The big baking post

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Dear reader,

As we speak, a large pot of homemade mincemeat is cooling on the stove, soon to be laced with brandy and left overnight for the flavours to blend. Commissioned by my boss to bake 2 dozen mince pies, I feel a little nervous, especially since I don't have the proper sized tin, only a muffin mould and cutters which are too small. Since the begiing of December I have made around 200 German Christmas cookies or Plätzchen. Last week I made a mincemeat cheesecake and on Sunday the flat smelled of oranges and freshly baked gingerbread as I prepared a snow topped spice cake and some orangettes. In the small hours of this morning I made Dan Lepard's cranberry chocolate snow cookies as the sky was turning the loveliest pink and orange. They were so good that I ate at least 12 of them, yes really, me who was always so self-righteous about only ever eating one transformed into a quivering wreck who raids the biscuit tin. If there was ever a case for baking overdose, it could well be me and it's not even Christmas yet.

Still, as Mae West once said, too much of a good thing can be wonderful. In the spirit of seasonal excess, I'll be posting a series of recipes, hopefully every day until Sunday, beginning with this post on Christmas cookies. I've never really been a fan of shop biscuits or boxes of chocolates, however expensive they may be. There are always the caramels, liqueurs and coconut ones which I hate left at the bottom and it always seems too much. Yet a little bag of homemade goodies makes a lovely gift, much nicer than a boring voucher or another CD and I guarantee that your friends will really appreciate the time and effort you've put in for them. I made all the Plätzchen below over about four days but you might not have the time or energy for that which I quite understand. The Spekulatius are by far the simplest and quickest, followed by the cranberry and chocolate snow cookies then the vanilla crescents, Linzer Augen and mini Stollen. The Lebkuchen and cinnamon stars are the fiddliest and most time consuming, although also the most popular. Whichever you choose, I'm sure they'll be most appreciated.

Vanilla crescents (recipe from Mingou I posted here)

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Keep in a metal tin for 4-6 weeks in a cool place

Linzer Augen (recipe from Mingou I posted here)

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Keep in a metal tin for 4-6 weeks in a cool place

Spekulatius

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I bought my patterned form from Karstadt but any large department store in Germany should stock nice ones. If you can't find it, just use ordinary cutters in the shape of your choice.

Makes around 80

500g flour
250g butter
250g natural cane sugar
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1. Preheat the oven to 200° or 175° fan assisted. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until you have a smooth dough.
2. Roll the dough out to around 5 mm thick and cut out shapes or if using a form press the dough onto the pattern evenly with a rolling pin or your hands. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment.
3. Bake for around 10 minutes then remove carefully and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Keep in an airtight container for 4-6 weeks

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Zimtsterne (cinammon stars). Recipe from the December issue of Meine Familie und ich.

I chose a different recipe from previous years in order to avoid serving raw egg white so I could give it to kids and older people. It's basically pretty similar but this time the icing is applied before baking.

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Makes around 60

4 egg whites from medium sized eggs
a pinch of salt
350g icing sugar
500g ground almonds
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon zest from an unwaxed lemon
icing sugar for rolling out

1. Beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff then fold in the icing sugar. Beat at maximum speed on your hand mixer for another 10 minutes. Put 5 tablespoons of egg whites to one side.
2. Mix the almonds with the cinnamon and lemon zest. With a large whisk, gently blend in the egg whites and leave to cool for 30 minutes.
3. Divide the dough into small portions and roll each one out between two sheets of plastic in order to avoid having a super sticky dough that remains glued to the worktop (I'm talking from experience). It should be around 5mm thick. Using a star shaped cutter, regularly dipped in icing sugar, cut out the cookies and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment, gathering up the remaining bits and rolling out again until you have no dough left over. Brush the reserved egg white mixture over the stars and leave to dry for an hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 150°C (fan assisted 130°C). Bake the stars for 12-14 minutes and transfer to a rack to cool. They should be slightly golden and chewy inside.

Keep in a metal tin for 2-3 weeks

Elisen-Lebkuchen (Recipe from the December issue of Meine Familie und ich)

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Elisen-Lebkuchen are a little different from the normal Lebkuchen because there is no flour but a mix of nuts and spices instead. The cookies are pretty easy to make but decorating them takes a long time. However, all my friends loved them the best so maybe it's worth making the effort.

Makes around 60

4 medium sized eggs
1 teaspoon lemon juice
150g icing sugar
2 teaspoons Lebkuchengewürz or mixed spice if you don't live in Germany
200g ground almonds
200g ground hazelnuts
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon zest from an unwaxed lemon
60 Backoblaten or wafers, 0.5cm (see here for more info or you can skip them if there aren't any in your supermarket)
250g bittersweet or dark chocolate, depending on your preference
chopped almonds for decorating

1. Preheat the oven to 160° or 140° for fan assisted ones. In a large bowl beat together the eggs, lemon juice and icing sugar vigourously by hand or with a mixer for around 10 minues or until thick and creamy. Add the Lebkuchengewürz, ground almonds, hazelnuts, salt and lemon zest and blend with a metal spoon.
2. Distribute the wafers on a baking sheet covered with parchment and place one heaped teaspoon of mixture on each Oblaten. Bake for around 15 minutes. Remove and leave to cool.
3. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave, stopping to stir every 30 seconds if you're using the latter. I found that melting all the chocolate at once wasn't such a good idea because it started to set before I'd finished decorating so do smaller amounts one after the other if possible.
4. Brush each Lebkuchen with melted chocolate and scatter some chopped almonds on top.

Keep in a metal tin for 4-6 weeks. Place a slice of apple inside that you change regularly and don't close the tin completely so the cookies stay soft.

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Chocolate cranberry snow cookies from a recipe by Dan Lepard in the Guardian here. So easy and delicious!

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Mini Stollen ((Recipe from the December issue of Meine Familie und ich)

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Makes around 80

For the dough

250g flour, plus more for rolling out and the worktop
1 pack of dried yeast or half a cube of fresh
1 tablespoon milk, slightly warmed
70g sugar
125g low fat quark/curd cheese/fromage blanc
a pinch of salt
one medium egg
80 raisins
50g candied orange peel
50g candied lemon peel
a little lemon juice

Extra

100g of butter for brushing on top
100g icing sugar for decorating

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl and form a well in the centre. In another bowl mix or crumble the yeast with the warm milk and 1/2 teaspoon sugar and pour into the well. Mix with some of the surrounding flour. Leave for 30 minutes.
2. When the time's up, add in the quark, salt, egg, remaining sugar, raisins, candied orange and lemon peel and the lemon juice and knead until blended. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.
3. Roll out the dough on a floured worktop until 2.5cm thick. Cut into rectangles 10cm wide and 20 cm long. With the edge of your hand make an indentation in the middle then fold both sides (lengthways not widthways) over one another so that you have a long Stollen shape.
4. Place on a baking sheep covered with parchment and leave for another 30 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 180° or 160° fan assisted. Bake the stollen on the middle shelf for 15-20 minutes.
6. Melt the butter and brush generously over the top of the stollen while it's still warm. The more butter you use, the longer it will keep and the better it will taste. Dredge a thick layer of icing sugar as a finishing touch and cut into 1cm thick slices.

Keep in a metal tin for 1-2 weeks


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The finished cookies, ready for giving out. Tomorrow I'll be back to talk about cake and give you an update on my mince pies. Wish me luck!


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The sky this morning

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