Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Christmas cookies | Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars)

22 December 2013

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Maybe I wasn’t being completely truthful last year when I exclaimed that the almond and currant cookies of my youth are my favorite. In reality I’ve always loved Zimtsterne most of all.

As a little girl cinnamon stars represented the very promise of Christmas. The sweet tinge of icing an irresistible finish to the chewy bite. Nutty. Not too cinnamony. For some years I may have snubbed them a little, perhaps in a flaccid effort at emancipation from too obvious a childhood treat. But why resist the irresistible?

This is another recipe my mother has kept alive all these years. She received it initially, many years ago, from Marcelle, a close family friend and my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland.

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Marcelle’s Zimtsterne
The cookies must rest for a few hours or overnight before baking, so plan accordingly. They are best made a few weeks ahead. (Ahem.
)
Store in an airtight tin box, separating the layers with parchment paper.

450 g (3 cups) almonds

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

300 g (1 1/2 cups) unrefined sugar

2 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon

Kirsch (1 Tbsp for cookies and 1 Tbsp for the icing)

Star-shaped cookie cutter

100 g (3/4 cup) powdered (icing) sugar

Pulse chop the almonds in a food processor until they reach the consistency of coarse sugar. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until very firm.

Add the sugar, cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon kirsch to the almonds. Fold in the egg whites with a wooden spoon, then knead by hand until the dough holds together (kneading will help extract the almond oil).

Take the dough and flatten it evenly on a slightly moistened wooden board (working in batches if necessary). The height should be approximately 8 mm (1/3 inch), but the most important is that it be even so it also cooks evenly.

Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with sugar. Cut out stars from the dough with a wet cookie cutter and place them on the baking sheet. (Wet the cutter repeatedly throughout the process to avoid sticking.)

Let the stars rest, uncovered (they must dry a little), at room temperature, for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Slide the sheet in the middle of the oven and bake the cookies for 10 minutes. They will harden when they cool but must remain moist.

Make the icing by mixing the icing sugar with 1 tablespoon Kirsch and 1 tablespoon water. The icing should be quite liquid, add water drop by drop if necessary.

Using the back of a small spoon, coat each star, while still warm, with a light layer of icing. Let dry.

Store in a tin box, layers separated by parchment paper, for up to a month.

Merry Christmas!

Quince fruit pastes (pâtes de fruit)

27 November 2013

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The truth of the matter is, rather than preparing for a blasphemously belated Thanksgiving on Saturday, for which most of my family is crossing the channel, I have been roasting quinces and simmering chutney.

Last week, friends unexpectedly brought me a big bag of quinces from their garden in the Cotswolds (I hear it is more of an orchard). I was quite excited and may possibly have briefly jumped up and down at the sight. It was a very busy week, and I was away this weekend — the quinces were becoming impatient. Quinces do hold out for a while but I wasn’t willing to tempt fate for too long, so last night I made chutney. As a first test improvised from a few recipes it is quite good, but I am not entirely happy enough to report the results here — yet. In any event, Thomas managed to save the last of the quinces from their chutney fate, begging that I make quince paste, too.

What he doesn’t know is that in the course of the morning, half of the membrillo has been transmogrified into my absolute favorite sweet: pâtes de fruit.

The preparation is the same up to the point of cutting the paste into dice or rectangles and coating them with sugar.

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Quince cheese recipe dapted from the River Café Cookbook (Blue)

Quinces

Sugar

Lemon

Preheat oven to 300ºF (150ºC).

Rub the fuzz from the quinces and wash well under cold water. Cut the quinces in half and place them face down in an ovenproof dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the quinces feel quite soft when poked with a knife (probably 1 1/2 to 2 hours).

While the quinces are still warm, pass them through the fine mesh of a vegetable mill. (To insure a very pure paste, first remove the quinces’ core).

(The quince purée can at this point be refrigerated overnight.)

Weigh the purée, place in a saucepan, and add an equal amount of sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per 100g of quince.

Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the paste has darkened and begins to fall off the sides. This will take a good long while, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, so take a book, newspaper, or magazine close to the stove but DO NOT leave. (I happen to know that left unattended, the paste will burn very quickly. In which case transfer quickly to another saucepan and continue cooking.)

Once the paste has reached a dark, heavy consistency, spread on a plate to cool. Once cool, cut into the desired shapes and roll in some sugar. The pastes should keep for a few weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Christmas cookies | Almond and currant (Corinth raisin) cookies

22 December 2012

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Traditionally, my mother and I divided baking duties for Christmas. I baked Stollen, she made everything else. A most delicious fruitcake that soaks in bourbon for weeks, gingerbread with the children, Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars), Haselnuss Leckerli (Swiss hazelnut cookies), and these almond and currant cookies. Recipes from our childhood, which she has baked for decades.

In a newly discovered enthusiasm for baking cookies, in the past couple of years I’ve sought out new recipes, to complement the Christmas spread. Last year I also decided to make these myself, to pick up the tradition, perhaps? They are understated, without the heady Christmas spices. They are my favorite.

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The cookies must sit in the refrigerator overnight so plan accordingly, otherwise they are extremely quick and easy to make. They improve with time so, ideally, they should be prepared a few weeks in advance. Oh well.

1 cup (225 g) butter

1/2 cup (115 g) sugar

4 egg yolks

3 1/4 cups (400 g) flour

1 cup (100 g) slivered almonds

3/4 cup (100 g) currants (Corinth raisins)

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Let the butter soften at room temperature.

Mix the butter and sugar and light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and flour and mix well until the dough is homogenous and smooth.

Divide the dough into two equal parts. Add the almonds to one half and the currants to the other, kneading well until they are completely integrated.

Roll each half into a long log approximately 2 in (5 cm) in diameter. (Optionally, to make squarish cookies as shown above, flatten the log on four sides.) Wrap each log first in parchment paper then clingfilm, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

When ready to bake the next day, preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

With a thin sharp knife, cut the logs into thin cookies 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake 8 to 10 minutes, until they just start to turn golden. (They will feel soft to the touch but will harden as they cool.)

Store in a tin in a cool dry place for up to a few weeks.

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Related recipes

Christmas cookies | Swiss Anisseed Chrabeli

Stollen

Candied orange and lemon peel

8 December 2012

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For years I’ve wanted to do this. Every time, as I gather all the ingredients to make Stollen in early December, I think I really should make candied citrus peel myself. But caught in the rush I end up scrambling and scouring stores desperately to find an acceptable option — usually just barely.

So I’m quite excited. It’s not as if I’d suddenly been graced with lots more time, rather to the contrary, but I guess that’s how it works.

It does take time — a few hours. Peeling, cutting, staying close to the boil. Repeating. It’s time-consuming. But simple. It’s meditative. And worth it.

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Orange peel

I candied the peel to use in Stollen, but there is plenty left over, which can be eaten as is, rolled in sugar, or dipped in dark melted chocolate to make orangettes. Mmmm.

5 oranges

3 cups (600 g) sugar

1 1/2 cups (350 ml) water (more for the first step)

To peel the oranges, trim off a ‘cap’ at either end so the orange sits in a stable position. Cut pieces of peel, equal to approximately a sixth of the fruit, from top to the bottom, including the pith and a bit of fruit. (The flesh can be used elsewhere for example in a fruit salad.) Slice the pieces of peel into strips 1/2 to 1-inch (1 to 2 cm) wide.
Place the peel in a smallish saucepan, cover with water, bring to a simmer and boil for a couple of minutes. Drain, discarding the water. Cover the peel with fresh water and repeat this three times (4 boils altogether).

Rinse the saucepan. Pour the sugar and 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) water, bring to a boil, then add the peel. Simmer, partially covered, for about an hour, removing scum if it occurs, until the peel is soft and translucent on the sides. (The pith should be translucent too.)

Place the pieces of peel on a rack or baking sheet covered with parchment paper and let dry for 24 to 36 hours.

Keep the syrup in the fridge and mix with sparkling water for a refreshing drink, or drizzled over plain yogurt.

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Lemon peel
(Same technique but the quantities are halved, and lemon peel can also be dipped in dark chocolate to make ‘lemonettes’!)

5 lemons

1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar

3/4 cup (200 ml) water (more for the first step)

To peel the lemons, trim off a ‘cap’ at either end so the orange sits in a stable position. Cut pieces of peel, equal to approximately a sixth of the fruit, from top to the bottom, including the pith and a bit of fruit. (The flesh can be used elsewhere for example in a fruit salad.) Slice the pieces of peel into strips 1/2 to 1-inch (1 to 2 cm) wide.

Place the peel in a smallish saucepan, cover with water, bring to a simmer and boil for a couple of minutes. Drain, discarding the water. Cover the peel with fresh water and repeat this three times (4 boils altogether).

Rinse the saucepan. Pour the sugar and 3/4 cup (200 ml) water, bring to a boil, then add the peel. Simmer, partially covered, for about an hour, removing scum if it occurs, until the peel is soft and translucent on the sides. (The pith should not be white anymore, completely translucent.)

Place the peels on a rack or baking sheet covered with parchment paper and let dry for 24 to 36 hours.

Keep the syrup in the fridge and mix with sparkling water for a refreshing drink, or drizzled over plain yogurt.

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Related posts

Stollen

Foie gras terrine

28 December 2011

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The first memory I have of foie gras is a conversation with my parents. We were in the car. I don’t remember whether I was 8, 10, or 12, but I think we were visiting friends in the Périgord, one of the prime foie-gras producing regions in France.

My parents were explaining foie gras: Duck or geese are force-fed excessively until their livers become abnormally large. These livers are prepared most delicately and the result is terribly delicious, a rare delicacy to be savored with due appreciation for what goes into its making.

I was appalled, and had no idea what the dish actually was. Foie gras, a French regional specialty? I pictured a sort of liver stew, and swore solemnly never to eat it. Quite honestly, forsaking liver stew forever didn’t seem like such a sacrifice. Had I known.

Later, much later, I ate foie gras, of course, and was compelled to admit that my parents were right.

Now I make foie gras terrine once a year, for Christmas eve. Have all my scruples disappeared or have I discovered many shades of grey? Am I willing to forsake anything for pleasure or have I been convinced that producing foie gras is not as barbaric as it sounds?

Just as I don’t eat meat or chicken raised industrially and buy eggs from pastured hens if I can, I always get foie gras from Hudson Valley Foie Gras. I believe they raise happy ducks. I am sure some will disagree.

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More than usual, the raw product is crucial here. In New York the best source of good foie gras is Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

The tricky part about preparing foie gras is deveining the lobes. I learned it from my mother, who learned it from a friend, but I found this good video online. It’s in French but the images are self-explanatory.

This recipe is very slightly adapted from one by the French chef Michel Guérard. It uses many aromatics but in very small quantities, so the taste of the foie gras is enhanced but not overpowered.

2 raw foie gras livers about 1 1/2 lbs (600 g) each

1 quart (1 liter) whole milk

16 g (2 level Tbsps) finely ground (in a mortar) fleur de sel or unrefined sea salt

3 g (1 1/2 tsps) freshly ground white pepper

1 pinch freshly ground nutmeg

1 pinch freshly ground allspice

1 tsp finely ground sugar

2 cl Madeira

2 cl dry Sherry

2 cl Armagnac

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When cold the foie gras is quite hard, so in order to devein it it needs to soften a little. Pour the cold milk and about half as much hot water in a large bowl (the liquid should be warm). Put in the raw foie gras and let it soften for about an hour.

Remove the livers from the milk, place them on a large board, and, working carefully with the blunt side of a sharp knife, remove the veins from the liver. To do this, start at the big knot of veins and carefully follow the veins, removing as much as possible to avoid any blood stains in the liver.

Place the deveined livers in a shallow dish and sprinkle with the spices and alcohol. Let marinate for a few minutes or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator (I have done it both ways and would be hard pressed to say definitively which is better. I’d make it depend on what is more convenient, logistically).

Preheat oven to 250°F (120°C) and place a large shallow pan filled with 1  inch (2.5 cm) of water at 150°F (70°C).

Place the livers in the terrine, and the terrine (without the lid) in the pan of water. Cook for 40 minutes, checking regularly that the water stays at 150°F (70°C) the whole time.

Once cooked, the liquid fat should have risen over the livers and cover them by about 1/2 inch (1 cm).

Close the terrine and let it cool at room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours, then transfer to the refrigerator.

Foie gras must be made at least 24 hours in advance, is best after 3 to 4 days, and will keep for about 8 days.

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Related posts

Chicken liver terrine


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