9 December 2016


Lebkuchen is one of those things that it wouldn't be Christmas without, in my opinion. I think we can credit the rise of Aldi, Lidl and German Christmas markets in the UK for bringing delights such as this to our attention. I think I first tried them from Lidl and was hooked from that moment on. I've never tried one of those huge gingerbread hearts from the German markets that pop up around the festive season, but look at them longingly every year. I guess I worry I'd never be able to finish one! I'm quite partial to the fruit/jam filled ones too, which I've found in our local Polish deli.

I have made lebkuchen before, a few years ago. I seem to remember it was ok, but something wasn't quite right. It was only when I struggled to find dark chocolate or glazed lebkuchen this year that I thought it was time to try it again. I'm sorry, but milk chocolate coated ones are just wrong in my opinion. I found it difficult to find a definite traditional lebkuchen recipe, especially as I only know a tiny bit of German. In the end, I translated a few through Google and picked the best. It looked sufficiently different from the last recipe I tried for me to be hopeful about the outcome.

This isn't a recipe for the faint-hearted. It took quite a lot of time and effort, plus you have to take into account the resting time for the dough and the fact that you need to leave the finished biscuits to reach optimum softness. It can also get a bit messy at times, so if you're looking for something easy, go buy some from a shop! The prep time can probably be reduced if you have a food processor, but I just finely chopped everything by hand. Also, this recipe would be very difficult to make without a stand mixer, just because the dough was so sticky in the first stage. I'm not saying it would be impossible, but I'd imagine you'd get very messy. I found rolling it out in between pieces of greaseproof paper to be essential and not trying to roll out all of it in one go. It became stickier the warmer it got, so storing it in the fridge while you bake in batches kept the dough firm and easier to cut out.

The original recipe says to do an egg wash and top with an almond before baking, but I wanted to glaze some and coat others with dark chocolate. My favourite is definitely glazed, so I included instructions how to make the glaze. You end up with about 90 little biscuits, which may seem like a lot, but because they reach their best after a couple of weeks I think that justifies making that amount. Plus, I'd imagine they'd be really good to have on hand for any unexpected visitors over Christmas or even make lovely Christmas gifts.

These definitely taste more authentic than my last attempt, so I felt like all the effort was worth it. I think if I had a food processor, it would be better to chop the hazelnuts and fruit more finely, as there were still a few slightly bigger bits in there. I didn't mind, but I'd imagine if you had any nut or fruit hating people, then they might find it off putting. Coating some in chocolate was a bit of a faff and I think I prefer the glazed ones anyway, so I'd probably just do that for any future bakes. I think 90 of them will keep us going until Christmas - I quite like that I could make these once every year and have enough to see us through the festive season.

Lebkuchen (Grandma's gingerbread from Chefkoch.de)
Makes approx 90 small hearts

250g rye flour
150g spelt flour
200g soft dark brown sugar
6 tbsp honey
2 large eggs
45g butter, softened
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
10g mixed spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp skimmed milk powder
10g cocoa powder
80g candied peel, finely chopped
50g raisins, finely chopped
70g hazelnuts, finely chopped
Zest of 1/2 lemon

To glaze all cookies
200g icing sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice

1. Mix together the flour, sugar, spices, bicarbonate of soda, milk powder, cocoa and chopped fruit into a large bowl that fits onto a stand mixer.
2. Gently heat the honey and sugar together, until the mixture forms a treacle-like consistency. Pour into the dry ingredients followed by the softened butter and eggs.
3. Using a dough hook on your mixer, knead the dough for a few minutes until fully combined. The dough will be very sticky.
4. Move the dough into an airtight container then in a cool place overnight (I put it by a window in an almost unheated room, as suggested in the original recipe, but don't put it in the fridge).
5. The next day the dough will have firmed up. Take about 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough and place the rest of the dough in the fridge for the time being. Heat your oven to 175C/160C fan.
6. Roll out the dough in between two large pieces of greaseproof paper until it reaches about 5 mm thick. Cut out using the cutter of your choice and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.
7. Bake for approximately 13 minutes in batches (using the rest of the dough out of the fridge) then transfer to a cooling rack. The biscuits will feel slightly soft straight out of the oven, but harden as the cool.
8. When the cookies are cool, you can either glaze, coat with chocolate or leave them plain. For the glaze, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and mix with a little hot water and the lemon juice until the glaze reaches a consistency that can be brushed onto the cookies. If it's too runny, add more icing sugar. If too thick add a touch more water. Brush over all the cookies and leave to set on a rack.
9. Store in an airtight container. The lebkuchen will be soft enough to eat after 1-2 days, but are at their best when stored for 1-2 weeks.

26 September 2016

Almond & Cinnamon Biscotti

I have had biscotti in mind for a number of weeks. After seeing some biscotti on Instagram in combination with it appearing as part of biscuit week on The Great British Bake Off, it's been playing on my mind. I haven't made it since the cardamom and almond biscotti over three years ago, so it's definitely long overdue. Unfortunately, I had my wisdom tooth removed the day before biscuit week was on TV, so have been waiting for my mouth to heal properly before tackling such a crunchy biscuit.

I'm sure I've said it before, but I consider biscotti the only biscuit acceptable to dunk. There's something about dunking crisp biscotti in a dark espresso, that really makes me feel like I'm in Italy (well, a tiny bit anyway...) It's a rustic biscuit too and I'm not normally a fan of baking rustic things, but I think this is one of few exceptions. I feel like I should've gone for a recipe with another nut and not almond again, but I really love almonds and they do work very well in biscotti, so why not?

It can take a while to make, just because you need to do it in stages and let things cool in between, but it's not hard to make. I made a couple of errors due to not reading the recipe properly, but they weren't crucial and everything worked out in the end. I put the zest of an entire orange instead of 1 tsp and places the logs of dough too close together in the first stage of baking. They were only touching slightly and easy to cut into too separate logs again, so I wasn't too worried. I also decided to flip the biscotti in the final stage of baking because the underside looked a little pale, but that's just because I wanted an even colour. I have read you can freeze biscotti, so instead of halving this, I'm going to attempt to freeze some. If they do become a little softer, I suspect a couple of minutes in the oven at 180C will probably help to crispen them up.

These are a lovely biscotti and the cinnamon/orange zest flavours go well with a cup of coffee now the weather is starting to get a bit colder. I think this might be the perfect thing to bake at the start of Autumn. They also made the house smell amazing and made me get excited for all the lovely spices I can bake with throughout Autumn and Winter.

Almond & Cinnamon Biscotti (from Tasting Rome
Makes approx. 36

200g whole almonds
2 3/4 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of one orange
1 tbsp milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
2. Lie the whole almonds out evenly on the tray and bake for 10 minutes, but keeping an eye on them to make sure they don't darken too much. Remove from the oven then leave to cool while preparing the other components.
3. In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients - flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking powder.
4. In a separate smaller box, whisk together 3 eggs, 2 egg yolks, vanilla extract and orange zest.
5. When the almonds are cool, add to the dry ingredients then mix in the egg, vanilla and orange zest.
6. Initially, mix the dough together with a spoon, then knead briefly to make sure all the flour ins fully incorporated and the almond are evenly distributed.
7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide into two equal pieces and form into log shapes. Move to a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and press down so the height is about 1 inch.
8. Whisk together the last egg yolk and milk, then brush the tops of each log.
9. Bake for 30 minutes, then leave to cool enough to handle for the next stage, about another 30 minutes.
10. Using a serrated knife, cut into 1/2 inch slices and place these back on a lined baking tray again. Bake for another 15 minutes or until they are firm and crisp to touch.
11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes on the baking tray. Transfer to a cooling rack and leave to cool completely. They will become more crisp as they cool.