, actually is still friends with her grad school bestie and I envy her for all that.
Friends with friends from around the globe make every birthday party and BBQ a very international thing and that’s how I met one of her college friends from Sac State. Apart from the love for Sushi we three shared good conversations and even better laughs. In January 3 years ago we met in the secret capital of the world, Kleiningersheim, to have a blast of a weekend. One day after the anniversary of our fabulous hat-selfie we reunited at Chicago airport to invade the province of Iowa and show them how to have the time of their lives.
When we flew over, the only thing the American amiga asked for were pretzels and Spundekäs, a cheese-based dip. She lived in Germany for some time and her heart has the shape of a pretzel. Since the dip wouldn’t survive the long plane-trip and the pretzels wouldn’t last forever I figured it would be better to learn how to make pretzels myself and teach her. It is easy to bring something to satisfy a craving, but the more sustainable approach is to teach others how to make their own with what they have at hand. So this goes out to all the Americans that miss a good German pretzel and Spundekäs. Continue reading »
Everybody has them though nobody wants to admit: Secrets! While secrets are widely outlawed to be a bad thing, I would like to stress the bright side of them which is the mystery. Be it secret friends, guilty pleasures, loves or recipes, some things are just too good to share. Like your favourite cafe that you don’t want to be too crowded or that cool friend whose attention you don’t want to share. And there are those secret recipes that you have brought to perfection over time, that earned you so many ahs and ohs, the one thing you are really proud of and you want to keep a mystery until you pass it on to your descendants on your deathbed, sealed with a blood pact that they keep it til their own dying day. Well that’s how I feel about my recipe for vanilla buttercream. I have tasted myself through a lot of recipes, measures and directions, tried, combined, tweaked and adjusted them to come to this one in my own eyes perfect recipe.
The first buttercream I ever made was an American Buttercream, which is mainly a mix of butter and confectioner’s sugar. I don’t like this kind of buttercream because it is way too sweet for me, it gnashes between my teeth and the texture is powdery. I played around with custard-mix buttercreams as you can find them in almost every baking book you get here, but I didn’t like the yellow colour, the artificial taste, it was simply not worth all the hassle with handling the warm custard. When I made my first Frankfurt Crown Cake for my Grandpa (his absolute favourite), my Mum recommended to get a little help from the Doctor (Dr. Oetker -housewives helper since forever) and try out their buttercream mix. It’s easy to handle and tastewise much better than any custard-packet-mix-buttercream… I have been using this for a while since it was convenient but over time ambition arouse, I didn’t want to be the foodblogger that relies on a packet mix. After I tried out a few recipes I stumbled over “The battle of buttercreams” on the Tough Cookie Blog, which gave a great overview on different kinds of buttercreams including recipes and directions. Reading through the series gave me the right impulse to give my already balanced recipe the final twist. There is a “battle of buttercream 2.0” series definately worth a read on The Tough Cookie, but I won’t keep you much longer and finally share the result of all this with you. Continue reading »
It has been quiet here for the last weeks and it is easy to explain why: I lost my baking Mojo! Seriously, I couldn’t be bothered to bake at all! Unbelievable, right? The lack of motivation to write strikes quite regularly on me and over time I found ways to get myself back into a regular schedule quite easily, but I have never had a lack of baking lust ever. Even in stressful times I squeeze in a little baking to relax and release the pressure. But the last few weeks were different, never ever has baking itself put so much pressure on me. I felt guilty, washed out and demotivated at the same time and knew whatever I was going to bake, it wouldn’t meet my standards. So I chose to relax and hope that it’ll all come back to me soon. Last weekend I had promised to bring four cakes to a family birthday party, so no more excuses, I MUST bake ’cause letting someone down is not an option for me. A Black Forest Cherry Cake, 24 Frankfurt Crown Cupcakes, a tray of Apple Streusel and a Strawberry Cake later my Mojo was finally back.
It’s good to know that you can still rely on your skills, no matter if you currently love what you do or not. It might be easier, but sometimes it is just hard work that will pay off in the end. My reward were the smiles on people’s faces and that’s all that matters to me in the end: Making people happy with baked goodies. That’s exactly why I love baking and then it all made sense again. Live has funny ways of teaching you lessons sometimes… Continue reading »
The official start of the fifth season for us Germans was last thursday at 11:11 o’clock. It is the time of the year half of the German residents dress up and go crazy while the other half is rather annoyed or completely ignores it. Working with someone living in Rhineland or originating from there is borderline impossible until Ash Wednesday. I assume there must be something in the water there, as one of my colleagues who moved there 2 weeks ago changed his attitude towards carnival rather quickly. Whether you call it Karneval, Fasching or Fastnacht, whether they yell Alaaf or Helau, you either love it or hate it. I belong to the latter group and don’t care much about it any more. But there is one thing I absolutely love and could’t do without: Kreppel (or Krapfen or Berliner as the rest of the nation calls them). Kreppel are similar to donuts, small yeast buns that are fried, rolled in sugar and filled with marmelade. My Grandma used to make a ton for us when we visited her to see the carnival parade in town together. I really loved them but this year I wanted to try out something new. While brainstorming what to pair with a Kreppel I asked myself why not go crazy myself and dress up some swedish cinnamon rolls as Kreppels. Sounds weird but the taste is particullarly awesome! Continue reading »
Food is like people, some are born to be models and some are just unphotogenic. I belong to the latter group, it’s hard to get a good picture of me and the same applies to anything with streusels (or crumbles as the Americans say). But Streusels are ubiquitous in German baking, if you ever entered a bakery in Germany you can tell and I want to share a recipe with you. It is not like we Germans put streusel on everything, but on almost everything. There is an overwhelming variety of sweet pastries available in German bakeries, often eaten for breakfast, second breakfast or around coffee time. And I’d guess that at least half of these sweet “Stückchen” (pieces of pastry) come with streusels and different fillings like custard, curd, fruit or you-name-it.
Streusels are Grandma-style and down-to-earth, I guess that’s why everybody loves them. Even when the dough is too dry or compact, the crumbly cover makes up for it. When I was a kid I loved eating raw streusels and I often sneaked back into the kitchen just when the cake came out of the oven to burn my fingers & tongue while ‘stealing’ some steaming hot streusels from the sides of the cake.
My favorite streusel cake comes with a poppy seed filling, but during winter time I prefer apple streusel. Make sure you use apples that are not too juicy so your dough base does not get soaked. If you only have juicy apples at hand, sprinkle some bread crumbs on the dough before placing the apples. Continue reading »
I love boozy bakes! Don’t get me wrong I am no alcoholic, but even when I was a child the boozy cakes were the ones I loved the most. It was special when I was allowed to skim the foam of Dad’s beer glass or eat a piece of Black Forest Cherry Cake on a birthday, sometimes Mum even poured some advokaat over our shortly microwaved chocolate marshmallows for an extra treat. Whenever there was a bit of leftover red wine, my mother turned it into this delicious and moist cake. I now do this myself whenever we open a bottle we don’t like, so the taste of this cake varies with the wine you use, but it is always scrumtious and keeps fresh vor 3-4 days. My sister tweaked the recipe a little with more chocolate sprinkles (who could say no to more chocolate?!?) and I stole it from her so you can also start to save that wine from the drain! Continue reading »
I don’t know how many times I told myself to sit down and get writing. But with a lot of stuff going on and so many things to do and a complete lack of structure it never happens. When I set up my Laptop on the Dining Table, opening the blinds to let the sunshine in, the first thing I notice is, that the windows need a clean-up. There are only a few tasks in the house that I hate more than window cleaning and I don’t care about clean windows at any other time of the year but now I feel the urge to clean them RIGHT NOW. I must force myself to ignore the stainy window and sit down to write. If you look up Procrastination in Wikipedia, you may find my photo on there as a bright example of that common species: The Procrastinator. I have been one all my live, even before this fancy word made it into a dictionary.
I am easy to distract, even years of training could only milden my short attention-span. -Oh wait, my coffee mug is empty, I need a refill.- I’ve always needed hard deadlines and pressure to function, for finishing school projects, for picking my study subject or even for the major part of my Master thesis that I wrote in the 2 weeks before hand-in. Germans even have a word for what holds me back: innerer Schweinehund (find the explanation and more hilarious word-by-word-translations of German idioms here).
Blogging regularly is an ongoing struggle with myself and I envy those bloggers that have all posts planned, blog more often than once in a week and are so disciplined. In the past few months I have met a few and I wish I was more like them. I have to remind myself from time to time in order to get things done. I have to train to have patience with things and with myself and cinnamon stars are the perfect excercise for this. Cinnamon stars are delicious and not that hard to make but the dough is sticky, needs to cool overnight, the icing needs to be piped on every single star if you want them to look good and to top all this, they need to dry overnight before baking. And that’s why you need patience (and space…).
For the cookies:
400 g ground almonds (with skin) + 100 g as backup
375 g confectioners sugar
15 g ceylon cinnamon
4 egg whites (125 g total)
For the icing:
500 g confectioners sugar
2 egg whites
Mix all ingredients for the cookies together, if it is too sticky you can add some more almonds but don’t overdo. If you add too much almond they will turn out hard as stones, my Mum and Sister have been down this road… Split the dough in 4 parts and roll each part between thick cling film or freezer bags that you cut open on 2 sides with 0.5 cm thickness. As the dough is rather sticky, it is better to process it in small batches.
Let the dough cool in the fridge for some hours, better overnight. After rest-time take the first batch off the fridge, loosen the cling film/freezer bag on both sides of the dough and remove on one side completely. Then cut out stars with a starshaped cookie cutter. A wooden toothpick, a teaspoon and a small bowl of water are helpful tools to get the stars out of the cutter from time to time too. Dip your cutter into the water from time to time and remove sticky stars with the back of the teaspoon or the toothpick. Transfer your stars onto baking trays lined with parchment paper. You can roll up the rest of the dough in 0.5 cm thickness and put it back in the fridge while you proceed with the next batch and so on until you used up the dough.
If you haven’t lost patince until now, you are on a good path and have quallified for the next level: Icing. Beat egg whites and sifted confectioners sugar until the icing is smooth and thick. You can now either brush the icing onto your stars or use a piping bag with a small round nozzle. I used to brush mine but it always ended in one great big mess and the stars didn’t look as good as they look piped. Now look at the sheer masses of cookies lying in front of you, tell yourself that they are worth the work and believe me, they are going to taste even better, when you only keep going now. Brush/Pipe the icing on the stars, try to be as accurate as you can with each and every cookie. This is were the patience needs to kick in, if not, remember to listen to the guys of Take That: “Have a little patieeeence”.
Once you iced them all, you can be proud of yourself and pat yourself on the shoulder -yeah another German idiom- because YOU MADE IT. Now you leave these suckers to dry until the icing is completely firm for at least 2 hours, better over night. It is time to pour yourself a drink of whatever you like and be proud of yourself because you tackled the next level. The rest is going to be a walk in the park, trust me.
Preheat the oven to 130°C with fan and bake for 12-15 minutes. Better check on them after 10 minutes and turn the tray if necessary as the icing should remain white. Once they are baked, let them cool on a whire rack. Keep them in a cookie tin for up to 4 weeks.
You can pimp these cookies by adding the zest of 1 organic orange or other spices to the dough for an extra christmassy flavour.
Those of you who follow my instagram know already that I paid my annual visit to the Apfelweinfestival (aka Cider Festival) in Frankfurt some weeks ago. I love applewine and thus the festival. It takes place in the center of Frankfurt city and always comes with the most hilarious stage acts that you can imagine and lots of different cider makers from around Frankfurt. We went during the day but that did not keep us from trying out various variations of cider and enjoying the stage highlights. On my way home, I was craving my Mum’s Applewine Cake so much that I had to make some. When I fiddled out the recipe lightning struck me. Funny how a hyphen can shatter your entire world. I always thought it was applewine (as in cider) and not apple-wine (just apples and real wine) cake for all my life. No I know better and transformed it into Apple Cider Cake.